Back in September I wrote a post on documentaries. One of those I’d watched was Hostage to the Devil, on the life of Malachi Martin. Curious, I began looking for biographical information, only to find conflicting reports. Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist, was interviewed in the documentary and he claims that Martin is not to be trusted. Given that Martin had academic credentials and academic publications, it’s clear that something is up here. So I decided to read Kaiser’s Clerical Error. As an award-winning journalist, Kaiser had written a book on Vatican II that sold fairly well, establishing his own credibility. Clerical Error is a book, in large part, that was intended to discredit Malachi Martin because Martin had an affair with Kaiser’s wife. That spices things up a bit. (And explains the cover photo.)
It’s an odd book, overall. Kaiser begins by describing how he became a Jesuit. Autobiographical works are generally most interesting during the early years, and Kaiser does a good job illustrating how he was naive and probably joined the Jesuits out of fear of sexuality. Some of the disciplines (including self-flagellation) are difficult to reconcile with the twentieth century (when they took place) but demonstrate the command religion can have over life. Confronting church politics, he decided to become a journalist instead of a priest. When he was assigned to Vatican II a couple things happen—his book gets lost in the weeds, and, he meets Malachi Martin (spelled Malachy throughout). At first taken with Martin, the two became friends. Martin helped him access places in the Vatican that would’ve otherwise been blocked to him, as a layman, even if a former Jesuit.
Then the tale becomes sordid. According to Kaiser, Martin, still a Jesuit priest, began an affair with his wife. The final third of the book has the draw of a soap opera as Kaiser tries to confirm what he suspects. Overworked, he checked into a mental health facility, and this fact gave his detractors the grounds for claiming that Kaiser was mentally unbalanced and that Martin was really as he presented himself—a Jesuit priest, academic, and exorcist. According to this book, which never made a large splash, the evidence is clear. And the ability of the church to cover up scandals is legendary. The most damaging parts, in my purposes for reading the book, are the allegations that Martin was a pathological liar. (Why do we have so many of these?) If true, nothing he wrote can really be trusted. This is the very reason that of late I’ve been obsessed with the idea that lies are a clear sign of the one the Bible calls “the father of lies.”