Some time ago I acquired the hobby of learning more about early figures in the traditionalist movement (there will be a series on some of the less prominent persons in a month or so). One figure, who I have never been able to understand, is former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin.
Martin studied at Louvain, earned three doctorates, was ordained following the Second World War, had stints at Oxford and Hebrew University, worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and was an adviser to Cardinal Bea (SJ) and Pope Paul VI. At some point during the Second Vatican Council he was laicized by Pope Paul and moved to New York City, where he won the Guggenheim fellowship twice and worked as the Religion Editor for William F. Buckley's journal National Review (he was Mary Ball-Martinez's superior and her opinion of him is more than apparent in her books). In the above video he is interviewed by Buckley on the program Firing Line about his book Jesus Now.
His early post-priesthood books displayed liberal undertones and a more broadly Christian perspective. In the 1980s his work threw the rudder hard right. He championed Marcel Lefebvre and Ultramontanism (yes, both at once) as well as writing a generally reliable exposé on the Society of Jesus called Jesuits. At some point in the late 1980s or early 1990s his books and appeal branched into the world of conspiracy, world domination, and late night talk radio. His Windswept House purported that Lucifer was "enthroned" in St. Peter's Basilica during Vatican II, almost a reverse Sacred Heart enthronement. He delved into the world of Masons, Bugnini, and Cardinal Casaroli—all working to overthrow the Church and create a "new world order."
Most bombastically he claimed to have been a secret priest all along, not laicized, providing Sacraments to the "underground Church" and performing more exorcisms that Fr. Gabriel Amorth (as an aside, Martin did write Hostage to the Devil, which is a summary of five exorcisms performed by other priests). He believed John Paul II was a good pope surrounded by evil people preventing him from following the demands of Fatima. He also believed the Pauline liturgy to be more or less invalid on all counts. As a result of all these disparate things he had a broad audience: truckers and late night radio listeners looking for a good scare story about demonic possession, ordinary Catholics seeking to discuss private devotions or Fatima, and hard line traditionalists who wanted simple explanations for what happened in 1962. Somehow his audience could include a sedevacantist, Art Bell, Richard Williamson, and a man making a FedEx delivery.
All of this elides into one question, who was Malachi Martin? Was he a furtive priest fighting the devil and exposing the "Novus Ordo Church?" Was he a liberal gradually overcome with buyer's remorse? Was he an opportunist who used varying parts of Christianity, especially Catholic traditionalists, as a cash cow? As long as there is YouTube there will be questions about Malachi Martin.
As an aside, his Art Bell interviews are great late night entertainment for those occasions of insomnia. He had a soft, velvet voice and was an excellent conversationalist. Combined with talk of murder, Masons, the Papacy, demonic possession, and American callers the result is the modern version of a campfire ghost story!
Note: the series next month (if I ever finish the series on French rites) will cover some of the less luminous early traditionalists. The goal of the series will be to show what the emerging traditionalist movement looked like prior to the FSSPX's rise to prominence. Nowadays it seems everything is a variation of their position ("indult" traditionalists, the "Hermeneutic of Continuity" traditionalists, sedevacantist traditionalists etc.), yet this was not always the case. With the help of some correspondents who knew these people, I hope to cover:
- Fr. Quintin Montgomery-Wright
- Fr. Ronald Silk
- Mary Ball-Martinez
- Fr. Bryan Houghton
- Anyone else readers can suggest!