From Pius XII to Vatican II: The Hidden History of a Key Church Epoch (Part 2)

    In this interview, Inside the Vatican talks with Fr. Charles Theodore Murr, author of The Godmother: Mother Pascalina: A Feminine Tour de Force (2017). Fr. Murr is a former secretary to Edouard Cardinal Gagnon and worked at the Vatican in the 1970s. During that time, Murr befriended Mother Pascalina Lehnert, the housekeeper of Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) for 41 years, from Pacelli’s time as Papal Nuncio in Germany in the 1920s to his death as Pope in 1958. The Godmother recounts many of their encounters in the 1970s, with topics ranging from serious Church news and issues to the lighthearted and humorous attending of a stage performance of The Pirates of Penzance.

    Fr. Murr sits with Inside the Vatican and gives us a look into his life, the life of Mother Pascalina, and a bird’s-eye view of events that happened inside the Vatican.

    The first part of this interview was sent earlier this week. (link)

    The entire interview is printed in the October issue of Inside the Vatican magazine and now would be a great time to join us as a subscriber. As a reader of the Moynihan Letters, I offer you $10 off the $49.95 subscription price. Use coupon code: “letters“. Go here to subscribe. Thank you and I hope you enjoy this very interesting interview. –Robert Moynihan

By Kevin Symonds (

Mother Pascalina with St. John Paul II

    Fr. Murr, The Godmother attributes some very strong statements to Mother Pascalina about the leadership in the Church. What were her views on Pope Sts. John XXIII, Paul VI, and the Second Vatican Council? Would she agree with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI that Vatican II remains valid and authoritative, and we need only recapture and revive its original intent, in line with tradition, albeit a developed tradition faithful to the Sacred Deposit of Faith?

    MURR: Mother lamented that Pope Pius XII had not called the Second Vatican Council as he had been planning to do for years. The results of a Council led by the Holy Ghost and Pacelli, she knew, would have been much different than the chaos in which the Church found herself in the 1960s (and far after her death).

    Apropos of Vatican II and the two men responsible for it, I remember Mother telling me of Konrad Adenauer’s visit to her immediately after his private audience with John XXIII: “We have a clown sitting on the throne of Saint Peter!” he told her with tears in his eyes. “A clown,” he repeated. Mother seemed not to disagree with the German Chancellor. On another occasion, she mentioned the very unorthodox manner in which Nuncio Roncalli [later John XXIII] rebuilt the Nunciature in Bulgaria after the war. No, Mother Pascalina had very little time for Roncalli.

    As for Giovanni Battista Montini [Paul VI], out of respect for his office, until 1978 she remained tight-lipped. After 1978, she had very little positive to say about him. “Weak” and “disappointing” were words she used to describe him. When John Paul II was elected — the last bishop to have been created by Pope Pius XII — she was elated with the electors’ choice. With his election, she seemed to have regained hope, though later, she expressed concern that he was not home long enough to take care of his household. She, and a growing number of others with her, was concerned about Sebastiano Cardinal Baggio still remaining as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops.

    In the many conversations Mother Pascalina and I had, never did she (altogether) dismiss the Second Vatican Council, nor did she ever question its “validity.” If I may play the psychologist for a moment, I believe what bothered her most was that Pius XII was never given credit even for the idea of a Second Vatican Council — even though (only after St. Thomas Aquinas) Pius XII is the man most quoted in the Council documents themselves. And secondly, the “spirit” of the Council was being followed — whatever that meant — rather than what the Council actually said. Did she think Pope Pius’ idea of a Second Vatican Council would have been different than what Roncalli and Montini realized? Most certainly — just as Roncalli’s vision of the Council differed from Montini’s. Roncalli originally wanted a Council that would begin and end in three months’ time and he hoped to close it with the beatification of Papa Mastai-Ferretti (Pius IX of Vatican I)! Obviously, Montini had something very different in mind.

    Was she happy with Vatican II? To be perfectly candid: Not particularly. Did she condemn it? Never.

    What did Sister think of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy, as opposed to the Extraordinary Form? Did she accept the former as valid?

    MURR: Mother Pascalina loved the Latin Mass, but by no means did she reject the Novus Ordo Missae altogether. She was quite perturbed when I informed her that I could not use Pope Pius’ own missal for my first Mass (in the Borghese Chapel of Saint Mary Major Basilica, on the same altar that Father Eugenio Pacelli offered his own first Mass in 1899). An official at the Congregation for Divine Worship — I believe (but could not swear to it right now) it was Mons. Virgilio Noè (1922-2011). [Note: In 1970, he was appointed the first Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations by Pope Paul VI, and continued on for some time under John Paul II. He was very involved in liturgical reforms, considered always on the progressive side, and served in several high level positions in the curia, including being Secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1991.] He said that using the Tridentine Missal of Pius XII for the Roman Canon (even adding St. Joseph’s name to the list of saints) could render the Mass invalid. “Invalid!” she repeated, and asked rhetorically how in the world the Canon from the Mass of the Centuries, that had spiritually sustained and nourished saints and doctors of the Church, could possibly be invalid! It was all she could do to say no more.

    Did she ever speak to you about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Traditionalists? Was she concerned about them possibly being schismatic? 

    MURR: She was of the opinion that Lefebvre was a saintly and intelligent man. That the “Old Mass,” the Tridentine Mass, could no longer be offered (i.e., that Paul VI had outlawed it) was absolutely absurd.

    In The Godmother, you relate that Msgr. Marini was concerned about putting you into contact with Mother Pascalina. Why was he so concerned? 

    MURR: Because he, Msgr. Mario Marini, was a “minutante” [secretary] in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Those were pre-Google times. To find the answer to a question such as “whatever happened to Mother Pascalina, Pius XII’s secretary,” you had to ask someone. In those times, in the Vatican, and particularly in the Secretariat of State, to make any inquiry pertaining to Pope Pius XII was to slight the reigning pontiff, Pope Paul VI (the relationship between Pacelli and Montini did not end on a happy note). Pius XII was “pre-Vatican II,” finished, washed up, ancient history. Mario Marini was keenly aware of these things. He often reminded me that there were certain things in the clerical world that I — not being Italian — would never fully understand. That is why he was cautious even to ask if Mother Pascalina was still alive or not.    

Fr. Murr’s ordination day. Above left, with Marini, and above right, with Gagnon

    You call Mother Pascalina your “godmother.” How was she your godmother?

    MURR: Latins — Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, etc. — have certain cultural-religious traditions that non-Latins do not. One of the most sacred of these traditions is the godparent/godchild relationship. One has godparents not only in Baptism, but for every other important occasion in life: Confirmations, First Communion, marriage, graduation from grade school, high school, university, and, should a candidate for the priesthood so desire, Holy Orders. I so desired, and when I asked Mother Pascalina to be my godmother, she quite willingly agreed.

    You mentioned earlier that you knew Cardinal Gagnon. Please tell us a little about him.

    MURR: Edouard Cardinal Gagnon was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. He entered the Sulpicians and trained to become a seminary professor of philosophy and theology. He was also a canon lawyer. Gagnon was a very intelligent, extremely hard-working and seriously pious and prayerful man with a great sense of humor. He had a good voice and loved music. He loved everything about Colombia! He taught there for years and worked in parishes on weekends. He was appointed Rector of the Canadian College in the early 1970s and was soon asked by Pope Paul VI to act as a consultant on various Church matters.

    Was there a particular project that Gagnon was working on for the Vatican? 

    MURR: Yes, he was working on a full-time investigation, a Papal Visitation, of the Roman Curia at the behest of Pope Paul VI. I lived next door to Gagnon for nearly two years at the Lebanese Residence for Priests on Monteverde Vecchio — a stone’s throw from the Janiculum. Mario Marini introduced me to him in 1974. In the fall of 1977, Gagnon moved in with Mario Marini and me because of his friendship with us and because the locale provided him the near-total privacy he required to bring the investigation to a healthy end. For those two years, I drove him to any number of appointments and helped him, on occasion, to organize the written information and documents he received relating to the Apostolic Visitation. He had boxes full and he read every single word of every single document.

    The Godmother goes into some detail about the Papal Visitation. What was this Visitation about, for context? 

    MURR: A Papal Visitation, more properly, an Apostolic Visitation, is an official investigation of a situation or of an individual, a group of individuals, or of an entire institution, conducted in the Pope’s own name, by the Pope’s personally chosen and appointed representative. This representative of the Pope is called an Apostolic Visitor, or simply, “the Visitor.” When we speak of the “Roman Curia,” we are referring to those (mostly) prelates and clerics who make up the central government of the Catholic Church with offices in or near the Vatican.

    In 1975, toward the end of his pontificate, Pope Paul VI seemed convinced, finally and thoroughly, of what he himself declared in 1972, that “the smoke of Satan had entered the Church.”⁷

    Some of the most high ranking members of the College of Cardinals — the Pope’s closest advisors — had gone to him personally and leveled some very damning accusations against key members of his own central government, that is, the Roman Curia. Very damning accusations — the consequences of which are still with us today.

    The Pope was so shaken by these accusations that he ordered an in-depth investigation, top to bottom, of the entire Roman Curia. He chose Gagnon for this assignment and it lasted three full years.

Pope Paul VI with Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, the Vatican official who in the 1960s oversaw the preparation of the Novus Ordo Mass

    Who were the Cardinals who made these accusations?

    MURR: Cardinals Dino Staffa, Silvio Oddi and Archbishop Giovanni Benelli. Staffa was a very powerful Curia official. At the time, he was Prefect of the Apostolica Signatura — more or less, the “Chief Justice” of Catholicism’s Supreme Court.⁸ Silvio Cardinal Oddi was another powerhouse. He later became the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in 1979.⁹

    The Godmother seems to record some information about these accusations. For instance, you state that Mother Pascalina Lehnert believed Archbishop Annibale Bugnini was a Freemason. Bugnini was the secretary of the Consilium, and, arguably, the key person tasked with implementing the liturgical reforms desired by the Second Vatican Council. Could you tell us a little about why she believed this? 

    MURR: Bugnini stood seriously accused by Staffa, Oddi and Benelli of being a Freemason and carrying out Freemasonic designs against the Church. Bishop Gagnon and Don Mario Marini also knew about the matter.

    For her part, Mother Pascalina — as with most of the “older and wiser” personages I knew — was on the Vatican’s inside track. She was close to [Cardinals] Ottaviani, Siri, Spellman and to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, etc., as well as to many others around the world and in the Roman Curia.

    She knew Montini very well and deeply mistrusted him. I believe, but couldn’t swear to it, that she suspected Montini of being a Bugnini promoter and defender, even before Pius XII died.

    Not until sometime after the Second Vatican Council did people start waking up to what Bugnini was doing and then to what Bugnini was. Nothing of any consequence was mentioned about Monsignor Bugnini until the mid-1960s. Only after Pius XII’s death (and John XXIII’s) did Bugnini show his true colors. When Paul VI made him a bishop in 1972, people knew — or thought they knew — that he was in the Curia to stay.

    Fr. Murr, if Archbishop Bugnini was somehow involved with Freemasonry, what can we say, then, about Bugnini and the Conciliar liturgical reforms?

    MURR: I think it is better to ask whether “Freemasonic designs” had something to do with the liturgical reforms that Bugnini decided the Second Vatican Council desired.

    Were Bugnini’s reforms concerned with a more perfect adoration and worship of God, or with celebrating the Freemasonic concept of the brotherhood of man?

    When certain Council Fathers insisted that not one word of the 1,600-year-old Roman Canon be touched, by any stretch of the imagination, could that be taken to mean they wanted to concoct entirely new canons?10 When Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò recently suggested that the Second Vatican Council be “reconsidered” (my own word), I sighed in full agreement.¹¹

    Fr. Murr, the famous liturgist, Fr. Louis Bouyer, wrote that he once spoke with Paul VI.¹² During the conversation, the two discovered that Bugnini was “running interference” between the Consilium — the group tasked with the implementation of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II — and the Holy Father. Once Bugnini’s shenanigans were discovered, why wouldn’t Paul VI “reverse course” on the liturgical reforms?

    MURR: To your question, I can only offer an educated guess.

    Freemasonic influences were hard at work in the Vatican during those critical post-conciliar years (and continue to be).

    This explanation, however, is insufficient to describe the present malaise within the Church because it is not balanced with the reality of sin and human frailty. The latter have real consequences for the Church when it comes to hierarchs. Paul VI is a saint, according to Holy Mother Church, but that does not put him beyond respectful criticism.

    There are plenty of people who have written about the character of Paul VI and there is some debate on that front. For my part, I find Paul VI’s fascination with all things French to be a notable factor in both his philosophical foundations as well as in more practical matters such as his personnel decisions. Paul VI liked to put opposite personalities together such as the Frenchman Jean Cardinal Villot¹³ as his Secretary of State with Archbishop Benelli as the sostituto. I suspect it was because Paul hoped that the path of virtue or a via media would emerge from the subsequent conflicts. Some good research can and should be done in this area, but I wonder if a Hegelian dialectic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) was playing itself out and which (unwittingly to Paul VI) engendered division.

    Paul VI did not like conflict and tried to avoid it. To his credit, Paul took some notable stands with his Credo of the People of God and Humanae Vitae. Regretfully, the backlash Paul faced in response to Humanae Vitae shocked him so terribly that he never wrote another encyclical.

    He tried to speak to everyone and to pacify different factions within the Church, most notably the so-called “progressives” and “conservatives.” How successful he was in this endeavor will be debated by historians and theologians. The fact remains, however, that the character of Paul VI demonstrated a weakness of will and this goes to the heart of your question.

    Archbishop Benelli finally convinced the Holy Father to “deal with” the Bugnini affair. Benelli had the idea to combine two Vatican Congregations — Divine Worship and Rites — into one: The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. Villot arranged for Bugnini to be named Nuncio to Iran as well as acted upon Benelli’s idea of combining the two liturgical dicasteries. Villot, however, continued to defend Bugnini’s “reforms.” Instead, then, of dealing with the obvious shadows cast upon Bugnini’s work, Paul VI simply retreated further into himself, not wanting to be involved any further in the conflict.

Paul VI during a session of Vatican II (1962-1965; Paul became Pope in the summer of 1963)

    If Paul VI did not “reverse course” on Bugnini’s work with the reforms, then why didn’t the Holy Father excommunicate or “fire” Bugnini? 

    MURR: Paul VI was a lifelong career diplomat. In the Vatican, where international diplomacy was created (along with all the rules), a bishop and member of the Roman Curia is never “fired” — evidently, even when that bishop is a Freemason. Bishops are off-limits. Prior to the defrocking of Theodore McCarrick, this was a fundamental rule of Vatican diplomacy. Moreover, if the Holy Father had excommunicated or even “fired” Bugnini, that would raise questions with Bugnini’s work. Paul VI was unwilling to do this.

    How then did Paul VI handle the situation with Bugnini?

    MURR: The merger of those two congregations was the answer. It was announced in 1975 along with Bugnini’s “promotion” as Vatican Nuncio to Iran. Iran: a Muslim theocracy with 18,000 tolerated Roman Catholics.

    I guess Paul VI concluded that Bugnini could do the least amount of harm under those rather stringent conditions. Toward the end of his life, Père Louis Bouyer, a renowned liturgist who worked under Bugnini for years, described his former boss in rather unflattering terms: “A man as bereft of culture as much as he was of basic honesty.”14

    Archbishop Bugnini denied to his dying breath that he was a Freemason. If he was a Freemason, why do you think that he would directly lie about it? 

    MURR: Why do I think that Bugnini would directly lie about being a Freemason? If that’s the question the answer is simple: because he was a Freemason!

    Would you like to add anything about Bugnini?

    MURR: Yes, it was Benelli and Marini, not Gagnon, who played a major role in Bugnini’s “promotion” to Apostolic Nuncio to Tehran. Too many prelates and Church officials — very much including Virgilio Noè (who had the Pope’s ear daily and who stood next in line for Bugnini’s position, “should ever there be an opening”) — complained unashamedly about Bugnini to Paul VI. The Pope was pressured into taking action, and sending Bugnini into exile took much of the blame for many liturgical anomalies off himself.

    Also, there was some sort of a “last straw” when thousands of newly-printed Roman Missals had to be recalled (and destroyed) due to Bugnini’s “additions,” some unauthorized. This happened during Christmas vacation (while his supporters were away on vacation), 1975-76.

    Earlier, you mentioned Cardinal Baggio. During an interview in January 2019, you claimed that Baggio was a Freemason.15 Could you tell us a little bit about this matter?

    MURR: Yes. Besides troubles mounting inside the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (a.k.a., the Vatican Bank) — troubles that would later result in the near-successful 1982 Freemasonic demolition of the Vatican treasury and finances — the most serious allegations that caused Pope Paul VI to order the Curia Investigation were those leveled against the man in charge of creating and sustaining the world’s Catholic bishops: Sebastiano Cardinal Baggio;16 the charge against him: being an active member of Italian Freemasonry.

John Paul II receives in audience Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and Fr. Murr

    Who accused Baggio and how was his involvement with Freemasonry discovered?

    MURR: It was the earlier-mentioned Cardinals Staffa and Oddi. They carried with them a dossier of damning corroborating evidence to Paul VI. Gagnon and Marini talked about this story freely (that is, among ourselves). Thinking back on that conversation, it was most likely Benelli who informed them of this story. The three of them were very close allies in the war against Baggio and Freemasonry.

    Lately, the third part of the secret of Fatima has been in the news. Mother Pascalina had shown the French journalist Robert Serrou the location of the famous envelope containing the third part of the secret. Did Mother Pascalina ever speak to you about this famous text?

    MURR: I wish I could tell you that she did but, as far as I can remember, she did not. I deeply regret not having asked her more about Fatima. Mother chose the 1977 date for my ordination, May 13, because it was both the 60th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima and the 60th anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s episcopal consecration. Can you believe that on the very same day Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Eugenio Pacelli was made a bishop in the Sistine Chapel?! You know, today many people overuse, misuse, and end up banalizing the word “awesome.” That these amazing, “futuristic” events took place on the same day, May 13, 1917 — that, in my opinion, is awesome!

    The Godmother discusses Pope Pius XII’s witnessing the Fatima “Miracle of the Sun” in the Vatican Gardens. You revealed that Pius XII stated one word after this experience. What was this word?

    MURR: Mother relayed this great event in the life of Pope Pius XII many times, and in much greater detail, to Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J.17

    However, the first time she described it to me, her excited expression, and, in fact, the sort of “light” from her face, gave her words an undeniable, almost solemn veracity. She relayed the story as if it happened yesterday. I could easily imagine His Holiness, Pope Pius, himself, describing to her what he had just experienced. I remember perfectly well that ominous concluding word to an otherwise Herrlichkeitevent [Note: Herrlichkeitevent is the German word for Glory event, an event that communicates or is suffused with God’s divine glory]: “Apostasy.”

On October 28, 1951, the cover of the Italian paper “The Sunday Courier” (“La Domenica del Corriere”) depicted Pope Pius XII in the Vatican Gardens one year before, as Pius was experiencing a powerful vision of the “Miracle of the Sun” (October 1950)

    What did Mother Pascalina think about this event? Also, would you have a personal comment about it as well?

    MURR: In the 1970s, there were more than a few indications that all was not well with the Church Universal. Those of us who saw these negatives plainly and clearly were very much in the minority. In the air, a strange Vatican II optimism — perhaps “hope” would be a better word — lingered and, with the election of Pope John Paul II, that hope seemed even reasonable.

    I remember how content, how truly happy and hopeful Mother Pascalina was when the last man-made bishop by Pius XII was elected Pope! Her enthusiasm waned, however, with every announcement of another trip the pontiff was planning to take.

    Each one of those trips took months of preparation; months of precious time that needed to be spent elsewhere. She knew what Gagnon knew (now that he had concluded his three-year investigation of the Roman Curia): this was no time to travel the world. “It was time,” she said, as sometimes she did, with her index finger tapping the tabletop for emphasis, “to start some long-overdue cleaning of the papal household!”

    As for the term “apostasy,” the sole word Pius XII took with him from his Vatican Garden vision of the Dancing Sun, I think that only today are we beginning to see its meaning. Was there ever a more fitting application of the Latin maxim, intelligenti pauca?18

Mother Pascalina with her two assistants, Sister Maria Corrada and Sister Erwaldis, praying before Pope Pius XII’s corpse just after his death on October 9, 1958

    Fr. Murr, a fascinating story in The Godmother is the recovery of Pope Bl. Pius IX’s coffin. You put a very interesting detail into this story coming from Mother Pascalina. You say that she went to Pius XII and told him not just of Pius IX’s incorrupt body, but also that his hair and fingernails had grown. This assertion contradicts the opinion of many medical professionals. What comment, if any, would you have about this matter?

    MURR: This was precisely my response to Mother when she had finished telling me the whole amazing story. Her answer was that it didn’t matter what all the medical doctors and scientists in the world had to say on the matter: “I’m telling you what I saw with my own eyes and touched with my own hands,” she said. If memory serves me correctly, she said something along the lines of: I cut the man’s hair with scissors, shaved his beard with a razor, and trimmed his long fingernails with clippers, all before redressing him in the Pope’s [Pius XII] own white cassock for reburial. Don’t tell me his hair, his beard and nails stopped growing when he died.

    At any rate, from then on, I never again attempted to tell Mother Pascalina that what she saw and touched, cut, shaved and clipped, was imaginary.

    No, it was for real. Our dear Reverend Mother was not a woman given to fibs or exaggeration. She was precise.

    The Godmother portrays Pope Leo XIII (Pope from 1878 to 1903) as a bit crafty in how he ordered the funeral procession and burying of Pope Bl. Pius IX [in 1878]. The Freemasons and other agitators were looking to disrupt the procession and throw Pius’ body into the Tiber. Do you see any parallels between this and current events?

    MURR: Maybe. At the very beginning of his pontificate, instead of facing the social unrest of his times directly, instead of “taking the bull by the horns” and squelching the “highly organized chaos” of the Freemasons, Marxists, Communists and anarchists, Pius IX [Pope from 1846 to 1878] thought he could sit down with them and talk; sit down and dialogue with them; reason with them. That was his first major mistake. No, I take that back. His first mistake was being a liberal himself. His second mistake was to think he could reason with liberals of another bent. Two mistakes he would long live to regret.

    Of course, living when he did, Pius IX couldn’t benefit from Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals. He had to leave that for one of his more “enlightened” successors.

    The most basic “rule” is to destroy the existing order by creating complete societal chaos, by any means. Create an insurmountable problem, and when you’ve whipped up enough panic among the general populace and the powers that be, present a solution to your problem; call off the dogs of war and give people a false sense of relief, so that they begin to believe you are the answer to all societal ills — that, of course, you yourself caused artificially — and you’ve won! Do I see any parallels to what’s happening today? Don’t you?

    As we wrap up this interview, could you tell us what, if any, is your next writing project?

    MURR: I’m in the middle of writing a book about Cardinal Baggio and Pope John Paul I. It is based upon conversations to which I was privy with Gagnon, Marini and Benelli.


7 Homily of June 29, 1972. For an English translation, see Kevin J. Symonds, Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael (Boonville, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 2018), 213ff.


9 ODDI Card. Silvio



12 Louis Bouyer and John Pepino (tran.), The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer (Kettering, Ohio: Angelico Press, 2015), 225.


14 Bouyer and Pepino, 219.



17 At the time, Gumpel was the postulator for the beatification cause of Pius XII.

18 “Few words suffice for him who understands.”

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