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from issue no. 04 - 2006

Defender of Tradition and of workers’ rights

Our Director gave one of the speeches in Genoa, on 4 May 2006, during the day devoted to the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri. We print the text

by Giulio Andreotti

Cardinal Giuseppe Siri was born in Genoa on 20 May 1906
 and died there on 2 May  1989

Cardinal Giuseppe Siri was born in Genoa on 20 May 1906 and died there on 2 May 1989

I thank Cardinal Bertone for the very gratifying invitation to participate in this centenary recollection of a remarkable Italian and pastor.
My memory runs freely back to distant 1938, when the National Congress of the Italian Federation of Catholic University Students was the occasion for learning of the extraordinary quality of the Genoan priests, apart from that of our spiritual directors Don Costa and Don Guano.
In the church of the Immaculate Conception in Passo Assarotti Don Giacomo Lercaro won us with a meditation on the equality of all men before God (a polemical theme at that moment because there had already been pre-announcement of the racial laws); Don Cavalleri fascinated us with his model of the liturgical apostolate; Don Pelloux, a man of great scientific knowledge, refuted the alleged quarrel between science and faith, indeed demonstrating in brilliant fashion their complementary nature.
Don Giuseppe Siri struck us with the depth of a meditation put in extremely plain and easily apprehensible form. I soon grew to appreciate him even more when attending his course in popular theology in Camaldoli.
The painful division of Italy resulting from the events of the war and the German occupation forced a break in this contact with Don Siri, who in the meantime had been appointed auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Boetto. The affairs of the country had led some of us leaders of the Federation of Catholic University Students to engage in the military and political struggle and, without ever encroaching on others’ territory, Moro, myself and others (especially Paolo Emilio Taviani and Carlo Russo) had a new sort of contact with Monsignor Siri, who a few days before 2 June 1946 had been called to lead the Genoan Church. He was very attentive to the workings of the Constituent Assembly; in particular (but not exclusively) to the matter of relations between Church and State.
In 1953 Pius XII named him cardinal, making him titular of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria outside of which there is the statue of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus with the words: « Largius hinc super urbem sparge Theresa rosas». With bewildering frivolity the media were accustomed – nowadays a bit less – to characterize bishops and cardinals as “progressives” or “conservatives”. I remember the annoyance Cardinal Spellman demonstrated about it, when presented as the prototype of the non-innovators. One day after a Christmas, when, on the same day, he had celebrated as army bishop with the troops both at home and in Vietnam, he told me, with a point of irony, that many of his “progressive” colleagues had given themselves a day of absolute rest for Christmas.
Certainly, if conservative means jealous defender of the tradition of the Church, Siri was so in an intransigent way. In peculiar he reacted with firmness to the theories invoking collegial leadership of the Church. In less marked fashion he stood apart from his fellow citizen Lercaro on liturgical reform, in truth considered sometimes too simplificatory.
One cannot for that matter forget that to avoid wrong interpretations (often expressions of individual “Council experts” were mistaken for approved propositions) Cardinal Siri founded a theological review called Renovatio.
On the political plane his firm opposition to the Communists and their allies led him to a diffident wariness toward any form of opening. And when Moro asked the Italian bishops for their opinion, the response from Cardinal Siri was very sharp.
Opposition to the positions of the extreme left and the appreciation for political centrism (one should never forget that moderation is a virtue) didn’t mean a leaning to social conservatism. For that matter, in the run-up to the decisive political battle of 1948, De Gasperi felt much encouraged by the support Monsignor Siri gave to the programs for agrarian reform and for development of the South of Italy.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former President Giulio Andreotti at the Conference for the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Ducal Palace, Genoa, 4 May 2006

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former President Giulio Andreotti at the Conference for the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Ducal Palace, Genoa, 4 May 2006

Among the “Siri papers” I preserve I have come across an article published in L’Espresso of 22 March 1987 under the by-line of Giampaolo Pansa and the heading: God saves the port after Siri’s emergency call. It reports the decisive intervention of the cardinal in a delicate matter regarding the port of Genoa, a port important not only for the city. Let me quote some words from Siri given in Pansa’s article: «The Italsider was to be razed to the ground. The Sestri ship-building yard was to disappear. And now everything is safe. I fought for this. I sent as many as three messages. I know that Prodi was struck. I told him he was right in his choices, but it mattered to me that those factories not be shut down».
As witness to his continuing interest in the destiny of Genoa, I can also read a letter in his hand addressed to me as Minister for Industry on 24 May 1967: «I am really anxious for my city that has suffered and will suffer amputations and where unemployment is increasing. It is the only reason for which I dare write and write with trust. I learn this morning that on 26 Friday of the current month the Commission for Oil Regulation will meet and the go-ahead probably be given for new plants. I have summoned Dr. Garrone for clarification on the negative impact on the plants existing here that represent a large element in the Genoese economy. From the same Dr. Garrone I have learned that the concession of new factories would do harm. He believes that his firm’s production would be affected and its expansion be definitely compromised. Your Excellency! I beg you take care of Genoa. May you in your kindness listen to and consider my plea: may you consider what it will take to prevent an increase of distress here. And I beg your pardon: I write only – I repeat – out of my duty as bishop».
Because the subject is linked I shall quote another handwritten letter received from Cardinal Siri as comment on a speech of mine at the Christian Democrat National Congress of which I had sent him a copy: «Thank you for the true copy of your speech to the Congress. It has been useful to me because not embroidered by interested comments. It’s a clear speech, honest and farseeing. It’s hard, when looking far ahead, to get everyone to agree, but it is needful for those who have responsibility to look far ahead. Now I’m able to see that many of the comments and many of the interpretations deflected the truth. I beg you not to count yourself among the “oldsters”, because I don’t think you belong in that category – honorable as it may be. God give you a holy Easter, serene and full of light».
Up to here the letter. For the rest, in his arduous post as spiritual adviser to the Italian Confederation of Business Executives he had opportunity to illustrate and go into the drives for social harmony that must always increasingly lead to the raising up of the humble and to the calmness of co-existence.
Talking of class cooperation and solidarity was not fashionable, but Cardinal Siri had never stooped to the fashionable; his frequent reminders of the «serva ordinem et ordo servabit te» were eloquent.
On those bearings he also chaired the Italian Bishops’ Conference which, when he left, was jointly headed by three cardinals for want of a fitting successor. In his pastoral letter of 1962 he stated that: «Relations between the Church and the faithful were decided by the Divine Founder himself in clear and definitive terms».
That pastoral letter, entitled Orthodoxy: Church-Faithful-World, contains some very precise statements on the relationship with politics: «Action in the social field (if you like: political) does not, as such, come within ecclesiastic jurisdiction. From that principle all the obvious and legitimate consequences can be drawn, on condition that one fits them to the principles, equally true, that follow.
Paul VI welcoming cardinals attending the Synod of Bishops in the autumn of 1967. From the left,
Cardinals Siri, Lercaro, Santos and Felici

Paul VI welcoming cardinals attending the Synod of Bishops in the autumn of 1967. From the left, Cardinals Siri, Lercaro, Santos and Felici

Action in the social field cannot prevail over truth, nor over moral law.
Action in the social field has always an aspect that sets up a clear connection with the ecclesiastical Magisterium. It is the moral aspect first and foremost: on this aspect, that is on the conformity or not of political action to divine law, the Church is competent to judge and its judgment binds the conscience of the faithful if it is given in form sufficient and fitting to create the bond. It is a matter then of the ideological aspect, of that in which a political action either becomes acceptance of a determined doctrine or becomes direct or indirect support to the same. It can happen in that case that the intellectual position of Catholics is no longer safeguarded because of a lack of sufficient teaching by the Church and also in this case the Magisterium of the Church can express its judgment in the doctrinal field or that of its jurisdiction.
There is finally or can be in politics a third aspect wholly concrete and practical and it is the connection between political action and some certain or probable harm to religion and to the Church. The latter has the right to defend itself and has the right to point out to its children what it considers dangerous. Its children can neither deny its right, nor its competence to judge actions or the consequences of actions to its harm.
The decisions of the Church, in its jurisdiction, are valid for the conscience of all individual believers and can push this validity to the point of creating an obligation of conscience».
I return for a moment to a theme already touched on. The time that has passed authorizes me to speak also of a letter of Cardinal Siri (as president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference) to Moro dated 18 February 1961. I received a copy five days later, sent me by Cardinal Pizzardo: « Dear Member of Parliament,» Siri wrote to Moro «at the moment when there is reason to believe that equivocations and mistaken interpretations are obscuring the truth, it is my duty of call your attention to what follows:
the attitude of the Church in judging the Communists and those who support them or are associated with them, has not changed in any way;
the “line” of leading Catholics absolutely to collaborate with the socialists, before real and secure guarantees have been obtained from them of freedom from the Communists and of respect for what we must respect, absolutely cannot be shared by the bishops.
This has occurred, the way and the form in which it has occurred cause profound concern for the future.
In God’s name I beg you to reflect deeply on your responsibility and on the consequences of what is being done».

Cardinal Siri with a representation of the dockers of Genoa

Cardinal Siri with a representation of the dockers of Genoa

The year 1978 was an extraordinary one in the history of the Church. Paul VI, succeeding John XXIII, had wisely guided the continuation and closure of the Council. From the conclave the Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani was chosen, an eminently pastoral figure but unfortunately not in good physical health (I remember his pale, drawn face the day he took possession of Saint John Lateran; but certainly nobody was thinking of a pontificate lasting just a few weeks).
Cardinal Siri celebrated the second of the Nine-day commemoration and gave a significant sermon: «John Paul I», he said, «opened an epoch. In simplicity he took up again the necessary discourse on the firmness of Catholic doctrine, on ecclesiastical discipline, on spirituality. People understood him and loved him».
For what forecasts are worth, on the eve of the new conclave the focus this time was on the two names Siri and Benelli, the former being attributed more progressive leanings, as well as experience both as Curia diplomat and guidance of such an important diocese as Florence. In Siri’s case the emphasis was on his theological culture and his long experience in guiding of the See of Genoa.
Two interviews given by Cardinal Siri in the days preceding the conclave got a wide hearing. The first, came out on 2 October and resulted in him being suddenly catalogued as a progressive because of such phrases as: «The world changes. Mao woke up China that had been asleep for three thousand years: the Church cannot remain stationary». The second interview was on 14 October and stressed his opposition to collegiality in the leadership of the Church («God didn’t plan it»). He was also witty. In reply to being asked what he thought of the possible choice of a cardinal who had only experience in the Curia behind him, he answered: «Do you imagine, that even if I thought so, I’d come and tell you?».
In a book by the Honorable Natta, former Secretary of the Communist Party, published by Edizioni Paoline (I tre tempi del presente [The three times of the present]), there is mention of a meeting between Natta, Enrico Berlinguer and myself in those days. The book says that I was so sure of the choice of Siri that I tried to reassure them by telling them that he wasn’t the reactionary people said he was but undoubtedly a conservative of great standing and wide culture. I don’t remember that meeting, but I was convinced the choice would fall on Siri, whose future name of Gregory XVII was already being bandied about by so-called experts.
There is a rule of silence regulating the course of conclaves. It didn’t prevent the Archbishop of Guatemala Mario Casariego, who was in my house during the following days, from telling me that it was the neck-to-neck Siri-Benelli contest that led to the choice of a “third man”.
The fact that only a few weeks earlier the same cardinals had chosen an Italian eliminated the fear of seeing the Polish choice advanced, as if it were foe to Italy.

I later met Cardinal Siri several times at the Ravasco Institute where he stayed in Rome, but he never said anything about the cardinals’ choice. Instead he once told me smiling that the extension of his incumbency of his diocese well beyond the limit of seventy-five demonstrated in practice the elasticity of one’s term of office. He had offered his letter of resignation regularly on expiration, without ever requesting its acceptance.
The seventeen years since his death have indeed not led to the forgetting of your and our cardinal. In recent days, having to speak about Pius XII on a day devoted to doing justice not least to his effective and courageous commitment to the defense of the Jews, I went to reread the very handsome commemoration that Cardinal Siri made of Pope Pacelli in a perfect combination of history and of high evaluation.
It is a profile that backs one of the great lines by which our generations were shaped. One must wish the pope well and not a particular pope. Like that, simply. Our memory of Cardinal Siri is affectionate and has deep reasons as we meditate on a more than decisive personality with an affection and an admiration that would be no greater if in the four conclaves in which he took part the choice of the Holy Spirit had been different.

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