Malachi Martin

28 01 2019

I have been really enjoying listening to Dr. Taylor Marshall’s podcast and I highly recommend it. One of the latest on the deceased former Jesuit and novelist Malachi Martin in particular sent me down memory lane. Specifically, I’d like to jot down a few things about what it was like to be a Catholic traditionalist in the mid- to late 1990’s, during the time of “Internet 1.0”. I realize that having lived through those things as a young man colors my views of the Church in the current year, particularly when it comes to the current scandals.

I read Malachi Martin’s Windswept House in 1999, the year that he died. If memory serves, my friends at the Society of St. Pius X chapel I was attending at the time also had cassette tapes (remember those?) of his appearances on Art Bell’s radio show, as well as related tapes of audio from exorcisms. That was sort of the conspiracy-driven, religion-as-titillation milieu that I moved in at the time (not without misgivings). And that is not touching on struggling mightily with writers like Solange Hertz and her geocentrism, or the two or three Catholic creationists still about, and so on and so forth.

Then there was my cruising around looking for every hole in the wall independent traditionalist chapel in every strip mall and questionable urban corner one could conceive of. More often than not, these were just drive-by’s to look at where exactly this questionable priest said Mass and had his crazy congregation. I suppose there was always an excitement there concerning the clandestine nature of the One True Church (with maybe twenty people in it on a good Sunday). During the podcast, I was surprised that they barely knew about Archbishop Thuc. I thought everyone knew about him and his proclivity to consecrate everything up to potted plants in crowded closets (I am exaggerating but not by much).

Back to Martin: I suppose reading Windswept House so long ago and having been within that “hermeneutic of suspicion” (to steal a phrase from ecclesial Newspeak) has made for me being less than scandalized at the latest string of revelations of clerical misconduct. It’s been a news story on and off for the last twenty years or so. It wasn’t even really a surprise in the 1990’s. I suppose I have long expected for great evil to accompany great holiness, as if it were an occupational hazard. I’ve known lots of priests who have fallen in rather spectacular ways, and some who I suspect are frauds who still haven’t been caught. What of it? Yeah, there are / were probably Satanic rituals at the Vatican. And? Who doesn’t suspect that?

As for Martin himself, the assessment of the gentleman on that podcast has long been my suspicion as well. He was a clever opportunist and showman. My hunch about many clergy of that era is that they were too smart for their own good. They believed in nothing but their own right to pontificate and garner attention. That is why the horrid modern liturgy took over without the firing of a proverbial shot. These guys had all of the answers, so they thought: from tradition and the past they had nothing to learn. Malachi Martin, having left the priesthood it seems, saw a niche market and went for it. It’s still religion as titillation: all “crisis” religion pretty much is. There is a great deal of modesty absent from it, a modesty that would hide the sacred mysteries and not hawk them in the public square to the highest bidder.

I am not a traditionalist now, though I am traditionalist-sympathetic. I still can’t really sit through the typical Catholic Mass with a straight face, and could count the number of times I’ve been to one in the last decade on two hands. I still cruise the Internet to see what “rad-trad” kookiness I can find, but my over-exposure to it has made me a skeptic to pretty much all factions at this point. Honestly, I am just trying to work things out in my own specific circumstances. On one level, I am glad I had the opportunity to hang around the craziest of the crazy as it has given me a sobriety about our current situation. As one priest I once met put it, perhaps the fifth mark of the Church, after One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, is “In Crisis”.


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