A Close Look at Catholic Conspiracy Theories
By Sandra Miesel
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.
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.
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.
Protocols of Paranoia
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
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.
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
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.
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.)
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
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).
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
ebbed among Catholics and other Americans after World War II.
Only extremists still fear cabals of Jewish financiers or question
Jews’ rights in society.
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."
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
Universal Foe is here, there, and everywhere. Or so the fear mongers
Miesel, a medievalist and Catholic journalist, writes from Indianapolis.