The Myth of Malachi Martin

Malachi Martin was one of the most controversial priests of the past century. He is somewhat of a cult hero in conservative Catholic circles. In the eyes of many he could do no wrong and is a saint. No doubt he was astute intellectually. He certainly was renowned for his traditionalist views in later years and perspicuous, both in his views on international political developments and the the internal mechanics and deterioration of the Roman Catholic Church. Nonetheless, Malachi Martin lied. About Jesus and about himself.

I do not say this lightly, as someone who listened to most of his interviews and, over the years, have usually greatly appreciated what he was saying. And to be clear: I still find his insights remarkably accurate thirty years later. He was one of the few Vatican watchers with insider knowledge who honesty shared the true state of the Roman Catholic Church, which was carefully kept from the populace under the public relations pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Still, Malachi Martin lied. And I suspected it. I have pondered whether I should share the following, but 18 months after being confirmed that my suspicions were correct, I have decided to finally have the truth out. Confident that, even though it hurts, will ultimately set free. Veritas liberabit.

No, it is not about the accusations about his affair with the wife of a former seminary friend. I simply don’t know whether these are true. We don’t have conclusive evidence either way. I am prepared to presume innocence on that one, despite the circumstantial evidence and Martin’s lack of orthodox spiritual commitments at the time.

What I do accept at this stage though, is, that whatever the reason, Fr Martin did not leave the regular priesthood out of dissatisfaction with the liberal course of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960’s. In the light of what I know now, I fail to believe that any longer. The evidence points to the contrary.

Martin did not leave because of Vatican II

What we do know is that Martin resigned the Jesuit order. Problematic is his claim that he was allowed to exercise his priesthood without any supervision of a bishop. Late in life the myth grew and he even claimed to have been secretly ordained a bishop himself. Both claims are rather far fetched. Of course, priesthood is indelible, so in a sense, he always remained one. But only as time progressed, Martin’s claims to that effect became bolder. He was very careful in not claiming too much at the William Buckley programs. Socially intelligent as well, he realised that he was bound to be confronted in that setting. His later claims to be a modern-day Erasmus with the necessary dispensations from the pope himself were carefully phrased. But lacked the paperwork to prove it.

Heaven will tell. But one thing I know for sure, Martin lied or reinvented his reasons for leaving the Vatican only later in life.

Why this bold assessment? Malachi Martin claimed that he left the Jesuit order and his work in Rome because of the rapid changes in the time of Vatican II. In the words of one of his most able defenders in a previous generation, William H. Kennedy: “Martin’s stated reason for leaving the Jesuits and the institutional Church was that he felt that Roman Catholicism was changing too fast and the institution he had grown up with was becoming an alien form of religion for him.” (Collected writings, 2008:137)

Malachi Martin was a modernist

That is not “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. At all. This is proven by Martin’s book “Jesus now”, which was published in 1973. Malachi Martin was a theological liberal. And quite extreme in his views at that. Amongst other disturbing views, he stated that the second coming of Jesus belongs to the realms of myth and fairy-tale (preface xii):

From “Jesus now”, preface xii

Yes, Jesus is not going to return, because he never went away. That is Dr. Martin, anno Domini 1973. No doubt Malachi Martin reinvented himself as a traditionalist Catholic priest later, but I have not seen any evidence or listened to any interview in which he repented of his former modernism. Or reaffirmed a literal Second Coming, for that matter.

This is quite disturbing. From a traditional pastor one would have expected a publicly voiced interlude of repentance, penance and witness of experience of forgiveness for these grave sins of modernism. Publishing a heritical book is very grave public sin, mortal in all respects, and seducing others into grave sin. However: No word of repentance or excuses from Martin at all.

Martin merely reinvented himself as a traditionalist only many years later. This makes it likely that his initial reasons to leave the Jesuits and the regular priesthood were for other than his stated reasons. Whether these considerations were of a personal nature, professional or private, is anybody’s guess. We do know, however that at that stage Malachi Brendan Martin was a theological liberal and would remain one for many years to come. His later claim to have left the Jesuit order and Rome because Catholicism was changing unrecognisably, was more than a different take on truth. It was a blatant lie. Martin’s own book, nearly a decade after Vatican II is part of the modernist problem. His brand of Catholicism at that stage was heretical beyond recognition if compared with the traditional doctrines of the Church. As evidenced by his 1973 publication, Dr. Martin remained a modernist himself for many years after 1964.

Reinvention as traditionalist priest

Malachi Martin reinvented himself as a traditionalist. He never disclosed his reasons, but opted to tell a lie about the origins of his traditionalist stance. Hopefully he privately repented. What remains worrying though, is that, despite his no doubt genuine conversion to traditional Catholicism, he continued to distort the truth about himself. Yes, father Martin lied. Probably not about his newfound or re-found orthodoxy or in his assessments of the church and the world in general. These were often on the mark and well ahead of their times.  

As early as 1996 Father Malachi Martin reported that the Vatican was involved in an elaborate cover-up to protect child molesting priests and that predatory homosexuals had covertly gained control of the major seminaries in Europe and the USA. He warned against Bernard Law (Boston) and gay orgies at seminaries. Released documents demonstrated that Father Robert Meffan enticed teenaged girls preparing to become nuns to have sex with him with the promise that they were about to witness “the second coming of Christ.” Meffan claimed to be Jesus Christ and was never reprimanded even though Law knew about his Messianic claims and his rape of teenage girls. Malachi Martin also enlightened us about orthodox priests and seminarians being cancelled or send for psychiatric treatment for traditional moral views. One would have wished that John Paul II had acted on this and not enabled some of the greatest molesters of all times. Malachi Martin showed us what was happening internationally to the world and revealed the internal mess of the Church.

The big lie

But he remained a liar in one respect. Father Martin continued to lie about his education. And perhaps gravely distorted the truth about himself being a professor at Pontifical Biblical Institute. He probably was no more a professor in Rome than Joe Biden claimed to be elsewhere. Dr Malachi may have lectured and have been a professor in the Belgian or American sense, but most probably not otherwise. I have seen no proof of a professorial appointment, neither as an associate or full. Technically it may have reflected some truth, but it is doubtful that the conveyed impression did.

One thing is clear, whatever his professional credentials, Martin lied about his education. In his books and interviews he always claims to have earned three doctorates in Leuven Belgium. Even posthumously published books of Martin’s continue to claim this on the cover, and Art Bell and others introduced him as such, or Martin helped them out in a friendly and humble fashion. He claimed to have earned doctorates (plural) in Semitic Languages, Archeology and Oriental History. This was a lie. He did not.

(In Quest of Catholicity, Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith, posthumous publication Angelico Press)

Uncovering truth in Leuven

Two years ago, I decided to check this claim locally. I consulted my colleague, professor Dries Bosschaert at the Catholic University in Leuven. He kindly spent some time in the archives on my behalf. Every earned doctorate is registered in the yearbooks of the university. My suspicions were, unfortunately as I am concerned, confirmed. For Martin there is only one doctorate:

“Grade de Docteur en Philologie et Histoire Orientales. Graad van Doctor in de Oosterse Filologie en Geschiedenis. Behaald aan het Institut Orientaliste. Instituut voor Oriëntalisme. Voor het doctoraat: The Scribal Character of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bibl. Du Muséon, 44-45 Louvain, Publ. Univ. 1958. Doctoraat in het academiejaar 1958-1959. En dit is te vinden op pagina 1173 in het jaarboek 1957-1959.”

Malachi Martin created an alternative reality about himself.

And why? This was probably a good doctorate and, after some post graduate fieldwork, he made a stellar career under one of the most liberal cardinals of the church at the time. Why did he distort the truth about his professorship? The hard evidence from Leuven shows that Martin started working for Cardinal Bea (1881-1968) straight after the completion of his doctorate in 1958, not after years of teaching as a “professor at the Pontifical Bible Institute” as Martin claimed. Even if this institute had been in the habit of appointing young persons without even a doctorate as professors. And frankly: doctorates at papal institutions used to be considered masters or less by other universities. So maybe in his personal mythmaking Martin felt warranted to state that his one Leuven doctorate counted for three Roman ones. Even so, than he should have said this and not lied. Martin’s claims that he had actually earned three at Leuven reveal a vulnerable identity at the heart of an otherwise greatly gifted and pastorally minded servant of God. All the first-hand witness of people concerned indicate that in later life he led a committed celibate life, worthy of a priest, he was a bestselling author of great books, and whatever the vicious rumours about his moral life in later years, these were certainly vicious and most probably ill founded.

Nonetheless: Yes, Fr. Malachi Martin deliberately lied about himself. Tragically, because he didn’t need to. He achieved greatness in his own right and was valued by many. Nobody would have cared whether he had one or three doctorates. But Martin did. He must have been a vulnerable man, deeply scarred, perhaps by his own mistakes and certainly because of a sense of personal betrayal and rejection by the hierarchy of the church. Nonetheless, he lied. And made others lie about him.

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