Saturday, May 31, 2014

Who Was Malachi Martin?

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!


  1. Do you know Fr. Siro Cisilino (1903-1987)? He was parish priest of San Simon Piccolo, in Venice and, as far as I know, he was prosecuted by Patriarch Luciani in the late 70s. Thanks to him, in that church (now ruled by FSSP) Novus Ordo liturgy have never been celebrated - at least publicly!

    I also have heard about a group of priests in Spain, but I do not have more information.

    Kyrie eleison

  2. The idea of a series about lesser known pre-SSPX Traditionalists sounds very interesting! I hope you get to it.

    A propos Malachi Martin: one thing that haunts me about his claim that some kind of Satanic ceremony was performed in the Pauline chapel in the Vatican is that when the altar was restored (after some typical Novus Ordo alterations) under Benedict XVI, the entire chapel (reportedly) was re-consecrated. That would be very, very unusual. The new altar, yes; the entire chapel, though? If the reports are correct, why has no one investigated why this was done?

    It's just another example, I think, of Martin's ability to seem at once sensationalistic and a true insider.

    1. Interesting note on the re-consecration of the Pauline chapel. I was unaware of it. Martin certainly wore many hats all at once!

      I was thinking another addition to the series might be the French priests who formed the loose federation which preceded the Institute of Christ the King, Opus Sacerdotale.

      To any readers with potential material, contact me at

      Bollocks: I have that video. It is a very interesting artifact, no? To see the various perspectives of frustrated Catholics and the bureaucratic monsignor in the middle attempting to hold the glue together?

  3. There's a better episode of Firing Line (available if you have Amazon Instant Video) where Michael Davies goes head to head against a Monsignor from Syracuse who goes on and on about how wonderful the new spirit of the times and lay participation is. The lord does point out anecdotally what the problem was liturgically before the Council, but gets destroyed by Davies when he tries to equate Versus Populum with the "early church". It's a rare moment when Davies displays how well read he really was.

    Malachi Martin swoops in the last third of the episode and puts the monsignor on the hot seat by forcing him to answer whether Lefebrve was a material heretic (said ultramontanist lord was trying to equate Lefebrve with the recently condemned Hans Kung). Between a sympathetic Buckley, a fiery Davies, and a sharp Martin, the lord is far out of his league with his scripted sophistries.

    I think the traditionalist movement was a legitimate "ground up" movement before the SSPX was condemned and the movement got hijacked by the nuts of the $$PX/Fatimists/Feeneyites/Sedevacantists. The sane ones dealt with the insanity in their catacombs of legalism and '62 masses (like my family), gritted their teeth as they dealt with atrociously done Pauline masses, or - if they were extremely fortunate - discovered forgotten Byzantium.

    Then again, I'm just guessing as someone who was raised in the madhouse of American $$PX.

  4. I do not have any close knowledge, but perhaps you will want to look into Fr. Luigi Villa? And in general the study probably would benefit from that Angelus article a few years ago on the French precursors to the SSPX. Finally, I count as a friend a rather well known layman within the far reaches of the SSPX strict observance group who told me that he was not at all so sure that the elevation of the Devil as portrayed in Malachi Martin's book had not in fact occurred, and he knew Martin personally. I had said that I thought this was novelistic allegory for the homosexual penetration of the Church, but he thought it more likely to be true as stated.

  5. If you could track any information about her, I'd nominate Miss Kathleen Pond,founder of the Society of the Magnificat (back in the 1930s) Third Order Dominican, founder of one of the first Traditional Mass centres, Casa Pilar in Oxford, translator of Spanish literature. I, sadlt, know little of her.You might be able to track the splendid liturgical magazine Magnificat (USAn libraries?)

  6. I received every issue of Fr. Wickens's "New Jersey Catholic News" in the '80s, but passed them all on. It occurred to me that someone may have the whole series, which very well documents the decay of the Church in the Archdiocese of Newark. Fr. Wicken's brother, I think, lives in my town and I intend to phone him. Please like "Fr. Paul Wickens in Memoriam" on FB.

    1. I remember the Catholic traditionalist movement from its very inception (I'm old). Seems to me the first to raise the alarm was Fr. Gomar DePauw.

  7. "He believed John Paul II was a good pope surrounded by evil people preventing him from following the demands of Fatima."

    Father Martin grew to realize that JP II was part of the problem.

  8. Rather long, but an interesting take on M. Martin by a sedevacantist. I liked reading & listening to Martin while he was around, but had some small reservation. This take by Dolan completely changed my opinion of the man, whom I think was a fake:


  10. It has been theorized that the "Cardinal of Century City" the one who at the beginning of Windswept House who was the presiding priest at the enthronement of Lucifer ceremony in South Carolina, was the late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. It is well known that Cardinal Bernardin had been a priest in South Carolina prior to his move to Chicago, and that the Cardinal had established several Catholic institutions which served to form layers of bureaucracy between the American Church and the Vatican in order to sever the traditional relationship of a Latin Rite bishop with the Latin Patriarch, the Pope. Instead the Pope and the Vatican are forced to communicate through the National Catholic Conference and the National Council of Catholic Bishops instead.