THE TRUTH ABOUT THE SAINT PETER’S TOMB
IN his statement Against the Roman Papacy, the Devil’s Invention, Luther wrote : « In truth, I venture to say, for I have seen and heard it in Rome, that nobody knows for certain where the bodies of Saint Peter and Saint Paul lie, nor even if they are there at all. The Pope and the cardinals are well aware that the matter is uncertain. »
There is absolutely makes no doubt now that the relics of Saint Peter have been clearly identified thanks to the work of an Italian archaeologist, the late Margherita Guarducci († 1999). She published the result of her research in a remarkable work, translated into English in 1960 and published by Hawthorn Books : The Tomb of St. Peter.
This book confirms the clear indications of the New Testament (Ac 12.17 and 1 P 5.13), and the testimony of Saint Clement, who, at the end of the third century will be Saint Peter’s third successor.
THE DATE OF MARTYRDOM :
OCTOBER 13, 64
In the night of July 18 to 19 of the year 64 AD, fire broke out in a boutique adjacent to the Grand Circus in Rome. For nine days, it devastated the city. The Emperor Nero immediately set about providing immediate aid, but his artistic mind, tormented by la folie des grandeurs, made him dream of building on the ruins of the old city a new, splendid Rome, worthy in every way of the majesty of the Empire…
The people, in their exasperation, began to murmur, and the rumour went round that Nero had put fire to the city himself to serve the purposes of his grand designs ! These suspicions were groundless, but they weighed heavily on Nero, who then looked for a scapegoat.
Now there was in Rome itself, wrote Dom Leclercq, a minority, whose irresistible protest against the gods of the Empire, marked them out for all to see ; it was the Jewish colony. One circumstance seemed to be overwhelmingly against them : The fire had broken out in the stalls of the Grand Circus, occupied by Eastern merchants, among whom there were many Jews. But it had spared the Porta Capena district and the Trastevere, the population of which was almost exclusively Jewish. From there to incriminating the Jews was only a short step, and yet they escaped. Nero was surrounded by Jews : Tiberius Alexander and Poppea were at the peak of their favour ; at a lower rank, slaves, actresses, mimers were all Jews and were cherished. Is it going too far to attribute this odious group with causing such threatening vengeance to fall on the Christians ? »
The horrors that followed are known to us through the Annals of Tacitus : « The first to be arrested were those who confessed [by implication : to being Christians], and then, based on their information, a large crowd. » The identity of these “ informers ” is easy to guess if we remember Saint Clement attributing the massacres ordered by Nero « to jealousy » (dia zèlon). It was the key word for the hatred of the Jews which raged firstly against Peter (Ac 5.17), then against Paul (Ac 13.45; 17.5), and, once converted, introduced the darnel into the Church herself (1 Co 3.3; Ga 4.17).
Margherita Guarducci meticulously retraces the chronology of these events. By means of ingenious cross references, confirmed by archaeological excavations and by deciphering ancient inscriptions, she succeeds in dating with certainty the martyrdom of the head of the Apostles on October 13, 64, the day of the dies imperii and the tenth anniversary of Nero’s accession to the imperial throne :
« The tragic fire broke out on the night of July 18 to 19. It died down nine days later, on July 28 therefore. Then came the initial relief work and the first steps towards restoring Rome. Numerous sacrifices were offered to the gods, whilst gradually the rumours spread against the Emperor. Thus two months can be reckoned to have passed. That brings us to the end of September and the beginning of October. On the other hand, November and December must be practically excluded. In the first place, it is unthinkable that games such as those described by Tacitus should be held at that season ; open air public rejoicing going on late into the evening, as indicated by the macabre use of human torches to give light to the public. Spectacles of that kind suppose a rather mild climate. » (p. 29)
A comparison between the Letter to the Corinthians and the Annals of Tacitus clearly shows that Saint Clement of Rome and the Roman historian are speaking of the same thing. Now, Tacitus places the persecution of the Christians among the events of the year 64 : « As to the year, there can be no doubt, writes Margherita Guarducci : the names of the two consuls in charge, Lucanius Bassus and Licinius Crassus, indicate it clearly. »
« Altogether, according to all the elements in my possession, the most likely period for such spectacles – for the martyrdom of Peter, therefore – would seem to me to be the first half of October, when the days are still quite warm in Rome, and often retain the mildness of summer.
Margherita Guarducci continues her thrilling account by quoting « a singular coincidence » discovered in the Apocalypse of Peter and the Ascension of Isaiah, two apocryphal works :
« This latter work deals with the Emperor Nero. In language which is symbolic but sufficiently clear, he is portrayed as possessed by the devil and resolved to persecute the Twelve Apostles of Christ, one of whom (Peter) will eventually fall into his hands. There are other allusions to the misdeeds suggested by Lucifer to the Emperor, and finally two little sentences appear, little for sure, but how precious ! I quote them from the French translation of the Ethiopian text, given by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant :
« And he will set up his image in the sight of all the cities. « And he will rule for three years, seven months and twenty-seven days. »
« What could be the meaning of this particular indication of three years, seven months and twenty-seven days ? » (p. 30)
Something very simple : « The images set up in every city are certainly the statues of the Emperor customarily erected in the various cities of the Empire. » As for the second phrase, it indicates a period of time ending in the tyrant’s death, which will put an end to his power. Since this event can be perfectly dated on June 9, 68, one has only to count back three years, seven months and twenty-seven days to arrive at October 13, 64, the high point of his rule.
« And so the Ascension of Isaiah led me back to the first half of October 64, the very same when, according to my other research, the Vatican spectacle and Peter’s martyrdom would have taken place. But what is the significance of this date of October 13, which is presented as the day of the Apostle’s martyrdom ? In the other prophetic book the Apocalypse of Peter, this martyrdom is regarded as the beginning of the ruin of Nero. “ There we have it, I said to myself, the beginning and the end of the three year, seven month and twenty-seven day period of calamities ! It opens with the martyrdom of Peter, the culminating point of the persecution, and closes with the death of the tyrant. ”
« The coincidence was doubtless impressive. But there immediately appeared another, even more decisive. I realised that the date of October 13 was already very meaningful in itself. In Nero’s time, the October 13 had a particular significance : it was the day of the Emperor’s accession to the throne, his “ dies imperii ”, as the Romans used to say. An emperor’s dies imperii, like his dies natalis, his birthday, were important dates in the calendar of Rome and of the whole Empire. Those days had to be celebrated with sacrifices and popular entertainment. » (ibid., p. 31)
« The time was easy to calculate. After three years, one would come to October 13, 64; with seven months more, to May 13, 68, and with 27 days, to June 9, 68, the precise date of the persecutor’s death. »
Nero had ascended the throne on October 13, 54. In 64, he would, therefore, be celebrating a particularly solemn anniversary : his tenth. « In his foolish pride, Nero was, therefore, to take a particular satisfaction in sacrificing the Christians on the very day when the majesty of the Roman Empire was being exalted in the person of the divinised emperor. »
« All specialists in pagan antiquity know that, writes Margherita Guarducci, certain capital executions were occasionally regarded as “ star attractions ” in the programme. The public who filled the terraces of the circuses and amphitheatres had ferocious tastes, and the organisers of the games did their best to satisfy, or rather to excite them. Now crucifixions were included among these macabre “ acts ” as a way to bring in the crowds. Archaeologists have found at Pompei an inscription from the years 62 to 79 AD, therefore more or less in the time of Nero. It invited the inhabitants to come and watch the gladiatorial combats, which were to take place shortly in the Cumes amphitheatre. To make the invitation more alluring, a special “ act ” was announced : the spectacle of the cruciarii, that is to say those condemned to the cross. The proposed “ entertainment ” therefore, consisted in watching those poor wretches die on a cross.
« That being so, the crosses for the spectacular Vatican games, Peter’s among them, were probably planted in the circus itself. One can imagine them alongside the track where fierce dogs hounded and tore to pieces victims clothed in animal skins. In addition, the tragic human torches spoken of by Tacitus were also set up in the circus. They sprang from the morbid imagination of Tigellinus, the famous prefect of the pretorians and Nero’s evil genius, and we know that they were intended to “ give light to the spectators ”.
« Thus, these horrors could take place nowhere else than within the confines of the circus. And the obelisk that now stands in the middle of Saint Peter’s Square was their silent witness. If it could speak, it would tell us of scenes of horrifying cruelty, in the midst of which shone the sublime heroism of the victims. » (p. 24-26)
After the spectacle, the bodies of the victims were buried a few yards from the place of their martyrdom. We know this today through the excavations ordered by Pius XII on 28 June 1939, just after his election. They reveal that the basilica built by the Emperor Constantine in honour of Saint Peter in the fourth century, well and truly stood over the Apostle’s tomb, at the precise place where the Apostle had been buried, in the area around the Vatican Circus :
« The site, however, could not have been more ill adapted for this construction, writes Margherita Guarducci. In order to transform the site into a flat surface, capable of taking such a building, the builders had first to bury a necropolis still in use and, what is more, cut into the Vatican hill. The Emperor, using his full powers, ordered all this to be done. Thus the necropolis was buried and robust foundation walls were dug deep within it […]. The very scale of the work to be undertaken and the enormous obstacles to be surmounted for it to succeed, tell us of the exceptional importance attributed to this Vatican site, for it was regarded as the exact place where the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles lay. » (p. 47-48)
Constantine’s architects began by exhuming the bones of Saint Peter from their original grave situated beneath a small monument called “ Gaïus’ trophy ”, from the name of the learned ecclesiastic who certified its existence in the second century.
The relics were wrapped in purple cloth interwoven with gold thread and placed in a more spacious monument called the “ Constantinian monument ”, enclosing the second century chamber and being covered in marble casing and adorned with bands of porphyry. That is where they were found, in a loculus, situated outside the monument, in the course of the first excavation work (1940-1942), but unknown to the workers, amidst other groups of bones. Collected in boxes specially prepared to hold the separate sets of bones found in the course of this work, they fell into oblivion for many a long year. The merit and the glory for having identified them falls to Margherita Guarducci.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE RELICS
One May morning in 1952, she went down for the first time beneath the Vatican basilica to visit the excavations. With the permission of Pope Pius XII, she wanted to see the graffito, a drawing of which had just been published by one of the archaeologists, the Jesuit Antonio Ferrua, in the Civilta Cattolica and in the daily Il Messaggero :
« This inscription consisted of two lines of writing. In the first the first four letters of the Greek name of Peter PETP (OC) were perfectly recognisable. In the second, one could read the three letters ENI […], “ Peter is here, within ”. » (p. 60)
« To my great surprise, the graffito was not there, or, more precisely, it was no longer there. » (p. 62) The explanation of this mystery is very simple : the Jesuit had detached from the wall the piece of plaster bearing the inscription and had taken it away. It was « the first of a series of mysterious episodes which sought to obscure my successive discoveries about Saint Peter », Margherita Guarducci was to confide many years later (30 JOURS, February 1990, p. 51).
Margherita Guarducci then worked closely on the inscription from the Valerii mausoleum, discovered in 1942 : « Peter, pray for the holy Christian men buried near your body. » That in itself was a result : « Reading this invocation to Saint Peter gave great joy to Pius XII. Despite its relative distance from the tomb [about twenty metres], it vouched explicitly for the cult of the Apostle in the basilica’s subterranean vaults. For the first time, there was a mention of his body, a certain allusion to his bones, which strangely had never been found. » (p. 64)
Now, one morning, finding herself before what is called “ wall G ”, due to the graffiti with which it is covered, in company with the “ sampietrino ” who had taken part from the beginning in all the excavations beneath the Confession of the Basilica, Margherita Guarducci asked him :
« Giovanni, you have always followed these works very closely. You wouldn’t happen to remember if anything else was found in there besides the few things that were spoken of in the report ?
– Yes, he answered immediately. There was something else. »
Without the slightest hesitation, he took the archaeologist to a recess where there were stacked some boxes of various sizes. After a brief search, he stopped in front of a small wooden box, closed by a lid fixed with two nails.
« Here we are, it is here. »
This small box contained bones « fragile, light, of a very clear colour – almost white – and abundantly encrusted in earth, a clear sign that they came from a tomb which had been dug in the simple earth. »
« I also noticed, wrote the archaeologist, small remains of a reddish colour cloth, among which shone threads of gold. »
The idea that these fragile, light, milky coloured bones could be those of the Prince of the Apostles was so far from her mind, that these bones waited nearly ten years for the necessary anthropological examination. « It was only in October 1962 that Professor Correnti cut the string with which I had tied the small wooden box in the recess of the Vatican caves in September 1953. » (p. 110)
This professor worked “ blindly ”. He was given several groups of bones, marked T, K and VMG (vide du mur G – hollow of wall G).
Now, he knew nothing at all of the archaeological and topographical data. « If I was far from thinking of the relics of Saint Peter, he was even further away from it than I was ! »
The result of the first two groups « yielded a resounding disappointment ». Group T, « that which hitherto had been attributed great importance, consisted of three individuals, including a small old lady who had been more than seventy years old ! And group K consisted of four individuals « not one of which presented the least basis for identifying it with the Apostle ».
The Professor’s work on the third group lasted from October 1962 to June 1963 :
« The first knowledge of the results was given to me by himself in the early days of June, when the present sovereign pontiff, Paul VI, was still Cardinal Montini.
« You know, the Professor told me, it is very strange. In your little wooden box, I found the bones of a single individual and not of several, as in group T and group K.
– Of a single individual ? I answered. And were you able to establish the sex ?
– Yes, masculine.
– And the age ?
– Of an advanced age, between sixty and seventy years. And he added : It was a man of robust constitution. »
Then he continued by pointing out to me that all the different parts of the skeleton, with the exception of the feet, were more or less represented. There were fragments from the top of the skull and from the jaws, a canine tooth, fragments of ribs, vertebrae and the pelvis, the almost entire left hand and significant fragments of the lower limbs. Furthermore, on some of the bones, on those parts that were most prominent, reddish stains could be seen, and on all there was – I had noticed this myself – an abundance of earth.
« Even at that moment, I was not thinking that these might be the bones of Peter. Out of habit, my thoughts immediately went back to the opening of the recess on the east side, to the mediaeval coins and the dog bone found among the human remains.
« Didn’t you also see, I asked the Professor, an animal bone ?
– I certainly did ; I even saw more than one ! There were also animal bones among group T and group K. Do you know that in the little wooden box there were also tiny mouse bones ? I found several and I think they are all from one single little mouse.
« I was amused by the idea of the little mouse. Then I agreed with Professor Correnti that it was very odd to see these pieces of bone belonging to one single individual. Whereupon, the conversation came to an end. »
A CERTAIN IDENTIFICATION
« How long did it take me to begin to suspect, then to think precisely that we were dealing here with the relics of Saint Peter ? At least two days, I think.
« Thinking over my conversation with Professor Correnti, I went over in my mind what I had heard, and to my amazement I noticed that everything appeared in a new light. The professor had been categorical : the pieces of bone from the recess in wall G belonged to a single individual, of masculine sex, who had died at an advanced age, between sixty and seventy years, and who was of a manifestly robust constitution. Now I knew that the loculus in Constantine’s monument was the only place considered at that time to be Peter’s tomb. And Peter was indeed an individual of masculine sex who had died at an advanced age. As a fisherman used to hard tiring work, he also had a very strong constitution. What about the bones abundantly encrusted with earth ? Well, Peter’s early tomb was in fact very modest, dug in the naked earth, as the excavations have proved. What about the fact that some of the bones, as Professor Correnti had pointed out to me, contained reddish stains ? Well, I myself had found in the midst of the bone fragments small remains of a reddish cloth interlaced with threads of gold. I then began to understand how things must have happened. Constantine had had the remains of Peter’s bones taken out of his primitive tomb. He had then had them wrapped in a precious cloth of purple and gold and placed in the loculus of the monumental tomb which he had erected in honour of the Martyr. The purple and gold were – and no one could deny it – admirably suited to the dignity of a martyr who was at the same time the Prince of the Apostles.
« At that same time, the meaning of the famous graffito also became clear to me : PETROS ENI (“ Peter is here, inside ”). At first, I thought it referred to the primitive tomb dug beneath the small chamber. But then, remembering that it came from inside the loculus which now appeared to be the Apostle’s second tomb, it was logical, even necessary, to relate this inscription to the loculus. Thus the phrase “ Peter is here, inside ”, which was written inside the recess, took on a profound significance.
« But how could one explain the presence of mediaeval coins and animal bones in the loculus ?
« Regarding the mediaeval coins, I quite quickly came to an hypothesis, which was subsequently confirmed : they had been slipped into the recess through cracks in the walls, cracks which were clearly visible. Over the course of the centuries the faithful had thrown myriads of coins into Peter’s tomb. They have been found in the most unexpected places.
« As for the animal bones, this was the longest and hardest part of my deliberations. […] The only way of explaining the presence of these animal bones inside the loculus was by taking the view that they were already there in the ground where Peter’s ancient tomb had been dug, and that in the time of Constantine they had inadvertently been collected along with the human bones. Thereupon, the difficulty was transformed for me into a positive proof. We had in fact been obliged to go back to the age when this area of the Vatican was still a rural district where sheep grazed and peasants lived. And that took us back to the times of Nero’s “ gardens ”, that is to say, exactly to the period of Saint Peter. » (ibid., p. 112-115).
Pius XII had taken the historic decision to begin the work on June 28, 1939, the vigil of the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul. But it was necessary to wait until 1952 before Margherita Guarducci became involved and gave things the decisive twist that led to the identification of the bones of Saint Peter in 1963, following the death of Pius XII (October 9, 1958).
This Pontiff had followed the work with a keen interest :
« Wishing to be kept up to date with the latest results, he gave me a personal audience and talked at length with me, relates Margherita Guarducci. He wanted all the photographs and drawings to be shown and explained to him, and he asked me for information about epigraphy in general and about deciphering techniques in particular. My memories of the “ lessons ” in epigraphy given to this exceptional pupil will always remain for me the dearest of my life. He showed a remarkably fine instinct, an amazing memory and an astonishing capacity to familiarise himself with a science with which he had hitherto been totally unacquainted.
« In July 1958, the first proofs of my work on the graffiti came off the printing presses. On the 5th of that month, I took a copy to the Pope before his departure for Castelgandolfo. It was the last time I saw him. He had let me know of his intention to come down personally to wall G in order to read at first hand. the precious graffiti which he had already known about for almost a year through the photographs or the written records. But unfortunately this project could not be realised : on 9 October, the great Pontiff passed away at Castelgandolfo. »
John XXIII « was far from showing for the excavations beneath the basilica the great interest felt by Pius XII. Not only did he show that he knew little about them, but (at least this was my impression) he showed no desire to want to know any more. […]
« My attempts to make the new Pope a little more aware and to arouse his interest were hopelessly lost in an ocean of good-natured cordiality. To have insisted would have been inopportune. » (p. 73-75)
Paul VI succeeded John XXIII in June 1963. Margherita Guarducci relates : « On November 25, 1963, I was due to be received in audience by Pope Paul VI, to offer him my little book on Saint Peter, intended for the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council and already translated into five languages. I decided to use this opportunity to advise the Holy Father of my “ secret ”. » (p. 115-116)
She continues : « The memory of that audience remains indelible in my mind. I had been led to the room immediately adjacent to the private library. My audience, therefore, was to be the first of the special audiences.
« Once the series of private audiences was ended, the Pope emerged from his office and came towards me. On the marble top of a gilded piece of furniture, my six little volumes were already there, standing in their case. After offering my present with a few brief words, I had to tell the Sovereign Pontiff of the great news burning my lips. I then saw people crossing the room and passing quite close to me. I did not feel at ease. The Pope noticed and ordered the door to be closed. Only then did I decide to speak and to say that in all probability the relics of Saint Peter had been identified. The Pope made a little gesture of surprise. A light shone in his eyes. In a voice affected by emotion, he expressed his joy and asked me who else already knew the news. I listed a few names and declared that I was ready to present proofs of what I had just told him. But it was not a favourable moment and my account was deferred to another occasion. » (p. 116)
The occasion presented itself twice : on January 10, 1964 on his return from Palestine, and again on February 13. Paul VI wanted a lengthy explanation of all the results gained so far, with plans and photographs, and approved the complementary research programme capable of providing absolute certitude.
This multidisciplinary research began by analysing the remains of the reddish cloth interlaced with threads of gold found among the fragments of bone. « The tests were carried out in the laboratories of the Chemistry Institute of the University of Rome, under the control of Professor Maria Luisa Stein, a specialist in the analysis of fabric, and Professor Paolo Malatesta. It was important for me to know the kind of cloth to which these remnants belonged, and especially to be certain that the metallic threads really were gold. […]
« I was myself present at part of the tests and was able to observe through the microscope the minuscule fragments placed on the glass plate. I remember the extraordinary impression these gold threads made on me. They looked wonderfully transformed. Through the lens, they looked like shining little bands of metal ; one would say they were lively little snakes wound round a stalk of reddish fibre. I wondered, as did the two specialists who were carrying out the tests, how the ancients were able to reduce the metal to such fine leaf, cut it into equally fine strips and to roll these rigid bands around the threads. It was a demonstration of a wonderfully developed technique, and it also confirmed how precious this cloth was. At the end of the tests I was handed a certificate stating that the greater part of the samples came from a woollen fabric and that the gold was authentic. » (p. 118)
The second test was on the earth-encrusted bones : « It was a question of knowing whether the earth encrusted in the bones was the same as that in field P, where the original tomb of the Apostle was found. The University of Rome’s Institute of Petrography carried out the test. Professor Carlo Lauro, the institute’s director, sent his assistant, Professor Giancarlo Negretti to the Vatican to take the necessary samples for comparison. […]The long and difficult tests yielded a fully positive result. The earth attached to the bones was of marly sand, as was the earth of the six samples. It also presented other characteristics that categorised it as being from the same geological and petrographical setting. […]If the earth had proved to be different, it would have demonstrated that the bones came from elsewhere. On the contrary, the earth was perfectly similar to that of the original tomb. » (p. 119)
The counter-proof consisted in evaluating the « skull of Saint Peter » preserved and venerated at the Lateran basilica. Permission was sought from Paul VI. It was granted… The result was negative, a finding which should have been published immediately, but was not, to the great disappointment of Margherita Guarducci. « But I thought it absolutely necessary to ask for permission, which was immediately obtained, to be able to state openly that the scientific examination of the contents of the reliquaries made no difference to the conclusions reached concerning the bones from the loculus of wall G. » (p. 121-122)
« The presence in the Vatican today of real relics of Saint Peter, continues Margherita Guarducci, inflicts a mortal blow on all the others, dispersed in churches, chapels and the episcopal curia. » But such a statement, far from scandalising the faith of the simple, can only serve to bring out in the most striking fashion this simple truth, so well calculated to provide an unshakeable foundation to our faith in the Church founded on Peter :
« At a time when there did not yet exist in Rome any trade in relics, the fragments of bone were enclosed in a monument that can be dated perfectly, in a loculus that has remained intact down to our day. And those fragments were mixed with various objects which each contribute, singly and with an impressive coherence, to demonstrate their authenticity. » (p. 145-146)
« In the morning of June 26, 1968, Paul VI, addressing his usual Wednesday audience in the Vatican basilica, made an historical announcement to the faithful gathered there : the relics of Saint Peter had been discovered. » Full stop. « In the evening of the following day, June 27, at 19.30, by the will of the Pope, the relics of Saint Peter were returned to the marble loculus of the Constantinian monument. »
“ This inscription consisted of two lines of writing. On the first line, the first four letters of the Greek name of Peter PETP (OC) were perfectly recognisable. On the second line, one could read the three letters ENI […], ‘ Peter is here, within. ’ ”
Today, these relics have fallen into the most absolute oblivion. Margherita Guarducci confided to the magazine 30 DAYS that she had several times requested an audience with John Paul II, but always in vain. « I may be wrong, but I have always had the impression, and I have written it, that the action of those opposed to the relics had reached as far as the Pope. Besides, I do not understand why John Paul II, informed of everything concerning the Church, should never have felt the need to be informed, directly and in every detail, about a problem as important as that of the effective presence of Saint Peter in the Vatican basilica. Perhaps the pressures exerted on the present Pope are even greater than those exerted on Paul VI, during the Second Vatican Council. »
Asked to spell out her thinking, she did not hesitate : « I have said that this false ecumenism, beneath which hide all sorts of unwholesome ideas and obscure interests hostile to the Church, has played a fundamental role in the will to minimise and annul the tangible presence of Peter in the Church of Rome. At first, I did not succeed in understanding the reason for these strange events and the constant tendency to hide the discoveries. Certain circles in the Vatican had a lot to do with this. But where does this obstinacy in obscuring, in denying against all scientific demonstration, the proofs that the relics of the Prince of the Apostles really exist beneath the Roman basilica, come from ? If not from obscure interests ? If one does not exalt Peter, one automatically places the Catholic Church on an equal footing with all religions. » (30 DAYS, Feb 1990, p. 54-55)
It could not be better put. It was in 1967 that « bilateral meetings » between Lutherans and Catholics had their official beginning. Therefore, we can understand the attitude of Paul VI, who hastily announced the following year, on 26 June 1968, that Saint Peter’s relics had been discovered, and then had them replaced in the Constantinian loculus, with no form of solemnity, for their permanent burial. Margherita Guarducci was not present among the crowds in the basilica that day, as she had not been forewarned of this. The joint Lutheran-Catholic declaration is today the wages of this denial. It is not even worth thirty pieces of silver. But the disciple is not greater than his Master. Peter, in his turn, had to hear his successors declare in the sight of his clearly identified bones : « I do not know this man ! »
Let us pray for the Holy Father, so that, « once returned », he will confirm his brethren in the faith in Peter, Vicar of Jesus Christ and son of the Dove.
Fr. Georges de Nantes
Excerpts from CCR n° 324, November 1999 pp. 6-12