Piers Compton: The Broken Cross Part 7

Part Seven

Woe to him who doesn’t know how to wear his mask, be he King or Pope.
Pirandello.

The give-and-take of human relationships poses a more difficult problem than those that are normally accredited to science. For the latter will, in all probability, be solved in time; but when it comes to people, especially those who are no longer among the living, we are faced with questions that, in this our world, are unlikely to be answered.

For instance, it has to be asked why did two prelates, within a few months of each other, both die in circumstances that are not normally connected with any churchman, and, more especially in these cases, highly placed ones?

When a party of Parisians, after having attended a religious festival in the country, returned to the capital late at night on Sunday, May 19th, 1974, some of them noticed that the priest who had been in charge of them looked ill and tired.

He was Jean Daniélou, sixty-nine years old, and a Cardinal; no cut and dried character, but someone difficult to place in the minds of ordinary people who knew very little about him. He had entered a Jesuit novitiate in 1929, and had been ordained nine years later. The author of fourteen books on theology, and the Head of the Theological Faculty at the University of Paris, he was also a member of the Académie Française.

While revealing little, he made certain statements about himself that invited questions; even controversy. ‘I am naturally a pagan, and a Christian only with difficulty’, was one of them, though that, of course, expresses a point a view held by many of his creed who know that little more than a knife edge exists between affirmation and disbelief. He was aware of new elements, that were forming and gathering strength within the Church, and although he judged freely – ‘A kind of fear has spread leading to real intellectual capitulation in the face of carnal excesses’ – the conservatives were no more able to number him among their kind than were the more vocal progressives. He was one of the founders, in 1967, of the Fraternity of Abraham, an interfaith group comprising the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

‘Today is a time when we sin against intelligence.’ Both sides could have claimed that as a dictum. Some accused him, when he appeared to hold back, of being prudish. But always he claimed to be uncommitted. ‘I feel in the depths of my being that I am a free man.’ But freedom, when it is not a political catchword, can no more be tolerated in the world than truth (as the peasant girl Joan of Arc had realised centuries before). And the more Daniélou withdrew from society, and lived quietly at his residence in the Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, without keeping a secretary or running a car, the more he became suspect, or openly disliked.

None of this escaped him, but he tried not to dwell upon it. Had he done so, he owned that he would have been discouraged, a self-evident failure who had not taken advantage of the promise that was made available by his rise in the Church. Later he found, or at least came to believe, that opponents were scheming and plotting against him. There was, indeed, a definite campaign of whispers and hints in the Press that compelled him, though it was more a matter of choice than the force of actual opposition, to maintain a steadily but relatively unimpressive place on the fringe of things.

So he remained, a problematic figure who arrived home on that Sunday midnight after an exhausting day in the country. But Monday brought no change in his routine. He said Mass, as usual, at eight o’clock, then worked in his office and received a few visitors. He lunched at a restaurant, and afterwards called at the home of a Professor at the Sorbonne.

It appears, for some unexplained reason, that part of his mail went to an address in the Rue Monsieur; for he collected this, was back at his house at three o’clock, then left a quarter of an hour later, after saying that he expected to return at five.

But he did not. For at three forty-eight the police received an urgent message from a Madame Santoni, who occupied an upper floor at number fifty-six in the Rue Dulong, a none too reputable quarter just north of the Boulevard des Batignolles. Her message brought the police rushing to the scene, for it told them that no less a person than a Cardinal was dead on her premises.

He, Daniélou, had called there soon after three-thirty. He had, so someone told her, run up the stairs four at a time, then collapsed at the top, purple in the face, and soon became unconscious. She had torn his clothes apart, and summoned help. But it was impossible to revive him, and the first arrivals had been helplessly looking on when his heart stopped.

In answer to a radio announcement of the Cardinal’s death, the Apostolic Nuncio, with the Jesuit Provincial of France, and Father Coste, Superior of the Jesuits in Paris, arrived at the apartment, together with reporters from the France Soir, and nuns who were called in to deal with the body that was, however, already too rigid to be prepared for the funeral.

Father Coste addressed the reporters. It was essential for them to maintain the utmost discretion, and, having said that, he went on to state that the Cardinal had died in the street, or it may possibly have been on the stairway, after he had fallen in the street.

‘Oh no, it wasn’t’, broke in Madame Santoni. Father Coste objected to her interruption, the other clerics joined in, the police had their say, the reporters asked questions, and at the height of the argument, although no one actually witnessed her going, Madame Santoni disappeared and was seen no more at the inquiry.

Now the lady in question thoroughly deserved the title of Madame. She was well known to the police and to the Press, a twenty-four year old blonde who traded under the name of Mimi, sometimes as hostess at a bar, a go-go girl at an all night cabaret, or as a strip-tease dancer in the Pigalle. She was never on call at her home, which was run as a bawdy-house by her husband. It was then, however, temporarily out of business, as he had been convicted only three days previously for pimping.

Such explanations as the Church chose to offer were vague, and all in line with the general verdict that the Cardinal had burst a blood-vessel, or suffered a heart attack. Cardinal Marty, the Archbishop of Paris, refused a request from Catholics as well as from secular quarters for an inquiry to be held into the Cardinal’s death. After all, he explained, the Cardinal wasn’t there to speak for himself. It may have been an unfortunate afterthought that caused the Archbishop to speak of the Cardinal needing to defend himself. The eulogy was delivered in Rome by Cardinal Garrone who said: ‘God grant us pardon. Our existence cannot fail to include an element of weakness and shadow.’

One may wonder how deep Garrone’s soul-searching may have gone since, although he was known to belong to a secret society, he brazenly sat it out and held on to his red hat. A comment by the orthodox journal La Croix was briefer and more to the point: ‘Whatever the truth is, we Christians well know that each of us is a sinner.’

This sort of happening supplied the Left-wing anti-clerical papers with copy for a week. One such, Le Canard Enchaine1, had scored heavily some years before, in a controversy over the ownership of a string of brothels within a few yards of the cathedral in Le Mans. The paper claimed that they were owned by a high dignitary of the Church. His friends and colleagues strongly denied this. But the paper was proved to have been right. Now the same source had no hesitation in saying that the Cardinal had been leading a double life.

He had been under observation for some time, a step that was ordered by no less a person than M. Chirac, the Prime Minister. He and Jacques Foccard, a former Minister of the Interior, both knew perfectly well that the Cardinal had been paying regular visits to Mimi.

That in turn was ridiculed by Daniélou’s supporters; whereupon the paper retorted that there might be more revelations to come. ‘If we were to publish all the details, it would be enough to shut you up for the rest of your natural days.’

The truth of this strange story may lie in one of four possible explanations.

One may have its origin in the effects of the Second Vatican Council. Daniélou was said by some to have regarded that as a positive disaster, and we know that he described the more liberal school of theologians, to which the Council gave rise, as lamentable, miserable, execrable, wretched. Many resented this, especially when he went on to call them ‘assassins of the Faith’. He determined to do what he could to prevent the Faith being secularised and degraded, and this led him to think, since human tempers are just as hot within the Church as they are outside it, that he was in danger. That would account for the somewhat enclosed life he led in Paris.

But he let it be known that he was determined to make a stand, and he drew up a list of those he called traitors to the Church. Some of those whose names were included breathed fire against him, but he publicly announced that he intended to publish the list.

Four days later, according to a theory held by many who are certainly not light-weights, he was murdered by those he would have named. Then, inspired by a kind of macabre humour, those he had called ‘assassins’ had his body taken out and dumped in a brothel. After that, the surprising discovery could easily be arranged.

That is written in full knowledge of how outrageous it must appear to those who regard the Church from a purely parochial level; in happy ignorance of its medieval history that was destined to be repeated, with all the cut-and-thrust and poisoned cups of that period, in a few years’ time, and within the very walls of the Vatican palace.

Or could Daniélou have been, earlier in life, one of those infiltrators whose influence he came to detest? Did he, after being initiated into one of the secret societies opposed to the Church, undergo a change of heart, which caused him to be looked upon as a menace? There is ample evidence that the societies had, and still have, no scruples in dealing with defaulters.

That suggestion is not without substance. For in the Rue Puteaux, Paris, there is an ancient church, the crypt of which serves as the Grand Temple of the Grand Lodge of France. Some three years before Daniélou’s death the Auxiliary Bishop of Paris, Daniel Pézeril, had there been received into the Lodge, after he had issued a communiqué to justify his action. In it he said: ‘It is not the Church which has changed. On the contrary, Masonry has evolved.’ It was Monsignor Pézeril who was asked, by Pope Paul, to seek a way of bridging the gap between the Church and the societies.

Cardinal Daniélou had been a not infrequent visitor to the crypt, where he was seen in consultation with one of the Lodge Masters who had been honoured with the title of Grand Secretary of the Obedience. It must therefore be asked, does the answer to the mystery lie with those with whom Daniélou had conferred in the crypt?

But the story circulated by the satirical papers was the most shrill and insistent, and the most commonly known. They claimed that it had been obvious, to those who had been in Madame Mimi’s apartment before the police arrived, that Daniélou’s body had been hurriedly dressed. And if he had not been one of her clients, why had he gone there with three thousand francs that were found in his pocket-book? The purveyors of such scandal concluded that the Cardinal had died in a state of ecstasy, if not of grace.

Yet another version brings the story more up to date, with a trial that has now (the time is November, 1981) passed through its opening stage in Paris.

On Christmas Eve, 1976, Prince Jean de Broglie was shot dead by a gunman as he left a friend’s house. The necessary inquiries brought a far reaching web of fraud, complicity, and blackmail into the open, involving the former President Giscard d’Estaing and a friend of his, Prince Michel Poniatowski.

The latter had recently ousted and taken the place of Jacques Foccard as Minister of the Interior, and Foccard was now using a woman, who was known also to Giscard, to get money from the Prince. Foccard has already been mentioned in connection with the Daniélou case.

Since the known operation is obviously part of a vast cover-up, it is no more possible, than it is necessary here, to unravel the details, which leave all those concerned in a very murky light. But it is claimed that they account for Daniélou’s being in the brothel, and for the three thousand francs that were found on his person. They were one of the instalments that he had been paying, for the past three months, on behalf of someone, referred to as a friend of his, who was being blackmailed.

A most disarming finale to all this came in the form of a line or two in an English religious weekly, the Catholic Herald, which briefly announced that Cardinal Daniélou had died in Paris.
2.

Brief though the memory of the public is, there may have been a few lingering thoughts on Cardinal Daniélou’s mysterious death in the minds of some Parisians who noticed a Bishop from the south-west of their country step from a train on the afternoon of January the 12th, 1975.

He was Monsignor Roger Tort, fifty-seven years old, and Bishop of Montauban, on the River Tam just north of Toulouse. He was due to attend a meeting of the French Episcopal Commission, and he straightway proceeded to a room he had booked at the headquarters of the Catholic Aid Society in the Rue de Bac. His movements for the next couple of days are unrecorded, but on Thursday the 15th he lunched at the Commission’s meeting place in the Rue du Regard, on the left bank of the Seine. It is possible that from there he went to meet a friend whom he had known during the war, but we know nothing certain about him until an alarm was raised, and a call went out to the police, on the night of the 16th.

Excitement centred on the Rue du Ponceau, again on the left bank, a narrow street off the Rue Saint-Denis, a quarter notorious for brothels, prostitutes, and sex shops, where red lamps shone invitingly. The woman who raised the alarm kept one of the brothels. She had come across a man, who was obviously ill, in the street outside her door, and she got the help of two others of her kind to drag him inside. By then he was dead.

Who was he? She neither knew nor cared. She had never seen him before. She had done what she could from purely ‘humanitarian reasons’. The red lamps winked as more people arrived and the contradictory stories went on. The stranger had died of a heart attack, between seven and eleven o’clock, in the street, or in the corridor, or in one of the rooms. A news-hungry reporter said that the Bishop, once his identity had been confirmed, had come a long way from his lodgings and from the Commission’s meeting place. The reporter went on to say, backed by a snap judgment from the police that, as in the case of Daniélou, the body appeared to have been hastily dressed.

A clerical apologist later advised all those interested to put away such thoughts as being totally unworthy. He pointed out that Monsignor Tort, when found, was still wearing his Bishop’s ring, and his pectoral cross, and that his rosary was still in his pocket. Surely the presence of those objects was enough to prove that ‘no inadmissible intentions’ had brought him into the district? The facts, so far as they could be known, did not admit of any shameful interpretation.

The Church absolved the dead man from moral guilt, and within a few weeks a new Bishop was being installed at the small cathedral in Montauban.

An elementary reading of these two episodes could be taken as evidence that churchmen (especially Catholic ones and, more especially, those of exalted status) may be hypocritical and corrupt. That, of course, will not be disputed by any save the wilfully blind; and the fact that they may be members of secret societies, first and last, and therefore void of genuine religious conviction, is the theme of these pages. But there is no evidence to connect the deaths.

In the Cardinal’s case there are signs, however tentative, that he had been persuaded to act a minor role in a major political scandal; or that he had taken a definite stand in a religious quarrel; and religious quarrels, like a civil war, admit of no quarter being given. There is, however, no trace of Monsignor Tort being involved in anything startling. He can only be the object of assumption – that he was the victim of personal weakness, of an accident, or of someone’s wish to discredit religion.

But as it is, the similarity between the two deaths is startling.


1. This is a slightly more radical French equivalent of Private Eye