Rorate Caeli

BOMBSHELL: New historical evidence emerges in support of Bugnini’s association with Freemasonry — Names are named

The latest edition of the magazine of the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales, Mass of Ages, contains a review by Kevin Symonds of Taylor Marshall’s book Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within. (The review as published may be viewed in a PDF of the magazine, starting at page 40, as well as on the author’s personal website; it has been reproduced in full here.) 

Pursuing hints in the book, Symonds goes much beyond the conclusions of Marshall regarding Bugnini, having uncovered new material on Bugnini that decisively moves the question of his association with Freemasonry from the realm of shadowy speculation, where it remained even as recently as the scholarly biography by Yves Chiron, to the level of reasonable certainty. Instead of “unnamed sources,” where the matter was left by Michael Davies, we finally have named sources, with a plausible paper trail.

New Evidence on the Freemasonic Membership of Annibale Bugnini

Kevin Symonds

In this book, Taylor Marshall firmly maintains that the Catholic Church has been literally infiltrated by her enemies, thereby experiencing a massive campaign of disruption and distortion. A particular area in which Marshall advances this thesis pertains to the influence of the Vincentian priest, and later Archbishop, Annibale Bugnini (1912-1982) in the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century. This review focuses on Marshall’s presentation of Bugnini’s influence upon these reforms and in particular of Marshall’s claim that Bugnini was involved with Freemasonry. It will be argued that, despite his eagerness to find evidence of ‘infiltration’ and his animus against Bugnini, Marshall actually misses some important evidence in favor of Bugnini’s membership of the Italian Freemasons.

Annibale Bugnini: Freemason Infiltrator with the Roman Liturgy?

Archbishop Bugnini first appears in chapter nine of Infiltration, “Communist Infiltration of the Priesthood.” The available scholarly literature on this volatile topic is not very well-developed at this time. Thus, Marshall has a fairly wide playing field in which to develop his overall thesis. He takes some of the existing literature on the topic, most notably the testimony of Bella Dodd (the former Communist and famous revert to Catholicism), and then folds Bugnini into the mix.[1]

Bella Dodd’s admission to having infiltrated seminaries with communist agents provides Marshall with some solid ground upon which to build his argument. It is now a well-known fact that Soviet Communism, by the design of Josef Stalin, attempted to infiltrate the Catholic priesthood. In fact, while the Catholic priesthood enjoyed a certain pride of place in the Soviet apparatus’ efforts of infiltration, it was not the only target, Protestantism was also similarly targeted.[2] Having a solid foundation, however, and a securely-structured house frame built on top of it are two separate things.

Having shown the foundation, Marshall then brings in Bugnini: “Suffice it here to state that Bugnini was an infiltrated priest [i.e., an infiltrator] and a Freemason” (89). Marshall claims here imply that Bugnini must have been up to something nefarious with his work on the liturgical reforms before, during and after Vatican II.

So, was Bugnini an infiltrator of the Church when he became a priest in 1936? Marshall claims that Bugnini became a Freemason in 1963 (90), but does not say whether he thinks his infiltration preceded that step.

Bugnini’s Briefcase

Marshall then turns his focus upon Bugnini, Freemasonry and the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century. He begins by discussing the famous “briefcase story.”

According to this story, in the mid-1970s, the Archbishop is said to have unwittingly left behind a briefcase in a meeting room in one of the curial departments of the Vatican. This case was discovered by a priest who opened it to determine its owner. Within the briefcase were documents that implicated Bugnini either as a Freemason or at least demonstrating some association with the Freemasons.[3] The documents were duly brought to Pope St. Paul VI and shortly thereafter, Bugnini left the Roman Curia bound for Tehran as Iran’s new Papal Nuncio.

Marshall quotes a “Letter to the Editor” written by Fr. Brian Harrison, OS, in 1989 for the publication AD 2000.[4] Fr. Harrison, then in Rome, was responding to an article written by the respected traditionalist writer Michael Davies in AD 2000 that discusses, in part, the matter of Bugnini and Freemasonry.

Marshall quotes the very last sentence, “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.” Marshall then proceeds to reference a list of alleged Freemasons that was released by Italian Freemasonry in 1976. It says that Bugnini joined Freemasonry on April 23, 1963 and that his codename was “Buan.”

Importantly, earlier in this letter, Fr. Harrison recounts his own personal experience in Rome about Freemasons in the Vatican. He admits, for instance, that there are a number of people in Rome, including a Cardinal prefect of an unnamed Roman Congregation “who believe that there have been and are Freemasons in high Vatican positions.” Fr. Harrison further admits to being amazed that the rumors did not originate in “‘crackpot’ conspiracy theorists.”

Harrison continues with regard to an opinion “widely held in Rome that the Masons themselves were responsible for circulating the absurdly long list of alleged Vatican Lodge members in 1976.” Harrison alleged that the motivation for doing so was “precisely in order to make the whole idea look ridiculous, thereby protecting the few prelates who really were Masons.” After this statement follows the last sentence quoted earlier by Marshall.

Marshall does not present Fr. Harrison’s caution to his readers.

Fr Brian Harrison. O.S.
After reading the complete text, I found the information presented by Fr. Harrison to be very intriguing. Knowing that Fr. Harrison was still living, I asked a mutual friend to introduce me to him, and who did so via e-mail in June, 2019.

During our conversation, Harrison authenticated his “Letter to the Editor” and promised to send some further information, which I received on June 28th. Fr. Harrison revealed the identities of people that he referenced—but did not name—thirty years earlier:

First, now that I ransack my memory, the “internationally known churchman” I mention was almost certainly the German aristocrat Dr. Eric von Saventhem, [Michael] Davies’ predecessor as President of Una Voce International and the man chiefly responsible, through his tireless and very polished diplomatic lobbying with then-Cardinal Ratzinger and others, for gaining the re-opened door to the […] celebration of the Traditional Mass (notably, the 1984 Indult). I met de Saventhem a number of times in Rome. I think he died in the early years of the new century [2005].  He asked me not to reveal his identity, but now it’s a matter of history and there’s no harm in doing so….

Following after this first name, Fr. Harrison identified the Cardinal that he had mentioned:

Davies told [a] group of us at [a] party that when in 1974 this priest found the briefcase with the suspicious-looking Bugnini material in it, he took it to Cardinal Dino Staffa (1906-1977), who was then Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura […]. Davies then said that Cardinal Staffa took the briefcase and its contents to the Rome carabinieri - the Italian federal police whose job it was to investigate possible crimes committed by secret societies (like the notorious P2 lodge[5]). He left it with them, asking them to scrutinize it and let him know ASAP whether they judged it to be genuine evidence that Bugnini was a mason. They soon got back to the Cardinal, with a report saying the material was indeed genuine and incriminating. Whereupon Staffa took this information and evidence to Paul VI, telling the Pope that if he did not immediately fire Bugnini from his key liturgical position, he (Staffa) would feel obliged in conscience to go public with this major scandal. Within a day or two Paul VI had merged the two existing Vatican liturgical dicasteries into one, thereby leaving Bugnini without a job.[6] Then, after leaving Bugnini in limbo for quite a few months and refusing ever to speak to him again, Paul eventually sent Bugnini to Iran as pro-Nuncio.[7] 

Dino Cardinal Staffa (1906-1977)
Bugnini and the Liturgical Reforms

Returning to Marshall’s presentation of Archbishop Bugnini, the next time the Archbishop is mentioned within Infiltration is in chapter twelve “Communist Infiltration of the Liturgy.” Here, Marshall explains that, “In 1948, Pius XII appointed the controversial priest Father Annibale Bugnini to the Commission for Liturgical Reform” (103). Marshall specifies the year as 1948, but Bugnini was scarcely considered to be “controversial” at this point in time. Marshall’s text implies that Ven. Pius XII made some obvious and colossal blunders in the second half of his papacy, the appointing of Bugnini in 1948 being one of them.

Marshall goes on to discuss Bugnini within the context of the liturgical reforms of Pius XII in the late 1940s to the mid-50s.[8] In short, Marshall alleges that Bugnini was the driving force, indeed the raison d’etre, for the Pian reforms of the 1950s. Vatican II peritus (expert) and later Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli, OFM (1896-1993), who was closely involved in the ‘Pian Commission’ of reform, takes a very different view of Bugnini’s importance at that time. He suggests that Bugnini’s role was actually rather miniscule.[9] Indeed, Bugnini had not been well-versed in the ways of the Roman Curia at that time, much less had he become a “master-manipulator” of Vatican machinery.

Fr Charles Murr with Cardinal Gagnon
Another indication comes from Fr. Charles Murr, former secretary to Édouard Cardinal Gagnon (1918-2007) who was the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1974 to 1990. Fr. Murr was a godson of Mother Pascalina, the right hand of Pius XII throughout his pontificate. In his book about her, The Godmother, Mother Pascalina referred to the Pian reforms and Bugnini’s involvement in them:

“[Bugnini] made two grave mistakes. He credited himself with the Easter Vigil reform when, in fact, those changes were the Holy Father’s, not Bugnini’s. What’s more, the coward Bugnini openly criticized Pope Pius XII—after his death, of course—for ‘standing in his way’ and not permitting him to advance his reformation of the liturgy. Imagine it…accusing the Holy Father of standing in his way! His way!”[10]

Compounding his careless claims about Bugnini, Marshall observes: “[u]nbeknownst to Pope Pius XII, [Bugnini] was rumored to be a Freemason.” Now, fifteen pages earlier, Marshall cited the Masons’ Registry published in 1976, which claimed that Bugnini became a Freemason in June, 1963. That would be just under five years after the death of Pius XII. Despite this fact, Marshall proceeds in the next chapter to blame Pius’ bad decisions (especially those pertaining to his staff) upon failing health from 1954 onward.[11]

Mother Pascalina

Treated for far too long as a taboo subject, the notion of the Catholic Church’s “infiltration” by enemies from within has received increasing mainstream attention in recent years. This development has been stimulated notably by aspects of the Pontificate of Pope Francis, and by the intensifying avalanche of sex-abuse accusations within the Church. From these and other reasons, many Catholics have been shaken.

It is natural that the Faithful’s state of mind is more open than formerly to all kinds of ideas and opinions. In the words of Gustave Le Bon, in his classic study of crowd psychology, people have come “face to face with the blind and silent forces of nature, which are inexorable to weakness and ignore pity.” In their pursuit of answers, many turned “instinctively…to the rhetoricians who accord them what they want.”[12]

Against this background is Taylor Marshall with his account of how the Catholic Church has, indeed, been “infiltrated.” Marshall, like many others, is looking for answers to the present malaise in the Church. He cannot be faulted at all for this desire and he is to be thanked for bringing attention to a sensitive area of research. While Infiltration offers food, however, for consideration, it also contains a striking degree of superficiality, errors of fact, as well as underlying assumptions. These matters need to be carefully analyzed and guided by more experienced hands.

Regarding Marshall’s discussion on Archbishop Bugnini, it is certain that Bugnini is not above question. Bugnini should not be absolved of whatever faults that might be properly attributed to him. We must, however, ensure that the historical record about Bugnini is accurate so as to provide a more truly informed opinion on his life and actions. On this score, Marshall’s apparent attempt to simplify complex subjects for greater intelligibility negatively impacted his presentation.

Readers should take seriously the warning by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan against taking too seriously the information in Infiltration. In his foreword to Infiltration, Schneider notes that, owing to a “lack of sufficient resource materials,” “some issues considered in this book…must remain as hypotheses” (x). Schneider’s warning is important to heed as many of the stories described by Marshall require much care, for what is taken as truth today could be disproved by historical documentation tomorrow.[13]


[1] Marshall also mishandles his sources on Dodd, citing an article as quoting her 1953 lecture at Fordham University, which it does not, and claiming that there is a recording of the lecture, which there does not appear to be: see p. 85, n. 46.

[2] Manning Johnson testified to this fact before a Congressional Panel in 1953 (House of Representatives, Hearing Before the Committee of Un-American Activities [Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1953], 2278ff). Johnson’s testimony does not specify Catholicism.

[3] Marshall takes the position that the documents implicated Bugnini as a Freemason.

[5] Propaganda Due or “P2” was a branch of Italian freemasonry founded in 1805. Due to its 20th century members’ association with various crime activities—particularly founded involvement in the “Vatican Bank” scandal of the late 1970’s—the Italian parliament legally abolished P2 in 1982.

[6] On July 11, 1975, Pope Paul VI combined the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Causes of Saints having previously separated these organs in 1969.

[7] Bugnini was nominated as Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Iran on January 5, 1976. (Hyperlinks added by Symonds.]

[8] Marshall says at the end of the chapter that Bugnini “slashed [the Holy Week liturgy] to pieces as an experiment.” He also remarks upon the reforms of the Novus Ordo, saying “[w]hat became the Novus Ordo Missae of 1969-1970 arose from the seeds planted by Bugnini in Holy Week of 1955” (Marshall, 106).

[9] Il card. Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970 (Roma: Centro studi S. Anselmo, 1998). It was part of the Studia Anselmiana series; The Development of the Liturgical Reform: as seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948-1970 (Fort Collins, Colorado: Roman Catholic Books, 2009).

[10] Fr. Charles Theodore Murr, The Godmother: Madre Pascalina, A Feminine Tour de Force (Middletown, DE: Self-published with, 2017), 144. In Fr. Murr’s recollections of their conversations, Mother Pascalina was unabashed in her belief that Bugnini was, in fact, a Freemason.

[11] Marshall makes a questionable statement about Monsignor Montini (the future Pope Paul VI): “it was Montini who ran the Holy See and the papacy from 1955 until the death of Pius XII in 1958. For example, Montini allowed the disgraced papal physician to enter the Papal apartment and photograph the dying Pius XII….” (108). In 1955, Montini was the Archbishop of Milan, having been appointed its Archbishop in 1954 (cf. AAS 46 [1954], 688, 728). Marshall provides no source for his claim that Dr. Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi took photos with Montini’s help. For more information about the circumstances surrounding Pius’ death, see Paul Hoffman, The Vatican’s Women: Female Influence at the Holy See (New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 42ff.

[12] Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (London, England: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907), 125.

[13] Bishop Schneider himself cites the circumstances surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I. In chapter twenty-five, Marshall insinuates that John Paul I was assassinated. He fails to tell his readers, however, that the Holy Father already had a weak heart and had been up late the previous night much vexed by a shouting match with Sebastian Cardinal Baggio, who, ironically, was a known Freemason (see Fr. Charles Murr with Jesse Romero and Terry Barber). This information certainly circulated prior to the publication of Infiltration.