Monday, February 13, 2006

The Siri thesis

From Inside the Vatican is an interesting piece on conspiracy theories and their debunking. The piece is rather long and there are a lot of good excerpts (I didn't hold back, as you will notice by reading down). In the context of Benedict's priority of bringing the SSPX back into the fold, the content of this is welcome news indeed.


In other words, given the crisis in the liturgy, in Mass attendance, in traditional sacramental belief, in the priesthood (the various scandals), in the episcopate, in the Church’s seminaries and universities, in the family life of ordinary Catholics, it is understandable that thoughtful Catholics should ask, "What went wrong?"

It is not the purpose of this article to offer a comprehensive answer. It would require the work of many thoughtful scholars and believers, and perhaps many decades of time, even to begin to formulate such an answer. But it is our purpose to suggest that now, 40 years after Vatican II, at the beginning of a new pontificate, following a pontificate which lasted for 26 years, may perhaps be an opportune time to begin to try to sort through things and to bring a bit of clarity out of the confusion.

Confusion has always been and will always be the enemy of the Church. Precision in language, exact definitions, clarity of understanding, do not readily allow for confusion. This is what we need.

In this context, we were intrigued by a small newsletter which recently arrived in our editorial offices. It was the December 2005 issue of an 8-page typewritten newsletter entitled "The War Is Now!", edited by Hutton Gibson, the father of Mel Gibson the actor and film producer.

In this newsletter, Hutton Gibson gives a fascinating glimpse into the minds of Catholics who have grown so frustrated and confused by the shifting "trends" in the post-conciliar Church that they have latched onto various "conspiracy theories" to explain what has happened.

The elder Gibson argues that one of the more elaborate of these conspiracy theories, called the "Siri thesis," simply isn’t true and must be discarded.

The "Siri thesis" argues that the rather conservative cardinal archbishop of Genoa, Giuseppe Siri, was actually elected Pope in 1958, but that his election was suppressed, leading to the election of Angelo Roncalli, who became John XXIII, called the Council, rehabilitated Giovanni Battista Montini, who became Paul VI, thus ushering in the entire "post-Pius XII" era in the Church.

The "Siri thesis" is built upon one key point: the issue of the "white smoke" that appeared for a brief time on October 26, 1958, before changing to black. The thesis is that Siri was elected on that occasion, that the smoke was white to signal his election, but that the color changed to black when the conclave annulled or overturned Siri’s election.

A key piece of evidence for this theory has been an article written by Silvio Negro for the evening edition of Corriere della Sera (Milan, Italy) for October 27, 1958.

But, according to the elder Gibson, the Negro article has been misunderstood by the proponents of the "Siri thesis." Negro narrates a story from the 1939 conclave, when the smoke was also a confusing mixture of white and black, until the secretary of the conclave, one Monsignor Santoro, sent a note to Vatican Radio to advise that, so matter what color the smoke seemed, it was white, and that Eugenio Pacelli had been elected Pope Pius XII.

In the elder Gibson’s December newsletter, however, this "Siri thesis" is denounced as false, built on shoddy scholarship and inadequate fact checking.

We find this announcement by the elder Gibson interesting because it reveals two important things: (1) how people who are perplexed by change (in this case, some traditional Catholics), may grasp at untenable theories in order to explain disturbing realities; and yet (2) how an openness to sifting theories to ascertain their conformity to historical truth can persist even in these same traditionalist Catholic circles.

As one associate of the elder Gibson expressed it to us: "If the truth about our current confusion is ever to be clarified and understood, the necessary first step must be for those suspicious of Rome and of recent pontiffs to commit themselves to seeking the truth even if it goes against deeply-held positions arrived at without all the evidence in hand."

Thus, the "Siri thesis" has been dismantled by "insiders," members of that very traditional Catholic milieu which had been favorable to the idea in principle.

If this is the perspective of the most radical of the Catholic traditionalists, there seems room for guarded optimism about the possibility of coming to some sort of meeting of the minds over the questions which most trouble Catholic traditionalists, involving the changes in the Church’s liturgy and in her rites of ordination of priests and consecration of bishops. In this new pontificate, the time may have come for traditional Catholics and "conciliar Rome" to "reason together" to find a way forward in a complex and confusing world.

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