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Does It Really Matter if Bugnini Was a You-Know-What?

I once wrote an article for Rorate Caeli entitled “Conservative Fragility.” I have noticed in recent weeks the extent to which conservative Catholics are sounding jittery, short-tempered, dismissive, and intolerant towards traditionally-minded Catholics who refuse to embrace the papally-bestowed role of scapegoat for the abrogation of Summorum Pontificum.

One such person in particular—no need for a name, since my point is not about a name but a phenomenon—heatedly makes fun of anyone who mentions that Bugnini probably or certainly was a Freemason, mockingly referring to “Viganò’s flying monkeys” and other such sarcastic turns of phrase. In fact, he betrays nothing but insouciance about Freemasonry, as if it is a topic unworthy of a moment’s serious consideration, to be put on the shelf next to self-published apocalyptic ravings or unauthorized private revelations.

Not long ago, I was in Mexico, visiting the sites of one martyr after another who was killed by real, live, card-carrying Freemasons. The Catholic parts of Europe and South America bear plentiful scars from the persecution and secularization driven by this sect. And when Paul VI, sensing something desperately wrong at the Vatican, hand-picked Cardinal Gagnon to investigate the curia for its possible entanglements, Gagnon discovered a buzzing hive of activity. At the time Yves Chiron published his excellent biography in 2016 (brought out in English in 2018 by John Pepino), he had concluded that there was no definitive evidence of Bugnini’s membership in this philosophical sect. Thanks to Fr. Brian Harrison and Fr. Charles Murr, however, we have access today to better information about Bugnini’s connection with Freemasonry than ever before.

It’s astonishing to me that individuals would seem not to care that the main person in charge of an unprecedentedly all-encompassing liturgical reform was likely a member of one of the world’s most destructive anti-Catholic organizations. I mean, if that’s not a problem, then it wouldn’t be a problem for the USCCB’s pro-life point person to be a board member of Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, I suppose this would be business as usual for an organization whose general secretary, a key figure in responding to sex abuse scandals, turns out to have been a flagrantly active homosexual using a gay dating app on the job.

The annals of European history are full of incidents in which Freemasons were involved, often enough boasting of their accomplishments: one need only think of the many political revolutions in Catholic countries that led to anti-Catholic, anti-clerical, anti-monastic, and anti-patrimonial legislation. They boasted of destroying the Church; arguably their most triumphant moment was the Law of Separation in France, which Pope St. Pius X condemned in his 1906 encyclical Vehementer Nos. If much can be soberly written about the acknowledged role of this well-organized network of lodges, how much greater must their actual role be, given their obvious penchant for working behind the scenes? As Roberto de Mattei notes, the existence and operation of conspiracies are a plain fact of history, seen again and again from ancient times to the present. To be sure, amateur historians will make mistakes in recognizing and analyzing conspiracies, but only fools will deny their reality.

Unlike some modern-day conservative commentators, the popes of old were no fools. As I describe in my introduction to the subject, “Freemasonry and Catholicism: Implacable Enemies,” Freemasonry was condemned and made subject to latae sententiae excommunication by no fewer than eight popes after the founding of the first lodge in London in 1717: Clement XII (1738), Benedict XIV (1751), Pius VII (1821), Leo XII (1825), Pius VIII (1829), Gregory XVI (1832), Pius IX (many documents from 1846 to 1873), and Leo XIII (1882, 1884, 1890, 1894, and 1902). Either all of these popes were reactionary “flying monkey” nut-cases, as our “I’m-too-cool-for-conspiracy” conservatives would have us believe, or they actually knew a thing or two about modern revolutions and the sects that spawned them. Even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterated that membership in the sect is prohibited and excommunicable, did not hesitate to say that they remain a malign influence.

Moreover, it just might give one pause to learn that the Freemasons celebrate the Second Vatican Council as an historic “thaw” in the Church’s stance toward Modernity—which, however else we define it, is at least partially a product of revolutions against the Church and State—and that they have bestowed glowing accolades on Pope Francis for various acts of his that they recognize as characteristic of their own philosophy (see also here and here).

Surely there are many other forces at work in the drama of dechristianization, and no organized body is necessary to explain every evil or every rejection of the Faith. The century-long influence of Modernism as well as the proponents of radical change within the Liturgical Movement would be enough to explain many of the mistakes made in the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council. But to ignore or glibly dismiss the masonic influence on modern European history and specifically on the Catholic Church is not only a blameworthy naiveté, it is a form of intellectual dishonesty—a sort of plugging of the ears and whistling so that one doesn’t have to hear something one doesn’t like.

Returning now to Annibale Bugnini, let’s say for the sake of argument that he was nothing other than an ecclesiastical functionary tirelessly dedicated to the conciliar project of reform. (This used to be my position, even as I used to think the Reform of the Reform was possible, and dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to that task.) It nonetheless remains true that, according to rigorous historical research—Chiron is a master historian who works scientifically, as anyone who reads his critically acclaimed biographies can see—Bugnini was a two-faced manipulator who lied to the Consilium and to Paul VI in order to drive through the radical reforms he had envisioned even prior to the Council. He hand-picked the moderates and progressives he needed for the various subcommittees. He orchestrated the whole complex process from start to finish. He was the impresario. If one can read the life of Bugnini without a feeling of profound revulsion and a desire to distance oneself from anything he put his hands on, I’m not sure what kind of conscience one has left.

Conservative apologists will rise up in protest: “But it doesn’t really matter what Bugnini thought or did or said, or how compromised were the human mechanisms or how problematic their guiding principles—all that matters is that a pope approved the work in the end. After all, God writes straight with crooked lines!” (and they might add an emoji).

This is where we see most dramatically the uncatholic irrationality to which the hyperpapalist position reduces itself, making the pope a magician who can transform something bad into something good simply by adding his signature. About fifteen years ago, I wrote down the following observation, which acquires new pertinence in light of recent events:

What happens if you take a lot of garbage, give it to the Pope, and he signs off on it? Does it cease to be garbage—or does it just become papally approved and enforced garbage? This is the key question about the liturgical reform. Past all doubt, it was the work of a cabal of poor theologians, ill-equipped for their work, in the grip of humanist, rationalist, and modernist assumptions and now-exploded theories, acting irresponsibly and illegally. Some of them are known to have been Freemasons, others are suspected of it. Their work was an atrocious dismantling of the most venerable possession of the Catholic Church. And when they were done with their ‘work,’ they handed the mess over to Paul VI, who approved it (under at least partially false pretenses). When all is said and done, did his papal signature make their poverty of theology, their inadequacy to the task, their erroneous presuppositions and goals, and their irregularities vanish into thin air, like a magic wand transforming a frog into a prince?

There is no escaping it: if he signed it into law, Paul VI bears full responsibility for whatever is wrong with the Novus Ordo—even when he didn’t bother to read the documents submitted to him for examination, and even when he was surprised and dismayed at the liturgical books he himself had approved.

We return to the question of affiliations. If Bugnini truly was a Freemason, it would help explain—or, in any case, it would be fully consistent with—the anthropocentric, rationalistic, desacralizing tendencies of the liturgical reform, tendencies Paul VI sympathized with due to his own alliance with humanistic modern thought and pan-Christian ecumenism, the prelude to Assisi and Abu Dhabi. If, on the other hand, Bugnini was not a Freemason (Cardinal Alfons Stickler once said to Dom Alcuin Reid “No, it was something far worse” [1])—it would be difficult to imagine how an actual Freemason could have accomplished something much worse. Cardinal Stickler’s comment gives one pause. What, after all, would be worse than a secret society that denies divine revelation, the Holy Trinity, the redemptive Incarnation, original sin, the need for supernatural grace and the sacramental life, and seeks to replace it with a man-created, man-centered panreligious philosophy? The only thing that comes to mind is Satanism.

Whether or not this is what Stickler had in mind, one would find it difficult to dispute the conclusion reached by Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book The Devastated Vineyard: “Truly if one of the devils in C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better.”[2]

[1] Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy, trans. John Pepino (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2018), 7.

[2] Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Devastated Vineyard, trans. Crosby and Teichert (Roman Catholic Books: 1973), 71.

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