The Lost Report
An interesting conversation, and a silent monsignor. The end of the story of Cardinal Gagnon (continued from Letter #22)
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome
An Interesting Conversation
Some years ago, a Vatican monsignor said to me: "What is your goal?"
We were sitting in a Vatican office, in rooms where other men had sat and talked in other centuries, and, God willing, will sit and talk in times to come.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"What is the goal of your writing?" he asked.
I sensed that he wanted to know, not just for himself, but for others as well, for the Vatican, let us say...
"The truth," I replied.
"Ah!" he said. "The truth! Well, you had better be careful..."
"What do you mean?" I said.
"First of all, truth is hard to find," he said.
I nodded, thinking, well, he's right...
"You may only catch a glimpse of it, only fragments of truth," he continued. "What will you do then?"
"Well, I'll write the part that I see," I said.
"But what of that which you don't see?"
"I can't write what I don't see," I said.
"Ah!" he said. "And what if the part that you do see could be harmful to the Church?"
I was silent for a moment. "Why is he asking me this?" I wondered.
"Well," I said, trying to choose my words carefully, but also persuaded of my own courage and commitment to the complete truth, "the truth cannever hurt the Church. I would still write the truth, knowing that 'the truth shall set you free'... As Jesus himself said..."
"Ah," said the monsignor. "Well, do what you think is right, but remember, there are souls in the balance, the souls of the simple faithful. And remember, the Church is the Bride of Christ - we must protect her from those who would do her harm..."
"How could a truth be used against the Church, if it is true?" I asked, puzzled. "A lie one could fear, as it might cause harm unjustly. But... the truth?"
The monsignor was silent.
"Sometimes, if it is partial, it can hurt," he said.
"Well, if I understand you correctly," I said, "perhaps I will have to find a way to tell the truth, without causing harm..."
"Be prudent," he said. "And always love the Church above everything."
The fact that Cardinal Gagnon gave you, before dying, the full name of the monsignor who is possibly the last surviving working witness of Gagnon's Report on the Roman Curia, ordered by Paul VI, unpublished, sequestered under lock-and-key by the Congregation of the Clergy, but destroyed by someone the very next day.... which caused the untimely retirement of its author, Cardinal Gagnon... all this appears to ask that you make the matter public, as you have done so well with this Newsflash, except that you appear bound to protect the identity of the only person with some knowledge of the Report's contents! Why?
Whatever Church scandal this silence may be attempting to cover, cannot be worse than the scandal that accompanied its destruction.
I believe you owe it to protect the good name of Cardinal Gagnon to investigate and declare publicly the Roman Curial facts the Church has been trying to hide.
What good will it do for you to eventually whisper to someone else before you die the name of the only person who has some knowledge of the contents of the destroyed Report? Like Gagnon did not hesitate to tell you, the monsignor in question should be ready to help the Church clear herself of all his fear and secrecy...
The Briefcase Left Behind
My heart is sore pained within me,
And the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me,
And horror hath overwhelmed me.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove!
For then would I fly away, and be at rest...
-King David, Psalm 55
When I got back to Rome after my brief July 22 meeting with Cardinal Gagnon not long before his death in August 2007, I called the monsignor whose name Gagnon had given me.
He agreed to meet with me, and we sat down at a cafe at the bottom of via delle Fornaci.
And we began to talk.
Putting the Question
"Look," I said to the monsignor. "There's something else I wanted to ask you about..."
I paused. "It's a delicate matter," I said.
The monsignor looked at me, waiting.
"Well, first I should tell you about something I did. I actually went to see Cardinal Gagnon a few weeks before his death. I flew to Montreal and visited him..."
The monsignor was silent. I seemed to have his full attention.
"And we had a brief conversation, though he was very weak," I said. "And during the conversation, I asked him about the delicate missions he carried out, for Paul VI, regarding the Curia..."
The monsignor interrupted me. "And for John Paul II, visiting the communities of Monsignor Lefebvre in Switzerland and France and elsewhere. I know about those visits..."
"Well," I said, "it wasn't those visits I was interested in. I wanted to know more about his investigation of the Roman Curia in the 1970s, for Paul VI."
"Yes," the monsignor said, guardedly. "He did undertake that investigation."
"Well, here's the thing," I said. "When I asked Cardinal Gagnon about that investigation, he told me that he had been ordered to destroy every copy of his report, and that he had obeyed..." The monsignor was silent.
"So he destroyed every copy," I said, "and no copy remained." The monsignor was silent.
"But then I asked him if there was anyone else still alive who knew the contents of that report, someone else I might talk to, someone who had worked closely with him... And he nodded and whispered a name. At first I couldn't hear, and then he said the name again, and it was... your name." The monsignor stiffened and started to say something, but said nothing. "He said you worked closely with him, and knew about the contents of his report. So I wanted to ask you, if you are not bound by the pontifical secret, if there was anything you could tell me about that report..."
"No," he said. "Nothing. About that report, nothing, I know that he made an investigation, and wrote a report, but I know nothing about its contents. Later, yes, when he visited the communities of Monsignor Lefebvre in 1987. That report I know about. But not the other one." I was surprised.
"But..." I said. "Please forgive me, but I don't understand. His Eminence told me that you worked with him when he prepared the earlier report, for Paul VI, in the 1970s."
"No," the monsignor said, firmly. "No, you didn't hear him correctly."
"But I'm sure I did," I insisted. "He spoke your name, I didn't misunderstand."
"No," said the monsignor. "You did misunderstand, or he misunderstood, and confused the two reports. I did not work with him on that first investigation... Only many years later..."
"And so you know nothing about the contents of that report?" I asked.
"No, nothing," he said.
Background about Cardinal Gagnon
[Note: the following information is drawn primarily from a 2007 article by Msgr Vincent Foy, a personal friend of Cardinal Gagnon and
in 2007 the oldest diocesan priest in the archdiocese of Toronto. The article was published shortly after Gagnon's death, in November 2007, in
Catholic Insight, which has copyrighted it, so I use it somewhat sparingly. Here is a link to the entire article: http://catholicinsight.co...tures/article_764.shtml]
Edouard Gagnon was born in the small town of Port Daniel in 1918, the third of 13 children. His mother was part Irish, his father a French Canadian carpenter. He was ordained a Sulpician priest in 1940 at the age of 22. In 1964, he was elected Provincial of the Sulpicians for Canada, Japan and South America. During his time as Provincial he also acted as a peritus during the closing phase of Vatican Council II.
He was ordained bishop of Saint Paul in Alberta on March 25, 1969, and was there until his resignation in May, 1972. That year he was named rector of the Canadian College in Rome. In January of 1973 he was appointed Vice President of the Vatican's newly formed Committee of the Family, and became President the following year.
In 1979, he resigned his position in Rome and for the next years traveled extensively in Canada, the U.S., Africa and South America promoting family life.
He was recalled to Rome by Pope John II in 1983, and on May 25 of that year named Pro-President of the new Pontifical Council for the Family. In 1996, John Paul II made Gagnon a cardinal.
Gagnon returned to Canada upon his retirement in 2001 and resided at the Sulpician residence. He died in Montreal late on Saturday August 25, 2007, or early
on August 26.
On a number of occasions, Gagnon represented the Holy See at international events: for example, in 1973 at a meeting of Catholic Universities in Salamanca, Spain, and in 1974, as head of the delegation of the Holy See at an International Conference on Population in Bucharest. (There he spoke on the many evils following from contraception.)
He also carried out three missions of importance to the Church. In each of these he acted as the delegate of the Holy Father.
The Pontifical Lateran University
In the late 1970s, Pope Paul VI entrusted to Bishop Gagnon an investigation of the teaching at the Pontifical Lateran University. There had been a public scandal when the Roman newspaper Si Si No No reported that some professors at the Lateran were Modernists, teaching the errors of Hans Kung and others. After numerous interviews at the Lateran and elsewhere, Bishop Gagnon presented a report with recommendations to Pope Paul VI. What then came of it is unclear.
The Roman Curia
In about 1977, the Pope asked Bishop Gagnon to conduct an investigation of the whole Roman Curia. There were widespread rumors in Rome of corruption and infiltration in the Vatican due to the enemies of the Church. (These led to the often-repeated saying of the Pope in 1972 that the "smoke of Satan" had entered the Church.) This investigation took many months and required many interviews.
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, in an interview with Latin Mass magazine, gives the following account, based on a conversation of Bishop Gagnon with an Italian priest, Don Luigi Villa of the diocese of Brescia.
[Here is a link to the entire interview: http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/present.asp. During the past five years, I have visited both don Villa in Brescia, Italy, and Dr. Alice von Hildebrand in America, and have confirmed with them that these interviews reflect their authentic views.]
Dr. von Hildebrand told Latin Mass that Bishop Gagnon "compiled a long dossier, rich in worrisome details. He requested an audience with Pope Paul in order to deliver personally the manuscript to the Pontiff. This request for a meeting was denied. The Pope sent word that the document should be placed in the offices of the Congregation for the Clergy, specifically in a safe with a double lock. This was done, but by the very next day the safety box was broken and the manuscript mysteriously disappeared. This theft was reported even in L'Osservatore Romano (perhaps under pressure because it had been reported in the secular press). Cardinal Gagnon, of course, had a copy, and once again asked the Pope for a private audience. Once again his request was denied. He then decided to leave Rome and return to his homeland in Canada."
The implication was that it was because of the refusal of Pope Paul VI to see him that Bishop Gagnon returned to Canada. (Paul VI died in August, 1978). But the truth seems to be that it was because Pope John Paul II did not implement the recommendations of Gagnon's report that Bishop Gagnon decided to leave Rome.
Bishop Gagnon suggests this in a letter he wrote to Father Foy on June 10, 1979, about 10 months after the election of Pope John Paul II (in October 1978). "He (the Pope) must feel that if he started changing or contradicting the VIPs around him he would be engaged in a constant battle and would not be left enough time or strength to preach and write," Gagnon wrote. "All you can do for the Church is to pray and fast. We should not judge him - but I am waiting for his settling down after Poland to tell him that I am sorry for him and cannot continue working in the present set-up."
Gagnon was called back to Rome by the Holy Father, four years later, in mid-1983. I came to know him in the mid-1980s, and met with him on several occasions then and in the 1990s. I spoke with him about his investigation of the Society of St. Pius X, but never, except on his deathbed, about the dossier he compiled for Pope Paul VI.
In the summer of 2009, I once again phoned up the monsignor Gagnon had indicated to me.
In a wide-ranging conversation, he told me again that he had no specific knowledge of Gagnon's lost report, and had not helped in its composition, but now he said that he did have some general knowledge of its contents.
"There were proposals in it for the general reform of the Roman Curia," he told me. "The proposals were aimed at modernizing, simplifying and streamlining the operations of the Curia. One thing Gagnon suggested, I think, was that the Osservatore Romano, which was losing a great deal of money, should be reorganized or closed. Another was that Vatican Radio also be restructured or closed. And, he proposed a general reform of the IOR (l'Instituto per le Opere di Religione, the "Vatican bank"). It was an administrative assessment."
"But was there, as many have claimed, also an investigation into possible freemasons in the Vatican?" I asked.
"No," he said. "There may be masons here, of course. Anything is possible. But no list was compiled by Gagnon. His task was another. I suppose you are thinking of these lists of 'freemasons in the Vatican' that have been published..." (Everyone on Rome knows that lists of alleged Vatican freemasons were published in the mid-1970s; the fact that the lists were published is common knowledge; so it isn't a taboo subject. The question is: were the lists spurious, or real?)
I interrupted him. "Yes," I said. "I remember the one list with about 120 names..."
"Yes," he said. "Well, those lists are almost certainly not reliable. Not at all. They were drawn up to sow confusion in the Church. They mix all sorts of names together. We would be very unwise if we were to take them too seriously... and we would be playing into the hands of the enemies of the Church. After all, our own sins and weaknesses are the greatest danger we face: we are our own worst enemies! This is the sad truth, but it is also comforting in a way. It means that the continued existence of the Church is truly the work of the Lord, and of the Holy Spirit."
So, in this conversation I learned a bit about the contents of Gagnon's report, and understood that it called for a major transformation of the administration of the Vatican bank, and a revision of the Secretariat of State's role in the Curia - something that did not occur. (The Secretariat of State has as strong and central a role as ever in the Vatican today.)
A week ago, I called the monsignor once again.
As soon as he answered the phone and heard my voice, he said, "I'm sorry, I don't want to talk" ("Mi dispiace, non voglio parlare").
"But..." I said.
"... to anyone," he said.
"But..." I said. (I wanted to tell him that I didn't want to ask him any questions, none whatsoever, but only to wish him well. But he cut me off.)
"No," he said. "Sorry."
And, with a click, he hung up the phone.