As part of my research for a new book, I have been reading the work of Irish priest and author Malachi Martin. Former Professor of Paleography at the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Institute, from 1958 to 1964 Father Malachi served as secretary to Cardinal Bea during preparations for the Second Vatican Council. Disappointed in the Church reform, he asked to be released from certain of his vows in 1964 and moved to New York City, where he later became an American citizen.
Author of 17 novels and non-fiction books – of which I have only read three – he was often critical of the Catholic Church, for a myriad of reasons, and made no secret of it. Wikipedia lists his most significant works as The Scribal Character of The Dead Sea Scrolls (1958), Hostage to the Devil (1976), and The Final Conclave (1978).
My favorite Malachi book so far is a non-fiction, called SJ – Jesuits – The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, published in 1987. The SJ in the title stands for Society of Jesus – that’s how Ignatius of Loyola intended the religious order he founded in 1540 to be called.
Before we move on with more on Malachi’s book, let me rewind almost five hundred years into the past, to Ignatius of Loyola’s days (1491-1556). A Spanish knight, from a Basque noble family of warriors, his resume includes hermit, theologian (studied at the university of Alcala and then in Paris), and, finally, priest. His real name was Inigo, adapted to Ignatius – the closest Latin version Loyola himself could find of his Basque name – when he enrolled for classes in Paris. On April 19 1541, at the age of 50, Loyola became the first Superior General of the religious order he started. The main characteristic of his organization: total devotion to the Catholic Church and absolute obedience to the Pope. All through History, true to its roots, the order came to be referred to as “Pope’s Men”.
Loyola’s conversion from soldier to priest developed as the result of his survival at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. While convalescing from gruesome wounds, complicated by improper medical care, and in great physical pain for months, he decided to abandon the military and pledged his life to the service of God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi. Loyola composed the Society’s Constitutions and bound himself and his followers by vows of poverty, charity, and obedience. He called the organization the Company of Jesus. In Latin it became Societas Jesu, and soon, as a contemptuous nickname given them by their enemies – the Jesuits. A muscular, brainy, and vigorous kind of Catholic faith emerged from Loyola’s company.
Now back to where we started: Malachi’s book on the Jesuits. Here is how it opens:
“A state of war exists between the papacy and the Religious Order of the Jesuits – the Society of Jesus – to give the Order its official name. That war signals the most lethal change to take place within the ranks of the professional Roman clergy over the last thousand years. And, as with all important events in the Roman Catholic Church, it involves the interests, the lives, and the destinies of ordinary men and women in the millions…”
“All wars are about power”, as Malachi writes in the book’s introduction. And this one was not different. The battle between the papacy and the Company entailed two fundamental issues: Authority – who is in command of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, decides what Roman Catholics must believe and how they should morally behave? And the second issue: Purpose – what is the purpose of the Roman Catholic Church in the world? For many Jesuits the Church’s centralized authority and structure through which command is exercised and its purpose are no longer relevant. In the place of a hierarchic Church, they were proposing a church formed of small and independent communities – “the people of God” or “the people’s Church”; all associated by faith, however not by this two thousand year old central authority – the Pope. Instead of worrying about the next life, the new Jesuit approach went, the Church should strive to assist and liberate the millions of men and women who suffer from social, economic, and political injustice today, in this life.
And so it happened that class struggle become an important subject to the Company, perfectly aligned with its new mission; if needed be, allowing them even to associate with Marxist groups anywhere on the globe. The picture perfect of the new Jesuit, explains Malachi, metamorphosed into an individual with these traits: “a sociopolitical scientist, a devoted guerrilla, and a formidable theologian-teacher”. Somehow along the years after the Vatican’s Second Council of 1962 – 1965, the Company adopted an anticapitalistic behavior. Jesus identified with the poor, therefore acknowledging class struggle and endorsing revolution became the new Jesuit mantra. The updated and revised message was delivered in written, encapsulated in a novel theology– the Theology of Liberation, whose handbook was written by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, S.J..
Though an international movement, with tentacles spreading all over the world since its inception, it was in South America that this peculiar alliance between Jesuits and Marxists got its strongest momentum. In Nicaragua, in 1979 (and then through 1990), when the Sandinistas took power, a good number of Jesuit priests were nominated for crucial government posts.
“Drunk on the ignorance-laden idealism of Liberation Theologians”, Malachi writes of some of the most prominent of these Jesuits, some came to believe that “a Marxist is not dogmatic, but dialectical. A Christian does not dogmatically condemn anyone but respects the beliefs of others. A dogmatic anticommunist Christian is not a real Christian; and a dogmatic anti-Christian Marxist is not a real Marxist.” One of those new religious stars – Chicago-born James Francis Carney, S.J. – volunteered for work in Central America and was sent there in 1961.
Carney became convinced that the purpose of the dialectic of struggle was to overcome the sin of conservatism of the Roman Catholic Church; that “God’s very plan for the world’s evolution and human society would unfold in conflict and armed revolution.” Carney – just one of the many immensely capable and influential Jesuits of that time, ends his autobiography with a plea to all Christians: “Get rid of any unfair and un-Christian prejudices you have against armed revolutions, socialism, Marxism, and communism…. There is no third way between being a Christian and being a revolutionary.” In the spring of 1971, authorized by his superiors, Carney illegally entered Honduras to become a guerrilla commando for the next 12 years.
Malachi is right; the Theology of Liberation spread all over Latin America as wild fire. In an extreme Catholic and mostly poor environment, when priests spoke of a classless world and armed revolution, it sounded like military Gospel; Jesus armed to the teeth. It turned explosive. Nicaraguan’s Sandinistas originated the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Motoneros in Argentina and the Paraguayan guerrilla. Soviet Union –supported Cuba was the crown jewel of Marxist Latin America, with its history of brutality and violence turned into glorious tales of heroism by popular and seemingly immortal legends as Che Guevara.
I recall echoes of the Theology of Liberation well when it took Brazil’s Catholic Church by storm in the 1970’s and well into 1980’s. It was mind-boggling to me that priests could advocate Marxism when Marxism is basically an atheist credo. It took me four decades to find an author who could help me make sense of such impasse; how the Gospel was changed to conform and justify Liberation Theology teachings; how Christ became a revolutionary – which justified even priests carrying and using guns – while hell and the devil were equaled to capitalism and wealth.
South American revolutionary groups incensed by anti-capitalism ideals were very intimidating and violent; I saw nothing heavenly or sacred in their actions and became allergic to anything remotely resemblant of community activism because I remember well the disruption – and destruction – those groups brought about. Nothing positive and constructive ever came from their actions; no progress was ever achieved in South America through their angry movements, no matter how desperately the Marxists and Communists back then and the Socialists or Progressives today try to sugarcoat the pill. It was bitter poison disguised in medicine and healed no one. It only scarred people and nations further, making recovery twice as hard if possible at all. Fidel Castro’s Cuba never recovered. Venezuela has just fallen into that old trap again. Brazil, the 8th economy in the world, struggles against an ocean of deep government corruption inherited from its leftist leaders now 13 years in power – the Esquerda Furiosa, the Furious Left – a populist leadership as ignorant and incompetent as it is shameless. The “class struggle” in reality has always been a surge of violence to obtain and retain power – all wars are for power as we said before – never to help people in need. The ones in need – those are the ones always used to justify wars – in the hands of the agitators who led Latin American often to bankruptcy, were made poorer as armed revolution scared away any possible foreign or local investments that could create jobs; it destroyed any possibility of a healthily growing middle class. Nothing is more elitist than the elite in a communist society; the true Intoccabili (Untouchables). Class struggle has always been a hoax for power shift.
Here’s is Malachi Martin’s portrait on how the Jesuit priests behave in Sandinist Nicaragua, after being appointed to high government posts, under the excuse of their “preferential option for the poor”:
“For (Father Fernando) Cardenal and other political priests have stayed on within the hierarchy of terror, the Sandinista nomenklatura, enjoying all the perquisites of power and privilege of a Marxist elite. They live in homes expropriated from the ousted middle class, in comfortable Managua suburbs such as Las Collinas. They shop at specially designated hard-currency and ‘dollar’ stores, where there is no ‘preferential option for the poor.’ They dine at luxury restaurants restricted to Party officials, and lunch in their government offices on the daily loads, delivered by official vans, of ham, lobster, and other delicacies unobtainable elsewhere in Sandinista Nicaragua. They relax in reserved box seats at the baseball stadium, enjoy unlimited supply of gasoline and water that are rationed to the people, and vacation in mansions of the (ousted) Somoza dynasty, suitably rebaptized by the Sandinistas as ‘protocol houses’. They travel around their native Nicaragua with personal bodyguards of Cubans and East Germans who are armed with Soviet automatics, ostensibly to be pointed at potential assailants (…) With such incentives to fuel their ‘theological’ ardor, Fernando Cardenal and his brother priests tour other Latin American countries organizing revolution, and jet at Soviet expense on diplomatic missions to the United States, the Middle East, and Europe.”
Soldiers of Christ and the Second Vatican Council
“The more universal your operation is,” said Loyola, “the more divine is becomes.” While most global corporations would gladly adopt this motto as their own were it not for the implication of God in its context – not very popular these days – Loyola’s meaning for those words were a complex mix of both the practical and the divine. The more the Company expanded around the world, bringing the Church of Christ closer to foreign peoples in foreign lands, closer we would be to God.
With that in mind, before half a century had passed after its foundation, the Jesuits were indeed working all over the world. “There was no continent they did not reach, no language they did not speak and study, no culture they did not penetrate, no branch of learning and science they did note explore, no work in humanism, in the arts, in popular education they did not undertake and do better than anyone else”, Malachi recalls. Also, “no form of violence they did not undergo (…) Jesuits were hanged, drawn, quartered, disemboweled, eaten alive, poisoned, flayed to death, crucified, starved to death, beheaded.” The Company gave the Church 38 canonized saint and 243 martyrs – they were put to death for their beliefs; for defending the Catholic Church and the Pope. They were justly called Pope’s Men. A special fighting unit at the total and excusive disposal of the Roman Pope. From the beginning, the Jesuits were conceived as a military mode – Soldiers of Christ.
Father Malachi is a true admirer of Loyola’s company, as it shines clear in his comments:
“They were giants with one only purpose underlining every single one of their efforts and actions: the defense and propagation of papal authority and papal teaching. Less than one century after the founding of the Society, Jesuits became the first Europeans to penetrate Tibet and then proceed to China. Father Matteo Ricci was the first person to prove that Marco Polo’s Cathay was identical with China and not a different country. Jesuit brother Benito de Goes lies buried at the northwest terminus of China’s Great wall. No hidden corner of the world was too far away or too inhospitable that a Jesuit missionary could not reach for the glory of Christ and his Church under the pope.”
The world knew the Jesuits were champions of that authority and primacy; they had been the first body of Catholic scholars to became preeminent in secular sciences – math, physics, astronomy, archaeology, linguistics, biology, chemistry, zoology, paleography, genetics. Their manuals, textbooks, treatises, and studies, as Malachi points, were authoritative in every branch of Catholic and secular learning.
The Society of Jesus, an institution from the beginning bound to the Pope by a sacred oath of absolute obedience, for over 400 years, never deviating from that mission… Until 1965. In that year the Second Vatican Council ended the last of its four sessions and Pedro de Arrupe Y Gondra was elected the 27th Father General of the Company. The rapid and complete transformation of the organization in its mission and core purpose developed easily under the enthusiastic leadership of Arrupe and met almost no resistance from the Church under popes John XIII and Paul VI. The Pope’s Men were fast becoming Arrupe’s Men. They took a sharp turn against the very leader and the institution they were sworn to defend. The Bishop of Rome is successor to Peter the Apostle upon whom Christ founded his Church – was their motto under Loyola. Under Father General Pedro Arrupe the motto turned into something like, class struggle and proletarian revolution as integral parts of genuine Christianity.
It did not matter that occupying high government posts, as it happened in Sandinista Nicaragua, without special permission by the Holy See, was forbidden to priests – all priests, not only Jesuits – per Cannon Law # 285. It mattered even less that, as Malachi reminds, “In Church teaching, neither poverty nor riches confer union and solidarity with Christ. Only the grace of Christ himself effects that. Grace is open to all, not exclusively or even ‘especially” to the poor. (…) To say that one cannot partake of the Eucharist ‘without struggling against poverty through personal sacrifice, selling one’s goods and seeking solidarity with the victims of misery’, (words from Father General Kolvenbach, who replaced Father Arrupe as the leader of the Company in 1983, following his predecessor legacy), “is more than simply bad theology; it is theology at the service of economics, and overshadowed by prejudice against capitalism as a way of life. It is, finally, a doctrine condemned by the Roman Church as far back as the fifteenth century.”
As I read on I started to understand how and why Father Malachi Martin requested dispensation of some of his vows in the 1960’s and relocated to America.
The Company and Four Popes
“John XXIII (1958-1963) in his efforts to establish and ‘open window, open fields’ policy in Rome, to induce others to revise their own policies even went so far as to guarantee immunity to the old USSR from attacks by the Church, lowering as many barriers as he could”, describes Malachi, calling it “a huge gamble”. A gamble that failed, as it often happens when odds are stretched to impossible levels, under too much risk and with little gain at stake. Instead, the Church under John XXIII began seen by the world as weak.
Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) merely expanded on his predecessor’s deficiencies. Still it was Paul VI, “the gentlest of the modern popes”, per Malachi, who realized, toward the end of his papacy, that the purpose of the Company had radically changed. He ordered an extensive dossier. What emerged from that report was that for the Jesuits the papacy no longer held primordial importance: “The corporate aim of the Society was now to place itself at the disposal of a radical and purely sociopolitical change in the world, without reference and indeed independent of papal strategy and policies.” Alarmed, Paul met with the head of the order, Father General Pedro Arrupe several times and more than once wanted him to resign.
Following Paul VI’s death, cardinal Albino Luciani – Pope John Paul I – was elected on August 26 1978. He too had made up his mind about the changes needed in the Jesuit order. “Let it not happen that the teachings and publications of Jesuits contain anything to cause confusion among the faithful”, he planned to say in a speech addressing the Society. Based on John Paul’s memoranda and notes, unless the order obeyed , he had in mind an extreme measure – its liquidation; perhaps to be reconstituted later, in a more manageable form. John Paul I had received petitions of many Jesuits asking him to do just that. But he never delivered that speech of warning. On the morning of September 29, after 33 days as Pope, on the day he was to address the Jesuits’s General Congregation (that’s how the Company calls its general meetings), he was found dead in his bed.
Next came Karol Wojtyla, in 1978. John Paul II was no Paul VI or John XXIII. Schooled in how to deal with the communist regime that ruled his beloved Poland, the recalcitrant Jesuits under Arrupe’s leadership (by the way, the Superior General of the Jesuit Order is called the Black Pope because he dresses in black – whereas the Pope is always in white – and their headquarters are also located in Rome, not far from Vatican City) were not expecting a strong Pope. He ordered a meeting with six of his highest cardinals to decide the fate of the Jesuits. The Church had already dissolved the order once and according to Malachi, it is possible that John Paul II was willing to do it again if needed.
(Here is Wikipedia, briefly, on the historical dissolutions of the Society through the years:
The suppression of the Jesuits in the Portuguese Empire (1759), France (1764), the Two Sicilies, Malta, Parma and the Spanish Empire (1767) is a highly controversial subject. It has been argued that it was a result of a series of political moves in each polity rather than a theological controversy. Monarchies attempting to centralize and secularize political power viewed the Jesuits as being too international, too strongly allied to the papacy, and too autonomous from the monarchs in whose territory they operated. By the brief Dominus ac Redemptor (21 July 1773) Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits took refuge in non-Catholic nations, particularly in Prussia and Russia, where the order was either ignored or formally rejected. The Jesuits were allowed to return to many places starting in the late nineteenth century.)
John Paul II and his Cardinals
The description of that meeting between John Paul II and his six top cardinals is one of the best things I have ever read. John Paul heard his fellow cardinals’ comments and advice one by one, mostly in silence, and ended the meeting with one single remark: Well, my cardinal brothers took eight ballots to elect me pope. No one knew exactly what he meant by that. All they knew was that the Pope had ordered a General Congregation to take place the following year. Whether he planned on the dissolution of the order in that meeting or the dismissal of Jesuit leader Father Arrupe, your guess is as good as any. A couple of weeks after that private meeting, on May 13 1981, John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter’s square.
Two bullets went into the 60-year old body. Blamed on the confusion, the Pope was taken to the wrong hospital where he was submitted to surgery and blood transfusion – the blood saved for such emergencies was not used. Instead, the blood was taken from the general public bank and, as it was later found, infected with hepatitis. Divine influence of strong physique – call it what you prefer –John Paul II survived. His life-long friend in Poland, Archbishop Stefan Wyszynski, was found dead in Warsaw two weeks later, on May 28, while the pope himself fought for his life at the hospital in Rome.
Anyway, all this history, ancient and contemporary, to get to this one specific point: in that 1981 meeting with the six top cardinals, a lengthy report was presented to them by John Paul II, containing a long list of irregularities committed by Jesuits around the world. This one was particularly interesting to me:
“There was the matter of a devastating report received in the Vatican in 1979. Their Venerable Brother Cardinal Vicente Scherer of Porto Alegre, Brazil, had written at length about the Jesuit Colegio Anchieta in that same city. According to Scherer, Marxists textbook were used in the classrooms, Marxist principles were inculcated into students, the Sacraments of Confession and Communion were derided as anachronistic. What, the cardinal puzzled, had happened to that report? The Jesuit colegio had gone along its marry way. Why hadn’t Father General Arrupe corrected those grave errors?”
Three or four decades later things come full circle to me, I thought. I was myself a student of the prestigious Jesuit “colegio” in that report. I remember as if it was yesterday a project assigned to us by our first high-school Philosophy teacher (a very angry and bitter personality), that entailed a visit to one of the city’s favelas (slums) where we were to interview some of the residents. Parents, especially of girl students, frontally opposed and the project was eventually cancelled. We were no older than 14. Furthermore, I remember cardinal Scherer well (1903 – 1996) – he was often present to public celebrations in the city; the white-haired and soft-spoken uncle of one or our elementary school teachers, a Franciscan nun, at Our Lady of Good Counsel. For many years Cardinal Scherer led the remodeling and reorganization of the largest Catholic/Charitable hospital in town, which became a world-class facility – Hospital Santa Casa de Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy Hospital).
I could not believe when I saw Cardinal Scherer’s name and the name of my high school in that Vatican report, used in a historical meeting between John Paul II and his top cardinals. Apparently Cardinal Scherer’s report had been buried in a folder somewhere for the longest time, until a Pope came to Rome from Poland.
With both the White and the Black popes in this war sharing a deep sense of divine mission, each claiming to be acting for the well-being of God’s people and for the exaltation of the Church Christ started with Peter (Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam; Latin for You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church) – it is not certain who will win or has won. The decision of dissolving the order, as done in the past, would be an extremely disrupting and costly one, considering its 17,000 priests and brothers around the world, in schools, hospitals, missions and charity institutions.
John Paul II was canonized in 2014. He passed on April 2nd 2005, long after the Berlin Wall had fallen (November 9 1989), ending the Cold War era, under Ronald Reagan’s presidency and his own papacy. He struggled for a word without communism and I can only imagine his dismay at seeing some of that same ideology infiltrated in the ranks of the Company of Jesus. I have not finished Malachi Martin’s lengthy book (472 pages, published by Simon & Schuster and a New York Times bestseller) yet and the Roman Catholic Church has had two popes since John Paul II: Ratzinger (Benedict XVI, from Germany, 2005-2013),and the now ultra-popular Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis since March 2013), a Jesuit too, from Argentina. As for Father Malachi Martin, great author, professor, and disenchanted priest, he died in July 1999, before the world became even more complicated by 9/11-like events. He was himself a Company’s man, by the way, a Jesuit…