In my last post I summarized part of the grand conspiracy laid out in Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration, in order to refute his claim that his book puts forward no such thing and to give the reader an idea of its key features. It’s actually difficult to say that it is his theory, since he covers some very well-trodden ground. Many of its parts, including those I have not outlined so far, can be found in fringe Catholic fare like Piers Compton’s The Broken Cross: The Hidden Hand in the Vatican (1983), John Vennari’s The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita: A Masonic Blueprint for the Subversion of the Catholic Church (TAN, 1999), articles from Fr. Nicholas Gruner’s Fatima Crusader or Vennari’s Catholic Family News, the books of Fr. Dennis Fahey, and any number of extreme traditionalist or sedevacantist blogs and websites.

I will not attempt to provide a concise summary of the second half of Marshall’s grand conspiracy, because once Marshall gets past Vatican II and the liturgical changes that followed, his narrative becomes more fragmented and associative. It is an assemblage of various stories, scandals, and rumours—again, most of which have appeared in print before—in which Marshall makes few definite claims but suggests that disparate events may be connected to the process of infiltration. He covers the division between the Concilium and Communio theologians, the shrinking of the Church in the US after Vatican II, the Vatican Bank scandal of the 1970s and 80s, the death of John Paul I, the alleged excesses of John Paul II in the field of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and Vatileaks. (His truly bizarre investigation into a possible link to the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley I will set aside for later.) The centrepiece, however, of this segment of Marshall’s conspiracy theory is the rise of the “Sankt Gallen Mafia.” This conspiracy theory is well-known these days, so I won’t outline it here. It suffices to say that Marshall believes that as part of this 150-year plot, a cabal of corrupted cardinals conspired to elect Pope Francis, and succeeded.

I hope the information I have provided is enough to answer Marshall’s question, “What is the conspiracy theory?” For the rest of this series on Infiltration I will look at some of its key ideas, where they come from, and why they should be rejected.

The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita and the Freemason Conspiracy

Before looking at this pillar of Marshall’s narrative, I should first clarify that I do not believe that Freemasonry is harmless or that popes in the past were wrong to warn against it. In my opinion, no Catholic should be a Freemason. But it is one thing to recognize Freemasonry as an external threat to the faith and another to imagine that it has penetrated into the highest levels of the Church.

The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, which I described in my last post, is a document that was allegedly acquired by Pope Gregory XVI in the first half of the nineteenth century. Catholic readers today might be familiar with it from John Vennari’s aforementioned 1999 TAN booklet subtitled A Masonic Blueprint for the Subversion of the Catholic Church, which contains an excerpt of the text and analysis. The Alta Vendita was first published in French in Jacques Cretineau-Joly’s The Roman Church in the Face of Revolution (1859), with the apparent approval of Pope Pius IX. It entered the english-speaking world later, after being published in Monsignor George F. Dillon’s The War of Antichrist with the Church (1885)—a book that received the approval of Pope Leo XIII (though it is clear from the approval that the pope did not read all of the book). We have no idea if the text is authentic. It may be akin to either the documents of the Bavarian Illuminati from the eighteenth century or total fabrications like The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

If the Alta Vendita is genuine, it could very well have been a product of grandiose fantasy on the part of its author. Although Catholic conspiracy theorists tend to link the Carbonari to Freemasonry at large as if they were one and the same thing, the Alta Vendita betrays a sense of insecurity on the part of its Italian branch. Its pseudonymous author “Little Tiger” makes some pointed remarks in reference to his foreign brothers, who he feels underestimate the power of the Catholic Church, felt so strongly in Italy: “we must not pay attention to those braggarts of Frenchmen, those cloudy Germans, those melancholy Englishmen, all of whom imagine they can kill Catholicism, now with an impure song, then with an illogical deduction […]” (my citations are from the version of the Alta Vendita included in Infiltration). There is a sense that the Carbonari know their allies look down on them as being implacably tied to a pervasively Catholic Italian culture. “Little Tiger” challenges, “Let them even mock at our Madonnas and our apparent devotion. With this passport we can conspire at our ease and arrive little by little at the end we have in view.” The idea here is that even though the Carbonari are perhaps a lesser society, isolated from the more enlightened regions of Europe, they are in fact ideally situated to fight the Catholic Church since they are embedded, geographically, in its very heart. Is it not possible that the Alta Vendita represents a resentment-based fantasy designed to encourage and inspire the relatively marginalized Carbonari? There is no sense in the document that this project is something that would be implemented on an international scale. Little Tiger writes, “If you want to revolutionize Italy, look for the Pope whose portrait we have just drawn” (italics mine). Indeed, the historical Carbonari seemed more concerned with fighting the Church on behalf of Italian nationalism, at least before they withered and vanished from the stage of history altogether.

In any case, this is all speculation. What we do know is that the Alta Vendita eventually became part of a lamentable historical discourse. Dillon’s book containing the Alta Vendita was republished in 1950 by the anti-Semitic Britons Publishing Company (publishers of the english translation of The Protocols) and went through a number of editions under the title Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked As the Secret Power Behind Communism, with an enthusiastic preface by the notoriously anti-Semitic Catholic writer Fr. Denis Fahey. The connection to anti-Semitism is not readily apparent from the text of the Alta Vendita itself, but appears elsewhere in Msgr. Dillon’s book. Fr. Fahey, in his preface, points to one of Dillon’s footnotes as being exceptionally important. This footnote to page 43 (or 20 in the original edition), in which Dillon references Cretineau-Joly, who had earlier published the Alta Vendita in French, reads as follows:

M. Cretineau-Joly gives a very interesting account of the correspondence between Nubius [a member of the Alta Vendita of the Carbonari, apparently] and an opulent German Jew who supplied him with money for the purposes of his dark intrigues against the Papacy. The Jewish connection with modern Freemasonry is an established fact everywhere manifested in its history. The Jewish formulas employed by Masonry, the Jewish traditions which run through its ceremonial, point to a Jewish origin, or to the work of Jewish contrivers. […]One of the works which Antichrist will do, it is said, is to re-unite the Jews, and to proclaim himself as their long looked-for Messias. As it is now generally believed, he is to come from Masonry and to be of it, this is not improbable, for in it he will find the Jews the most the most inveterate haters of Christianity, the deepest plotters, and fittest to establish his reign.

Unfortunately, when we look at history both within and without the Church, we find that Freemason conspiracy theories often devolve into Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theories. That is exactly what happened with the Alta Vendita. While I doubt that Marshall is deliberately pushing anti-Semitism by referencing the Alta Vendita, since he seems to genuinely believe that the Freemason plot is at root simply a Freemason plot, he should at least acknowledge that anti-Semitism is part of the history of the text. Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory has been a plague within the Church for a long time, and went underground after the Holocaust in certain segments of fringe Catholicism. Even now, Catholic anti-Semites like E. Michael Jones are very active on social media. What purpose does it serve to tap into the very writings that helped inspire it? To resurrect the Alta Vendita and take it seriously as the beginnings of a plot that has come into fruition today is not only absurd but displays a dangerous ignorance of the darkest sides of recent European history.

That aside, the wild assortment of theories that Alta Vendita document has spawned, many of which form part of the narrative of Infiltration, should make it suspect to anyone. There is simply no proof that the plan described in the Alta Vendita was ever put into action. The document and the plan, if it is genuine, would likely have languished in obscurity if it had not been published by Catholics. But this, ironically, is exactly what makes it so useful for anyone wishing to claim it is linked to later movements like communism or Modernism. Such claims are unfalsifiable.

In my next instalment I will look at another classic form of conspiracy theory that Marshall employs.

To be continued…

Works cited:

Dillon, Msgr. George F. Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked As the Secret Power Behind Communism. Preface by the Rev. Denis Fahey. London: Britons Publishing Company, 1965.

Marshall, Taylor R. Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. Manchester, NH: Crisis Publications, 2019.

Image: Statue of Giordano Bruno in Rome, from Wikimedia commons

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D.W. Lafferty, PhD, is a Catholic husband, dad, and independent scholar from Ontario, Canada. He works in higher education and has published articles on the literature of Wyndham Lewis, the conspiracy theory of Douglas Reed, and the life and legacy of Engelbert Dollfuss. Online, he tweets as @rightscholar.

The Synthesis of All Catholic Conspiracy Theory (Part 2)

10 Responses

  1. Mary Angelica says:

    Even before his conspiratorial turn, Marshall had this tendency in apologetics to make much of what could be described as loose associations (I remember an article he wrote once claiming that pseudo-Dionysius was actually the Areopagite, that did this a lot). While at times interesting or potentially insightful, this tendency rubbed me the wrong way in the end, because it looked like taking intellectual shortcuts.

    Even assuming infiltration by masons, communists, and the existence of a lavender mafia (and I do think these aren’t entirely false on their own), I don’t see how its clarifying to make them all related to each other. Why would the Church have only one major opponent within its ranks? It makes more sense that they be legion. Furthermore, despite my issues with the Pope, the main claim is that they conspired to choose hm, but they don’t claim that he is actually a part of any of these groups. Is Pope Francis a mere puppet, or fellow co-conspirator?

  2. Christopher Lake says:

    It has been saddening to me to watch Taylor Marshall’s descent into surprisingly credulous, conspiracy theory-embracing thinking. His early work was quite different. Actually, a Catholic website for which he wrote several years ago, “Called to Communion,” played a crucial role in my own return to the Church.

    At this time of my “reversion,” a little more than ten years ago, I was quite active on Facebook, often happily, enthusiastically posting about the truths of the Catholic Church and her teachings which I had been discovering (and, in some cases, rediscovering) through reading, study, and prayer. Taylor was on my Facebook friends list, and in those days, I never *would have even imagined* that he would eventually write such a wild-eyed, hysterical, non-well-grounded book as “Infiltration.” I considered myself a Catholic traditionalist, and even as such, Taylor was still a bit more staunch in his hardcore traditionalism than I was– but I still had utterly *no idea* that something like “Infiltration” could be on the horizon.

    Eventually, though, the longer that I read his posts and comments on Facebook, I started to see signs of a troubling trajectory in his thinking– i.e. a willingness to, apparently, simply believe certain accusations and conspiracy theories, virtually at face value. This didn’t even *only* extend to matters within the Catholic Church.

    I remember that, one time, a person posted a Protestant fundamentalist ministry’s video about The Beatles on Taylor’s Facebook page– a video filled with wild, crazy, rant-like accusations about the group and its members. Taylor watched it and responded simply by commenting, “Wow! I used to be a fan. Not anymore!”

    Now, I had been born and raised in small towns of the American “deep South.” I was very familiar with Protestant fundamentalist (and, often, vocally anti-Catholic) thinking. As such, I had often heard wild, crazed ranting about “evil rock music”– the kind of ranting in this particular video about The Beatles. I knew that, more often than not, much of this ranting should be taken with a grain of salt. To be very clear here, I am certainly *not* saying that all rock music is virtuous– some of it is definitely not. I’m also *not* saying that each and every single song, of the Beatles’ output, is healthy listening for Christians. I am a lifelong fan of the group, but there are a few songs that I truly wish they had never written and recorded. For one of them, I can’t even bring myself to write the sexually profane title here.

    With all of this said, I was truly shocked that Taylor Marshall had been seemingly convinced, so quickly and easily, to stop listening to the Beatles, and, soon enough, to start *openly writing against them*, by the claims and accusations of such a wild, ranting, non-well-grounded, Protestant fundamentalist video about the group. As I saw more and more of this kind of disturbing credulity from Taylor though, it became easier to believe that he would, one day, write such a book as “Infiltration.”

    While I definitely *do not* endorse the video about The Beatles that, apparently, quickly convinced Taylor to stop listening, and start writing against them, I will leave the link to said video here, for instructive purposes, as regarding Taylor’s credulity (and for anyone who actually believes that his current book is “well-researched”):

    • Cfaucheux says:

      I don’t know that I had ever liked any of his stuff before, but I really started to notice him when I read his article a few years ago about the Beatles album cover with the meat and the broken up dolls on it. It was the most intellectually dishonest thing I had ever read. He somehow tired it to promotion of abortion because it was the late 60s, but he obviously either did NO research on it at all or was deliberately lying, because the story of that album cover is very well known, as are the reasons for the design. It generated controversy at the time, so there’s lots of commentary on it for the people involved. I just remember thinking that anyone that credulous, incurious, dishonest, or even stupid was not worth ever listening to.

      By the way is the song you’re referring to an odd one from the White Album with the initials “WDWDIITR”? It’s not one of their best songs anyway, and I could definitely leave it.

      The whole 80s fundamentalist approach to rock and roll music is shared by other trads like Kwasniewski, so it’s no surprise it’s been picked up by Marshall.

      • Christopher Lake says:


        On Taylor’s piece which used the original Beatles “Yesterday and Today” album cover to make a point about abortion, I was both angered and saddened when I read that piece– angered, because it was so inaccurate, as to The Beatles’ thinking with that cover, and saddened, because Taylor seemed to have likely just credulously accepted what someone, somewhere, told him about the cover, without even *considering* that what he was told might be incorrect.

        Surely he could have at least looked up a *genuine interview* (i.e. *not* anything by that hack writer of hit pieces, Albert Goldman!) with a former Beatle to see what, say, John, Paul, George, or Ringo had to say about the album cover? I don’t believe that Taylor is consciously, knowingly dishonest. He just seems to accept certain wild, and sometimes, somewhat crazy, claims quite easily without looking into the easily obtainable objective evidence *against* those claims.

        About the sexually profane song to which I referred in my earlier comment, yep, that’s the one. I do actually like Paul’s singing on it, but the “lyrics” themselves? Ugh, just terrible. I’m no fundamentalist, and I’m a huge rock fan, jazz fan, and lover of many musical genres, but I can never defend lyrics like the one in that song.

  3. jong says:

    Why my conment is not posted? May I ask WPI to please explain if there is an offensive words in my reflective comments.
    It would seem uncharitable and unchristian to ignore a post without a good basis.
    It would be fair to post it and allow my comment to be criticize if I said something that is wrong rather ignore it. I cant see a good reason why it cannot be allow. Hoping for fairness & justice.Thanks.

    • D.W. Lafferty says:

      Your comments are appreciated, but you brought up that same topic again, and we’re just not comfortable having that discussion. We don’t like to censor, but we also want discussions to stay on track. I hope you’ll understand.

  4. Pete Vickery says:

    Perhaps Dan Burke just chooses to ignore the fact that Taylor Marshall has a screw loose because Marshall is a voice against Francis. As the saying goes “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I dunno. Pope Francis is certainly not positive publicity for EWTN, thank God. I’m sure Dan Burke has noticed this. However Pope Francis affects EWTN’s bottom line, they are being as disingenuous as Cardinal Burke. Birds of a feather stick together.

  5. James Matthew says:

    Marshall’s thesis immediately is drawn into question by his acceptance and claims around this Alta Vendita document. He doesn’t question where this document comes from. He does not question why no source other than those who would be praised by Church officials for “discovering” this text has ever verified it as authentic. So it smacks of the same type of thing as the hoax Léo Taxil put on the Catholic officials of his day.

    Marshall’s entire case rests on it proving that Freemason of this era, by this document were putting away violent open opposition and switching to a secret infiltration strategy to undermine the Church from within. THAT CLAIM MAKES NO SENSE – because the document first appears in 1859, but the Freemasons are part of the forces that continue to fight openly and with armed violence against the Papal States to unify Italy – seizing the Papal States by military force from the Papacy in 1870! Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, was an open Mason supporting “the craft”.

    Even if we are to assume that the document isn’t an utter forgery written by someone trying to advance themselves within the Catholic Church and was actually written by Freemasons – would it not be more feasible to hold that it was a ruse by the Freemasons to turn Catholic attention away from external physical threats and cause them to be suspicious of their fellow Catholics to sow division and cause internal rifts within the Church to distract them from the external threat continuing with their goal to seize Church property by use of violence within the same generation? Marshall does not appear to ever entertain that idea, rather he maintains that the Freemasons (despite obvious evidence) renounced violence and switched to a hyper-complex, multiple generational plan that should everything work out right (including some guy writing Das Kapital eight years later in 1867), that the world would get a Pope who told people to recycle more.

    I can understand people who are afraid that the Pope Francis’ writings call into question the claim that the Catholic Church is indefectible, and has changed. But rather than having that discussion, Marshall links together weird scraps, jumps to weirder conclusions, and basically proclaims anyone not taking his side of the question is at best a Freemasonic dupe and at worst a minion of Satan.

    This is unfortunate because their are legitimate questions that side of the argument brings up, but they are overshadowed by unsubstantiated, uncritical, salacious theories – that conveniently reduce the discussion to a heroic Taylor Marshall flexing over the minions of the anti-Christ; but don’t question it or you’ll called a useful idiot for the Masons.

  6. George Palantine says:

    Taylor Marshall began Catholic life as a very impressive, orthodox Catholic who liked the Latin Mass. Just like me. So I read his blog regularly and continued to be impressed. But he took a weird turn somewhere along the line, and slowly began a descent into the most obvious conspiracy theories. Eventually I decided I had to stop reading his stuff because I was slowly being led away from true Catholicism and led into increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, and even into wrong interpretations of the Catholic faith.

    Marshall used to teach at a small Catholic college in Texas. It catered to traditional Catholics, but after a while, radical traditionalist infiltrated the college and began demanding that it convert into an anti Vatican II college. These infiltrators split the college up, wrecked it, and they went out of business. From this small beginning, Marshall began to call himself a “Professor” which of course, he was. But not like a real professor that has gone through a rigorous process of testing, publishing articles that others who know what is going on accept, etc. He got the tag simply because he taught at a tiny Catholic college with about 75 students and then went quickly out of business. In this struggle, Marshall remained a stout, totally loyal orthodox Catholic, united with the church. He did not join the renegades. So this caused me to admire him.

    But I still kept getting weird vibes from him. He did a series of very good videos examining the Vigano controversy. So I began watching. Very soon, he began his descent into madness again, bringing up every conspiracy theory imaginable. His various theories made no sense at all, and conflicted with each other. When he brought up the Alta Vendita, I investigated it, and came to the conclusion that the Popes of the time might have “caused it to be published” but did so because they were in a titanic struggle with the forces of secularism in Italy at the time. The church was being harried, oppressed, its land taken away, the pope driven to distraction. It was a time when a pope would have accepted any help from anywhere, in desperation. So yes, the pope caused it to be “published”. But to the casual reader, they will interpret that as the Pope declaring it as official doctrine, or at least a strong papal endorsement of its truth. It is not. I can find no source at all for the “discovery” of this document, except it appears in Chretien Jolie’s book. And he was a guy who was shady at best. He is the type who would have faked the document. And he was connected with the Jesuits, to top it all off. Lots of documents were faked at the time, all of them supposedly uncovering various plots and schemes. all feeding into Italian mania for conspiracies.

    In short, Taylor Marshall is either extremely gullible, or he simply refuses to let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy story, Or he might simply have seen the opportunity to make money on something that always makes money in the publishing business – Conspiracy theory books. At any rate, I no longer believe a word this guy says. He held out a lot of promise, but now has descended into really bizarre world of fringe group activities.

    I am opposed to Pope Francis, and feel he has done a lot of questionable things. However, this Taylor Marshall stuff is a gross violation of the truth. In the long run, it will hurt the cause of opposing Pope Francis, enabling all criticism of the pope to be lumped under “Oh, those nuts again” category. So he misses his ultimate aim.

    I also realize that there is currently a great desire on the part of some

  7. Matt says:

    Is there going to be a part 3? Part 2 was particularly useful for my research.

    (Don’t publish this comment, thanks)

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