In Rome, Germany, Austria, and Brescia (1921 – 1922)

In the same year in which Father Montini began his friendship with his physician, Roberto Zorza, he attended a series of lectures on Canon Law at the Lateran Palace being given by Alfredo Ottaviani, who was then a young priest like Montini, but several years older, and widely considered one of the most promising clerics of the new generation.  He was a prodigy in jurisprudence, philosophy, and ecclesiology.

In many respects, one finds Ottaviani (the scrappy son of a humble baker from Trastevere, one of thirteen children, blind in one eye, and who rose to prominence entirely on the merits of his own uncompromising intellect) preferable to Montini (as there can be little doubt that the influence of Montini’s father—the editor of a Catholic newspaper and a member of the haute bourgeoisie as well as the Italian Parliament—had something to do with the ease of his son’s journey up the steps of the ecclesiastical ladder).  Ottaviani had a talent for ruthless clarity and precision, whereas Montini could be deliberate almost to a fault; his ability to appreciate both sides of an argument sometimes led him to taking wishy-washy and noncommittal stances when a firmer hand was demanded.  Also, Ottaviani was said to have had a caustic wit and a certain waspish charm, while Montini appears to have been somewhat bland (the curse of the moderate).  Ottaviani was overall better-suited to his time and environment.  The Catholic Church in the twentieth century needed principled and doctrinaire leaders, not milquetoast compromisers.  With his smarts and gravitas, Cardinal Ottaviani was considered a front-runner among the papabile in 1958, but the conclave chose the unserious Angelo Roncalli instead, and so the Church got John XXIII, the bringer of jollity.  Such is life.  As St. Vincent of Lerins famously put it: “God gives some Popes, God tolerates some Popes, and God inflicts some Popes.”  And in 1963, it would be Cardinal Ottaviani who placed the tiara on the head of Pope Paul VI at his coronation, and not the other way around.  (It should be remembered, however, as was summarized in this post, that Paul VI was not culpable for the ruin and wreckage caused during his papacy.  As can be inferred from his attendance at Ottaviani’s lectures, he was at the very least not a liberal).

He was being actively recruited, in 1921, for a position in the Vatican Secretariat of State by the foreign ministry sostituto, Monsignor Giuseppe Pizzardo.  This recruitment itself hints at Father Montini’s religiously conservative bona fides, for Pizzardo was a staunch anti-modernist, and the Secretariat was known for attracting the more traditional-mined young curialists of the time, including the aforementioned Ottaviani, as well as Fr. Antonio Bacci, who would be his co-signatory in the Ottaviani intervention in 1969.  But that is to get ahead of things.

ottaviani

Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani (1890 – 1979).  His motto was “Semper Idem”—“Always the Same.”


The following year dawned drearily.  January of 1922 was a frigid and wet one.  Montini caught the flu.  The pope did as well.  Benedict XV took ill from standing too long in the winter rain outside of Saint Martha’s Hospice in the Vatican, where he had celebrated Mass for the nuns there.  He had been waiting on the papal limousine; unfortunately, his driver ran late.  On the seventeenth of January, the pope’s flu had progressed to pneumonia, and he lay down in his bed for the very last time.  He departed this life five days afterwards.  He was sixty-seven years old.  While the body was lying in repose at St. Peter’s, Father Montini went with his doctor, Roberto Zorza, to offer his prayers for the deceased.  It was a truly funereal day: a louring gray sky, a persistent rain, and a square crowded with public mourners, all dressed in black, holding black umbrellas.

View of Body of Pope

The death of a pope: the body of Benedict XV, 1922.


A fortnight later there was a new pope: Achille Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan, who took the name Pius XI.  On the sixth of March, Pius granted a private audience to the students of the Pontifical Academy.  Earlier in this post it was mentioned that Montini enjoyed the benefit of influence: and indeed, on this occasion Pope Pius singled him out for a brief conversation—enquiring after his father, and expressing his admiration for Montini’s mentor in Brescia, Fr. Bevilacqua (at the time, Bevilacqua was well-regarded as a pastoral liturgist).  Father Montini’s path to the nunciature continued on.  In July of that year he toured Austria and Germany as a prospective ambassador, to acquaint himself with the customs, culture, and language.  He discovered he was not a Germanophile, writing in a letter to Roberto Zorza that the culture and the art of the region were “oppressive and incomprehensible.”  The existential gloom of Grünewald crucifixes and Doctor Faustus did not settle well with him; in Tübingen he sat through a philosophy lecture full of the weighty Teutonic concern with aesthetics and perfection; and his attendance at a showing of F.W. Murnau’s expressionist vampire film Nosferatu he deemed “a queasy waste of my time.”  He was confounded by Gothic sensibilities.  (His superiors had diagnosed him correctly: he was a natural bureaucrat, not a writer).  He did report to Zorza, however, that sauerkraut was improving his gastrointestinal troubles; he had been advised to seek out fermented foods for their benefits to gut bacteria.  He went to Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Oberammergau, Mainz, and Bonn.  He stayed for only four months, as the Weimar Republic was at this time experiencing its exponential hyperinflation.  In October of ’22 he was informed by Msgr. Pizzardo that his entry into the Secretariat of State was all but certain; it would be best if he finished his scholarship in Canon Law as soon as possible.  He returned to his parents’ home in Brescia, and from there he commuted to the Milan Seminary to study in an abbreviated program.  His administrators at the Pontifical College in Rome waived some of his requirements.  He was awarded his doctorate in December of that same year.

A Pict Song

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 bronzini

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!

The Young and Future Pope (1897–1920)

This blog has thus far been following two separate timelines: first, the chronicle supplied by Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua (which I have summarized up to his encounter with the occultist and papal chamberlain Evan Morgan in 1917), and second, that of Baltasar Fuentes Ramos (whose account has been provided up to the point of his meeting with Borges in 1966.  I am attempting to persuade Señor Fuentes to permit me the publication of more chapters from his short story, The Wandering Jew, but he is currently incommunicado.  He has told me he has no interest in reading this blog, so an appeal to him here would probably be futile).  Today, then, will commence a third timeline, much belated but rather essential, concerning the very subject of this blog, Pope Paul VI.

Over the years following his conversations with Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua, my father undertook some research into the life of the current pope.  (For newcomers to this blog, the current pope is Paul VI, and not the Argentine antipope calling himself Francis, who reigns with a liberal fist at Rome).  My father’s notes from this endeavor are sufficient enough to provide a basic biographical sketch of Paul VI covering the period prior to his elevation to the papacy.  Truth be told, this is not a terribly fascinating life to recount.  He was more or less ordinary: a child of his mediocre era, born into a post-Risorgimento Italy, one where the ancient kingdoms and traditional politics had been supplanted by post-Enlightenment ideals, and one where influence of the Catholic Church and the old nobility were beginning to wane.  (My father, always the cinephile, makes a passing reference in his notes to Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film The Leopard, which is about the painful transition in Sicily, from a mannered society of custom and virtue to a new order of egalitarianism and personal liberty.  The title character is an aging aristocrat unable to adjust to the sweeping societal changes: he is a leopard who cannot change his spots).

Giovanni Battista Montini came of age long after this transition.  He studied for the priesthood at a time when Scholastic theology was still being taught in the seminaries, but also when the ideas of modernism were pervasive enough for Pope Pius X to attempt a purge of its cancer from the among the clergy.  He worked in the Roman Curia during a period when the Church was suffering from an existential identity crisis: whether to hide her light under a bushel and conform herself to the world, or to shine as a lone beacon of truth and tradition in a world gone mad.  Before he lost his autonomy in 1935, Montini tended to be a fence-sitter in this crisis, but he usually erred on the side of caution.  It will be shown that he was mostly a moderate.  “Moderate” is almost a pejorative these days, but the man who would be pope was neither lukewarm nor unprincipled in his faith.  He was simply able to see both sides of an issue.  In this sense, he passed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test for true intelligence: “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  Perhaps that sums him up best: ordinary and uninteresting in many respects, but with a keen intellectual curiosity, and a natural enough instinct toward conservatism to keep him prudent.  Lastly, it might even be useful to consider his life in all its normalcy, as a tonic against the collective shrieks of invective and calumny that have been heaped upon him over the years: that he is a modernist heretic, a homosexual, a Freemason, and various other slanders.  None of that is the truth about him.  The truth is quite mundane.

CHILDHOOD

He was born on the 26th of September in 1897 into a family of upper-middle-class means, and was christened Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini.  The father, Giorgio Montini, came from a respected Brescian line of doctors, lawyers, and writers.  He made his living as the editor of a Catholic newspaper, Il Cittadino di Brescia.  The mother, Giuditta Alghisi Montini, hailed from a notable and wealthy family, but her parents had died when she was young.  Her guardian was the mayor of Brescia: a leftist and known Freemason named Giuseppe Bonardi.  (It might be added that the teenaged Guiditta had, blessedly, spent most of her time away from this loathsome person, being schooled by French nuns in a convent in Milan).  It is sometimes alleged that his mother’s family was Jewish, which would be interesting if true, but this appears to have no basis in fact.  The Alghisi of his mother’s line were Catholic aristocrats of some antiquity, and were distantly related to the Renaissance architect Galasso Alghisi.

Throughout his youth, he went by the nickname Battista.  He had an older brother named Lodovico (b. 1896) and younger brother named Francesco (b. 1900).  From their mother, the boys learned French.  They took their primary schooling from the Jesuits at the Collegio Cesare Arici, and played their sports at a boys’ club at the church of Santa Maria della Pace, administered by Oratorians.  Two of the Oratorian priests there became mentors to Lodovico and Battista.  Their names were Fr. Giulio Bevilacqua (no apparent relation to Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua) and Fr. Paolo Caresana.

montini family

Famiglia Montini, circa 1904.  From left: Giorgio, Giovanni Battista, Guiditta, Lodovico, and Francesco.


The household was multi-generational: it included the boys’ paternal grandmother, Francesca Buffali Montini, and a spinster aunt, their father’s sister, Maria.  Both women strove to infuse the children with a love of the Catholic faith, but Battista seems to have preferred adventure tales instead, particularly those with a nautical theme—“danger on the waves,” for some reason, appealed to the child.  His favorite bible stories were Noah’s ark and Jonah in the belly of the whale.  An illustrated compendium of sea monsters was a mainstay on his nightstand; his favorite leviathan was the giant Norse octopus known as the Kraken.  He was an avid reader of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and much later in life, when he visited the United States in 1965, an interviewer asked his opinion on American culture.  He confessed that he was not well-acquainted with it, but added that he owned an Italian translation of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick, which he called “a magnificent story.”  His personal assistant when he was the pope, Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua, remarked that Paul VI frequently used the nautical references to the papacy and the Church, such as “the fisherman’s chair” or “the barque of Peter.”  (It might be presumptuous to read too much into a childhood fascination, but one wonders whether perhaps the boy, amidst his grandmother’s exhortations to piety and his storybook tales of the sea, was drawn subconsciously to the symbolic notion of the Catholic Church as the ark outside of which there is no salvation, being tossed about on the tempestuous ocean of sin, enmity, and worldliness.  That would probably be too Jungian.  In any case, he would one day become the boat’s captain).

In other respects, there was little to suggest his later becoming a priest.  He enjoyed card games, particularly whist, which was the favorite of his brothers as well.   Together they needed only a single friend or a willing adult to make the foursome required to play.  When Battista was nine years old he told his aunt he wanted to become either a sailor or a writer.  When he was eleven, he had eliminated the sailor option out of pragmatism, for lack of knowing how to swim.  Becoming a writer was now his sole ambition; his interests were in poetry and, following after his father, journalism.  His favorite sports were cycling and soccer—although doctors asked him to limit his participation in both of these activities in 1910, which is the year when he began to experience a chronic heart flutter.  Added to this, he also came down with gastrointestinal troubles.  This period would prove a significant turning point.  The once normal and healthy youngster became an invalid.

ADOLESCENCE

Owing to his illnesses, he was pulled out of school for months at a time, and given his education by private tutors.  He also began to stay, for reasons of convalescence, at the bucolic family villa in Verolavecchia, one of the ancestral homes of his mother’s family.  He was typically accompanied by his Aunt Maria during these stays.  For the heart issues, his doctors prescribed rest and relaxation; for the gastric problems, he was put on a diet of strictly cold foods, and advised to snack only on yogurt.  He was allowed to take a walk once a day, which he sometimes took with his tutor, Durante, as well as the villa’s caretaker, an elderly man named Michele, and Michele’s two Irish wolfhounds.

Montini34

Villa Montini, where Battista spent much of his adolescent and teenage years due to illness.  Anyone who knew him from the period of 1910 to 1920 would probably have found it incredulous to think that the sickly boy would one day live to be a hundred and nineteen years old.


During one of his prolonged stays at Verolavecchia, he had a juvenile encounter with romance.  A property adjacent to the Montini residence was being rented in 1910 by a Greek family named Xenakis, from the island of Spetses.  On one of his afternoon walks, Battista (then twelve) met the Xenakis’ fourteen-year-old daughter Nina: she was seated calmly on a gravel path, stacking stones into a small cairn.  On the day they met, he was traveling alone, with only Michele’s dogs for his company.  Whatever conversation he had with Nina Xenakis is lost to history, but for him it must have been a magical encounter.  My father’s notes contain a passage from Durante’s diary.  Durante was twenty-one.  Apparently Nina was smitten with the tutor and not the student.  A pathetic love triangle ensued.  Wrote Durante:

“There is nothing in my life more annoying at this time than the combined lunacy of these two children.  Not even the infernal bird whose screeching wakes me up at night or startles me in the middle of the day.  (I must find out what species of bird this is.  Its call is the shrillest and most startling noise I have ever heard.  Several times I have gone into the woods with Michele’s rifle, ready to stalk and shoot the creature as soon it starts up.  But it never shrieks when I’m out there.  Yet if I go back inside, not ten minutes later it returns to its noisemaking.  I have read and re-read, several times now, Schopenhauer’s great essay On Noise.  Commiserating with the German master through his sublimely cantankerous writing is my only consolation).  The children are even worse than the bird, however.  My student, who harbors aspirations to be a writer, composes overwrought love poems daily, which I am obliged to read and comment on.  The object of his poetical delirium is a bookish Hellene, pudgy yet somewhat cute, with freckles covering the bridge of her nose, and crystal green eyes.  But she is an impossible bore.  She is wholly obsessed with the stone structures built by prehistoric peoples: dolmens, stone circles, and the great megalith on the Salisbury plain in England called Stonehenge.  Her aspiration in life is to be an archaeologist and study these ancient phenomena—but, she tells me, she would be happy to give it all up if I were to make her a marriage proposal.  Unfortunately, she has developed an affection for me.  I find myself on the unwanted receiving end of a schoolgirl crush.  Her Italian is very poor; the family is from some forgettable Greek isle, and the brazenness with which she flirts with me is almost as irritating as the unintelligibility of her speech.  If I stay inside, I am in the company of the besotted boy and his wretched poetry.  He imagines himself a Petrarch, and the dull Greek lass is his Laura.  Yet if I venture outside, it is not long before the barefoot girl in the floral dress conveniently strays onto the villa grounds to make tedious and grammatically terrible conversation.  And always—always—there is the bird.”

FORMATION

He earned highest honors when he took his exams at a state school in 1913, aged sixteen years old.  He would spend the next three years preparing for his maturità classica, being tutored by Durante as well as a friend of his father’s, a retired professor named Labriola.  During this period his health was improving, and he was living more often with his family in Brescia, and also spending time with his Oratorian priest friends, Fathers Bevilacqua and Caresana.  At this point he seems to have begun discerning his call to the priesthood.  An entry in Durante’s diary describes the tension in his reading habits.  Montini was alternating between religious books (such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, and Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales) and the works of secular writers, such as the 19th century Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri and the 17th century Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza.  Spinoza had been the recommendation of Durante, but Fr. Caresana disapproved of the selection.  “Spinoza was deemed unacceptable by his spiritual director, due to his constant reliance on classical pagans instead of the Church’s great doctors and saints, as well as the fact that his books were on the Index, condemned for containing pantheism, and coming, no less, from an apostate Hebrew.  Even the Jews had disowned him.  So into the trash he went.”  (It is unclear whether Durante was being literal or figurative when he says Spinoza went into the trash.  It doesn’t seem in keeping with the young Montini’s character to throw books into the garbage.  In any event, it would be Pope Paul VI himself, in 1966, who would formally abolish the Index Librorum Prohibitorum—though not, it must be noted, of his own volition.  But more on that later).

His inclinations toward the priesthood did not diminish his desire to become a poet or journalist.  With the outbreak of World War I, his Catholicism became infused with a youthful activism and political bent.   He and a friend, Andrea Trebeschi, founded an independent periodical in 1914 entitled Numero Unico.  Labriola oversaw and guided their efforts; Montini’s father allowed them the use of his newspaper presses for publication, and Fathers Bevilacqua and Caresana contributed short pieces.  In the end, however, the journal received a poor reception and quickly folded.  In 1915, Italy entered the war.  Montini enlisted for military service, but (unsurprisingly) was turned down after failing his medical inspection.  His brother Lodovico joined the 16th Artillery Regiment; Father Bevilacqua became a chaplain to the 5th Alpine Regiment.  A year later, Montini had finalized his decision to become a priest, and in 1916 he formally enrolled at the Brescia Seminary, in a small class of little more than a dozen students, consisting mainly of young men whose physical disabilities rendered them unfit for service in the war, including Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua with his shortened leg, and Alessandro Falchi with his poor eyesight.  Durante wrote in his diary that when he finally parted with his pupil of nearly nine years, he shook his hand warmly, and told him how impressed he was with his “maturity, intelligence, poise, and good sense.”  Apparently the boy who had once written desperate poetry for Nina Xenakis had grown into a thoughtful and serious young man.

While at seminary, he remained on his doctor’s orders to keep to a special diet and get plenty of rest, so he lived at home rather than on campus.  Father Caresana supplemented his theological studies, and his friend Andrea Trebeschi continued to assist him in his writing endeavors.  Together they would make a second attempt at a Catholic political journal.  This one would prove more successful.  It was called La Fionda (in English, “the Sling”—a reference to David’s weapon against Goliath), and it gained a respectable popularity, particularly among the membership of the Catholic Student Union, FUCI (Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana), and one of its early supporters was Pier Giorgio Frassati, who seems to have been something like the Italian version of Dorothy Day.  Montini articulated his politico-religious vision in La Fionda: that Europe in the midst of the war was a continent on a sure path to self-destruction unless it recovered its Christian roots.  But he stopped well short of advocating for traditionalism; he argued for more of a return to the gospels than to the Church.  His thinking was possibly influenced by Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian Orthodox writer, two of whose books Durante had gifted to Montini upon their parting (“I gave him a pair of books by Solovyov, telling him that if he would not have Spinoza or Schopenhauer, then this Russian mystic was the closest thing Christianity had to offer”).  In any respect, he saw himself and his Fionda colleagues as taking on the establishment.  In a typically tendentious editorial he declared, “no, we will not pay heed to the aging and irrelevant pedagogues, with their doctorate degrees and their empty bluster.  We will instead make a fresh start with the Master, the Rabbi, Jesus Christ.  Yes, a fresh start!—however difficult, and on our own, if needs be.”  This reads like the idealism of the young, but it is fairly representative of Montini, as he had actually settled on a moderate course.  He rejected on one hand the nihilism of the radical left as well as the rising fascism of Mussolini; but neither did he exhort a full-hearted return to the throne-&-altar scheme.  He kept his Catholicism orthodox, but in his politics he was not exactly influenced by Joseph de Maistre or Chateaubriand.  His political thinking during his years in seminary was mostly along the lines of the Sicilian cleric Don Luigi Sturzo, who founded the Italian People’s Party, based on the Catholic economic philosophy contained in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, as well as a firm commitment to social reform.  But it should be noted that in doctrinal matters, no liberalism crept into Montini’s thought.  He wrote an article on the question of a reunion between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, and he made no ecumenical concessions.  He cited Solovyov as well as St. Maximus the Confessor, and catalogued the many aspects of Orthodoxy which he admired, but in the final analysis he insisted that unfortunately no return of the schismatics to the bosom of Rome could be possible without their contrite capitulation on the filioque or papal infallibility.

Prior to taking his minor orders, he made a pilgrimage with some other students in 1919 to the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino.  He wrote home to his grandmother and aunt: “I find this place an inspiration.  It is the solemn and beating heart of a civilization which we must not allow to disappear.  Rather its ideals must be rekindled, turning men’s minds to the things that are above, and restoring to the nation its Catholic culture, its ancient faith, its ora et labora.”  His conservatism was beginning to shine through.

He took the cassock on the 21st of November of that year, and received the tonsure on November 30th.  He became porter and lector on the 14th of December, and a subdeacon on the 28th of February in 1920.  He completed his studies in the spring of that year.  On Sunday, May 30th, in the church of Santa Maria belle Grazie, he celebrated his first Mass.  He had been ordained a priest the previous day, in a class of only thirteen, due to the war’s depletion of seminarian ranks.  It is probably the only noteworthy aspect of this otherwise mundane biography to mention that Alessandro Falchi was included in the remaining dozen.  Lying prostrate on the floor of the church that Saturday afternoon were two men who would both eventually occupy the fisherman’s chair.  One of them would be the last pope of the twentieth century: the last pope to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in St. Peter’s and the last pope to receive a coronation with the papal tiara.  The other would be the first antipope of the modern era.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

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At the Botanical Garden in Buenos Aires, January 1966

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who would one day be “Pope Francis,” got in touch with Baltasar Fuentes Ramos during the summer break between school terms, he informed his former student that he was cordially invited to a second meeting with Borges, the famous writer.  Bergoglio also filled Fuentes in on some events of the previous month.  When Borges had been in Santa Fe for the student writing contest, he and Bergoglio had struck up something of a friendship.  Borges had been considering writing a story about Catholicism for several years, and upon meeting the well-read, intelligent, and free-thinking seminarian, he felt as if he had finally found his consultant.  They had bonded, in particular, over a shared morbid interest in the apostle Judas Iscariot.  Borges had written a provocative story in 1944 called Three Versions of Judas, and Bergoglio had been reading the gnostic scriptures contained in the Nag Hammadi codices: that library of gnostic texts which had been unearthed in Egypt in 1945, and which were still somewhat rare at the time, and difficult to acquire in a good Spanish translation.  Bergoglio was especially interested in the idea that there was a gnostic text known as the “Gospel of Judas,” which had been mentioned by a few Christian writers as one of the most heretical texts of all.  Did it actually exist, or was it just a legend?  Judas, decided the seminarian and the writer, should be the basis for their collaboration.

In order to facilitate his work with Borges, Bergoglio had asked the Jesuits to transfer him back to his home city of Buenos Aires.  They had complied with his request, and he was now going to teach at the Colegio del Salvador there.  He told Fuentes the Jesuits in Buenos Aires were amazingly progressive and ecumenical—“but it’s an atmosphere you would likely despise,” he wrote.  “I was disappointed when you condemned me so harshly for being a modernist.  You should understand that the Church has changed for the better now with the Second Vatican Council.  The future is not to be feared, Baltasar.  Ours is a living faith, not one stuck in the past.  We have to open ourselves to new ideas.  Even St. Thomas Aquinas took many of his principles from the philosopher Aristotle, who was not only a pagan, but someone whom few Europeans at the time had ever heard of.  St. Thomas was not afraid of the strange or the unknown: he knew that Christianity can absorb almost anything.  My own particular interest is in the gnostics of the Early Church.  But I know you will not approve.  Perhaps our friendship has been severed for good over these differences.  Nevertheless, our mutual acquaintance Borges would like to see you.”

The meeting was set to take place in the Botanical Garden, not too far from where Fuentes was staying at his uncle’s rectory.  It was also a favorite haunt of Borges’, who liked the fact that a small colony of stray cats had been allowed to make the gardens their home.  Borges was an inveterate lover of cats, tigers especially, and enjoyed cats for being the miniature cousins of the majestic beasts.  He agreed with Théophile Gautier that “God created the cat so that man might caress the tiger.”  Borges told Fuentes this much when they met at the gardens.  He loved not only the hazy atmosphere of the lush greenery and the fecund smells, but also the feline ambience of the free-roaming cats.

cats

Borges maintained a lifelong fondness for cats, tigers in particular.  “The tiger addressed in my poem / Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols / And scraps picked up at random out of books, / A string of labored tropes that have no life, / And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel / That under sun or stars or changing moon / Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling / Its rounds of love and indolence and death.”


On the afternoon of the meeting, Fuentes excused himself from his duties at his uncle’s parish and showed up at the designated meeting spot on Santa Fe Avenue.  He remembers Borges looking dapper in a beige seersucker suit and a dark paisley tie.  Borges’ secretary Jana Filippovna was with him, as was Bergoglio, and there was also a peculiar man named Desmando Ruiz, who Fuentes remembers as a grubby, sinister-looking fellow in a raggedy janitorial jumpsuit, eating salted and habanero-spiced nuts from a paper bag with the words “El Fuego del Diablo” emblazoned on it, with the logo of a grinning little cartoon devil astride a blazing habanero pepper.

Ruiz was introduced to Fuentes as a handyman and plumber whom Bergoglio had worked with in one of his jobs as a teenager before deciding to study for the priesthood.  Fuentes remembers Ruiz as looking every bit like a plumber: “it was easy to imagine him somewhere deep in the dank subterranean bowels of a building, with wrenches and pliers hanging from his belt, tinkering with leaky pipes.  He was lanky, with long sinewy limbs, and he had a pasty, hideous, pock-marked face with the flat, puffy, broken-looking nose of a boxer.  His fingers were calloused and dirty.  But he had a definite intelligence about him.  I can imagine him in a custodian’s closet, lying on a cot and reading philosophy, lazily leeching paid time from his employer.  He was very much enamored with Hegel.  Ruiz believed that everything in the world was progressing toward an ultimate end, that history was a long Hegelian process of ‘becoming,’ at the completion of which would be a true and perfect enlightenment—where all distinctions would be obliterated and all opposites would be resolved.   Ruiz imagined that this would be a Marxist paradise on earth.”

During the time they worked together, Desmando Ruiz had pointed the young Bergoglio in the direction of the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Ruiz himself had long since ceased to be a practicing Catholic, but he liked that Teilhard was applying Hegelian principles to Catholic thought.  Teilhard had been enraptured with the works of Darwin, and he had attempted to meld Darwin’s evolutionary system with Catholicism.  He held a heretical opinion that mankind was poised near the final stages of a process of God-guided evolution, and that the next phase in human development was that everyone’s consciousness would soon be subsumed into a single mass consciousness—a collective awareness of the elusive istigkeit spoken of in Eckhart’s philosophy.  All human thought would exist in an omnipresent Oneness.  Teilhard called this the Omega Point, and he claimed that the Omega Point itself would be the Second Coming of Christ, the parousia, since every soul would be drawn into and united with the Mind of God.

According to Fuentes, Teilhard de Chardin was Bergoglio’s favorite Catholic writer, and was the inspiration for Bergoglio becoming a Jesuit.  “There are three important aspects of Francis’ vision for the Church,” says Fuentes.  “Two are public, one is private.  The foremost aspect is his liberalism.  The things he stresses the most are the liberation theology and social justice advocacy that emerged from the Latin American atmosphere of the 1960s.  That’s his most public side.  The second aspect of Francis’ ideology is the philosophy of Teilhard.  He believes that the Catholic Church must function as the spiritual side of a one-world government, whereby the whole of humanity can be drawn into the grand project of arriving at the Omega Point.  You can see obvious hints of this in some of his writings and speeches.”

But the third aspect, Fuentes said, “is the most secret aspect, the one which he keeps hidden.  And that aspect is his Gnosticism: a horrible set of gnostic beliefs concerning Judas.  You are a traditional Catholic,” said Fuentes (meaning me, to whom he was writing), “so you would probably say that Vatican II and the decades that followed marked a betrayal of the Church’s traditions and teachings.  But let me tell you something: Francis would agree with you.  He believes this betrayal is very necessary.  He even sees himself as a ‘second Judas,’ betraying Christ at the end of history in preparation for the Second Coming at the Omega Point.  Even if you were to accuse Francis, directly to his face, of being an Antichrist, he would not, deep in his heart, deny it.  Because he believes that the traditional ‘old Christ’ must be negated and overcome, in order to usher in the ecumenical age of a ‘New Christ’ who embraces all people and all cultures in a supremely syncretistic pan-religious version of Catholicism.  This is Francis’ belief.  I learned it that day in the Botanical Garden, as the five of us took our promenade among those tree-draped paths and humid greenhouses, listening to Bergoglio speak of these things with Borges, who was delighted with the weirdness of it all.”

Fuentes continued: “I think Borges saw Francis as a theological madman—and yet this kind of lunacy, of course, was just the sort of thing Borges found fascinating.  But know this: the subtext of every word that Francis utters or writes contains his deeply-held gnostic theology of Judas,” Fuentes told me.  “You can read it between every line.”  Fuentes would eventually become aware of even further details of this demonic Christology, which involves a “sinful Christ” and a “transfigured Judas.”  He pointed me toward an instance where Francis actually dared to weave a small bit of this material into one of his sermons, where he concluded by openly denying the faith of Chalcedon, saying that Christ on the cross “became sin” and was “completely emptied of his divinity.”

(For non-Catholic readers of this blog, it will suffice to know that the Council of Chalcedon solemnly taught that Christ was “like us in all respects but for sin”, meaning He was always sinless—thus at no point did He ever, as Francis suggests, “become sin.”  Chalcedon also taught that Christ was “fully human and fully divine”; not, as Francis preached, that He ever became “emptied of his divinity.”  Francis’ teaching is a gnostic misinterpretation of a passage of scripture, Philippians 2:7. In fact, Pope Pius XII specifically condemned this interpretation in his encyclical Sempiternus Rex Christus: “this is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, the enemies of the faith imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations”).

Eventually their conversation shifted to the Second Vatican Council, which had concluded just the previous month.  Jana Filippovna remarked at how surprised she was at the document which effectively reversed the Catholic Church’s attitude toward Judaism and the Jewish people.  Desmando Ruiz offered how pleased he was to see the undertones of Hegelian and Marxist thought diffused through so many of the decrees.  Borges told a story of having been in Madrid the previous year to give a talk on Edgar Allan Poe; during conversation at a dinner party hosted by a Spanish academic, he caught the whiff of a merry rumor that the current pope had gone to seminary with a classmate who was nearly his own twin, so similar were they in appearance.  (Borges liked the notion of doppelgängers and doubles.  He’d written a story in 1960 called Borges & I about how his own public persona felt like a separate entity, and later, in 1969, he would author a story called The Other, about meeting his younger self on a peculiar park bench: a bench which served as a fulcrum in time—or an intersection between dreaming and reality—joining the elder Borges in Cambridge, Massachusetts with the younger Borges in Geneva, Switzerland).

The mention of doubles and twins swung the conversation back to Gnosticism, where the apostle Thomas is considered the twin of Jesus, and where in the Syriac “Gospel of Thomas,” Thomas and Judas are one and the same person: Judas himself is Jesus’ twin.  At this point, the young Baltasar Fuentes Ramos began to wonder why they had invited a fifteen-year-old student, and a faithful Catholic one, no less, to this heterodox consortium.  He had remained mostly quiet the whole time, still being in awe of Borges.  But it was just then that Borges turned his attention to him.  “There is much to speculate on in these matters,” he sighed, “but only one way to verify.”  The great man turned his half-blind eyes to Fuentes.  “We would have to interrogate someone who was actually present during the ministry of Christ.  And you,” he said, “claim just such a person exists.  Perhaps you will take us to meet him.”

botanical garden2

The Botanical Garden of Buenos Aires. The stray cat population, which according to Baltasar Fuentes Ramos was just a “small colony” in 1966, is now a significant problem, exacerbated by uncaring people who choose to cruelly abandon their cats there.

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El Judío Errante

The following post is a portion of the story by Baltasar Fuentes Ramos called El Judío Errante (English: The Wandering Jew), which appeared in his school’s literary magazine, La Caligrafía, in December of 1965.  This was the story mentioned in a previous post: it was the winner of a writing contest judged by Jorge Luis Borges.  I do not yet have Fuentes’ permission to publish the story in full due to his reservations about the content; however, he has allowed for the publication of the first three chapters.  It is reproduced here in a translation made by Polly Mendowe, who I would like to thank for her diligence.  She appended a note to her translation which I will include as a preface:

“William—As requested, here is the story in English.  Thank you for the generous payment.  It’s a very strange tale.  There was one particular word in the piece which gave me some difficulty, and that was the word escarcho.  The literal translation would be “cockroach,” but the word is used in the context of an insult pertaining to the writer’s glasses, and I am unsure whether a literal rendering would be accurate.  I assume it to be a colloquialism employed by some of the lower classes of Buenos Aires.  “Bug eyes” was the closest thing I could surmise, but since the Spanish word for eyes (ojos) is absent, I’ve chosen to leave it untranslated.—P.M.”

le juif errant

THE WANDERING JEW

1. A few brief facts about myself, who has met the person in the title.

My name is Baltasar Nicolas Fuentes Ramos.  I am fifteen years of age, a loyal son of Argentina, and a devout Roman Catholic.  My family is (in my opinion) a noble one.  We draw our lineage from Spain and the Philippines.  We derive our nobility not from grandiose titles or worldly riches, but rather from our dedicated obeisance to Holy Mother Church.  Truly, our treasure is in heaven.  My family is permeated by the Catholic religion, through and through!  I do not even like using such a phrase as “the Catholic religion”—since, really, there is only one true God, one true Christ, and one true Church, and all other forms of worship and belief are either heretical movements or pagan cults.  There is, therefore, in actuality, only one religion!  There was a pope (whose name, I am ashamed to say, I cannot recall) who once said something to the effect that “only a Catholic is rightfully deserving of the honor of being called a true Christian.”  I am kicking myself (well, not literally) right now because I forget the particular pope and the name of the document.  I believe it was perhaps Pius IX or Pius X.  I have a favorite uncle who is a learned priest.  Normally in a situation like this, I would phone him up and ask him for the citation (he would know it off the top of his head, I’m sure), but I don’t want to disturb him as he prepares for the solemn season of Advent.

Because my family has an abiding love for Christ and His Church, many of my aunts and uncles are priests or religious.  I have several aunts who are nuns (all of them belong to the order of the Poor Clares), and two uncles who are diocesan priests.  There is, unfortunately, one uncle who is the black sheep of our family, and I am loathe to remember this man who has brought such disgrace upon both himself and my entire family by becoming a filthy schismatic, having joined the Greek (so-called “Orthodox”) sect, and who now lives as a monk (or, more accurately, as a long-bearded sadhu) in an abbey on Mt. Athos in Greece, no doubt sitting cross-legged and chanting some idiotic mantra in that Byzantine meditation practice called hesychasm.  He is a smear on my family’s otherwise spotless record of devotion.  He is a horrible traitor to the faith, and I pray often for his conversion, that he may return to the bosom of Rome before he dies, lest he surely suffer the eternal flames of hell.  But I digress.

My favorite uncle is the Very Reverend Monsignor José María Fuentes, rector of the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Recoleta, Buenos Aires.  Every year I spend my summer vacation with him.  For two whole months I get to assist him as an altar server and secretary.  I consider it a sacred privilege to be so closely involved in all the functions of parish life, being at his side as he shepherds his flock.  I always look forward to it.  In fact, I am looking forward to it right now, just thinking about it!


2.  My scuffle with cruel and ignorant hoodlums. How I came to best them, and caught my first glimpse of the person in the title.

It was in January of last year when these events transpired, on either the fourth or fifth day of the old octave of the Epiphany (I can’t remember exactly).  I was in the rectory office, typing a letter for my uncle while he was reclining comfortably at his desk, enjoying a cigar and a glass of colheita port wine.  He was being kind enough to take long sips and puffs during the pauses in his dictation, so that I might keep apace, as my typing skills are quite poor.

In the midst of this pleasant clerical work, the phone rang, and our domestic idyll was quickly ended: my uncle found himself dispatched to the deathbed of a former member of the parish.  This man, whose name was Javier Ambrosio, had once lived in my uncle’s nice neighborhood of Recoleta, but he had fallen on hard times and ended up dwelling on the southeastern outskirts of the city, in the not-so-very-great neighborhood of Barracas.  He remained loyal to my uncle, however.  He abhorred the liberal and progressive movement in the Church (which, unfortunately, is spreading in our time like an epidemic.  Plague of locusts!).  He was especially not fond of his parish priest in Barracas, who felt emboldened by the liturgical experiments being recommended by the current Vatican Council, and was already daring to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the vulgar tongue of Spanish instead of the sacred language of Latin!  On his deathbed, Señor Ambrosio summoned my uncle for his last rites.  He was quite sure his local priest was a filthy modernist heretic.  (Requiescat in pace, Javier Ambrosio, thou good and faithful servant).

The day was hot.  We took an olive green taxi to Barracas.  Señor Ambrosio lived on the fifth floor of a tenement house.  The walk up five flights of stairs was going to be a feat of endurance for my uncle, who is a man of considerable heft and girth.  He knew that he would require refreshment and replenishment once he reached the top.  “Be a good lad,” he instructed me, wiping his brow with his handkerchief, “and run down to the local shop.  Fetch me some mineral water.  And a wedge of Gouda cheese, a roll of pepperoni, and a stick of bread.  Also, a bottle of Jameson.”  He handed me a crumpled wad of bills.

While my uncle climbed the stairs, I went to the nearest corner store and purchased his supplies.  (God bless the kind clerk of that store: he did not trouble me over my buying of whiskey).  As I returned, however, I was accosted by a crowd of young toughs.  I had noticed them loitering on the steps of the building when we first arrived.  They must’ve overheard my uncle’s instructions, because it seems they wanted the whiskey I had in the bag.  But first they wanted to harass me.

“Ai there, little escarcho,” sneered one of them, drawing attention to my eyeglasses.  (I am horribly near-sighted).  They were listening to a transistor radio.  There was an irritating rock n’ roll song playing; the singer kept moaning about a “little red rooster.”  (I swear, I cannot imagine a more brutish and barbaric form of music as rock n’ roll).  One of these hoodlums (short and squat, and broad-shouldered with a scrunched-up face like a bulldog’s) twirled a tennis racket menacingly.

“Who was that priest?” another one asked.  “Was he your father?”  They all laughed in that high, keening sort of hooligan laughter that gives you a fright when you hear it.

Now I am not a person to suffer insults gladly, especially when the insults are directed at members of my own family, and particularly when they are meant to calumniate an obedient officer of the Lord such as my uncle.  I didn’t care if these hoodlums were going to beat me up.  I am the kind of person who will take a beating in defense of the honor of the Church.  I have always admired the incredible fortitude of the martyrs, who sometimes went to their deaths with a smile.  (One of my favorites is St. Lawrence, who mocked his captors even while they roasted him over an open flame.  “Turn me over,” he told them—“I’m done on this side.”)

I gave these goons my bravest reply: “that excellent and holy priest,” I said, “is my uncle.  I pity you for questioning his chastity, as you will surely burn in hell if you don’t repent.  I pray that you will see the sinfulness of your ways.”

More laughter was roared in reply.  One of them said, “what makes you so sure he’s chaste, escarcho?  He clearly doesn’t care about the commandment against gluttony.  I’ve never seen such a fatty!”  Again they laughed.

All I could do was repeat myself.  “I pity you,” I told them a second time.  “I pray that you will come to see the sinfulness of your ways.”

Their ringleader cut to the chase.  “Let’s stop this mucking about,” he said.  “You’ve got a pint of Jameson.  Now give it here.”

I pulled the bottle of whiskey from the bag.  Without a word, I flung it down on the sidewalk where it promptly smashed.  (If my uncle couldn’t have it, neither could they).  Several of them jumped back in surprise, which soon turned to aggravation over having gotten the rolled-up hems of their stylish pants wet.  Their jocular attitude was gone.  Now they were angry.

Their first order of business was to rudely snatch my bag.  Soon they were snacking on my uncle’s victuals.  Next they menaced me.  “Pick any one of us,” said their leader.  “That’ll be the one you fight.  You see?  We’re fair.  One on one.”

“I challenge you instead to a game of chess,” I told him.  One of them chuckled but none of them laughed.  The leader stared me down, wordlessly.  “Very well,” I said.  “If it must be a physical contest, how about squash?”  I gestured to the bulldog-faced thug with the tennis racket.

“You want to play Ronni in squash?” he snorted, and leaned in close to my face.  I could smell the pepperoni he was chewing on his breath.  “Sure.  That works out, escarcho.  That raises the stakes.  If Ronni here wins, you get the whooping of your life.  And if you win, then we’ll just let you go, scot-free.”

Wordlessly, Ronni got up and slipped inside the building and, a minute later, came out carrying a second racket, dressed in a tank top and Bermuda shorts.  It was then I realized this “Ronni” was actually a girl.

The hoodlums led me across the street and down an empty alleyway.  I was pushed along from behind by Ronni, who kept prodding me in the back with her racket.  We crossed an abandoned railway yard, full of disused train cars, sitting on rusty tracks and baking in the sun.  We ducked into another, thinner alley running in between two empty brick factory buildings, hollow and crumbling, with broken windows.  Soon we were in a tight brick maze of alleyways, turning left, then right, then left again, and I was lost beyond all hope.  Decades-old trash littered the gravel beneath our feet.  Graffiti and ugly folk murals covered the walls.

Eventually, we went through an archway and arrived in a broad courtyard abutted on three sides by tall, decrepit fin-de-siècle houses.  A dead tree stood in the center of this courtyard, surrounded by a crumbling stone fountain, drained and dried, full of coarse weeds and dead leaves.

The fourth wall of the courtyard was a high brick wall, the back of a huge factory building.  It was painted with an old advertisement for cigarettes; the paint was peeling and sun-bleached, but the ad could be discerned beneath the aging.  It was hawking an American cigarette brand called Lucky Strike.  It read, “to keep a slender figure, no one can deny,” followed by the logo: “LUCKY STRIKE.” Beneath that was a picture of a lascivious young woman, dressed immodestly in a swimsuit and lying on a beach.  In the corner of the ad was a packet of the cigarettes, along with a motto: “it’s toasted!”

Apparently we were to play our game of squash against this wall.  Ronni tossed me one of the rackets.  The other hoodlums retreated to the steps of the houses to sit down and spectate.  Ronni then removed a tennis ball from her shorts pocket, and took the liberty of serving first.  We had a brief volley which I won.  I then served.

I am underweight, and not exactly strong.  But I have the natural agility of the lithe and light; squash is a game that I excel at.  Tennis also.  I have always loved the racquet sports.  After my first two serves against Ronni (neither of which she was able to return), I realized, to my great relief, that I was probably going to win.  By my fifth consecutive uncontested point, I was sure of it.  Even the impure advertisement didn’t bother me.  In a moment of hubris, I looked at the cigarette motto and decided it applied equally to Ronni.  “Ronni,” I thought to myself, “you’re toasted!”  I may’ve even forgotten myself in that moment, and smiled.  In retrospect, I should not have allowed myself to dominate.  I should’ve deliberately lost points, and kept things close, and made it out to be the life-and-death contest it was supposed to be, so that my captors would think I had eked out my freedom by my sweat and my tears and every last heroic effort in my bones.

I did not, unfortunately, do that.  After my seventh straight easy point, the game was (prematurely) over.  Ronni’s bulldog face turned to me, snarling with rage.  She threw her racket at me with incredible force; it struck me in the nose.  Blood splattered onto my glasses.  I saw stars and went down.  I heard the scuttering sound of many feet, moving swiftly from the steps across the courtyard dirt.  The next thing I knew, a hail of kicks and blows rained down upon my body.  I curled up and prepared to die, praying the Hail Mary silently in my head.

At one point, I opened my eyes.  I had thought the entire gang was beset upon me, but apparently they were just gathered around in a circle as spectators.  Ronni, it seemed, was doing the battering.  I turned my head from her angry face and flurry of fists; it was then that I saw a figure standing under the archway.  It was an old man, I noticed.  A solitary old man: rather tall, vaguely handsome in the distinguished manner of the aged, with long silver hair pulled back behind his ears.  His face was cleanly shaven, and not even very wrinkled, but there was an aura of something unspeakably ancient about him.  It would be difficult to reckon, going by the basic indicators, that he was too many years over seventy.  But at the same time he seemed more elderly than the most wizened and withered person in an old folks’ home.

He was a curious specimen; so engrossed was I with the oddity of his presence that I nearly forgot my pain and my praying.  What also shocked me was the obvious nonchalance with which he watched my beating.  He simply watched.  He betrayed no emotion at all: neither pity for me nor enthusiasm for my punisher.  Unlike the hoodlums, who were cheering Ronni on, the man watched my humiliation with complete neutrality.  I have never seen (nor do I expect I shall ever see again!) a more stoic visage.  As captivated as I was, I was brought back to my pain by a fist smacking my right eye.  Shortly after, I lost consciousness.


3.  In which I meet with the person in the title, and he makes a peculiar claim about himself.

The world was a blur when I woke up: my eyesight is extremely poor without the help of my glasses, and I was missing them.  I got up onto all fours and felt around for them.  Finding them, I was crestfallen: they had been stepped on.  Both lenses were broken, and the frames were hopelessly twisted.  I folded them up as best I could and slipped them into my shirt pocket.  I stood up and dusted myself off.  I could make out a figure sitting on the steps where the hoodlums had perched: it was the tall, silver-haired old man.  He appeared to be calmly eating the remaining half of my uncle’s baguette.

I was incensed at the fact that he had witnessed my beating and done nothing to stop it.  Since he was not making any attempt to converse, I confronted him with my ire.  “Why didn’t you help me?” I asked.

“Help you how?”  His voice was gently accented; he sounded vaguely aristocratic.

“By stopping those kids from attacking me.”

“It was only one of them who was attacking you.  And that was a girl.”  He held out the baguette for my taking.  “Would you like some bread?”

I spat on the ground and refused the bread.  “You’re a disgrace,” I told him frankly.  I proudly straightened out the crucifix which I wear around my neck.  If he was a Christian, I intended to remind him of his deficiency.  “You’re like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan,” I said.

The old man was unfazed.  “The priest and the Levite came upon the traveler after he was beaten,” he said.  “Well, here I am.  You have been beaten—and I’m not just walking on by and leaving you for dead.”

“You’re missing the point.  The point of the story is to help your neighbor.”

“Am I not helping you?  I offered you some bread.  Look, there’s some mineral water here, too.”

“I know there is.  I bought that bread and that water myself.  Give it to me.”

“Of course,” he said, handing it over.

I took a greedy bite from the baguette, and washed it down with a long swig of the water.  Wiping my mouth, I lectured the man again.  “The time to help me was when I was being attacked!  But all you did was watch.”

The man betrayed no shame.  Instead he pointed to my crucifix.  “All He did was watch, too.  Why do you suppose He didn’t smite those kids with a sudden crippling nausea, or strike them with lightning?”

“I don’t care for your tone of impiety,” I said.  “Do you mock Christ?”

“Mock Him?” he asked.  “Certainly not.”  He smiled a wan smile.  “I am the only person alive who has known Him.”  (Normally I would’ve taken such a claim to be the ranting of some Pentecostal heretic speaking about his “personal relationship” with Our Lord, or the babble of some unhinged lunatic.  But there was something about this person which prevented me from concluding that.  He seemed to be claiming it as a straightforward historical fact.)  “Indeed,” he continued, “I may be the only person on earth who adequately fears Him.”

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Ave Maria

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima: the centenary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary there, and a day on which Francis, to mark the occasion, has canonized two of the child visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta.  I did not watch the ceremonies.  Although I have a deep devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, I must remain doubtful of the validity of these canonizations, as I believe Francis to be an antipope (as well as John Paul II, who beatified them).  Any devotee of Fatima, however, does not need these vile deceivers to well know that those pure and holy children, Jacinta and Francisco, are surely among the saints in heaven.  As for Francis, I will have more to say on him shortly.  But for now, a blessed Saturday to the readers of this blog.

Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis.

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For she is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness.  She reneweth all things, and through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets.  For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.”  (Wisdom vii, 26-29)

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Mirroring their souls in the Aleph: Borges y Francisco

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Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986).  “Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.”


The fifth antipope of the modern era was elected on the thirteenth of March in 2013, a fortnight after the resignation of antipope Benedict XVI.  As everyone surely knows by now, the College of Cardinals chose the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  Upon his elevation, Bergoglio took the regnal name Francis, which he chose in honor of his favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, the thirteenth-century friar beloved for his emphasis on humility and his concern for the poor.  If Francis were actually the pope, he would be the first pope to take the name Francis, the first pope to be a Jesuit, and the first pope from the New World.  But he is not the pope.

There are, however, some lesser-known but intriguing facts to be known about Francis.  Shortly after I commenced my research into the survival of Pope Paul VI, I became embroiled in a correspondence with an interesting and rather eccentric Argentine expatriate by the name of Baltasar Fuentes Ramos, who was living as a wanderer and mendicant in southern Portugal.  He was traveling, he said, with a group of Romani drifters, dwelling in a rusted old trailer and living on rice and beans.  He used various internet cafés for his computing.  Fuentes told me he was happiest when he was living life close to the bone, in total simplicity.  He said he loved the hermits and misfits and mystics of Catholic history, and his favorite saint, he told me, was St. Simeon the Stylite.  (At the time, I did not question this, but in retrospect, I wonder if his nomadic and under-the-radar lifestyle was a deliberate choice for a different reason: in order to safeguard himself and the incendiary knowledge he possessed).  Originally, Fuentes and I were discussing some information he had concerning the whereabouts of Pope Paul VI in Portugal, but almost immediately we diverged onto the subject of Francis.  Fuentes claimed to have been a student of Francis’ in the mid-1960s, when the young Jorge Bergoglio was a Jesuit seminarian teaching a course in creative writing to teenagers at a parochial boys’ school, the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepción, in Santa Fe, Argentina.  Fuentes informed me that Francis is extensively aware of (and somewhat involved in) the history of Pope Paul VI.

Fuentes began by telling me that Bergoglio had been quite a likeable profesor.  Fuentes even became friendly with him.  From a very young age, Fuentes had been an avid lover of literature, and at the colegio he was the most well-read pupil in his grade.  Bergoglio appreciated the boy’s enthusiasm, and sought to nurture his budding talent by engaging him in long discussions during lunch.  They quickly discovered they had a favorite writer in common: the famous Argentine master of short fiction, Jorge Luis Borges.  In the second semester of the class, Francis decided to add three stories by Borges to the course syllabus (these stories were Averroës’ Search, The Writing of the God, and Three Versions of Judas).  As the end of the semester approached, Bergoglio assigned his students to write a “Borgesian” short story of their own.  “You will have noticed,” he told them, “that Borges infuses his fiction with an insatiable curiosity for religion and philosophy.  Try to do this yourselves.  Push at the boundaries of your thought.  Do not be afraid, even,” he said, “to transgress certain mild taboos.”  (During his papacy, of course, Francis himself would be somewhat notorious for violating taboos, at times even appearing to call into question long-held traditional positions of the Catholic Church.  He is, without question, the most outspokenly modernist of all the contemporary antipopes).

After class, Bergoglio told Fuentes that he would soon be in for the surprise of his life.  And truly he was: back in his seminary room at night, Bergoglio had been working on an important composition of his own.  He labored for several evenings over it, scribbling multiple drafts at his desk beneath a large crucifix hung on the wall, giving painstaking care to the wording and style.  He wanted it short, sweet, and impressive, for it was a missive to Borges himself.  Bergoglio whittled his taut little masterpiece down to two terse paragraphs.  The first paragraph functioned as a fan letter (reserved in tone, never fawning), while the second consisted of a polite request for Borges to read his students’ stories, and to select the five best from among them to be anthologized in an issue of the school’s literary magazine.

A week later, Bergoglio had his reply: Borges would do it.  The great author wrote back and confessed to feeling a certain restlessness; the idea appealed to him as a change of pace.  He was also looking for a brief respite from Buenos Aires, and he agreed to not only serve as the judge of the stories, but to personally come to Santa Fe and speak with the students as well.  Bergoglio was overjoyed—his perseverance in writing the letter had paid off abundantly.  If anyone from the distant future had been able to see him in his room, as he knifed open the envelope and read the response from Borges, they probably would’ve recognized the impish smile of “Pope Francis” that dawned on him as he gleaned the good news.

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Portrait of the antipope as a young man: Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his twenties.


I was able to find an article on the internet (with a photo, as well, of Francis and Borges) which verified much of Fuentes’ story: World-famous Argentinian writer Borges impressed by Pope Bergoglio’s charisma 50 years ago.   This particular account was given by a classmate of Fuentes’, Rogelio Pfirter, but Fuentes claims Pfirter got some details wrong.  Fuentes remembered the young Pfirter as a hotshot braggart, and was therefore unsurprised at his outrageous boast of having written not only one, but two, of the winning stories.  “How could he have written two?  The rule was one entry per pupil.  Nobody was allowed to submit two stories.  And Pfirter’s story didn’t even win.  The winning entry was mine, and it was called The Wandering Jew.  There were four runners-up, and Pfirter wasn’t one of them.  Secondly, Borges did not take the bus to Santa Fe.  He was a famous writer, not a pleb.  He took the train.  I know this for a fact.  I was with Bergoglio when he met Borges at the station.”

When Borges disembarked from the train at Santa Fe, he was sixty-six years old, and partially blind due to a deteriorative eye condition which had plagued him since youth.  He walked with a cane and was helped onto the platform by his secretary, a graceful, middle-aged, auburn-haired Russian Jewish woman named Jana Filippovna.  Filippovna was a scholar of the Hebrew language and something of a moderate authority on the system of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.  Borges, for his part, was a lifelong philo-Semite.  (In the 1930s, Argentine nationalists had accused Borges of being a crypto-Jew.  He’d composed a tract in his own defense entitled “I, a Jew.”  Borges denied the charge, being a complete agnostic in matters of religion, but carefully suggested that any Argentinian of Spanish descent, as he was, likely carried traces of the blood of the Sephardic Jews of Spain from before the Alhambra decree).  Jana Filippovna had come into Borges’ employ as a consultant on a planned short story about Kabbalah, tentatively titled The Treasury of Solomon David, about a young Jewish accountant who is a prodigy with numbers, who stumbles upon an obscure connection between the Hebrew alphabet and Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics, and unknowingly manages to solve an ancient puzzle of Kabbalistic numerology.  The story was never published, but Filippovna and Borges had become good friends during their collaboration on it, and afterwards she remained in Argentina as his assistant for a period of roughly a decade, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, which is when they had a falling out.  (The woman who replaced her as Borges’ secretary, Maria Kodama, eventually became his wife).

At the train station, Borges and Filippovna were surprised to find Bergoglio accompanied by a student.  Fuentes was introduced: “this young man is my star pupil,” Bergoglio told them.  “He has a future as a great writer, I assure you.”  Fuentes blushed.  “Shouldn’t the teacher remain impartial on the eve of a writing contest?” asked Jana Filippovna.  “Ah, but I am not judging the stories,” Bergoglio shrugged, and turned to address Borges.  “You are.”

The four of them dined at a restaurant that evening.  Fuentes remembers being impressed at Bergoglio’s ability to keep apace with the intellectual verve of Borges’ conversation.  “Francis sometimes has a tendency to come across as a bumbling stooge,” Fuentes remarked, “with his silly grin and his rambling way of speaking.  But don’t be fooled.  He is a fiercely intelligent man.  His public image is very different from who he is privately.  In front of a crowd or at the head of a classroom, he tends to get anxious and inarticulate.  But if you sit down with him, individually or in a small group, and let him relax and have a maté, he is incredibly astute.  In fact, I suspect that at some point in his life he decided to purposefully exaggerate his goofy persona.  I think he realized he could get away with much more if he appeared outwardly clueless.  I believe he’s sustaining a terrific act: the act of the ‘holy fool.’”

At the end of their dinner, Bergoglio produced from his satchel an accordion folder housing his students’ attempts at Borgesian fiction.  Inside of the folder lay Fuentes’ story, The Wandering Jew, a sprawling tale which was longer than the rest of the entries combined.  Said Fuentes: “there was me—a frail, awkward, dark-haired boy with glasses; an insignificant nobody, sitting at that restaurant table with the one and only Borges.  I was tongue-tied.  I knew my story was good, though.  I was confident about it.  But I had no idea whatsoever how profoundly my life was about to change after that.”  Jana stubbed out a cigarette, and Bergoglio handed her the folder.  She and Borges would read the stories that night, and announce the winners at class the following afternoon.

The next day at school, Borges singled out The Wandering Jew for highest honors.  He sat facing the class, holding his cane, his eyes (sadly vacant) staring off at nothing.  Jana sat next to him.  Bergoglio stood by the classroom windows, twirling a ruler.  Announced Borges: “this one, especially, is a fine tale, containing many instances of lurid religiosity.  At some points it almost seems to flirt with outright sacrilege, and yet it somehow manages to remain extremely pious throughout.  It’s a delicate and well-executed balancing act.  My compliments to the author for dreaming this up.”

In response, Fuentes did something completely unexpected.  He told me: “I don’t know what came over me, but for some reason even Borges’ praise seemed insufficient.  It wasn’t enough for him to merely like my story.  I wanted him to like me.  I wanted to become his friend and his protégé, like I was with Bergoglio.  So I told a lie that even Rogelio Pfirter wouldn’t have told.”  The young author of the story stood up at his desk, with a look of determination in his eyes.  “Begging your pardon, Herr Borges,” he said, employing the Deutsch honorific to address the famous Germanophile, “but it is not a work of fiction.  It is the actual and living truth.”

Borges said nothing in reply.  Jana looked out the window, disinterested.  It was left to Bergoglio to defuse the situation, so he laughed.  It wasn’t too hearty a laugh, or mocking in tone; it was probably intended to provide enough levity to break the tension and encourage the young Fuentes to sit back down.  But instead the boy fixed his gaze of defiance on his teacher, and suddenly turned on his mentor.  “Of course you would find it funny,” he sneered.  “You’re a modernist.  You are an adherent to the robber council called Vatican II.  It’s natural that someone like you would scoff at the truth.  But remember this: the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

Bergoglio frowned.  He knew Fuentes had a favorite uncle who was a monsignor in Buenos Aires—a staunch theological conservative who was an open dissenter to the teachings emerging from the current council, and whose bishop had threatened to defrock him for his relentless criticism of the hierarchy.  For this reason, Bergoglio and his favorite student had always politely avoided discussions of church politics.  Now he became suddenly bashful at Fuentes attacking him for his liberalism.

But Borges seemed to be enjoying himself.  “Perhaps you are trying to be provocative, young man,” he surmised aloud.  Borges himself had been the instigator of several literary hoaxes.  “It is healthy,” he said, “sometimes, to suggest a wild misinterpretation of a story simply for the fun of it.  Of course, by all means be playful with your work, but be careful to be so overly bold as to claim the entire thing as true.  That’s a diversion without any amusement.  It’s as perverse as the most humorless and intractable religious fanatics.  No one ever enjoyed the company of a Puritan or a Jansenist.”

Quod scripsi, scripsi,” said Fuentes.  He sat back down at his desk and crossed his arms.  Borges smiled.  Bergoglio tapped his ruler idly on the windowsill, then sauntered up to the front of the classroom and changed the topic entirely.  “I figured that was the end of it,” Fuentes told me.  “I had hoped that Borges would’ve been intrigued by my claiming the story as true, but instead he’d just shrugged it off.  As it turned out, I was wrong.  Borges was intrigued indeed.  Two months later, during summer vacation, I was surprised to get a phone call from my parents saying my writing teacher was trying to get in touch with me.  This amazed me, as our friendship had deteriorated into nothing after that day I called him a modernist.  I was staying with my uncle in Buenos Aires, which was my usual custom during the school break.  Mama said it was all the better that I happened to be in Buenos Aires, because Bergoglio was there, too.  She told me he was interested to know if I wanted to meet with Borges again—because Borges, apparently, wanted to meet with me.  She told me to expect Bergoglio’s call.  It’s like I told you: writing that story changed my entire life.  I was thrust into the orbit of people whose designs on the world I could not even begin to comprehend.”

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“But the heathens sacrifice to devils, and not to God.”

Evan Morgan was less than a fortnight away from his 24th birthday when he arrived in Rome in July of 1917.  His birthday fell on the thirteenth of the month; he shared it with Julius Caesar, but also with one of his personal heroes: the notorious sixteenth-century English alchemist and occultist, John Dee.  In the back room of a Glasgow antiquarian book store one year beforehand, Morgan had gotten himself a copy of the extremely rare codex called the Book of Soyga, one of John Dee’s primary resources for his occult work.  He had gotten the book from a woman named Myriam MacKellar.  Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua met them both.  From his interview:

CGB: When I went to Rome, I stayed in a small but elegant hotel in the old Borgo district, on a cobblestone avenue.  Did you know, much of the Borgo was torn down a few years later, by Il Duce?  The hotel is now gone; a victim of Mussolini.  But it was a lovely building: four tall brown-brick stories.  The outside was mildewed and dreary, with moss and vines, but inside it was pleasant.  High ceilings, marble floors, potted plants, crisp white linens.  When I arrived there on my first day, I opened up the windows and breathed in the Roman summer air.  It was wonderful.  I was a young man in the eternal city, about to undertake a two-week study at the Vatican.  The world seemed full of promise.

It was a week or so later when I met the strange guests who were staying on the second floor.  It was late afternoon.  I had finished up my class with Monsignor Gallo and—oh yes, I almost forgot to mention something.  My roommate, Falchi, who was supposed to be taking the class with me: well, he suddenly stopped showing up.  He had been there for the first three or four days, and then he just disappeared all of a sudden.  It didn’t bother me, though.  I had already grown sick of him after a whole year back at the seminary.  I thought to myself, “let that devil go and do whatever he wants.  The less I see of him, the better.”  I assumed he had gone off and lost himself among the lowest of the classes in the most degraded parts of the city, to do some carousing and probably worse.  Good riddance!  Even if I had wanted to get in contact with him, I had no idea where he was staying.  He did not come from a well-off family, I don’t think.  He was staying at some cheap place.  He’d told me the name, but I’d promptly forgotten it.  Why would I want to get in touch with that creep anyway?  He was a terrible roommate.

RM: You mentioned some strange guests.

CGB:  Yes.  As I was saying: this was in the afternoon, after I had finished my studies with Monsignor Gallo.  I was hungry, and there was a little café off the hotel lobby.  So there I was, you see, having my tea and biscotti, when I noticed someone staring at me from a table nearby.  Lo and behold, it was Falchi.  He was sitting with five well-dressed people, conversing in English from what I could hear.  I gave him the slightest of nods.  Just the tiniest acknowledgement of his presence.  I did not care to find out what he was up to, or why he was at my hotel with these people.  But he smiled at me.  He said, “come over here and join us, little man.”  I hated that: whenever he called me “little man.”  He knew it got on my nerves. 

One of Falchi’s companions cut a very imposing figure.  He was a tall, skinny, slim-shouldered, and pale man, with bird-like features and icy eyes.  I did not care for him—not even to look at him.  There was no warmth about him, you see.  He seemed like a cruel, cold, and inscrutable personality.  But this man asked Falchi, “who is your friend?”  And Falchi explained that I was his roommate at seminary.  Then a middle-aged woman who was with them spoke up.  She was prim and corpse-like: with taut, wrinkled, leathery skin.  Her hair was bobbed and dyed.  She had a pinched, skeletal face, and wore too much makeup.  But her manner was gregarious.  She had this high-pitched, keening, sing-song voice.  She was full of affectation.  The word you Americans would use is “phony.”

RM: I’m Canadian, but I take your meaning.

CGB: You told me you were from Massachusetts.

At this point in the transcript, the interview veers off-topic.  Roger Morgan explains his Canadian citizenship, having been born in Toronto, and then his marriage in 1970 to an American woman, and thus his sixteen-year period of current residency in the United States.  Gagne-Bevilacqua then recalls his own time spent in America, visiting an aunt and uncle on his mother’s side who had settled in the town of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.  I have omitted this material, as it is irrelevant.  Finally they returned to the topic of the woman with the “pinched, skeletal face” who wore an excess of makeup:

CGB: I remember she was constantly smoking, waving around this long wand of a cigarette holder while she spoke, making grandiose gestures.  She lowered her eyes at me and said, “oh yes, darling, you must come and join us.”  Do you know what I mean?  How some people talk like this?

RM:  I do.  It’s common among upper crust matriarchs in New England.

CGB:  “Darling.”  How I detest such insincerity!  I did join them, though.  This woman introduced herself as Myriam.  I should also mention, there was a beautiful young girl at their table, about the same age as me and Falchi.  I learned her name was Lorraine.  She was a quarter-caste Afro-Caribbean girl.  Her father, I was informed, was the illegitimate son of an English baron and a mother from Saint Vincent.  They told me so right in front of her.  But this Lorraine never said a word.  She was mute the whole time, serene and collected.  I could tell she wasn’t deaf, though.  She was attentive, following everything with her calm and dispassionate eyes.  She seemed to be aloof from it all.  She had amazing eyes and thick, jet black hair.  She was dressed very conservatively, I noticed.  Almost too conservatively.  It was the middle of summer, but she wore tweeds and long sleeves.  Her collar was high and constrictive; it covered her entire neck.  She had gloves on her hands.  The whole party was very odd: this beautiful young girl, this haughty affected woman, and the tall, off-putting man. 

There were also two other men.  Nondescript men; perhaps they were in their thirties or forties.  One of them had a mustache.  They didn’t say much at all, these men, but they would laugh at things the middle-aged woman said, and mutter flatteries at her.  For some reason they seemed to find her intelligent and witty.  I don’t remember the names of these two.  But the girl was called Lorraine; the woman was named Myriam MacKellar; and the younger man was named Evan Morgan.  I did not sit with them for long—just long enough to make our introductions and some pointless chit-chat.  They were staying on the second floor of the hotel; my own room was on the fourth.  As I was excusing myself, Myriam pointed out that Evan had a birthday coming up in a few days.  I bowed politely and I told him: “happy birthday to you in advance.”  He thanked me in a cold tone.  And then I headed back to my room.

But Falchi followed after me.  He was very pleased to have made these new friends.  He was elated, I could tell.  I suppose he wanted to contain himself in their presence, but now that he was with me, he wanted to gush out all his excitement.  I allowed him to sit with me in my lodgings for a short time.  I hoped he wouldn’t stay long.  I asked him what he was doing with the group down in the café.  He told me these were the most religious people he’d ever met.  “Falchi,” I said, “you have been at seminary for almost the past whole year, and yet this odd group of Britons are suddenly the most religious people you’ve ever met?”  He said yes.  He said they were members of a religion that went deeper than he could ever have possibly imagined.

A pause.

RM: Which religion was this?

Another pause.

Prompted to answer, Gagne-Bevilacqua found himself unable to say, precisely.  Eventually he hazarded his best guess: “I suppose it does not have a formal name.  But it was clearly that same religion of darkness which has sprouted up in different forms over the centuries like persistent weeds: the Gnostics, the Bogomils, the Manicheans—and all of those other strange religions that ooze out of the miasma of the east.  It takes on different names and assumes different forms, but it all originates from the same diabolical source.  It does not surprise me that Islam spread like a virus across Persia and India.  Mohammedans worship a demon called Mahound, you see, and those people of Central Asia had been worshiping various devils since almost the earliest days after Noah.  Falchi and his friends seemed to have borrowed from all of these eastern cults: they were practicing some sort of demonic syncretism.  I suppose that’s what the occult is, is it not?  The most nefarious aspects of all the false cults, cobbled together into one.”

He then related how Falchi informed him of Morgan’s prowess as an occult magician, and his association with Aleister Crowley.  He also told of how Morgan had met Myriam MacKellar.  Apparently she had placed a cipher puzzle in the classified section of The Times (of London), containing clues requiring an adept’s knowledge of the Zohar, the Rig Veda, the Corpus Hermeticum, and various other books of iniquity.  Her idea was that if anyone was able to correctly decode the cipher, they must surely be a person accomplished enough to borrow or buy her cherished copy of the Book of Soyga, one of the rarest and most sought-after occult manuscripts.

real

Mere approximations: “a beautiful quarter-caste Afro-Caribbean girl named Lorraine,” and an esoteric cryptograph published in the back of a newspaper.


Morgan solved the cipher: it promised him the long-lost manuscript, and it offered the contact information for its owner.  He traveled to Glasgow to meet her; their friendship blossomed instantly.  Myriam MacKellar saw in him a genuine prodigy, and he considered her a mentor even greater than Crowley.  She especially impressed him by telling a story which revealed who Jack the Ripper was.  Together they decided to undertake a long-term project known as an “Aldaraian spiritual operation.”  Morgan told her he had received “supernatural messages” from “a great deity.”  They decided to use a series of rites from the Book of Soyga to contact this deity.  From the transcript:

CGB:  It was the twelfth of July, I remember, a Thursday, our last day of classes with Msgr. Gallo.  Falchi had completely dropped out, as I told you.  He never returned after those first few days.  So anyway, our seminar was over, and we said our good-byes thanked the monsignor.  Afterwards a few of us seminarians went out to dinner.  It was one of those long endless conversational dinners—you know how it is, I’m sure, Mr. Morgan, when you’re young and you think you have all these great ideas worth debating for hours and hours, but in truth you’re full of nonsense, and only age and experience can give you wisdom.  Well, we were young.  We debated our philosophies all evening.  We ate our meal, and then we ordered some more wine, and then we had dessert, and then coffee, and then we ordered cognac, and all the while we kept on debating.  I, of course, was arguing for Stoicism.  Most of the others were Thomists.  There was one fellow who was unabashedly liberal and progressive.  He was a modernist, but I don’t think he even realized it.  We all asked him, “how are you going to swear the Oath Against Modernism at your ordination?”  He took offense to that.  He was convinced he was orthodox.

RM: Pardon me, Signore.  But you were saying about Falchi and Morgan and the Book of Soyga …

CGB: Yes, well.  Okay: it was past eleven o’clock by the time we finally wrapped it up.  I went back to my hotel.  As I was ascending the stairs from the lobby, I saw a bizarre group of people coming down.  It was the English group, and with them was Falchi.  But they were dressed like Benedectine monks: with long black robes, and hoods pulled over their heads.  They were silent and solemn.  I let them pass without a word.  There was something unsettling about their procession.  I noticed the two men with them; they had instrument cases strapped to their backs.  Then I saw Falchi bringing up the rear, and I put my arm on his to stop him.  “Falchi,” I whispered, “what’s going on?”  He looked at me intently.  He said, “this is the concluding rite of the Aldaraian spiritual operation I told you about.  The thirteenth commences at midnight.  It’ll be Evan’s birthday, and the anniversary of the birthday of John Dee, the magician who discovered this secret rite in the Book of Soyga.”  Falchi was holding the book in his hands.  It was a thick, dusty, worm-eaten, leather-bound thing.  It really did look about a thousand years old.

His companions were waiting for him at the bottom of the steps.  Myriam, the woman, looked up at us.  Her taut face looked repulsive beneath the cover of her hood.  In her affected tone of voice she asked, “will your friend be joining us, Alessandro?”  Falchi looked at me.  Unfortunately, I was still a small bit tipsy from the drinks I’d had at dinner.  And I confess, I was inquisitive as to what these people were up to.  It’s true, they were off-putting and strange, but at the same time I couldn’t help my curiosity.  I was like a kitten confronting a crab.  I couldn’t help myself; I had to stick my nose in closer to investigate.  I was young, remember.  And also there was the captivating girl, Lorraine.  Unlike Myriam, she looked beautiful beneath her hood.  Her face, half-shrouded in shadow, was full of mystery and the unknown.  So I followed Falchi as he continued down the stairs.  It was the gravest mistake of my life.

Silence.

RM:  What happened next?

CGB: I followed them down a hallway which was off-limits to guests.  But no one spied us.  We arrived at a door to the basement.  It was padlocked, but one of the two nameless men picked the lock with a skewer.  And we went down among the dust and the cobwebs.  Our way was lit by a lantern Evan Morgan was carrying.  We went through the hotel’s cellar, past their broken furniture and racks of wine, and came to a square wooden door, also padlocked.

At this point, Gagne-Bevilacqua relates (with some tedium) a labyrinthine journey through underground Rome.  The group eventually arrived in a large, cavernous room of ancient clay bricks with a vaulted ceiling.  In the center of this room stood a monolithic rectangular structure, about eight feet high and two feet wide.  It was draped in a crimson sheet.  Some of the clay bricks which had fallen from the walls had been used to erect four short pillars around the monolith, each one about three fee high.  Atop each pillar sat a dozen or so white votive candles, which Evan Morgan and Alessandro Falchi proceeded to light.  Meanwhile the two “nondescript men” removed their instruments from their backpacks: one had a small hand-pumped harmonium; the other one had, according to Gagne-Bevilacqua, “the peculiar Indian lute that plays only a drone, which I think is called a sitar.”  (Research indicates that this may actually have been a tampoura).

When the candles were lit and the musicians were seated, the other four members of the party removed their black robes.  Morgan and Falchi were wearing finely-tailored double-breasted dark suits beneath theirs.  The women, Myriam and Lorraine, were wearing short, coarse, crudely-woven gray tunics.  Gagne-Bevilacqua describes the spindly wrinkled legs and arms of Myriam MacKellar as rendering her “resembling nothing so much as a plucked chicken,” whereas Lorraine’s shapely limbs, he noticed, were covered in an elaborate network of tattoos of a runic and hieroglyphic nature.  These tattoos, he reckoned, were the reason for her conservative mode of dress when he first met her in the café—even her neck, hands, and feet were covered in the intricate scripts and designs.  And then the odd ceremony commenced.

The musicians began playing a mournful drone.  And Lorraine began singing: an unearthly, wordless, monosyllabic moan that filled the whole cavern.  There was something almost trance-like and haunting in Lorraine’s resonant thrum, according to Gagne-Bevilacqua, but then Myriam MacKellar began accompanying her with occasional high-pitched shrieks, which the observer described as “abrasive and hellish.”  Meanwhile Morgan and Falchi began making a series of versicle-and-response chants which they read out of the Book of Soyga, in a language which sounded as if it should never be uttered aloud.  “It all amounted to a terrible cacophony,” said Gagne-Bevilacqua, “but nevertheless I could tell what was being done.  It was obvious what all of this was.  All of these sounds and words were being addressed to someone, or something.  The whole ceremony was an orison—a prayer, a summons, an invocation.  I shuddered to think of whatever entity would be pleased with this awful sort of praise.  It went on for what seemed like an eternity, but I was frozen in place.  I began to wonder to myself, ‘am I in hell?’  Finally, the whole cavern reverberated with the ringing of church bells from a tower somewhere above.  It was midnight.”

At the chiming of the hour, the hideous liturgy drew to a close.  A heavy silence lay like a fog in the vaulted chamber.  Morgan then spoke something aloud in the ancient language he had been chanting in; Falchi stepped forward and pulled the crimson sheet from the tall structure they were gathered around.  Beneath it was an old and crumbling stone sarcophagus with runes carved into it, stood up on its feet.  According to Gagne-Bevilacqua, there were three different scripts represented.  The first was Hebrew, which he recognized immediately.  Years later, he would come across Sanskrit, and be reminded that it had been the second text on the sarcophagus.  The third, he said, he was “unable to identify, even to this day.”  Morgan and Falchi then began to push the lid aside.  “I knew I had to leave,” Gagne-Bevilacqua recalled.  From the transcript:

CGB: I had seen and heard enough already.  Whatever lay behind that stone slab, I knew it was something I did not want to see.  I knew it was something no human should ever behold.  But still I remained frozen, anchored in place.  And then the slab was removed, and I saw it.

RM:  What was it?

CGB:  The most awful thing.  You would not believe me.

RM:  At least give me the chance.

CGB:  Very well.  This is what it was: it was the head of a monkey on the torso of a man.  With six arms.  And then the legs of a monkey.  The skin of the human torso was covered with a chalky, pale-green, glowing substance, like phosphorescence.  It was the most sickening and unnatural thing I have ever looked upon.

The creature was Hanuman, a god from the pantheon of the Hindus.  This was the “great deity” from whom Evan Morgan had been receiving “supernatural messages.”  (Later in the course of their interviews, Gagne-Bevilacqua would tell of Alessandro Falchi’s continued devotion to Hanuman—a devotion which persisted all the way to his death).  Gagne-Bevilacqua did not stay in the underground chamber much longer.  He told of how he watched as Lorraine, in her bare feet, gingerly approached the monkey-human chimera, and how it reached out one of its lower arms and slowly anointed her forehead with its thumb, leaving a mark of greenish paste.  The demon then climbed, like a spider with its eight limbs, to the top of the sarcophagus, and from its perch surveyed its small crowd of adorers.  It noticed Gagne-Bevilacqua standing off from afar, and it fixed its piercing gaze upon him.  Gagne-Bevilacqua looked into its eyes: “it was like I was looking,” he said, “into the apertures of hell.”  And that, finally, was enough to make him leave.  He turned around and groped his way through the maze of darkness in desperation, until he clambered up the basement steps into the hotel.  He stuffed his things into his trunk in haste and left the hotel, camping out on a bench at the train station until he could get the next train—any train—heading north.

Returning to the seminary the following afternoon, he cleaned out his side of his dormitory room.  He had already realized the priesthood was not his vocation, but that day he decided to make his break immediately.  He cabled his family to send a car and packed up his books and belongings.  “I noticed,” he said, “that Falchi’s tarantula had died.  I suppose he neglected to ask anyone to feed it while he was away in Rome.  I felt a small tinge of pity for the ugly thing.  It was turned over on its back with its legs curled up into its belly.  And I did a strange thing then.  I suppose I wanted to occupy myself with anything I could, rather than having my mind remember the awful sights of the night before.  So I took the dead tarantula outside and dug a little hole in the ground and buried it, like a child giving a funeral for a pet.  That is how I spent my afternoon of the thirteenth of July in 1917.  It was not until a few years later that I came to realize a certain coincidence: it was the very same day on which the children at Fatima were given a vision of hell.  I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, a very pious couple as I already told you, and the only things they had for reading were pieces of religious literature.  I was casually reading a pamphlet on Fatima when I came to Sister Lucia’s description of the vision of hell—and it contained a line that made me sit up and take notice.   ‘The demons were distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals.’  I shuddered at reading this.  My recollections of that horrible night flooded back to me.  I do not think it was mere chance that on the same day Evan Morgan summoned up a demon with an animal likeness, Our Lady made her visionaries aware of the corporeal forms of demons.  My faith had grown lukewarm after I left the seminary, but when I read about Fatima that day, it was rekindled.  That very same evening, I went down to the nearest church and sought out the priest there and made a confession.  I had seen first-hand the forces of darkness at work in the world—I had witnessed it that night beneath Rome.  But that Fatima pamphlet, you see, it reminded me of the forces of light.  After my confession, I knelt in the church beneath the statue of Our Lady, and I prayed the Hail Mary and I prayed the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.  I remembered a passage from Ephesians, the one about putting on the armor of god and taking up the shield of faith, for the devil comes with fiery arrows.  When I walked out of the church that evening, I was a changed man.”

fatima

The child seers of Fatima, 1917: Lucia Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto.  “Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

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A most grievous error

It was recently brought to my attention that the name I chose for this blog, “Pontifex Verum,” contains an inaccuracy.  The correct term is “Pontifex Verus,” as pontifex is a masculine word and not neuter.  I myself am not well-versed in Latin except for some common phrases, although as a traditional Catholic I have a great affinity for the sacred language of the Church, and wanted the blog title to reflect this.  I asked an acquaintance how one would say “the true pope” in Latin, and “Pontifex Verum” was the answer I received.  Alas, it was incorrect, and now I must shoulder the embarrassment and make the necessary correction.  My gratitude to the kind and observant reader who pointed this out: we would not, after all, say “pontifex maximum,” but rather “pontifex maximus.”  The title of the blog will be changed shortly, and I believe the URL will change also.  I live and I learn.  Thus it will be: “Pontifex Verus.”

Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar

evan morgan

Evan Morgan, circa 1930s.  Poet, eccentric, and crypto-Luciferian infiltrator.


It does not escape the notice of this blogger that the subject of today’s post shares my surname.  The subject also happens to have been a horribly iniquitous person.  Fortunately, there is no direct kinship, as Evan Morgan begat no children.  Also, my own line of Morgans have been split off from the Welsh Morgans for many generations, having been in North America since the late 18th century.  We are the descendants of a fisherman named Thomas Rhydian Morgan who, along with his wife, Christina Kent Morgan, left Wales in 1786 and settled in the town of Shelburne in the maritime province of Nova Scotia, Canada.  Therefore if I have any consanguinity with this hideous fiend, it is extremely remote.  (Ouf!)

Something I was not well aware of until I read the testimony of Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua was the surprising degree to which occultists, pagans, and devil-worshippers had infiltrated the Catholic Church.  It is often said that Freemasons, communists, and various other enemies of the Church have, for decades, been worming their way into the ranks of the clergy, wreaking their subversion from within.  And this is commonly accepted.  But when it comes to tales of “Black Masses in the Vatican,” it almost becomes too much: for many Catholics, this is just too bizarre and unbelievable.  It comes across like something out of a novel by Father Malachi Martin—and Fr. Martin was a suspicious character himself.  His loyalties seemed to be forever shifting; sometimes he was a modernist when it suited him, and other times he was a traditionalist.  He contradicted himself on many matters, and much of the time it almost seemed as if he was making things up as he went along.  So whenever something carries “a whiff of Fr. Malachi Martin,” one is tempted to dismiss it as outlandish.

Such was my original reaction when I first began reading the transcripts of the Gagne-Bevilacqua interviews.  I thought to myself: “purement fantastique.  Incroyable!”  But once I began researching his claims, to see if certain points might be corroborated, I was surprised to find that much of the people and events he mentioned adhere quite closely to recorded history.  In the next post, I will provide a summary of the two weeks he spent in Rome in the summer of 1917.  But first I would like to share what my research revealed—particularly as it regards his mention of  a certain Evan Morgan: the unsavory and ghoulish person whose last name sends shivers up my spine: to think that he and I might share a common ancestor, somewhere back among the Morgans of Wales ages ago.

Evan Frederic Morgan was the scion of a wealthy family of the English nobility.  Like many families of the aristocracy, the Morgans were what might be termed “fashionably eccentric and decadent.”  In fact, they took their eccentricity and decadence rather seriously.  His mother seemed to believe she was some sort of bird (an actual bird, that is, and nothing to do with the British slang for a good-looking girl).  His grandfather, Frederick Courtenay Morgan, stood as a so-called “Conservative” Member of Parliament—and yet he was also a good friend of Richard Monckton Milnes, who owned one of the largest collections of Victorian-era pornography and was a patron of the poet Algernon Swinburne, a man of many perversions who composed much blasphemous anti-Christian verse, including a sneering condemnation of the Catholic Church entitled “Locusta.”  Verily, the Morgan family was in the top tier of an English upper class that shewed an outward conservatism but led a secret life of terrible debaucheries.

Evan Morgan himself would continue the trend.  As a young man at university, he converted to Roman Catholicism.  But his conversion was insincere and superficial.  What Morgan liked about the Catholic Church were its regal and extravagant trappings: the sublime atmospherics of the Latin Mass, the lace surplices and gold-tinged chasubles, the Gothic architecture, and the high ceremony of the papal court.  What he did not like, however, was the Catholic faith itself.  He was an awful despiser of Christ—so much so that he became an avid occultist.  At around the same time he converted to Catholicism (the period when he was at Eton College at Oxford), Morgan also joined a Luciferian society known as the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), which is where he met and befriended the then-leader of the O.T.O, Aleister Crowley.  Crowley became Morgan’s mentor; Morgan was Crowley’s ace pupil.  Crowley deemed him “Adept of Adepts” (referring to a title which, according to my research, seems to be considered a high position in the rankings of ceremonial magicians.  I did not research the occult too extensively; a Catholic must be prudent in these matters.  The more one investigates the dark side, the more one runs the risk of coming face to face with the abyss).

Morgan thus began to lead a double life.  On a typical Saturday evening, Morgan and Crowley would meet up in London, to smoke opium and to cruise the city’s squalid homosexual districts (both men were sodomites).  Their night would culminate back at Crowley’s lodgings, where they would undertake “mystical” readings of the Kabbalah.  Then they would set up an altar, with hexagrams, idols, and candles, and they would try out various unspeakable satanic rituals—first at midnight (“the witching hour”), then later at three o’clock (“the hour of the wolf,” or “the devil’s hour”).   The next morning, a tired and bleary-eyed Morgan would show up for Mass at the Brompton Oratory to blasphemously receive Holy Communion.  His close association with Crowley lasted between 1912 and 1913.  During this time, Morgan informed Crowley that his ultimate goal was to summon a living demon.  Together, they never succeeded.  Crowley left the country in 1914 for Paris and then the United States.  Morgan remained in England: writing bad poetry and keeping up appearances among the London aristocracy (when Aldous Huxley satirized high society in his novel Crome Yellow, he modeled the most immoral character after Evan Morgan).  Morgan joined the Welsh Guards when the war broke out, and spent a year and half stationed in France.  Most British soldiers were expected to spend three years in service, but Morgan used family connections to weasel out of a long-term obligation.

tredegar

The young Evan Morgan during World War I, with his father Courtenay Morgan, the 1st Viscount Tredegar.  The advantages of privilege: the elder Morgan spent most of the war on his private yacht, which the Royal Navy had converted into a floating hospital.  Meanwhile the son served a shortened term in combat.


Upon returning to England from the front, Morgan rekindled his acquaintances in occult circles.  On a visit to Glasgow, he began a friendship with a mysterious older woman named Myriam MacKellar, who claimed to be the Jewish wife of a wealthy Scot, and also to be an expert on the Hindu Vedic texts.

In 1916, Morgan made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he met up with an influential group of British-born clergy in the curia.  He presented himself as a connoisseur of the liturgy, and he managed to charm them with his personality, a false display of piety, and a smattering of acquired expertise.  Using his family’s wealth and status as leverage, he procured for himself a spot in the Vatican as a papal chamberlain.

It is important to note that no one in Rome was likely aware of his secret life as an occultist.  It was 1916.  Europe was in the midst of a catastrophic war.  The doings of the eccentric members of the English aristocracy would simply not have shown up on the Vatican’s radar.  It is also useful to consider that the pope at the time, Pope Benedict XV, was a holy pope and a staunch traditionalist.  He was the author of the prophetic encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, in which he warned of the coming end of civilization—the natural result of Europe forgetting her Catholic roots and embracing the heedless nihilism of modern philosophy.  (Miserere nobis; his assessment was correct).  Nevertheless, the historical fact remains.  This same man who decorated his home with inverted crucifixes and was a known friend of Aleister Crowley, also happened to be an actual Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape in the very court of Pope Benedict XV.  Normally we might be able to look on this as nothing other than a tragic accident of history.  But in early July of 1917, Evan Morgan traveled to Rome to mark the newly-minted refinements which had been made to the pope’s Prefecture.  The Vatican had become a veritable convention of liturgical experts and enthusiasts.  Also in Rome at this time were two young seminarians: Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua and Alessandro Falchi.  What Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua witnessed there, he described as “the most harrowing event of my entire life.  It will haunt me to the grave.”

lord-tredegar-evan-morgan-2518889

Evan Morgan (left) with parrot, circa 1920s.  Morgan owned a menagerie with many exotic birds, and was a trainer of carrier pigeons during World War II.  He came from a family with an avian obsession.  His mother, Lady Katherine, reportedly built bird’s nests to human scale at the family estate, Tredegar House, where she would sit in these nests like a hen.  Her son’s poetry was rank: “The birds of love with plumage rare / Sped in circles ‘bout my hair.”

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