FROM WHAT I HAD HEARD about it I knew that I was going to have to read Julia Meloni’s new book, quite the pot-boiler: The St. Gallen Mafia: Exposing the Secret Reformist Group Within the Church. I managed to find time to read it in less than two days. It is not long but it does not waffle; one must pay attention to follow the thread.
The book proves not to be a rambling, conspiracy-theorist diatribe. In fact it has a journalistic attention to evidence and sources, and refrains from hyperbole and emotiveness. This allows the argument presented to speak for itself; hysterics usually blind the reader to any real substance that might be on offer.
You should read it yourself, but suffice it to say it is a disturbing read. The role in the life and direction of the Church, and the papacy in particular, of Cardinals Martini, Silvestrini, Daneels, Kasper and Murphy-O’Connor inter alia is exposed through judicious recourse to sources and an excellent threading of them together to form a coherent and meaningful whole.
A small point but I would criticise the use of the “secret” in the title. As Meloni’s own ample evidence attests, this was not so much a secret group as a shadowy group. Her verbal portrait of Daneels’ presence on the balcony when Pope Francis was presented to the crowds in the piazza after his election offers an apt icon of the book’s content: Daneels is lurking, half in the shadows (below, second from right), with a knowing and quietly satisfied gaze towards the crowd as Francis bows his head in prayer. It is an image resonant with significance, and I managed to find a photographic complement online:
Having finished the book last night, this morning I was struck by the readings in the Office of Readings. They seemed to provide a three-pronged commentary, a hermeneutic even, for Meloni’s book. The Letter of St Jude, so easily neglected, spoke thus:
Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
Hard on the heels of St Jude came some sage words from St Augustine:
[God] did not say “he will not permit you to be tempted,” but he will not permit you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure; and with the temptation he will also make a way out, so that you may be able to endure it. You have entered into temptation; but God will also make a way out so that you do not perish in the temptation; so that like a potter’s jar you may be shaped by the preaching and fired into strength by the tribulation…Sermon 256
So now, my brethren, let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing, but keep on walking. What does it mean, “keep on walking”? Go onward always—but go onward in goodness, for there are, according to the Apostle, some people who go ever onward from bad to worse. If you are going onward, you are walking; but always go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing, and walk onwards.
And then St Luke’s gospel offered an envoi of sorts:
Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen.Lk 21:36
It was a startling trilogy of readings in the wake of Meloni’s book on the St Gallen Mafia. What I heard this morning was: from the beginning the Church has found in her ranks those who do not really believe, or worse, who seek to turn the Church from her proper course and duty. Their words and methods are often alluring and beguiling, clothed in light and apparent reasonableness, subtly tempting us bit by bit away from the truth that sets us free. Since this is as good as a permanent affliction for the Church in this world, we should resolve to keep walking onwards, in charity and “right faith;” and to keep praying for the strength that we will inevitably need to endure.
This sequence of reading has left me with what feels a much greater clarity of vision, and a stronger sense of dread. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but for that reason, even more dangerous.