December 2 , 2002


Swinging at Windmills
A Close Look at Catholic Conspiracy Theories

By Sandra Miesel

Question: Who’s afraid of Jews in the boardroom? Freemasons in the basement? Reds under the bed? Black helicopters in the sky? Answer: A surprising number of otherwise sensible people. Even under the new shadow of terrorism, old fears live on, breeding bogeys that knot together in a vipers’ tangle of menace.

Regrettably, Catholics do their share of worrying about the Judeo-Masonic-Communist conspiracy and/or the imminent arrival of the Antichrist to rule over the New World Order. Their anxieties are often fueled by anti-Semitic screeds, polemical histories, eccentric economics, and even heavenly messages. Fear-mongering is standard fare in the pages of radical traditionalist publications such as The Remnant, Catholic Family News, and The Fatima Crusader. The principal Catholic publisher of such conspiracy theories is Omni/Christian Book Club of Palmdale, California. Books and tapes of this sort are routinely featured in the mail-order catalogs of Catholic Treasures of Monrovia, California, and Our Lady’s Book Service of Constable, New York, but they may also find their way into local religious bookstores.

To be sure, conspiracy junkies are a tiny subculture in the midst of 63 million American Catholics. (The Remnant’s circulation is about 7,000.) But the wily ones are learning to use the Internet, and what they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in fervor.

The Protocols of Paranoia

Anti-Semitism is the fundamental fear, the longest hatred. Historian Leonard Dinnerstein defines it as "hostile expressions toward or negative behavior against individuals or groups because of their Jewish faith or heritage." Although antagonism toward Jews predated the Christian era, it fed—and in some places still feeds—on Christian attitudes of contempt toward the "Christ-killers." But what’s of particular interest here is modern anti-Semitism and the hardening of conspiracy theories in the 19th and 20th centuries.

France was a major catalyst. Some French Catholics couldn’t forgive Jews for getting full citizenship—an unprecedented privilege in Europe—from the anti-Catholic Revolutionary government in 1790. Jews compounded their sin by prospering.

Accused of having too much money and power, although they constituted only 0.02 percent of the population, 19th-century French Jews were caught between feuding White Monarchists and Red Republicans. Reactionary Catholics identified Jews with the hated forces of modernity and secularization, Freemasonry and socialism. Even the early promotion of Lourdes became a vehicle for ugly anti-Semitic propaganda.

In the 1890s, the decade of the Dreyfus Affair, czarist Russian secret agents adapted a French satire on Napoleon III into the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Made public in 1902, this document purports to be notes from a meeting of leaders in the 2,000-year Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The protocols provided the foundation for many of the worst anti-Semitic theories in the 20th century, influencing even Hitler.

Within a decade (1912), Msgr. Ernest Jouin of France had founded the International Revue of Secret Societies for conspiracy connoisseurs. Its outrage appealed to Irish Holy Ghost Rev. Denis Fahey, whose imagination had been captured by Jesuit priest Mathieu Deschamps’s Secret Societies and Society. (The Roman Jesuit publication Civiltà Cattolica had been a font of anti-Semitism in the previous generation; it had even suggested that all Jews be stripped of citizenship.)

Father Fahey (1883-1954) undertook a one-man crusade against what he called Jewish naturalism, which was supposedly the guiding philosophy of the Jewish nation since it rejected Our Lord. The theory goes like this: Since spurning the Bible for the Talmud and the Kabala, Jews no longer believe in God. Century after century, they systematically attack the kingship and high priesthood of Christ in a relentless drive to enthrone their race as collective messiahs over the rest of mankind.

Father Fahey offers no evidence of a universal Jewish antitheism or exaltation of Talmud over Torah. (Opposing "Talmudic Jews" to biblical Jews is like contrasting "Canonical Catholics" with Gospel Catholics.) No matter. On his premise of Jewish naturalism, Father Fahey erected ominous theories embellished with questionable facts from fascistic writers such as Nesta Webster, A.N. Field, and Léon de Poncins (all radical traditionalist favorites). His repetitive books—all with imprimaturs—include The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World (1935) and The Kingship of Christ and Organized Naturalism (1943), expanded as The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation (1953).

Even Hilaire Belloc, whose distasteful book The Jews (1937) describes Jews as unassimilable aliens, scoffed at Father Fahey’s Jewish conspiracy theories: "The thing is nonsense on the face of it." Father Fahey retorted that Belloc just didn’t understand naturalism. (Father Fahey’s nose for Jewish naturalism was so sensitive he could detect it in the silent film classics Ben-Hur and King of Kings.)

Although fond of counting Jewish noses in Hollywood, the Politburo, and the United Nations, as well as sniffing out people with Jewish blood, Father Fahey denied that he was an anti-Semite because he honored pre-Christian Jews. Nevertheless, he enjoyed quoting papal policy statements against Jews, coyly refused to reject the long-debunked Protocols, praised the anti-Semitic activities of Henry Ford, and denied the death toll from the Holocaust.

Father Fahey, dead for five decades, may seem an obscure figure to belabor, but his influence is still very much alive on the Catholic right. He has a larger current audience than the more famous Irish-American figure he inspired—Rev. Charles Coughlin. (Omni/Christian Book Club, a publisher of the Protocols, offers 14 titles by Father Fahey versus two by Father Coughlin.)

According to Leonard Dinnerstein, Father Coughlin "developed the largest following of any demagogue in American history." Starting in 1933, Father Coughlin’s honey-tongued tirades against bankers, Communists, Roosevelt, and other enemies focused ever more sharply on Jews until he was actually recycling Nazi propaganda to his 3.5 million radio listeners, his one million weekly newspaper subscribers, and the legions in his political party, the Christian Front. He shared Father Fahey’s false belief that Jews provided the manpower and money power for the Bolshevik Revolution. Rome and the U.S. postmaster general finally silenced Coughlin in 1942.

Anti-Semitism ebbed among Catholics and other Americans after World War II. Only extremists still fear cabals of Jewish financiers or question Jews’ rights in society.

The Church in America has worked hard to achieve these goals, but progress hasn’t been uniform throughout the world. In 1962, a singularly vicious specimen of Catholic anti-Semitism was published just before Vatican II, reportedly by a team of twelve clerics—probably Latin Americans and one said to be a bishop—under the pen name "Maurice Pinay." They were attempting to forestall any concessions to the Jews, such as would occur in the council’s declaration on non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, which "deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews."

"The Plot Against the Church" spews venom like a geyser of hot sewage. For them, "the damned Jews" are literally a "Synagogue of Satan" and their ubiquitous iniquity is responsible for every evil that has befallen the Church—persecutions, heresies, barbarian invasions, the Reformation, revolutions—from Roman times to the present. Moreover these adepts of black magic and Satanism are the "wirepullers" behind Freemasonry and communism, ever conspiring to destroy the Church and rule the world.

Father Fahey, Father Coughlin, and their forebears are among "Pinay’s" sources, and like them, "Pinay" denies being anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, "The Plot Against the Church" proposes that Jews be expelled or enslaved, despoiled of their property, segregated, and forced to wear visible marks—all in accordance with ancient Church canons and papal bulls. "Pinay" especially wants to root out Catholics of Jewish descent who are a secret fifth column subverting the Church.

With this sort of vileness in the recent past, is it any wonder that some Roman clerics whisper that powerful Jews are behind America’s priest scandals? Or that the Anti-Defamation League detects "hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs" in 44 percent of our foreign-born Hispanics? Fear of Jewish plots will not entirely die.

 

It’s the Freemasons—Again!

An important thread in the all-encompassing cloak of Jewish conspiracy is Freemasonry. The "Judeo-Masonic plot" remains a shibboleth among radical traditionalists because they are unshakably certain that Jews founded the Craft and use it to undermine Christianity. Some authors who push this theory include: Deschamps, Jouin, Fahey, Webster, de Poncins, Chilean cardinal José Maria Caro y Rodriguez, and Irish-Australian monsignor George Dillon, who expected that the Masonic Antichrist "will find the Jews the most inveterate haters of Christianity, the deepest plotters, and the fittest to establish his reign."

These vigilants note that the central Masonic myth is the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, point to cabalistic symbolism and Hebrew terminology in their rituals, and pronounce the enterprise Jewish. They never consider that the Old Testament–oriented Protestants who founded Masonry could have used Hebraic references, and they seem to know very little about the mystic fads that incubated the minds of early modern Europe. (The original Rosicrucians and similar crazes have been richly analyzed by Frances Yates.) Finally, the purveyors of this theory fail to ask what—aside from conspiring—Masons got from the Craft. Using actual lodge records, Margaret Jacob’s Living the Enlightenment shows that the appeal lay in civic sociability outside the limits of class and station.

Contemporary historians trace Masonry to lodges of "operative" stonemasons in late 16th-century Scotland that were taken over by men interested in the symbolic possibilities of architecture. Such "speculative" masons active in England by the 1640s formed the Grand Lodge in London in 1717. The Craft reached Europe by 1721 and America by 1730 before attracting its first papal condemnation in 1738. Eight more denunciations would follow because of Masonry’s anti-supernaturalism, indifference to religion, and objectionable oaths. Catholics are still forbidden to join, although canon law doesn’t mention Freemasons by name.

In 1776, what Jacob calls "a radicalized mutation of the Masonic gene" brought forth the Illuminati, founded by canon law professor Adam Weishaupt. (Febrile minds imagine Jews having had a hand in the matter.) These mystic masterminds of Masonry were closed down by the Bavarian police in 1785 but are still imagined to lurk in the corridors of power.

Being generally liberal in politics, Masons often participated in revolutions. The Masonic affiliations of Washington, Franklin, and other founding fathers mean that, for some traditionalist Catholics, the United States has no right to exist. Or so says The Remnant’s top writer, Solange Hertz, author of The Star-Spangled Heresy: Americanism and an implacable foe of the Judeo-Masonic peril. (For good measure, Hertz has denounced Mother Teresa as a New Ager.)

Other critics, such as Ted Flynn in Hope of the Wicked, ferret out Masonic symbolism in our national emblems because Masons were involved in the designs. He reads the American Eagle as a Masonic phoenix and the Statue of Liberty as a Masonic goddess. Flynn’s source, Ralph Epperson, tries to make former President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration facing the Washington Monument into Masonic sun worship.

Because the Masons claim the number 13, it must be theirs—everywhere. But units of 13 in our Great Seal refer to nothing more ominous than the 13 original colonies, which existed for 44 years before the Revolution—rather a long wait to match a Masonic timetable. The alarming All-Seeing Eye also happens to be an old sign of the Holy Trinity, found in Baroque churches. (One breathlessly awaits revelations about the AOL logo.)

But it was the French, not the American, Revolution that stamped the Masons and their Illuminati masters as experts in rebellion, according to theories separately propounded by ex-Jesuit Augustin de Barruel (1741-1820) and Scotsman John Robison (1797-1798) and still popular in paranoid circles. Contemporary histories prefer to see people with radical sympathies becoming Masons rather than Masons becoming radicals.

Masons were, of course, active in the Latin-American revolts against Spain, the revolutions of 1848, and the reunification of Italy. They did immense harm to the Church in the Mexico Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. But to blame them for uniting the German Empire and for overthrowing the Manchus is just piling on.

Continental "Grand Orient" Masons were the instigators in these conflicts. Nearly all the world’s Brethren, however, belonged to Anglo-Saxon lodges. They had no need to attack the Establishment because they were the Establishment, especially in Great Britain, where royals were their traditional protectors and the Craft was called "the Tory Party in aprons."

As for America, Behind the Lodge Door by Paul Fisher looks at the sorry record of American Masons in outbreaks of nativism, the Ku Klux Klan, and church-state relations. But Fisher, who does not link Masonry with the Jews, far exceeds his evidence to connect them with ancient cults, Illuminati plots, and the assassination of President Kennedy. William Wahlen’s Christianity and American Freemasonry is a far more sensible Catholic book on the subject.

Anglo-Saxon Masonry is fading away, no longer attracting many men to its "Light," no longer conferring advantages in business or politics. Neither U.S. Supreme Court justices nor archbishops of Canterbury are Masons these days. Relations between Church and Craft are more polite than formerly. But some Grand Orient brethren still managed to do dramatic harm in 1981 by scamming the Vatican’s bank out of millions and by conspiring against the Italian government in the P-2 Lodge scandal.

Although none of the thousand men enrolled in P-2 was a Catholic cleric, the notion that the Church, particularly the Italian Church, is packed with secret Masons lives on. Why, it was plotted out more than 150 years ago in The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita and similar documents outlining well-laid plans to pervert the Church and elect a Masonic pope. This fantasy was promoted by Malachi Martin (who claimed there were Satanists in on it, too) and preached by ex-Dominican John O’Connor (who thinks only one or two cardinals are really Catholic).

Ecclesiastical Masonry is a favorite radical traditionalist explanation for Vatican II and the changes it made. Paul VI’s top officials were rumored to have been Masons, and a Mason is supposed to have mutilated the Mass. Their dastardly plan calls for the next pope to be the Antichrist or his servant.

And drawing on Revelations 13, locutionist Rev. Stefano Gobbi has recorded apocalyptic messages about "the black beast," Satan-worshipping lay Masonry, and "the beast like a lamb," traitorous ecclesiastical Masonry. These were to set up a false church and a false Christ by 1998. Apparently, the End Times have since been rescheduled.

 

Communist Financiers

But it wasn’t enough for Jews to have one secret hand operating as Freemasonry; they needed a second hand operating publicly as Communism—or so the vigilants say. Because Karl Marx was a rabbi’s son, Communism was a Jewish invention. No matter that Marx denounced all faiths including his own; race trumps religion for anti-Semites. They pore over long lists of early Bolshevik officials matched with putative Jewish birth names and tote up the ranks of Jewish-American financiers who are said to have bankrolled the Russian Revolution. Father Fahey found this so engrossing, he even devoted a book to it, The Rulers of Russia.

Such "facts," however, are unknown to historians who work from original sources. It was imperial German gold, not money from Jewish-American financiers, that bankrolled the Bolsheviks. Possibly originating as White Russian propaganda, these tales were picked up by Fascists.

Missing are discussions of why secular Jews might have hated the czars. The conspiracy theorists don’t say much about the centuries of pogroms and cruel laws, the creation of the Protocols released locally in 1902, and Europe’s last trial of a Jew for ritual murder in 1913. Neither do we hear of purges thinning the ranks of Communist Jews or strident Soviet anti-Zionism between the World Wars or repressions that led a million Jews to emigrate to Israel in the 1980s.

But where the Soviet Union is concerned, the past is never forgotten; it’s not even past. Radical traditionalists are convinced that recent changes are all illusions, that the old USSR is just as Red as ever. The Fatima Crusader claims that Russia would convert to Catholicism in a day if only the pope would wave his magic crosier and consecrate it—accept no substitutes—to the Immaculate Heart.

Such views are fed by Alexander Golitsyn’s New Lies for Old, a small-fry KGB defector’s decipherment of the Soviets’ 50-year-old master plan for conquest. Golitsyn’s failure to foresee the fall of the Iron Curtain hasn’t shaken his supporters’ confidence. The revision of his 1984 text is read as eagerly as the original.

Further evidence of faith in Communist trickiness is the persistent popularity of Anti-Apostle 1025 by Marie Carré, originally published in France in 1972. This purports to be a memoir by the 1025th Red to penetrate Catholic seminaries, but it is manifestly a feeble example of radical traditionalist propaganda that even fails to factor in the Russian purges.

The main character is a Polish orphan—the careful reader will note he’s a Jew—recruited by a Soviet spymaster between the World Wars to penetrate and subvert the Catholic Church. This is supposed to explain post-Vatican II changes, although Communist control never altered dogma or worship behind the Iron Curtain.

The fable may have been inspired by a remark attributed to a Catholic convert from Communism, Bella Dodd, in the 1950s. Dodd implausibly claimed to have sent a thousand young men into American seminaries, but she also insisted that the Communist Party of the U.S.A. secretly took its orders from American capitalists.

Other conspiratorial threads come together in the writings of Josyp Terelya, a Ukrainian Catholic Gulag survivor and visionary. Although it’s painful to criticize someone who’s suffered so much for the Faith, his 1995 book, In the Kingdom of the Spirit, is filled with groundless claims.

Terelya sees Satanists and Masons everywhere: Marx and Engels were Masons who met at a black Mass; high-ranking Reds have always been Masons; a leading curia cardinal is a Mason; Lenin was both an anti-Christ and a hermaphrodite; Yeltsin is a demon. Five million Americans are virgin-raping Satanists, and Russian Communist armies are flooding across American states. The final Antichrist, whose name is Valentine Lavrova, is already on earth and will work through the United Nations, a Zionist creation. (Terelya is anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.) Meanwhile, Satan is coding us "through isotopes in the left hand" as Armageddon nears. Catholics who disagree with him are themselves secret Satanists.

Terelya represents an apparitionist strain now infecting alarmist Catholic literature. Protestant vigilants like Ralph Epperson, Gary Kah, and Dennis Cuddy make similar use of the Bible to back their speculations. Both approaches yield a turbulent mix of politics and eschatology.

Catholic conspiracy theorists ransack old prophecies and repackage old devotions to fit modern conditions. They have Our Lady of Good Success improbably denouncing Freemasons and the world republic—in 1610. It is safe to assume that earlier messages have been tampered with when they refer to the 20th century: No one counted by centuries before 1550.

Much attention is being given these days to the visionary Anne Katharine Emmerich (d. 1824), who foresaw a Masonic-led "false Church," and to the secrets of La Salette (1846) for predicting that "Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Anti-Christ." American locutionist John Leary is currently getting politics-laden messages from Jesus warning against smart cards and "the chip in the hand."

These trends fuse in the career of Ted Flynn, founder of MaxKol Communications. His Thunder of Justice (1993, written with his wife, Maureen) is a melange of messages and prophecies that failed to materialize by the year 2000. His Hope of the Wicked (2000) attempts a unified field theory of conspiracies.

Hope of the Wicked’s bibliography replaces Catholic classics of paranoia with newer Protestant and conservative works, mostly from Evangelical presses or self-published. (Among such recent sources are Ralph Epperson, Gary Kah, and Richard Wurmbrand.) Yet we see the same obsessive search for coherence, the same copious but largely worthless documentation, the same faulty logic as earlier materials.

Overt anti-Semitism drops out, although Flynn likes to spotlight Jewish villains and makes the Rothschilds the root of all evil—they even fomented the American Civil War for gain. (His favorite villain, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, is a Catholic.) Flynn’s new scenario runs from Illuminati to Masons to Yale’s Order of Skull and Bones (why is it never the Harvard Fly Club?) to One-Worlders to an alphabet soup of enemies far and near (the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Security Agency) supported by New Agers who also derive from Masonry through Theosophy—the whole cross-linked by the mostly Jewish international bankers who secretly own our Federal Reserve System. Their goal is to transform the UN into a global New World Order prepped for Luciferic mischief.

Flynn’s mad gallop from one menace to another is no more impressive in total than his section that blames the Rothschilds for the Civil War. But like other merchants of paranoia, he evokes the Hidden Enemy memorably sketched by historian Richard Hofstader, "a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman: sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, and luxury-loving."

The Universal Foe is here, there, and everywhere. Or so the fear mongers say.

Sandra Miesel, a medievalist and Catholic journalist, writes from Indianapolis.

 

Copyright Crisis Magazine © 2001 Washington DC, USA