Giuseppe Siri (20 May 1906 – 2 May 1989) was an Italian Cardinal of the Catholic Church who served as Archbishop of Genoa from 1946 to 1987, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1953 by Pope Pius XII.
Early life and ministry
Siri was born in Genoa to Nicolò and Giulia (née Bellavista) Siri. He entered the minor seminary of Genoa on 16 October 1916, and attended the major seminary from 1917 to 1926. Siri then studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Carlo Minoretti on 22 September 1928. Finishing his studies at the Gregorian, he earned his doctorate in theology summa cum laude and also did pastoral work in Rome until autumn 1929.
Upon returning to Genoa, he served as a chaplain until he became a professor of dogmatic theology at the major seminary in 1930, also teaching fundamental theology for a year. In addition to his academic duties, Siri was a preacher, conferencist (public speaker), and professor of religion at the lyceums Andrea Doria and Giuseppe Mazzini from 1931 to 1936. He was named prosynodal examiner in the archdiocesan curia in 1936 and rector of Collegio Teologico S. Tommaso d'Aquino in 1937.
On 14 March 1944, Siri was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Genoa and Titular Bishop of Livias by Pope Pius XII. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 7 May from Cardinal Pietro Boetto, SJ, at the St. Lawrence Cathedral. He became vicar general for the Archdiocese on 8 September 1944. During his tenure as an auxiliary, he was a member of the Italian resistance movement in World War II. He negotiated with the Nazi forces surrounding Genoa and met secretly with partisan leaders, eventually arranging a Nazi surrender that avoided further bombardment of the city.
Following the death of Cardinal Boetto, Siri was named Archbishop of Genoa on 14 May 1946, and installed on 29 May of that year. Pius XII created him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the consistory of 12 January 1953. At the time of his elevation, he was the youngest member of the College of Cardinals. He became known as the "minestrone cardinal" for his relief work in soup kitchens.
Siri was noted for his staunchly conservative views. At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), he sat on its Board of Presidency and, alongside Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Thomas Cooray, he was part of the association of traditionalist Council fathers named Coetus Internationalis Patrum. However, Siri once said, "I would describe myself as an independent, a man who walks alone and is not a member of any group." He was also opposed to collegiality and innovation.
Pope John XXIII named Siri the first President of the Italian Episcopal Conference on 12 October 1959. He remained in that post until 1965. Siri, who had voted in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963, was also one of the cardinal electors in the August and October 1978 conclaves. He was a strong candidate for the papacy, or papabile, in all four conclaves, in which his support lay mostly with Curialists and other conservative cardinals. Media reports suggested that Siri in fact topped the first count of votes in the August 1978 conclave but ultimately was beaten by Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I. Following John Paul I's death, Siri was the leading conservative candidate in opposition to Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the Archbishop of Florence and leading liberal candidate. Vaticanologists suggested that the eventual winner, Cardinal Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, was chosen as a compromise candidate between the two. Shortly afterwards, Siri implied that he disapproved of Wojtyła's election.
In a biography of Cardinal Siri, Nicla Buonasorte reports that Siri was a friend of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, but disapproved of what the newspaper report on the book called his schismatic undertakings. Up to the last minute he begged him ("on his knees", the Cardinal wrote) not to break from Rome, but finally accepted that excommunication of the dissident bishop was unavoidable. Buonasorte commented: "In all probability, it is due to Siri that Lefebvre had no significant following in Italy"
The same book recalls how Siri seems to have turned a blind eye to the assistance given by one or two of his clergy to members of the German National Socialist Party, including Adolf Eichmann, fleeing to South America after the Second World War. It stresses, however, that this was out of compassion for people in difficulties, and quite unconnected with his well-known conservative views, in spite of which he conducted a personal "Ostpolitik" of contacts with the Soviet embassy in favour of the Church in Eastern Europe, without informing Pius XII of these contacts. Cardinal Siri during the war had supported Christian-Democrat Italian resistance financially and morally. He also aided and sheltered some of his priests who tried to help rescue threatened Jews to safety in Franco's neutral Spain.
Siri reached age 80 in 1986 and thus lost the right to participate in future conclaves; he was the last remaining cardinal elector who had been elevated by Pope Pius XII. Siri resigned from his post in Genoa on 6 July 1987, after 41 years of service. He died in Villa Campostano, Genoa, at age 82, and was buried at San Lorenzo metropolitan cathedral in Genoa.
According to the supporters of the Siri Thesis Cardinal Siri received the 2/3 majority vote in a papal conclave twice: in 1958 and 1963 (even announcing after his acceptance that he wished to be known as Pope Gregory XVII). Given that the conduct of conclaves is strictly confidential and that any cardinal revealing such details would face automatic excommunication, no documentary evidence has ever substantiated or disproved the widely claimed rumour. Other rumours maintain that Cardinal Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian, a prominent Armenian rite cardinal, was also elected Pope in 1958. Rumors and speculation about the 1958 and 1963 conclaves may have received added attention because it was under the Popes who were then elected that the Second Vatican Council was held and its decrees were implemented.
Although claimed by one sedevacantist group that Siri had actually been elected to the papacy in 1958 and 1963, only to be displaced by Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) and then Giovanni Battista Montini (Pope Paul VI), Siri entirely submitted to the authority of the popes and remained in full communion with the Church, refusing to support any sedevacantist organization. One sedevacantist group still claims him to have been the actual pope, despite Siri's own silence as to this claim. This small group, known as "Sirianists", have yet to offer any reasonable explanation for the fact that Siri failed to support the sedevacantist movement, that he recognized John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II as legitimate popes, that despite his conservatism he celebrated the Mass according to the reformed 1970 Roman Missal and the other revised sacraments, and that he signed all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Cardinal even somewhat defended the Council, as long as it was interpreted in the light of Tradition, though he did remark that, "If the Church were not divine, this Council would have buried it". To explain Siri's silence as to what happened in the conclaves, supporters of the Siri Thesis have suggested that Siri was silenced by the conspirators' use of the Seal of the Confessional, a method of silencing prelates suggested in other literature.