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Historical Roots of the St. Gallen Mafia

Editor’s note: in this ongoing series, Synod Watch, we will analyze the machinations of the “mafia” in the Vatican – past, present and future.

Anyone who wants to understand what is behind the “Synod on Synodality” opened on October 10 by Pope Francis cannot do without the recently published book The St. Gallen Mafia (TAN, 2021) by Julia Meloni, which traces its historical and ideological premises.

Reading this book is as exciting as reading a novel, but everything in it is documented with a rigorous historical method. This aspect deserves to be underlined at a time when certain conspiracy theories are exposed in a superficial and sometimes fanciful way. To make up for a lack of evidence, theories such as these use a narrative technique, which appeals to the emotions more than to reason, and enwraps those who, with an act of faith, have already decided to believe the improbable. Julia Meloni instead tells the story of a real conspiracy, of which she accurately exposes the end goal, the means, the places, and the protagonists. It is the story of the “St. Gallen Mafia,” to use the term coined by one of its main exponents, Cardinal Godfried Daneels (Karim Schelkens and Jürgen Mettepenningen, Gottfried Danneels, Editions Polis, Anvers 2015).

St. Gallen is a Swiss city, where in 1996 Bishop Ivo Fürer — who until the year prior was the secretary general of the Conference of European Bishops — was bishop. In agreement with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012), Archbishop of Milan (pictured above left), Bishop Fürer decided to invite a group of prelates to establish an agenda for the Church of the future. The group met for ten years, between 1996 and 2006. The key personalities, in addition to Cardinal Martini, were Walter Kasper, Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and Karl Lehmann (1936-2018), Bishop of Mainz, both of whom were destined to receive the red hat as cardinals. Subsequently, two other future cardinals were co-opted: Godfried Danneels (1933-2019), archbishop of Malines-Brussels and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (1932-2017) archbishop of Westminster (pictured above right). They were joined in 2003 by the Cardinal of the Roman Curia Achille Silvestrini (1923-2019), thanks to whom the St. Gallen group became a powerful lobby, capable of determining the election of a Pontiff. A few days after the funeral of John Paul II, at the invitation of Silvestrini, the “St. Gallen Mafia” met at Villa Nazareth, in Rome, to agree on a plan of action in view of the next conclave. In a photograph that appeared in The Tablet of July 23, 2005, next to Cardinal Silvestrini, one sees Cardinals Martini, Danneels, Kasper, Murphy-O’Connor, Lehmann, all “key members and alumni of the St. Gallen mafia,” as Julia Meloni writes (p. 5).

The initial plan was to elect Cardinal Martini to the papal throne, but starting in 1996, the year of the creation of the group, the Archbishop of Milan began to feel the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In 2002 the cardinal made the news public, passing the baton to Cardinal Silvestrini, who from January 2003 was directing the maneuvers for the next conclave. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was in turn linked with Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and presented him to the group as a possible anti-Ratzinger candidate. Bergoglio received the consent of the “mafia”, but it was Cardinal Martini himself who had the greatest doubts about his candidacy, in light of the information he received about the Argentine bishop from within the Society of Jesus. It was perhaps with relief that, when in the conclave of 2005 Bergoglio’s defeat seemed certain, Cardinal Martini announced to Cardinal Ratzinger that he would make his votes available to him. The St. Gallen group held a final meeting in 2006, but Martini and Silvestrini continued to exert a strong influence on the new pontificate. In 2012, Cardinal Kasper spoke of a “southerly wind” blowing through the Church, and on March 17, 2013, a few days after his election, Pope Francis unsurprisingly cited Kasper as one of his favorite authors, assigning him the task of opening the extraordinary Consistory on the Family in February 2014.

Pope Francis, however, has disappointed progressives no less than he has irritated conservatives, and his pontificate has seen, after eight years, an inexorable decline. However, if the main exponents of the St. Gallen Mafia are dead, its modernist spirit hovers over the synodal process, while new maneuvers are underway for the next conclave. Julia Meloni’s book, which reconstructs the history of this “Mafia,” helps us understand the dark dynamics that agitate the Church today. I can add a few elements, drawing on my own memories.

In the fall of 1980, I received a visit from a priest of the Roman Curia, Msgr. Mario Marini (1936-2009), not yet fifty years old, intelligent and full of verve. The priest had been a collaborator of Cardinal Giovanni Benelli (1921-1982) and was concerned about the conquest of key positions in the Vatican by those who had been Benelli’s enemies and who were thriving in the shadow of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (1914-1998), John Paul II’s Secretary of State.

Between 1980 and 1981 I had numerous meetings with Msgr. Marini, in which he explained to me in great detail the existence of what he called a “Mafia” that surrounded John Paul II, elected in 1978 to the papal throne. This Mafia had its “gray eminence” in Msgr. Achille Silvestrini, shadow and alter ego of Cardinal Casaroli, who had succeeded him in 1973 as Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church: the same Silvestrini that Julia Meloni presents to us as the “mastermind” of the Mafia of St. Gallen.

Silvestrini was an intelligent but intriguing man who had represented the Holy See in the conferences of Helsinki (1975), Belgrade (1977-78) and Madrid (1980), though he never had the diplomatic experience of a nunciature. Like many post-conciliar prelates, he was above all a politician who liked to shed his curial robes for confidential meetings outside the apartments he occupied in the Vatican. The vaticanistas appreciated his willingness to pass on confidential information, even if his information, equally distributed to the right and left, cunningly mixed lies and truth. In international politics he was aligned with the positions of Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, Bishop of Ivrea, in favor of the policy of unilateral disarmament; in domestic politics he supported the line of the Christian Democrats who were more “open” towards the Italian Communist Party. He cultivated in particular relations with Giulio Andreotti and was head of the delegation of the Holy See that in 1985 would ratify the disastrous New Concordat with the Italian State. Through Msgr. Francesco Brugnaro, current archbishop emeritus of Camerino, Silvestrini was in close contact with Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, but not yet a cardinal, whose future destiny he sniffed out. All this was twenty-five years before the “St. Gallen Mafia.”

I agreed with the priest to bring to light this information, which was also transmitted to John Paul II, through Dr. Wanda Poltawska, who was also aware of many things through her friendship with Cardinal Edouard Gagnon (1918-2007), a friend of the Msgr. Some of these revelations were published by the magazine Impact Suisse, by Si Si No No and by the Courrier de Rome. Forty years have passed since then and I am pleased to remember the figure of Msgr. Mario Marini, a priest who has always served the Church with apostolic zeal, and who was among the first to denounce the existence of a “Mafia” within it. I was inspired by the beautiful book by Julia Meloni. But what did Msgr. Marini say then? This will be the subject of another article.

Read part II of this article here.

Translated by Kennedy Hall.

Editor’s note: other critical information from Msgr. Marini is related through his friend Fr. Charles Murr, in his text The Godmother.


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