Conspiracy and Catholic Doctrine: A Defense of Taylor Marshall

After the revelations of Theodore McCarrick and the corroboration of the Viganò testimony, all reasonable men can agree that an infiltration exists within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Part of the solution to this grave problem is to investigate the historical roots of the crisis. To that end, Taylor Marshall’s book Infiltration argues the plausibility of this thesis: over more than a hundred years, a small minority of Freemasons, communists, and other enemies have successfully infiltrated the Church and spread their errors across the hierarchy. It is an excellent introductory work, setting the tone for debate by the use of sober language and documented sources, based in charity and truth. Dr. Marshall’s purpose is clear: to help the faithful with reasonable answers, drive the debate forward into the difficult questions, and overcome the divisiveness of howling invective and emotionalism.

Catholics can and should make use of Marshall profitably. Some have done this successfully, while others have not.

Before we discuss the use of Marshall’s work, we must review how a Catholic should approach a conspiracy. The 675th paragraph of the New Catechism:

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers … in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth … a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

At the time when I began reading Marshall’s work, my examination of the sources already concurred with about fifty percent of his assertions. Looking at his evidence, I was impressed with his use of French, German, and Italian sources and his efforts to make proper historical distinctions and theological observations. For these reasons, I recommended the book as a good introduction to this crisis for the overall purpose of the crisis debate. Yet from my view, the work is not without certain flaws, which I nevertheless found to be reasonably within the scope and nature of the work.

For now, we will meet the first of Marshall’s critics: Dr. Jeff Mirus. This critique hinges on the implicit denial of Catholic doctrine and prudence: dismissal of the conspiracy because it is a conspiracy. Mirus begins by mocking Marshall and then descends into ad hominem attacks like this one: “discussing the book is rather like pointing out the absurdity of a crazy relative who always has an answer to every objection, pulled out of a world that exists only in his head.” There is one reasonable point he makes, but Mirus discredits himself with this critique, since he abandons the mode of academic discourse — discussing sources and evidence. He relies on insults, straw men (misunderstanding Marshall’s point about Nouvelle théologie, the Alta Vendita, the distinction between an infiltration of ideas and one of men), and accusations of bad faith (asserting that Marshall is simply nostalgic and trying to impose his personal tastes). Ad hominem is illogical because it appeals to the emotions of the reader, not his reason. Mirus does not address Marshall’s sources, but relies on his own authority to prove his critique. I am not personally familiar with the work of Dr. Mirus, but I’m sure that the co-founder of Christendom college is better than this.

The next critic is Mr. Dave Armstrong, Catholic online apologist. To his credit, Armstrong engages in a somewhat academic manner by disputing some sources, but his critique also hinges not on a question of evidence, but on convicting Marshall of the sin of “bashing” so as to label him and dismiss him. Armstrong is willing to state that his critique is “not personal,” but he ignores the salient points of Marshall’s work while attacking minor points. For instance, his treatment of Nostra Aetate ignores the fact observed by Marshall that the document’s first drafter was the erring theologian Gregory Baum, whose sordid life is now known. The issue is not whether the documents can be interpreted in an orthodox manner — they can — but whether they include intentional, weaponized ambiguity.

Armstrong agrees with Mirus on the critique I will discuss below, including pointing out that no evidence proves that John Paul II gave permission for the sacrilege committed by pagans at Assisi. This is a fair point. But using a lack of formal permission to dismiss the (at least) apparent and material approval of the pontiff for such a scandal is also unfair to Papa Wojtyla’s memory. I think, overall, Marshall’s treatment of John Paul II is fair — pointing out all of the excesses of the ’80s without omitting the successes of the ’90s.

It seems that what Mirus and Armstrong have done is attempt to swiftly silence any debate on this subject. Instead of discussing evidence, their critiques hinge on an unfortunate use of ad hominem: labeling Marshall’s work with a name — “conspiracy theory” — and asserting that an insult is sufficient to ignore evidence. Undoubtedly, they would have censured the great Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Hammer of the Nazis, with the same unscholarly invective, since the latter was already talking about Freemasons in 1973 [1]. Indeed, reading Hildebrand shows exactly how inadequate ad hominem is in the shadow of this 20th-century giant [2].

Moving to more useful critiques of Marshall, we come to his friend, Fr. Longenecker. This and the following reviews are worth reading because they do not fall into the trap of ad hominem and have a greater commitment to truth and charity. We see charity especially in Fr. Longenecker, who is willing to praise Marshall’s erudition and call him a friend.

His critique is a good one when he, like the good priest he is, points to the spiritual effects of this work contributing to a further decline of charity. This is fair. As traditionalist priest Fr. Chad Ripperger is wont to lament, a lack of charity threatens to discredit traditionalists and imperils their own souls. Strangely, however, although Fr. Longenecker admits there have been conspiracies in the Church from the beginning, he is unwilling to consider that the Church may suffer from one now. Still, he is reasonable enough to see Marshall as an ally in a common struggle against the evil in this crisis.

Dr. Jennifer Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, fields our first critical review that is highly constructive for the debate. She proceeds reasonably by discussing Marshall’s sources directly. She admits to some of his evidence for Freemasons and communists but finds it unconvincing by using a reasonable argument: “this [evidence] is the beginning, not the end of a serious investigation.” A fair point, and I think she is right to say Dr. Marshall overstates his case at times, but this also has to do with the nature of the subject matter.

Morse admits that Bella Dodd did provide sworn testimony of infiltrating the Catholic seminaries with 1,000 communists and that four of them had become cardinals in the 1950s. But then Morse states, “Rather than seek corroborating evidence, Marshall takes Dodd’s statements at face value.” In fact, Dr. Marshall does have corroboration. On page 86, he quotes the sworn testimony of another former communist, Manning Johnson, who described the communist infiltration tactics as using “a small Communist minority to influence the ideology of future clergymen in paths conducive to Communist purposes.” Marshall also brings two secondary witnesses, Ven. Fulton Sheen and Dr. Alice von Hildebrand (widow of the aforementioned luminary Dietrich) — both Christians and intellects beyond reproach —  who confirm Bella Dodd as a credible witness. Morse does not mention this, but she does point to a wealth of communist primary sources that should be researched and suggests that while she thinks Marshall’s evidence is “overstated,” it is not to be dismissed.

Another excellent review of Infiltration comes from Mr. William Kilpatrick, who states that while Marshall’s evidence “is not always conclusive, it is suggestive.” He observes that the communists did infiltrate the Russian church and the U.S. government and that getting into the Catholic Church “is the kind of thing that Soviet Communists were capable of doing and have done.” Kilpatrick also observes that humanist psychology deeply penetrated the Catholic Church, which accorded neatly with the aims of Freemasonry and communism in spreading false ideas. Overall, he states, “[I]t seems beyond doubt that the Church has been infiltrated and influenced over the years by ideas with damaging consequences” and provides a great contribution to the debate with his analysis.

Thus far, of the critical reviews of Marshall, only two contribute to the debate as such by discussing evidence. I will close this short defense with a discussion of the reasonable flaws that Marshall’s work does contain — which Mirus and Armstrong do point out. These flaws I hold to be reasonable when one considers the purpose and important potential of this book, which is the formation of the debate.

From the outset, it must be admitted that some of Marshall’s historical claims in the book lack evidence in the text itself. For example, Dr. Marshall tells a story on page 155 about Archbishop Lefebvre and Padre Pio. A brief internet search yields a dispute about this event regarding a witness, Rabajotti, against two contrary witnesses given by the archbishop. Without digging any deeper, a reasonable man will agree that a footnote would have clarified the extent and nature of the evidence for this point of the narrative.

However, while this is a reasonable critique applicable to a number of superfluous details throughout Marshall’s work, there are two points that must be considered. First, the scope: The work is obviously meant for the lay reader to help introduce the debate, as Sophia’s Crisis Publications’ description says explicitly. Thus, while we must ask for evidence of any conspiratorial claims, we must also understand the intentions. The book seems to have tried to balance the maximum amount of information in the shortest number of pages with the most concrete evidence possible — all intended for the common lay reader. Any book with these limitations will suffer from over-generalizing and lack of footnotes. So, for example, Mirus reasonably points out that Marshall failed to discuss Nouvelle théologie on its own terms. But Mirus fails to see that Marshall is intentionally generalizing to make a point about how the movement enabled Modernism, especially through its chief influencer, Rahner.

The second point to keep in mind is the nature of the evidence. The 19th-century popes believed that the Church was under real threat from an infiltration by secret societies. If we admit that such a threat may have existed or does exist, we must further reasonably understand that, because of the nature the threat, evidence will be mostly circumstantial in nature.

Marshall presents the evidence for his historical assertions and makes distinctions at different points in the text among facts, allegations, and speculation. In his treatment of Bella Dodd, he mentions why the source “AA-1025” is of dubious nature while holding up the witnesses we discussed above. A cautious man responds to this evidence by either accepting it reasonably or admitting that the evidence warrants a thorough investigation. What a reasonable man does not do is dismiss this altogether. What man considering any crime, confronted with two corroborating eyewitnesses and two supporting witnesses, would say: “There is no need for further investigation. This whole thing must be ignored immediately”? This is against the virtue of caution and ignores Catholic doctrine. One must remember, too, that the stated aims of the Freemasons and communists were to infiltrate not with persons, but with ideas.

What Marshall’s work does admirably is fit a complex history into 246 pages without an excess of difficult scholasticism nor a lack of substantial evidence. In this way, every Catholic does the Church a service by reading this book and engaging with its methods: truth and charity.

[1] “An unprejudiced look at the present devastation of the vineyard of the lord cannot fail to notice the fact that a ‘fifth column’ has formed within the Church, a group which consciously aims at systematically destroying her…Their systematic and artful undermining of the holy Church testifies clearly enough to the fact that this is a conscious conspiracy, involving Freemasons and Communists who…are working together toward this goal.” The Devastated Vineyard (Franciscan Herald Press: 1973), xi

[2] Cardinal Ratzinger wrote of Hildebrand: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.” The Soul of a Lion: Dietrich Von Hildebrand, A Biography (Ignatius: 2000), 12

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