Was Archbishop Bugnini a Freemason? Did Freemasons create the New Mass (Novus Ordo)?

There are many sensitivities over what to call the Mass promulgated in 1570 and the Mass promulgated in 1969. Sometimes they are called the New Mass and the Traditional Mass, or the Novus Ordo and Tridentine. For the purposes of this article we will follow the language of Pope Benedict XVI, calling the Mass of 1570 the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the Mass of 1969 the Ordinary Form of the Mass. In some cases we will call it the Novus Ordo, in order to recognize it being new.

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is a beautiful expression of the celebration of the Eucharist and has been attended by faithful Catholics since it was promulgated in 1570. Many of the complaints about the changes that were implemented in the Novus Ordo were not in the Sacrosanctum Concilium. For instance, Vatican II said nothing about whether the Priest should face the people during consecration, the degree of vernacular that should be used, the style of music, alter girls, or whether we should receive Communion in the hand, or standing up. Many traditional minded Catholics don't know that Archbishop Lefebvre, the founder of the SSPX, voted for the Sacrosanctum Concilium which was headed up by Archbishop Bugnini and Archbishop Lefebvre did not reject Vatican II. What he rejected was the current rites, promulgated in 1969, four years after the council, though he did not argue they were invalid. We should also bear in mind that there were many forms of the Mass before 1570.

We hope that traditionally minded Catholics will not break off in schism over Pope Francis Traditionis Custodes, which aims at ending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and reversed Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 Summorum Pontificium, and JPII's relaxation of post Vatican II restrictions. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict's and JPII's attempts to unify the Church through the relaxation of restrictions on the Extraordinary form of the Mass have resulted in greater division, particularly over Vatican II. On the other hand, Pope Francis' preferential treatment of liberal factions over traditionalist factions has not helped. We can't solve any of that here. We have separate discussions on the new versus the old Mass and of Pope Francis.

In the course of this debate some strong accusations have been leveled against Archbishop Bugnini, who was in charge of liturgical reform. The idea is that if he was a Freemason, then anything he was involved with would be corrupt, and should be ignored, including the Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Our summary of the stories floating around the internet might be something like this:

Archbishop Annibale Bugnini was a Freemason who hated the Church, and was somehow placed in charge of the Commission on Liturgical Reform. He assembled six Protestants, and they wrote the Liturgical reforms out of the blue for the Mass with no initiative by Pope Pius XII. He convinced Pope John XXIII, the cardinals, and hundreds of Bishops to vote for it. He secured an appointment by a weak willed Pope Paul VI to the commission to implement his plan. His new Mass replaced the Extraordinary Form of the Mass of the first Vatican Council, which had a Quo Primum (Papal Bull) from Pope Pius V that declared that it could never be changed. In the aftermath, homosexual priests ruled, chaos reigned, and the Church is falling apart, all because of this Freemason Archbishop who pushed through the devil's mass. He was discovered by the Pope Paul VI. His commission was dissolved and he was sent shamefully into exile as Nuncio to Iran and died alone and unknown.

Now, any accusation that an Archbishop in charge of the reform of the Mass might be a Freemason rightly sends chills up the spines of faithful Catholics. Freemasonry is the archenemy of the Church. This is a serious allegation since according to the Catholic Church, Catholics who become Freemasons "are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."Footnote 1 Under Canon law of 1917, which was in effect at the time, they were automatically excommunicated.Footnote 2 A serious charge requires a serious, critical, and sober evaluation.

Is there actually any evidence of Bugnini being a Freemason?

James Hillock who researched the origins of the claims writes:

Charges against Archbishop Bugnini first appeared in a traditionalist publication called Si Si no no (Velletri, Italy) edited by a retired Italian traditionalist priest named Francesco Putti. See also Michael Davies’s discussion in his Pope John’s Council, pp. 158-72; and see “Masons in the Vatican?” The Remnant, 18 August 1978, pp. 11-17. For a repudiation of these charges, see Father John Flanagan, “Charges of Freemasonry in the Hierarchy Shown to be False,” The Wanderer, 3 May 1977, p. 8. The first prelate so named was Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. Bugnini was an obvious target for traditionalist vilification; he had headed the commission charged with carrying out the reform of the liturgy (Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) and was one of the principle architects of the Novus Ordo rite. It was Bugnini who had “destroyed” the Tridentine liturgy. Traditionalist allegations against the Archbishop Bugnini were soon followed by similar charges against other high-ranking Vatican prelates, including Cardinal Jean Villot, (Vatican secretary of state), Archbishop Agostino Casaroli (secretary of the Church’s Council for Public Affairs), and Cardinal Leo Suenens (Brussels, Belgium). The list of Masonic conspirators was first published in the United States by the ORCM. See Father Robert McKenna, “Our Vindication: Masonic Prelates in the Church,” OCRM Reprint, 1977. Footnote 3

Allegations of Bugnini being a Freemason were picked up in Piers Compton's 1981 book, The Broken Cross. Mr. Compton entertained a number of conspiracy theories including the following:

...there were two Popes living in the Vatican, Paul VI and an impostor who had been made to resemble Montini with the aid of plastic surgery. The Broken Cross, Piers Compton, Chapter 11

The book did not receive much traction, even among traditionally minded Catholics, due to its flamboyant claims. However, the idea that Archbishop Bugnini was a Freemason was popularized in Michael Davies' book Liturgical Time Bombs In Vatican II, Destruction of the Faith through Changes in Catholic Worship (ISBN: 9780895557735). It received much traction among traditionally minded Catholics. Mr. Davies was a Baptist who converted to the Catholic Church before Vatican II. He later supported the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X, and declined to retract that support after Lefebvre's decision to consecrate four bishops in 1988 against the wishes of Pope John Paul II (source). Listed below are the all of the references used by Davies to build the Freemason case against Bugnini.

Claimed Published Work Author Reference/Publisher Davies' Claim Problem
Le Figaro Not provided October 8, 1976 Davies claimed it was a report in which Archbishop Bugnini denied ever having had any Masonic affiliation

This is a published accusation and denial, but does not provide any evidence.

Nel Furno di Satana (p. 150) Tito Casini Florence: Carro di San Giovanna, 1976 Davies claimed it made accusations that Bugnini was a Freemason This is a published accusation and denial, but does not provide any evidence
Homiletic and Pastoral Review Not cited January 1980, May 1980 issues Davies claimed the magazine published Davies' letter in January, and that the magazine published a response in May by Archbishop Bugnini which called Davies "calumniator" This is a published accusation and denial, but does not provide any evidence
The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-1975) Bugnini p. 91 Davies claimed Bugnini wrote that he was disappointed at his appointment as Nuncio There were many factors in his removal, but suspected masons are not appointed Nuncios. Under Canon Law of 1917, which was in force at the time, a freemason would be excommunicated
The Tablet Not cited August 30, 1975, p. 828 Davies claimed the Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter, unknown date, expressed dismay about close of the commission on liturgy Naturally, liberal minded media would be disappointed at the close of the commission, because they wanted even more changes to the Mass, and its close represented a more conservative approach to change.

These references do not claim to provide any evidence that he was a Freemason. In building his case against Bugnini, Michael Davies quoted The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II, Paperback, Ralph M. Wiltgen which was a book criticizing the council and Bugnini specifically. However, there was no accusation that he was Freemason.

We were contacted by Hugh Reid, President of Una Voce Canada, who is also president of the Vancouver Traditional Mass Society, and Councilor Hugh Anthony Domet, President of the Toronto Traditional Mass Society who disapproved of an earlier draft of this article, which speculated that Mr. Davies may have been a Sedevacantist. When asked to provide proof that Archbishop Bugnini was a Freemason, Mr. Reid said "The matter of whether or not the Archbishop was a Freemason is... debatable." When pressed to provide evidence of such an extreme position, and an invitation to a public discussion on the question of Freemasonry, Mr. Reid wrote, "I don’t wish to communicate any further in this regard." Meanwhile, Uni Voce International, as of this writing (Aug. 2021), promotes Michael Davies, as a "great Welsh-born traditionalist author". It seems that many of those arguing against the Ordinary Form of the Mass are happy to help propagate these rumours without offering any substantiation.

Michael Davies claimed a priest and a cardinal told him they knew of evidence that Archbishop Bugnini was a Freemason

Michael Davies claimed personal discussions he had with a priest and a cardinal, neither of which he named or identified in any way.

Michael Davies claimed in his book Problem
Davies claimed to have known an unnamed priest who had evidence about Bugnini being a freemason which Davies claimed was put on the desk of the Pope by a cardinal None of this "evidence" has surfaced in 50 years. The anonymous mystery priest didn't make any public allegations, nor does Davies have any of this evidence. One would think the priest, or Davies, would have made a photocopy of the "mystery evidence" for proof. In 1975, photocopying was common.

Davies claimed "a cardinal ... told me of the existence of a dossier which he had seen on the Pope's desk and which proved that Archbishop Bugnini was a Freemason." (ref)

He says "The pope suspected him of Freemasonry"

First off, that would mean he had access to the Pope's personal records, and could have an unauthorized look at the evidence, and then it assumes he would tell a writer, Davies, that the Pope was involved in a cover up, trusting his name would not be associated with such scandalous evidence.

Davies suggested the appointment of Nuncio to Iran was a cover up by the Pope regarding the most important part of Catholicism, the Mass. That would put the Pope on the list of the worst in history. Quite an accusation, with no name attached to the "mystery cardinal" who told him this. We must remember, this is the same Pope Paul VI who stood faithfully against contraception.

Even with these unconfirmed references, Davies did not claim to possess any proof that Bugnini was a Freemason, nor did he provide evidence of any "package" on the pope's desk.

Michael Voris brings up the Freemason question

Former television reporter, Michael Voris, created a two hour documentary entitled, "Weapons of Mass Destruction" which was an apologetic for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Although we often appreciate Mr. Voris' videos, we were concerned about this one because he brought up the Freemason issue obtusely with "many people think Bugnini was a Freemason", referencing Davies. Mr. Voris said "500 hours of investigative preparation went into this documentary". He drew attention to 15 books on the stage, which were written against the Novus Ordo, as evidence of some of this research.

After 500 hours of research, and a deep dive into all of the literature available on the subject of the New Mass, and players involved, Michael Voris did not produce one piece of evidence against Bugnini that he had any association with Freemasonry.

No motive for Archbishop Bugnini to "hate the Church" or to be a Freemason

Whatever criticism one may have of Archbishop Bugnini, and there is much room for legitimate criticism, there is neither evidence of any motive to hate the Church nor evidence of infidelity to the moral teachings of the Church. He started theology studies at 14 years old and at 26 began parish work. There was no period before his involvement with the Church where he could have gotten into something that would make him hate the Church. One doesn't join the seminary at 14 years old because of a hatred of the Church. There is no evidence of disillusionment or any motive to hate the Church, or for him to want to join an organization that is plotting against it. He was appointed secretary to the Commission for Liturgical Reform in 1948 and held the office until 1975. That is 27 years under a microscope! He was living in the little Vatican city, where everyone knows everyone else's business. There are no reports of him with any Freemason, or of him attending any meeting. For any Catholic to be a member of any Masonic order is a grave sin, and at the time meant automatic excommunication.

What about Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand's "devil" comment about the Novus Ordo

Mr. Davies' quotes Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand:

"Truly, if one of the devils in C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better." (http://www.tanbooks.com/doct/vatican_liturgy.htm)

This statement is often found in articles accusing Archbishop Bugnini of being a Freemason. While the statement shows a very passionate defense of the Traditional Mass, and expresses von Hildebrand's profound distaste of the New Mass, there is no accusation of Bugnini being a Freemason. If the comment was intended to say that he was a Freemason, as many traditionally minded Catholics believe, one would think Hildebrand would say it, since proof of Freemasonry would mean automatic excommunication of Bugnini. But he had no reason to believe this. He was not in Rome. His wife, Alice von Hildebrand has never insinuated that Bugnini had any association with Freemasonry. We have to assume the statement was intended to demonstrate his disgust at the direction of the liturgy, which is understandable, given that it was so different to what he was used to.

Was an appointment as Papal Nuncio to Iran an exile?

It is clear that the closing of the congregation of Divine Worship was a disappointment to Bugnini and that there were many power struggles over the direction of the Mass. Archbishop Marini explains like this:

Although the reforms continued and Father Bugnini was made an archbishop, his position gradually weakened -- partly because his own "single-mindedness, even stubbornness" had alienated others in the Roman Curia, Archbishop Marini said.
While Archbishop Bugnini was on vacation in 1975, the book said, several private meetings sealed his fate. Shortly afterward, the Congregation for Divine Worship was disbanded and Archbishop Bugnini was sent to Iran as apostolic pro-nuncio.
With these changes, Archbishop Marini said, "the distinctive style of the consilium was gradually absorbed into the more traditional style proper to the Roman Curia." (source)

A nuncio is a representative of the Pope. It demonstrates trust, not exile. Bugnini was appointed the official representative of the Pope in one of the most volatile and politically sensitive countries in the world, Iran. In 1979, the Nuncio met with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader, to deliver Pope John Paul II's appeal for the release of the hostages, hardly a role that would be given to a known Freemason (source).

Did Moynihan have an interview with someone who worked with Bugnini

There are reports of an interview by Dr. Robert B. Moynihan, editor of "Inside the Vatican Magazine". It's an interview with a certain Abbot Boniface, who apparently "worked with Bugnini". The quote attributed to Boniface is:

Bugnini once told Malula that the norm for the liturgy and for Church renewal is modern Western man, because he is the perfect man, and the final man, and the everlasting man, because he is the perfect and normative man. And he made clear that, for him, "acculturation" or adapting to Western culture is the great work in Church liturgical reform and renewal, and in theology, and in all other aspects of Church life. Secularization was, for him, a necessary process, something the Church needed to accept and embrace.

So Abbot Boniface says he was told by Cardinal Joseph Malula, of Kinshasha, Zaire, who is dead, that Archbishop Bugnini had this view. And then later in the interview Boniface says "He [Archbishop Bugnini] never would have written anything like that. And even when he talked, he did not do so imprudently. He may never have spoken those words exactly, but that was his meaning..." So this is a third generation comment by someone who is against the Novus Ordo, which is now circulating all over the internet as if it came out of Archbishop Bugnini's mouth. Moynihan has another article which links to a website that accuses John Paul II of receiving praise from Freemasons. Not what we would consider a credible source.

We don't think the accusations of Freemasonry are credible

It is our opinion that Michael Davies' theory of Bugnini being a Freemason does not appear to be credible, although dozens of web sites, videos and books are propagating this conspiracy theory without critical analysis. They include:

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction video (Part 1), Michael Voris, Church Militant CIA, 2010.
  • The Devil's Final Battle, Fr. Paul Kramar, 2002
  • Numerous web sites supporting the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, (including links to Davies' articles on the Una Voce International website)
  • Numerous online discussion forums discussing the Mass

Charges of Archbishop Bugnini being a Freemason are unfounded and should be entirely left out of any discussions about the Novus Order Mass, or of Archbishop Bugnini.

Is the propagation of the charge of Bugnini being a Freemason an example of "fear-mongering" and sinful?

Simply placing the idea of Freemasonry in the minds of people taints their experience of Mass. It's like a foreign car manufacturer saying: "The Ford Escort has faulty brakes, but there has been no recall because of the implications on the American auto industry." Every time children get in the car, the parent thinks "I wonder if that is true?" It spoils the ride. We feel that trying to spoil the experience of the Ordinary Form of the Mass for those who faithfully attend is a problematic and immoral strategy.

Definition of "Fear Mongering" (or scaremongering or scare tactics): is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle. (source)

Below are some of the sections from the Catechism which explain the sin involved the propagation of unfounded claims against Archbishop Bugnini:

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation....

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way...

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

Was Pope Paul VI weak-willed?

Pope Paul VI was anything but weak willed. He stood up against the Vatican appointed Papal Birth Control Commission that was recommending the Church relax its position on contraception. His firm position made liberals furious (source). His response to the attempt to liberalize contraception was swift, strong and decisive. He protected the Church's traditional position against contraception, and he wrote Humanae Vitae, one of the most prophetic and counter cultural documents of our time. He also insisted that Gaudium et Spes reaffirm the infallibility of the Pope when he saw things going a little awry with the “experts”. His judgment and character are solid, and he was not manipulated into accepting Bugnini's appointment.

Cardinal Ottaviani's letter

The letter in circulation was written before the final version of the Mass and public discourses by the Pope. In a subsequent letter after the Mass was adjusted Cardinal Ottaviani wrote:

"no one can any longer be genuinely scandalized ... in this sense I wish your 'Doctrinal Note' [on the Pauline Rite Mass] and the activity of the Militia Sanctae Mariae wide diffusion and success." (Whitehead, 129, Letter from his eminence Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani to Dom Gerard Lafond, O.S.B., in Documentation Catholique, #67, 1970, pages 215-216 and 343)

Reform had been coming before Bugnini, and the Mass has changed significantly before

Reform of the Liturgy predates Bugnini. Pope Pius XII, who had a particular interest in the liturgy, wrote in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei that "the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people", though he stated at the same time that only the Holy See had the authority to grant permission for the use of the vernacular.(source) He granted permission for the use of local languages in the renewal of baptismal promises in the Easter Vigil service. In 1958, Pope John XXII deleted the word "faithless" from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews. A history of the reform of the Mass is found here.

It's important to remember that the Latin Traditional Mass does not date back to the apostles but rather to about 5th - 7th century. At that time it was the "new" Mass, and there were people who wanted to continue what they were doing. Here is a section of the Catholic Encyclopedia. It discusses the "radical" changes to the original Mass (described by St. Justin Martyr in the 2nd century) that occurred between the 5th - 7th Century (source). The Magisterium had the authority to change the Mass then, and it had the authority at Vatican II. The Quo Primum regarding the Extraordinary Form of the Mass of Pius V in 1570 was not binding on future Popes whose authority as Popes were equal to his own. He himself altered his Missal after the victory of Lepanto. In 1585, Pope Sixtus V changed it. 34 years after the publication of Quo primum, Pope Clement VIII revised it, as did Pope Urban VIII 30 years later. Quo Primum concerned a disciplinary matter in the Church, not an infallible teaching on faith or morals.

In summary

We love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and would like it to be available to all those who prefer it. We welcome its return to jurisdictions where it was not previously found since the reforms. We also welcome lively debates as to its merit compared to the merits of the Novus Ordo. There have been adjustments to the Ordinary Form of the Mass in order to increase its reverence and beauty, such as revisions to the New Latin Missal and the new English text of 2010. There will likely be more adjustments to improve it. However, saying the Church is falling apart because the Mass was changed, and propagating a conspiracy theory to influence this discussion is immoral. It is reckless calumny against an Archbishop and all popes since Vatican II. This conspiracy theory is like the Da Vinci Code in its attempt to deride the Vatican, and is easily dispelled by any reasoning person.

See also the article on The Extraordinary Form of the Mass Vs. the Ordinary Form of the Mass which addresses these questions:


Footnote 1

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (November 26, 1983). "Declaration on Masonic Organizations". vatican.va. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19831126_declaration-masonic_en.html. Retrieved 11 November 2012.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Prior to 1983, the penalty for joining a Masonic association was automatic excommunication: Nomen dantes sectae massonicae aliisve eiusdem generis associationibus quae contra Ecclesiam vel legitimas civiles potestates machinantur, contrahunt ipso facto excommunicationem Sedi Apostolicae simpliciter reservatam 1917 Code of Canon Law

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

James Hitchcock, “Catholic Activist Conservatism in the United States,” Fundamentalisms Observed Volume 1,p. 133, Footnote 96 (source)

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