In anticipation of the dual canonizations of Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II, I wanted to better understand the merits of the men whose heroic virtues the Catholic Church recognizes must be in heaven.
Contemporary memory of Pope John XXIII was that he was a portly septuagenarian Patriarch of Venice who was elected in 1958 to be a caretaker seat warmer on the Chair of Saint Peter. Yet “Papa Roncalli” audaciously called for what became the Second Vatican Council which brought the liturgy into the vernacular. “The Good Pope John” died after a pontificate of just over four years and one third of the way into Vatican II.
That thumbnail sketch of Pope John XXIII’s papacy is simplified but accurate. Yet it does not explain the apoplectic opposition from some traditional Catholics, who consider “Roncalli” an anti-pope.
To better understand objections by radical traditionalist “Catholics”, I braved the fever swamps of internet intrigue, old school insider catholic baseball as well as historical peculiarities. I wanted to discern if their counter arguments were persuasive or held merit.
Those who are Sirianists strongly cling to an anomaly associated with the 1958 Conclave. The College of Cardinals were reduced to 51 electors as Pope Pius XII only held two Consistories (in 1945 and 1953) during his 19 year reign, and many of the participating Cardinals were quite elderly. In fact two Cardinal electors died in the Interregnum prior to the Consistory so only 49 Cardinals participated.
On the first evening of the Conclave, white smoke was reported coming from the Sistine Chapel indicating “Habemus Papem”. Even Vatican Radio announced: "The smoke is white... There is absolutely no doubt. A Pope has been elected." However, no Pope appeared and after perhaps twenty minutes, the smoke changed to black.
|Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Archibishop of Genoa|
After votes are tallied in a Conclave, an elected is asked if he accepts the election. If so, he is asked for his desired regnal name. At that point, he is Pope. So if the Siri Thesis has merit, the Archbishop of Genoa had accepted and given the name “Gregory XVII”. Afterwards, the vote was suppressed with threats.
Yet according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 187: "Resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself." Hence, Siri was the legitimate pope who was prevented from taking his place– Sede Impeditists– and the succeeding popes were anti-popes,.
The 1958 Conclave remained deadlocked for two more days. Since Conclave proceedings are secret, conspiracy theorists string together conjecture with fragments of “facts”. According to the intrigue, Cardinal Federico Tedeschini, an 85 year old curial cardinal, was elected as a “transitional pope” but his acceptance was immediately quashed with threats.
Eventually, another transitional pope was sought, but bitter radical traditionalists bemoan that another compromise candidate the Patriarch of Venice Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, an alleged free mason, was elected Pope John XXIII on the eleventh ballot, facilitated by B'nai B'rith (Jewsish Masonic) alleged collaborator Cardinal Tisserant. Some Sede Impeditists allege that a cabal of free mason cardinals which planned a “satanic coup d’etat” to install Roncalli as the 262nd Supreme Pontiff.
So radical traditionalist Catholics question Pope John XXIII’s election due to the Siri Thesis and allegations that Archbishop Roncalli was initiated as a 33rd degree free mason at the Grand Orient Lodge while as nuncio in Paris in 1935 in Paris and participated in the Istanbul Workshops. This charge hinges on a Mason’s confession 44 years after Pope John XXIII’s election. Of course, any Catholic who knowingly becomes a free mason incurs latae sententiae excommunication.
These supposed free mason allegations are bolstered by charges that the “Good Pope John’s” pectoral cross had symbols similar to masonic signs. Moreover, Pope John XXIII’s policies of seeking closer relations with the Orthodox and other Christians were deemed heretical by catholic dissenters as being masonic and may have also been an accommodation to Soviet Communists. Some Pope John XXIII detractors also question his early associations with Modernist priests and comfort associating with known free masons and socialists. So if nothing can be proven, this technique smears on a guilt by association. Such critics will claim that heretics can not be considered legitimate popes.
As a historian, the 1958 Conclave had some interesting elements which makes one wonder. The 49 electors, with many being curial lends credence to some “palace intrigue”. Furthermore, the initial puffs of white smoke combined with confusion in the Sede Vacante Vatican on the first day of the 1958 Conclave was interesting, but inconclusive. Allegations of a fifth column or satanic coup d’etat seem like fantastic filaments in a rad/trad yarn.
If one were to believe some sources, Cardinal Siri was elected several times before he finally accepted after an unanimous vote, which was supposedly vitiated by Cardinal Tisserant, who was orchestrating Cardinal Roncalli’s election. However, if this were the case, why would the election of Pope John XXIII take seven more votes, including an election of Cardinal Tedeschini, which is then quashed with more threats? Cardinal Roncalli must have been a simple man kept out of the loop, as he had only packed a small suitcase for the Conclave and expected to quickly return to Venice.
Also, catholic dissenters quote from a Cardinal Tisserant letter in 1977 which claims that the election of John XXIII was illegitimate as it was willed and planned by forces alien to the Holy Spirit. This is coming from Tisserant, who other sources peg as the eminence gris against Cardinal Siri’s election AND who negotiated the Vatican Kremlin secret concordat in 1962 (negotiated by Vatican envoy Cardinal Tisserant). These contradictory claims call into credence either the coup claim or later laments of illegitimacy.
Most of the radical traditional condemnations of Pope John XXIII’s reign attribute elements of change in practice (but not in doctrine) which they can not reconcile. The outreach to the Jews and the Orthodox seem anathematic to people who believe in Catholic supremacy. These radical traditionals would bristle at altering a jot or tittle of Pope St. Pius V’s one true Tridentine Missal from 1570 and would scoff at the People of God worshiping in the vernacular as they should be saying Mass in the Lord’s language of Latin (sic).
Delving deeper into research to find sources that did not seem shaky, I found other interesting angles on the Siri Thesis. As for the 1963 Conclave, there were charges that Cardinal Tisserant left the Conclave after Cardinal Siri was elected (again) to speak with members of B’nai B’rith (characterized elsewhere as a Jewish Lodge). The B’nai B’rith representative announced that persecutions of the Church would begin at once if Siri became Pope. "Jewish" Cardinal Augustine Bea, SJ is alleged to have dug up dirt on other Cardinals to blackmail them to support Cardinal Montoni . As the story goes, this news caused the Conclave to then elect Archbishop of Milan as Pope Paul VI. This source does not slander Pope Paul VI as a free mason or a socialist as do other detractors.
This source claims conversations with Cardinal Siri in 1985 in which Siri denied knowing of anyone leaving the Conclave in 1963. Yet Siri intimates that he was twice elected Pope, in 1963 which he refused and for the second 1978 Conclave, which Siri supposedly was obliged to refuse to prevent a schism. Thus the source claims that Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II were anti-popes. If we choose to believe former Jesuit novelist and biblical scholar Malachi Martin, Cardinal Siri was also elected in the first 1978 Conclave. Conservative Catholics claim that Siri was elected at four conclaves but never actually assumed the Chair of St. Peter.
This sort of claim is curious. Pro arguendo, taking Cardinal Siri’s alleged claims, at face value, then what happened to his 1958 election? Cardinal Siri supposedly did not care for Pope John XXIII and despised Pope Paul VI, yet he referred to them as pontiffs. Surely a conservative Cardinal could have applied Canon Law and either disputed their elections or he could have resigned so as not to be obliged to serve under anti-popes. Yet Cardinal Siri remained as Archbishop of Genoa until 1987.
|St. Padre Pio of Pietrecina|
So Padre Pio essentially charged Pope John XXIII with disobedience to the Madonna. Had the Secret of Fatima been revealed, it is thought that the Catholic Faithful would not have countenanced a concordat between the Vatican and the Kremlin which kept Vatican II documents from expressly condemning communism in return.
There may have been some tension between the two Saints. Pope John XXIII expressed his private disdain for Padre Pio as a straw man. Yet Pope Paul VI, another supposed fellow traveler like Pope John XXIII on the Modernist/Free Mason highway to Hell, brought Padre Pio back into good graces with the Vatican. It would seem that these anti-popes do not coordinate well.
Reading plethora of scant sources of radical traditionalists on the matter, it seems that they will seize upon anything to confirm their suspicions against Modernism, Free Masonry, Internationalism (the New World Order) and even more sinister conspiracies. The sketchy sourcing calls into question their conclusions, but their contention is that Free Masons also control messaging in the Church and secular sources would not contradict their corrupted Church conspirators.
I found several striking leitmotifs in the radical traditionalist critique of “The Good Pope John”. That very moniker originates from the world-wide affection for the portly pontiff, who was able to be companions to those on the margins. No where in their literature was any good perceived from (anti) Pope John XXIII’s reign. Perhaps this should not be a great surprise as most of them condemn all Popes from 1958 onward to be anti-popes.
It is hard to miss the strands of antisemitism mixed into these Sede Vacante and Sede Impeditist conspiracy theories. The 1963 Conclave smear against B’nai B’rith is classic. Pope John XXIII wanted to improve relations with our Jewish brethren. Pope John XXIII sought a relationship of mutual respect and mutual understanding with "the relatives of Jesus". Thus, Pope John XXIII referred to himself as “A son of Joseph” which leads some radical traditionalists to speculate if Pope John XXIII was a Jewish infiltrator who ascended to the pinnacle of the hierarchy. So not only do radical traditionalist claim that Pope John XXIII was a free mason, a socialist but also a Jewish infiltrator. It seems that such critics will smear at any cost.
Another interesting aspect was the reliance that these radical traditional sources had on prophecies and how little focus on scripture. Their interpretations of events were influenced by the Prophecies of Malachy (a twelfth century saint, but whose prophecies gained circulation four hundred years later), the secret of Our Lady of La Salette (1846) and linkage with the secret from Our Lady of Fatima (1917). These prophecies of apostasy seem to contradict scripture from the Petrine primacy (Mt 16:18), the promise that Christ will remain with us from age to age (Mt. 28:20) and long held understandings of the Magisterium. So radical traditionalists would seek prophetic voices over scriptural assurances that the Vicar of Christ will not lead his flock astray or abandon us.
After reading many radical traditional assessments of the Siri Thesis and conspiracies about (anti) Pope John XXIII sound like the fare common on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM, which Malachi Martin was a frequent guest. These challenges to Pope John XXIII parallel conservative critiques and rejection of Vatican II longing for the days of glory epitomized in the Tridentine Mass. So questioning the authenticity of Pope John XXIII’s election by the College of Cardinals conveniently vitiate any innovations of the Council and their successors without thinking themselves as schismatic.
The shifting narratives of the Siri Thesis (if one believes various sources, being elected but impeded in 1958, 1963 and twice in 1978) along with the ad hominem attacks on Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II sound more like sour grapes than serious charges.
In the end, the Sede Impeditists arguments underwhelm me and do not shake my faith about the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Ion Mikail Papeca, the Romanian Intelligence chief who defected to the west, makes a compelling case in Disinformation that the Soviets had engaged in prolonged media campaigns to discredit the Vatican, such as the smear that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope” despite scores of contemporary evidence to the contrary. Moreover, there are several instances where Soviet directed agents tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II, almost succeeding in May of 1981. So Spies in the Vatican is not implausible. But these Soviet double agents are melded with a cabal of free masons and modernists, which sounds paranoid and merits skepticism unless substantive corroboration is proffered.
Understand that radical traditionalists object to the “aggornamento” (updating) which the Second Vatican Council brought to the Catholic Church which shifted control of the Vatican from a clubby curia and failed to treat the Church like a museum. Hence, attacking the Shepherd to takes them to that place discredits him while driving home their traditionalist message.
The period of time during Pope John XXIII's reign was a time when conspiracies thrived. Fifty years after the assassination, there have been scores of books about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So it should be no surprise that during such turbulent times of change and the Cold War that people want to explain the unclear, like the false puffs of white smoke in the 1958 Conclave and fill in the blanks with prejudices and conspiracy theories.
It would behoove believers to examine the heroic virtues of Pope St. John XXIII rather than delve into Sede Impeditist and Sede Vacante fever swamps. Or as Pope St. John XXIII put it: "The habit of thinking ill of everything and everyone is tiresome to our selves and to all around us."