A response to Michael Davies' article on Archbishop Bugnini (June 1989)

A response to Michael Davies' article on Archbishop Bugnini (June 1989)

Fr Brian Harrison OS

I refer to Michael Davies' article on the liturgy (June AD2000), which discusses, amongst other things, the allegation that the architect of the liturgical reform, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, was a Freemason.

Given the gravity of the accusation, and its implications regarding the underlying motivation for many of the post-conciliar liturgical changes, the greatest possible precision with regard to the facts of the case seems important. I therefore hope that you will publish the following clarifications.

1. Mr. Davies quotes Archbishop Bugnini as saying that "a very high-ranking cardinal" disclosed the existence of a dossier, purporting to prove the Masonic affiliations of Archbishop Bugnini, which had been presented to Pope Paul VI. Actually, Bugnini does not say that the cardinal was "very high-ranking". The word Eminentissimo, though grammatically in the superlative form, is customarily used in Italian to refer to any cardinal. This is the only word used to refer to this cardinal in Bugnini's posthumously published memoirs La Riforma Liturgica, (Rome, CLV Edizoni Liturgiche, 1983, p. 101).

2. Bugnini cites his own letter to Pope Paul of 22 October 1975, denying any involvement in Freemasonry (p.102). The fact that he wrote such a letter shows that he must have had excellent reason for believing, or at least strongly suspecting that the Pope had been convinced by these accusations, and had dismissed him for that reason. However, Mr Davies goes on to say that the Vatican "has never denied the allegations of Masonic affiliation", and adds (very rightly) that if the charge of Freemasonry had had nothing to do with the Archbishop's dismissal, "it would have been outrageous on the part of the Vatican," to remain silent in the face of this public accusation.

The evidence here is rather more complex than Mr Davies realises. According to Bugnini's footnote 35 (p. 101) the accusation that he was dismissed for being a Freemason was first published in the Italian press in late November 1975. It is true that the Vatican remained silent at that stage - although it could be argued that the public announcement of his appointment as Pro-Nuncio to Iran in mid-January 1976 was seen by the Vatican as a sufficient vindication of his reputation. In June 1976, however, fresh reports began circulating in the Roman press that not only Bugnini, but over 100 other Vatican officials (including cardinals) were Masons. This time, an explicit denial was issued by the Vatican. Archbishop Bugnini cites it in his own defence on p. 103 of his memoirs. The daily Italian edition of l'Observatore Romano (10 October 1976), gave a blanket denial to these allegations: "Not one, we say, not one of the accused Vatican prelates has ever had anything to do with Freemasonry. We say this in order to rebut the possible accusation that silence signifies consent." No names of any of the accused were mentioned in this denial.

3. On the other hand, I know that there are high-ranking Vatican officials, including at least one former Cardinal Prefect of a Roman Congregation, who believe that there have been and are Freemasons in high Vatican positions. I confess my own amazement when I came to realise that such ideas (whether true or false) do not originate solely amongst "crackpot" conspiracy-theorists. Indeed it is quite widely held in Rome that the Masons themselves were responsible for circulating the absurdly long list of alleged Vatican Lodge members in 1976, precisely in order to make the whole idea look ridiculous, thereby protecting the few prelates who really were Masons. An internationally known churchman of unimpeachable integrity has also told me that he heard the account of the discovery of the evidence against Bugnini directly from the Roman priest who found it in a briefcase which Bugnini had inadvertently left in a Vatican conference room after a meeting.

Rome, Italy