Following his ordination in 1920, the twenty-three-year-old Father Montini was set on a rigorous course of academic study. He had distinguished himself as a formidable intellect during his time at seminary, and his Bishop, Giacinto Gaggia, felt the mental talents of the promising young cleric would be wasted on pastoral duties. So he was sent to Rome, where he took up apartments on the Via del Mascherone, in a building dating to the Middle Ages which had once been the barracks of the Teutonic Knights. He had wanted to study literature, but it was felt by his superiors that his mind would be better suited to Canon Law: he possessed an innate ability to appreciate nuance and weigh ideas carefully; he was a young man with the cautious and deliberate temperament of a seasoned jurist. He undertook his legal studies at the Lombard Seminary at the Pontifical Colleges, and was allowed to take supplemental courses in the humanities at the Sapienza University of Rome. He took classes there in history, philosophy, and Italian and Latin literature. Eventually, however, the course load proved too demanding, and by 1921 he was no longer attending any Sapienza lectures. His focus was strictly on Canon Law.
He was also bothered in 1921 by a return of the stomach maladies which had troubled him in adolescence. His family procured the services of a prominent Roman doctor named Andrea Amici, who had once been the personal physician of Pope Pius X. Amici assigned one of his assistants, Roberto Zorza, to the case of Father Montini. Zorza was a devout Catholic, and only seven years older than his patient; through a shared interest in politics they became friends. They politely debated the issues of the day during their appointments, and from time to time they would meet up for a beer. Zorza was a monarchist; Montini was not.
As it happens, my father interviewed Roberto Zorza’s daughter, Silvia Zorza, in November of 1990. I will publish some excerpts from that interview later, as it relates to the distinct change that came over Montini after 1935. Interestingly, Silvia was not surprised by my father’s research into the possibility of Paul VI’s existence. She herself believed in it, but she advised my father not to make too many waves. As a cautionary tale, she told him about a nephew of hers, Lorenzo Zorza—an Italian-born priest who had done his graduate studies at Fordham University in New York in the late 1960s, and ended up taking citizenship in the United States.
According to Silvia Zorza, her nephew first became aware of Paul VI’s survival from her father, during a visit to her family’s house in Rome in the mid-1970s. He found the idea intriguing, but lacked the luxury to pursue it: he returned to his rectory in Somerset, New Jersey, where he was a missionary priest with the Consolata Fathers. His days and nights there were filled with an endless series of requests for charity from the city’s various transients—the homeless, the mentally ill, and the needy. Which is not to say Father Zorza minded: truly, this was the good work of the Lord, the joyous toil of the gospels. He was glad to be following his vocation, yet his schedule was unconducive to research, so he filed the thought of Paul VI’s survival into the back of his mind and pursued it no further. Time passed. Then, in the early 1980s, he became an administrator in the Vatican embassy to the United Nations. He began dividing his time between Somerset and New York and Rome. He was now working in the corridors of serious power; he was in frequent contact with people in the upper echelons of the Vatican. In November of 1981, in New York, he was made aware of the secret history of Paul VI for the second time, and on this occasion it came from someone in a position to know: an assistant to a highly-placed cardinal. At this point, he became convinced.
Unfortunately, it became the cause of much ruin in his life, and this is why Silvia Lorza counseled my father to watch his step. In the winter of 1982, Father Zorza privately confided to several friends in Rome that the truth about Paul VI should be made publicly known, on the dogmatic grounds that it is “absolutely necessary for the salvation of all human beings that they submit to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VII, Unam Sanctam, 1302). Since Paul VI was still the pope, he reasoned, it was important that people know this, in order that they may submit themselves to the true pope and not a pretender. (Surely, invincible ignorance would excuse believers of good will, but nevertheless, vincit veritas: it was important for this fact to come out). Apparently, however, Fr. Zorza confided in the wrong friends. One of them must have been a turncoat, because before he returns to the United States, his directors give him two Renaissance paintings, which he is told are from the Vatican’s private collection: a portrait of a lady by Il Bronzino (1503 – 1572), and a painting of John the Baptist by Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1530). He is requested to deliver them to an archivist who works for the Archdiocese of New York. He accepts unquestioningly, as this kind of thing is a matter of course—in the pre-9/11 days, it is not uncommon for diplomats to carry valuables through customs, as shipping them independently is a bureaucratic hassle. He has them wrapped and securely sheathed; he even registers them with the airline, providing them with an insurance certificate. The reader will observe that none of this is the behavior of a man trafficking in stolen goods, but two days after he gave the paintings and the insurance paperwork to the diocesan archivist in New York, he was arrested by U.S. customs agents on charges of smuggling stolen artwork.
Il Bronzino: Portait of Laura Battiferri, oil on canvas, c. 1560. One of two paintings given to Fr. Lorenzo Zorza by Vatican officials to take to New York in 1982; it now hangs in a gallery in Florence. It was probably just a random coincidence that the subject of the other painting was St. John the Baptist, the namesake of Giovanni Battista Montini.
The paintings, it turned out, did not belong to the Vatican at all, but had been stolen from wealthy Italians. The “archivist” did not work for the archdiocese either, but was a forger and stolen art dealer for an organized crime syndicate in Yonkers. Father Zorza intuited the message, loud and clear: he was to keep utter silence on the matter of Pope Paul VI. He considered telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth since, after all, “fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew x, 28), but the charges were impossible to refute, and the scandal of the matter ensured that he would never be taken seriously. He reluctantly pled guilty and made sure to name no one in the Vatican. He was sentenced to only three months’ probation, but his reputation was sufficiently besmirched: the Archdiocese of New York suspended his faculties, the Consolata Fathers dropped him from their rolls, and his position at the U.N. was terminated. Even with all this notorious disgrace, Silvia Zorza said her nephew was arrested twice more by American authorities over the following few years on charges that always turned out to be fabricated—a continuous series of legal headaches. “It was like,” she said, “the men at the Vatican kept flicking his ears with their fingers, as if to say, ‘we haven’t forgotten about you. You be quiet and stay quiet.’ They were taunting him, reminding him of the influence they had.” Lesson learned. (I will add, as an aside, that one of the odder aspects of Silvia Zorza’s story is her description of the “men at the Vatican” as “men with big noses who wear eyeliner.” I’m unsure if this was just a descriptive flourish, since it evokes a caricatured image of an Alan Rickman movie villain, or whether it was a suggestion of something more devious. It does, however, match an account of certain clandestine goings-on at the Vatican given by Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua in his interviews, in which he spoke of an atmosphere tinged with gender-bending and Luciferianism).
Silvia Zorza is now deceased, but her nephew is still among the living. An archived 1982 article from the New York Times bears out the fact of his initial arrest: Priest arrested in smuggling of art is suspended from his UN duties; and a Getty images photo from 1987 shows him during a later court case, where he had been set up to be accused of scalping tickets. But he is now in his seventies and keeps a low profile, occasionally celebrating the Tridentine Mass at Holy Innocents church in New York, but spending the bulk of his year doing missionary work in a rural diocese in Brazil, where he helps to evangelize the pagan natives who live in some of the most remote areas of the Amazon—people who have had almost no contact with Christianity whatsoever. In the early stages of my attempts to corroborate my father’s research (back when I was considering compiling it in book form), I was able to speak briefly with Father Zorza over the telephone during one of his stays in New York. For legal reasons, he said, he could neither confirm nor deny his aunt’s version of the events. But he did not mind if I published it. I gathered from his tone that was he no longer too concerned with retribution from the Vatican. Perhaps that has something to do with it now being the age of the internet. Thirty-five years ago, the Vatican cabal could arrange for a potential truth-teller to be arrested on art theft, in order to silence him before he could even make a peep about a pope. Nowadays the emperor’s nudity is more easily declared: any number of blogs might be devoted to the subject. The internet, to be sure, is full of many temptations and spiritual dangers (not the least of which are rampant pornography and atheist propaganda, and one certainly feels sorry for the child growing up in this age—“save yourselves from this perverse generation” indeed). But for all the internet’s evils, one of its shining positives is that it has empowered the little folk to cut through the clouds of secrecy and to amputate some of the tentacles which formerly extended from the halls of high power. The situation is a diabolical inversion of what used to be the Catholic paradigm: Rome is now the seat of the Antichrist, and the governments of Europe are all secular, while the monarchists and traditional Catholics languish in obscurity. But at least we have the internet. We are like the seemingly inconsequential resisters in the Kipling poem:
Rome never looks where she treads.
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on—that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.
We are the Little Folk—we!
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you’ll see
How we can drag down the State!
We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!
Mistletoe killing an oak—
Rats gnawing cables in two—
Moths making holes in a cloak—
How they must love what they do!
Yes—and we Little Folk too,
We are busy as they—
Working our works out of view—
Watch, and you’ll see it some day!