On Not Knowing What was ‘Far Worse’

Conspiracies exist. I know they do because I am part of one, as are most readers of these lines. It is Christianity. The difference between our conspiracy and most others is that it is exoteric. There is nothing secret about it. Everybody knows that Our Lord told His followers to take over the world.

What I don’t believe is the conspiracy theory of history, that a secret cabal of Illuminati or Freemasons or whoever has been meeting in rooms for centuries or millennia to engineer most or all of what Catholics universally used to recognize as evil (liberal democracy, divorce, usury, legal birth control, legal sodomy, etc.). The trouble with this belief is that it ignores the real source of the evil: man’s fallen nature.

That said, I remember a point the late Malachi Martin would make on the subject of conspiracies or, as some have it, the conspiracy. He would ask, if you put a half-dozen men who are 6’4” in a room full of others who are 5’10”, toward whom will the half-dozen gravitate? Well, it’s going to be the same with multi-billionaires in a world full of persons of ordinary or limited means. They will gravitate toward one another, sometimes meeting as every year in Davos, Switzerland, they and other men of power, to discuss their common interests and how to advance them. It has always been so with persons who have common interests. When they do get together, they constitute what is known in modern parlance as affinity groups.

Since the 1990s Catholics who still believe, as all formerly did, that membership in the visible Church is necessary for salvation (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) have gathered annually under the auspices of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to discuss their ideas and beliefs and how to spread them in the life of the larger society with a view to the eventual conversion of America, God willing. Are we conspiring? Not really. No agenda for the next year’s activities is hammered out at a SBC conference, no directives issued, no more than at Davos.

In the years before the French Revolution of 1789 men of the so-called Enlightenment who believed society would be better off governed by their ideas rooted in scientific rationalism instead of by the teachings of the Church met in certain Paris cafes and salons of private homes and, yes, behind lodge doors, but were they conspiring? Not really. However, from their talk and the books, plays and pamphlets they wrote pre-revolutionary conditions arose, and when the conditions concatenated with the fall of the Bastille some of them succeeded in transforming a meeting of the Third Estate into a National Assembly and made a revolution – the Revolution that has been unfolding ever since, radically changing all dimensions of the lives of society’s members, including the religious dimension and the way most remaining Catholics worship. This brings us to what has got me to thinking about conspiracy.

One of the books I am currently reading is Annibale Bugnini, Reformer of the Liturgy, by the French historian of the modern Church Yves Chiron. It includes a Foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid. I am not reviewing the book here but recommend it to anyone interested in knowing exactly how and why the Mass codified by the Council of Trent (but predating that Council, in its essentials anyway, by some seven centuries) came to be replaced in 1969 by the Novus Ordo one of Pope Paul VI.

Younger readers may not know who Archbishop Bugnini was. He was not a liturgist or theologian but a master bureaucrat and brown-noser who rose from being an ecclesiastical non-entity to becoming Pope Paul VI’s right-hand man in all matters liturgical and, as such, architect of the revolution presented to the faithful of the day as “reform.” He didn’t accomplish his work overnight. It got going in the Holy Year of 1949-50 when he introduced in Rome the “dialogue Mass.” Incremental steps followed – reading the Gospel and Epistle in vernacular languages, turning the priest around to face worshippers from across a table, and so on – culminating after twenty years in the Novus Ordo. The watchword throughout was that each step would promote the “active participation of the faithful” or “people of God” at Mass.

That’s where I see the connection to the Revolution. Even as Christian government was replaced by government supposedly by “the people” – democracy – the liturgical revolution gave us a people’s Mass. We went from directing our attention single-mindedly upward toward God to being diverted horizontally to the “gathering of the people,” an interior movement of mind and spirit manifested, for instance, by the fatuous handshake of peace. As Mass changed, so did the mission of the Church. From her former dedication to leading souls to salvation, she strove more and more for “justice and peace” in the world. It was supposed this would make her more “relevant” in the lives of the people. According to liberation theology it would also please God.

Whatever, Bugnini suddenly, no reason given, fell from grace in 1975. Pope Paul didn’t simply turn his back on him. He didn’t want him in Rome, in Italy or anywhere in Europe. He was banished to Tehran to serve as pro-nuncio in Iran until his health failed in 1982, at which time he returned to Rome and died.

The question in 1975 and ever since has been: What caused Bugnini’s fall from grace? The most common explanation, at least among traditional Catholics, was that Pope Paul was presented with evidence showing that he was a secret Mason, but was it really the case?

In his Foreword to Yves Chiron’s book, Dom Alcuin writes of meeting in 1996 with Alfons Cardinal Stickler. The Cardinal was Vatican Librarian and deeply devoted to the traditional liturgy. (On the death in 1989 of Empress Zita, widowed spouse of Bl. Emperor Karl, he said Mass for the repose of her soul at a side altar in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. It was the first Traditional Latin Mass in St. Peter’s since 1969.) As Vatican Librarian he would of course have unfettered access to the papal Secret Archive.

Dom Alcuin writes: “I took the opportunity to ask Cardinal Stickler whether he believed Bugnini to be a Freemason and whether this was the reason Paul VI dismissed him. ‘No,’ the Cardinal replied, ‘it was something far worse.’ What Cardinal Stickler believed that ‘something’ to be, His Eminence never revealed.”

Three questions arise. The first is obvious: What was it that could have been “far worse”? The second: To what extent did it account, whatever it was, for Bugnini’s methodical demolition of more than 1,500 years of Catholic liturgical tradition? Finally: How could a man guilty of it rise to a position of such power and influence that a directive from him was tantamount to one from the Pope?

In regard to the last question it doesn’t do us much good to consider the case of Theodore McCarrick. There were so many stories about him over the years that you have to wonder what else could have protected him and brought him up through the ranks except others of similar bent. In contrast, there doesn’t appear to have been any hint of “something far worse” in the life and career of Annibale Bugnini before his dismissal.

Was it his own guile that kept his secret hidden? If not, I’m not sure we’d want to know if we learned who or what it was. We may all be better off if the “something far worse” is never revealed. The knowledge that it, surpassing Freemasonry in evil, could reside undetected at the center of the Church, in the bosom of the Vatican, might be more than many could bear. It could cost them their faith, as some have lost it with the disclosure of clerical pedophilia. The loss of faith would be too high a price to pay for knowing what was “far worse.” I surmise Cardinal Stickler believed that.