Malachi Martin Followup: Firing Line

The last word on Martin before I return to Oriental Church matters, especially since the Orthodox Ecumenical(?) Council is coming up.

The Jesus Movement (1973)

The Jesus Movement is an interesting episode both in the wide range of topics touched on and how much of a contrast Martin seems here compared to his later work (it has been suggested to me that it is because he was being disingenuous to sell more books, a possibility I can neither discount nor fully believe).

It begins with Buckley introducing Martin by his many illustrious credentials (Doctor of Semitic languages, worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) before introducing his new book ‘Jesus Now’, an attempt to look at the historical Jesus despite all the utilization of him by myriad Christian denominations and idealogues to serve their views. Martin has a very humorous swipe at popular portrayals of Christ:

“He was black-haired, dark-skinned, and would have looked something like the people of Upper Egypt. He would not have been red-haired or fair unless he had been some sort of genetic mutant.”

From there the episode becomes quite rambling and off point as Martin will start talking of something, Buckley will ask him a question about it, and then Martin will give a long answer that leads to a side-rant. Buckley is content through most of it to watch – almost entranced – as Martin gives many disparate opinions on many things.

At the end Martin is confronted by three people – a professor and two students – that could act as poster children for the ills plaguing academia. The first is a sweet doe-eyed naive girl (possibly a 70’s flower-child) who asks Martin questions like “What if aliens had their own Jesus?” and is answered with charitable responses from Martin who addresses her almost as a grandfather giving advice to a child. The second is a professor who tries to push Martin into admitting that “value is not just in the spiritual because matter has value”. Well, of course! It is all created by God, is it not? The third is a bitter-looking and confrontational female student who tries to press Martin on the issue of “women in the church” and how women “don’t really have a say” (go to your average church-lady-run parish and tell me that again, I say). Her non-points are pretty easily swept aside.

Martin’s philosphical views here betray a very spiritualist and non-rationalist outlook that one is almost reminded of George Tyrrell. In retrospect it is very clear that he either changed his views somewhere down the line or became a shill for the center-fringe traditionalist movement of the 80’s and 90’s for the sake of profit. Had Martin come before his disciples then with the worldview he presents here, he likely would have likely been lynched.

The Mission of the Pope (1978)

The Mission of the Pope was aired in 1978 after an anxious Catholic world found themselves under a new pontiff. In a time of great tumult everyone was wringing their hands as to what this “John Paul” would do and what his actions would be. This episode is a fascinating insight into the pulse of the Catholic world that year.

Especially when we realize that the Pope John Paul in question is not the Archbishop of Krakow but the Patriarch of Venice.

Martin is interviewed here as a former Vatican insider while Buckley tries to garner from him information on Albino Luciani’s opinions, from Communism to Archbishop Lefebrve. Buckley is able to steer the conversation a bit better this time around and Martin stays more on point, though the latter man dominates the discussion with his affable and erudite manner of conversation.

Martin begins by pointing out what anyone who knows anything of the Vatican knows, that many of the cardinals go into the conclave with a candidate already chosen and that what is genuinely up for grabs is not the man himself but a policy. The policy this time around – Martin claims – is the church’s relations with Communism and the third world. It was known the pope after Paul VI the next would have to “come down on one side or the other and not straddle the divide”. Paul VI had been entirely orthodox on essential dogmatic matters that were under attack (abortion, contraception, female ordinations) but had “straddled” by trying to create a “Church of the Third World” through sometimes cooperating with communists. According to Martin the cardinals had made their decision, and that decision was to reject Pope Paul’s policy.

Martin relates that the Pope Paul VI establishment faced a coup from the Polish cardinals and their allies which delayed the conclave by two weeks (it is a bit eerie to hear him call out some of them by name and hear among their numbers both Wotylja and Ratzinger). The result was a candidate who was staunchly anti-communist while still being acceptable to the other side due to his demeanor.

The picture he paints of Albino Luciani is a gentle man who knows when to put his foot down when necessary, a man who speaks softly but carries a big stick, a man of no physical beauty but with much personal charisma. As Archbishop of Venice he cracked down on Communism. As pope he has already written a letter to Lefebrve amounting to “You and I are on the same side and are part of the same church. So let’s talk.”

He is a man who can bring people of different views and priorities together to work towards a common good as – and I quote Martin here- “Pope John XXIII did briefly before he was taken away far too soon and then Paul VI came in and pushed what Pope John did into a very cold and rational direction.”

And to think that fifteen years later Martin would claim that both John and Paul were freemasons who had worked to destroy the church.

Buckley is very disappointed and taken aback when Martin claims that – with regard to the Cold War – the pope “should not take sides”. Martin speaks of the many injustices in South and Central American countries that push people into the arms of Communism in the first place. He laments the exploits of the Liberation Theology factions and their Jesuits who arm the guerillas, stating that the way forward is to address human suffering in a way that does not tie itself to any worldly ideology. This the pope must – and likely will – do.

Buckley counters that the American capitalist system has “virtually eliminated poverty” and that should we export that? This, as I see it, is indicative of one of Buckley’s flaws – too much faith in America and Americanism. He was never as bad as the neoconservative movement but unfortunately seemed to buy into the “City on a Hill” mentality. Martin counters that the pope see through that and must consistently appeal to basic human decency and love as Christ would.

The observer is an author and self-described “apostate Jew” who exchanges swipes with Buckley and asks Martin if the spiritual is not enough to abate the suffering of impovershed Latin Americans. Perhaps tyrants like the Somozas need to be overthrown? Martin answers that what the churches in the area must do is attack the sins of the leaders, not the system. The system is not inherently evil, unlike communism which will only bring more suffering. The solution is to bring out the goodness in humanity and spread charity.

The episode ends with the observer asking both Buckley and Martin why they prefer the Latin Mass. Is it equivalent to how Jewish services done in Hebrew have a certain reverence while ones done in English sound like a country club gathering? Buckley answers that is part of the problem, the other part being a fascistic emphasis on audience participation. Martin concludes by pointing out that Paul VI outright contradicted the Second Vatican Council when he did away with Latin.

And that is a very serious matter indeed.

The Fight Over Catholic Orthodoxy (1980)

Now we come to the piece de resistance. This time Martin acts as the observer and does not appear until near the end. Also, the episode is only thirty minutes instead of an hour.

Buckley begins by commenting on the recent disciplinary actions taken against Hans Kung and questions whether this signals a change in policy under Pope John Paul II compared to Paul VI. Davies ecstatically proclaims that it does, this pope and Msgr. Lefebrve’s theologies are “practically identical”, Kung’s beliefs are incompatible with Catholicism, and hopefully the bans against Lefebrve will be lifted so “everything can return to normal”. When asked for his opinion Champlin is noncommittal, stating that this signals a change in the “ebb and flow”, from an “era of transcendence” to the “era of the sacred”. The tone has effectively been set for the rest of the episode.

From here on the discussion goes into the reform of the Mass. Michael Davies squares of against Msgr. Joseph Champlin and the result is utterly one sided and brutal. Champlin attempts to explain that turning the altar to face the people was going back to the “early church” and Davies gives him a lecture on the meaning and significance of ad orientum worship. Champlin tries to compare the Lefebrve and Kung scenarios as being similar and receives a rant on how obedience is only required if you’re a traditionalist (Davies cites JP 2’s urging against Communion in the hand, extraordinary ministers, and altar girls, stating that the American bishops have flagrantly ignored it).

This is not to say that Champlin is entirely wrong on everything. His recounting of his Latin Masses in the “good old days” are an excellent counter to any traditionalist who glorifies that decadent era. When he states that the problems in the Church run very deep and you can’t blame them on the New Mass, he is absolutely correct. When Davies asks what it was in the sixties that prompted the change when World War II was a far more catastrophic event, he would have a point if the liturgical changes had actually begun then. It’s not like the pope set up a commission to rewrite the liturgy just three years after the war and that commission sabotaged it all throughout the fifties…

Moving on.

With Davies dominating the discussion, Buckley gives the floor to Martin who asks for a few clarifications before asking Champlin a very pointed question.

“You earlier compared the situation of the Archbishop to Hans Kung. Monsignor, Kung is a heretic. He has denied the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, the Resurrection, the Priesthood, etc… and Lefebrve has never done all that. Would you not say that there is a very real difference between these two?”

The Monsignor freezes and must think about this before begrudgingly accepting the obvious. That Lefebrve is not a heretic like Kung.

And that is a monumental difference.


2 thoughts on “Malachi Martin Followup: Firing Line

  1. Just a brief note:

    Luciani was not archbishop of Milan, but Patriarch of Venice. Indeed, there he prosecuted the only priest who did not adopt the new Liturgy, fr. Siro Cisilino (who indeed was also an enemy of the Pacellian destructions).


    • Oops. Mixed him up with Paul VI.

      In other words his policy as Patriarch was, “If you are the Vatican Bank and corrupt, I will come after you. If you are a communist, I will excommunicate you. If you fight for the old mass, I will discipline you.”

      Not the sort of man who sits people down in a circle and sings Kumbaya.


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