Editor’s note: this is the third part of a series. Read part I here and part II here. Purchase The St. Gallen Mafia by Julia Meloni.
Throughout long talks I had with him between 1980 and 1981, Don Mario Marini, not yet a Monsignor, explained to me that behind the official organization of the Vatican there was a “hidden directorate” headed by Monsignor Achille Silvestrini, whom he called “the Richelieu of the Vatican,” referring to Louis XIII’s Cardinal Secretary of State, Armand du Plessis de Richelieu (1585-1642), who went down in history for his skill in intrigue.
“The headquarters of influence,” Don Marini recounted,
consists of a modest room that almost no one knows inside or outside the City of the Popes. Officially it is called the ‘office of the personnel of the Secretariat of State,’ but its name will not be found in the papal yearbook, even though this offers a complete and detailed description of the Roman Curia.
The ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of this office is a center of confidential archives, quite distinct from the official archives of the Secretariat of State which, for their part, are divided into more or less discreet departments. This office receives information, preserves it, directs its research, organizes documentation, prepares the dossiers and, when necessary, makes the papers disappear.
Controlling the files of the ‘personnel office’ is like having a high-powered explosive. It means, in fact, to hold an exceptional power, whose guidelines and directives are able to impose themselves on the most recalcitrant, because it is in this office where information on the most important figures in the life of the Church are received and catalogued. All that concerns the high ecclesiastical personnel is here recorded and prepared, including the most delicate ‘cases’ of a theological or moral nature. From the summit of this Olympus, the thunderbolt can fall at any moment.
Under the pontificate of John Paul II, the appointments of bishops and nuncios were prepared in this office, including through psychological operations and conditioning of public opinion. According to Msgr. Marini, decisions in the Vatican were made at three levels.
The lower level is in this secret office, whose keys are in the hands of Msgr. Giovanni Coppa, Msgr. Silvestrini’s right-hand man. It is there that information for ecclesiastical appointments is gathered and filtered, and it is there that reputations can be created or destroyed.
On the upper floor, a very restricted committee examines the elements that will make it possible to compile personal dossiers. In addition to Monsignor Coppa and his protector, Monsignor Silvestrini, Monsignor Backis, as well as Monsignor Martinez Somalo and his assistant, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Re, participate in these discussions.
Finally, there is a third floor, where the decisions made at the previous two levels are ratified. Here reigns Cardinal Casaroli, who embodies the establishment inherited from Paul VI.
The decisions, ultimately, were made by Casaroli and Silvestrini, who then presented them to the Pope, as the result of a “collegial decision.” John Paul II limited himself to choosing one of the three candidates proposed by the lobby for appointment as bishop, nuncio or any office of the Roman Curia. According to Msgr. Marini, this progressive clan, after carefully studying the psychology of John Paul II, ended up discovering his “Achilles’ heel” in the myth of collegiality, dear to Wojtyla’s heart.
Therefore, everything that one would like to see realized is cunningly presented to him as the fruit of a collegial choice. The Pope is also invited to free himself from the fetters of Church government, to devote himself to his pastoral mission and leave the organizational burden in the hands of technicians and experts. At the same time, the media portrayed John Paul II as a strong and authoritarian Pope, as opposed to Paul VI, weak and indecisive.
Msgr. Marini was convinced that John Paul II exercised very little actual power, dispossessed of his power of government by the Vatican Mafia. The career of Cardinal McCarrick and many other controversial prelates of the time of John Paul II, took place according to this mechanism, at a time when the Pope multiplied his trips, leaving the choice of appointments to the Roman Curia, with a few exceptions, such as when in 1983 he imposed, against the wishes of the “Mafia”, Msgr. Adrianus Simonis (1931-2020) as Archbishop of Utrecht and Primate of the Netherlands.
Archbishop Achille Silvestrini, the brain of the hidden directorate that guided Vatican policy, was born on October 25, 1923 in Brisighella, a small town in Romagna known for having given birth to eight cardinals. Ordained a priest in 1946, he entered the diplomatic service of the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1953, but never experienced the nunciatures. Msgr. Marini said that Silvestrini had two ecclesiastical fathers, one in the flesh and one in the spirit: the first was Cardinal Amleto Cicognani (1883-1973), born like him in Brisighella; the second was Msgr. Salvatore Baldassarri, archbishop of Ravenna from 1956 to 1975, when he was removed by Paul VI for his pro-communist positions.
I had personally met Msgr. Silvestrini on May 22, 1980, when he received me at the Vatican along with the leaders of Alleanza Cattolica, Giovanni Cantoni and Agostino Sanfratello. Julia Meloni recalls in her book that conversation, in which we explained to Msgr. Silvestrini the urgency of a referendum to repeal the law on abortion, approved that day in Italy. Silvestrini replied that he considered the referendum inappropriate because it would have caused a harmful abortionist “counter-catechesis” in the sense that, if the Catholic side wanted to repeal the homicidal norms, the abortionist forces would have defended them more vigorously. In fact, he was convinced of the irreversibility of the process of secularization, to which the Church, in his opinion, would have had to adapt. In this spirit he supported Ostpolitik and led the delegation of the Holy See for the revision of the Lateran Pacts, which produced the New Concordat with Italy, signed on February 18, 1984 between Cardinal Casaroli and the then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.
In the consistory of June 28, 1988, John Paul II created Silvestrini cardinal and, three days later, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the “Vatican Cassation.” In 1991 he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, a post he left in 2000 at the age of 77, due to age limit. The last years of his life were those in which Cardinal Silvestrini dedicated all his energy to support the project of the “St. Gallen Mafia.”
Don Mario Marini, on the other hand, in 1983 was assigned to the Congregation of the Clergy, headed by Cardinal Silvio Oddi (1910-2001), until 1997 when he was appointed Undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
On July 7, 2007, by publishing the motu proprio Summorum pontificum, Benedict XVI appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” or number 3, after the Cardinal President Darío Castrillón Hoyos and the Secretary Monsignor Camille Perl. At the same time he was decorated with the dignity of canon of the Vatican Basilica. Monsignor Marini died at the age of 73 on May 14, 2009, leaving behind the memory of a battle-hardened character, but also of an authentic servant of the Church.
Cardinal Silvestrini died ten years later, on August 29, 2019, on the very day when his “godson” Giuseppe Conte received from the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella the task of forming a left-wing government in Italy. Conte in fact was a “pupil” of Villa Nazareth, the university college protected by Cardinal Casaroli and then Cardinal Silvestrini, which for decades was a center of relations straddling diplomacy and politics. After Silvestrini’s death, the management of Villa Nazareth was taken over by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, considered in the Vatican as the true heir to the “Vatican Richelieu.” Pope Francis was welcomed at Villa Nazareth on June 18, 2016, by Celli himself and Cardinal Silvestrini, already suffering from illness and in a wheelchair. With them was Angela Groppelli, the psychotherapist who treated Silvestrini for many years and then became the driving force behind Villa Nazareth’s political activity.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli would be the one behind Pope Francis’ opening to communist China, after the failure of Paul VI’s Ostpolitik with the Soviet Union. What is certain is that there is a chain that, through the “Mafia of St. Gallen,” goes back to the “Vatican Mafia” of the 1980s and, further back, to the men of Paul VI, with the same ideological objectives. This subterranean network, which has guided the ecclesiastical policy of the last fifty years, has little to do with the Mystical Body of Christ which continues in history its mission for the eternal salvation of souls, but for this very reason its machinations deserve to be known.
Translated by Kennedy Hall
 The St. Gallen Mafia, 20-22.
 See R. de Mattei, L’Italia cattolica e il Nuovo Concordato (Fiducia, 1985).
 See Davide Maria De Luca, “La Villa dove è nato il rapporto speciale tra Conte e il Vaticano,” Domani, January 19, 2021.
Roberto de Mattei is an Italian Catholic historian and the President of the Lepanto Foundation, an international organization based in Rome that aims to defend the principles and institutions of Christian Civilization. He directs the magazine “Radici Cristiane” and the “Corrispondenza Romana” News Agency, and was Director of the “Nova Historica” international journal from 2002 until 2013. He is the author of many books, including “The Second Vatican Council – An Unwritten Story.” His books have been translated into several languages, and have earned him an international reputation.