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.
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
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.