Infiltration: Real or Imagined?

William Kilpatrick

William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website,

Above is Pope Francis appearing at the window of St Peter’s Basilica after being elected pope on March 13, 2013. Retired and scandal-ridden Cardinal Danneels of the St. Gallen mafia is second from the pope’s left. (Photo credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Has the Catholic Church been infiltrated by anti-Catholic forces intent on its destruction?  This is the thesis of Taylor Marshall’s new book, InfiltrationThe Plot to Destroy the Church from Within. The book has already generated a lot of controversy, with one critic accusing the author of “McCarthyism” and “wild assertions.” Marshall’s main assertion is that the Church has been infiltrated by Masons, Modernists, and communists who aim to change the Church’s mission “from something supernatural to something secular.”

Marshall uses the word “infiltration” in two senses: an infiltration of personnel and an infiltration of ideas, and it’s not always clear what sense he’s using. However, in the main, he’s writing about the infiltration of ideas. Indeed, the primary document he refers to—The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita—is less about the placement of agents than about the gradual introduction of a new climate of thought. The author of The Permanent Instruction admitted that it might take more than a century before the process produced “a pope according to our own heart.”

Was there an actual penetration of the Church by agents of communism and/or Freemasonry? Marshall does name some names, and he does offer evidence, but although his evidence is not always conclusive, it is suggestive. Earlier popes were certainly worried about the influence of Masons and Modernists. Pope Leo XIII published four encyclicals against Freemasonry, and Pope Pius X was convinced that Modernists had infiltrated the clergy and the seminaries.

Communist Infiltration
Marshall also cites the testimony of Bella Dodd, a former communist agent, who told a House Committee that “in the 1930s we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within.” Similar testimony was offered to the committee by Manning Johnson, another former agent; however, no other corroborating evidence of their testimony has been produced.

Still, the possibility of physical infiltration should not be dismissed out of hand. It’s the kind of thing that Soviet communists were capable of doing and have actually done. There is abundant evidence, for example, that communists did successfully infiltrate the Russian Orthodox Church. And, according to ex- communists such as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, as well as later researchers such as Stanton Evans and Diana West, the Roosevelt administration had been thoroughly penetrated by communist agents.

We also know that Soviet communists waged a highly successful campaign to smear Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope.” In addition, smear campaigns were launched to discredit several other high-ranking anti-communist prelates such as Archbishop Wojtyla. Moreover, as historian Paul Kengor asserts, the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II was ordered by the GRU (Soviet military intelligence).

During the Cold War, Soviet communists viewed the Catholic Church as one of their greatest enemies, implying that the motive to undermine the Church existed; and, as exemplified by the infiltration of the Russian Orthodox Church, so did the capability. Not every conspiracy is a theory. Real conspiracies—some with devastating results—are a part of history. Sometimes, comrade X really does instruct agent Y to infiltrate organization Z. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that not every disaster is the result of a conspiracy.

Some ideas are very seductive and they can spread widely without the help of organized conspirators. The conspiratorial movements that Marshall identifies—Freemasonry, Modernism, liberalism, and communism—all share many ideas in common. In essence, they are all forms of humanism—the idea that mankind can effect some kind of secular salvation by the proper manipulation of the social environment. These ideas are often couched in terms that are very appealing to Christians—“peace,” “love,” “brotherhood,” “compassion,” “the dignity of man,” and the like. In many respects, these movements are counterfeits of Christianity; they have an emotional appeal for many precisely because they echo parts of the Christian message.

The Human Potential Movement
In the 1960s and ’70s, the “gospel” of humanistic psychology swept through the Church with amazing speed. Almost overnight, the tenets of pop psychology were substituted for Catholic doctrine. Religious studies texts for high school students frequently cited popular psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, and the cultivation of self-esteem in students became a top priority for Catholic teachers. Instead of moral precepts, students were introduced to faddish strategies such as “values clarification” and “moral reasoning.” Meanwhile, goals such as self-acceptance and self-esteem came to be seen as more important than the achievement of sanctity. And, since Human Potential Psychology had no room for the concept of sin, countless Catholics suddenly discovered that they were “OK” as they were, with the result that the practice of Confession nearly disappeared.

Many of these striking transformations in the Church are still with us today, but there is little evidence that they were the result of any deliberate conspiracy. Carl Rogers was certainly the most important figure in the Human Potential Movement. It was he who made the case that “growth psychology” could be applied to every area of life. Yet, there is no evidence that I’m aware of which would link Rogers to Masons or communists or any other conspiratorial group. Because Rogers did his graduate work at Columbia University he was almost certainly exposed to the ideas of John Dewey, the author of the “Humanist Manifesto,” but, then, so was my mother and so were about half of the teachers in America. The fact is, Rogers was rather apolitical, and was quite uncomfortable with the idea that he was looked upon as the founder of a movement. It’s difficult to imagine him as part of any conspiracy, yet the infiltration of the Church by the theories of Human Potential Psychology arguably did more harm to Catholicism than Freemasons or communists ever did.

Many who are currently in charge in the Church were formed in the milieu which Rogers helped to create. This includes Pope Francis, who once taught psychology and who seems exceedingly fond of the therapeutic psychobabble that was born in that era. Moreover, much of the Church’s current sensitivity to sexual minorities seems to be an outgrowth of the sensitivity movement spawned by Rogers and other humanistic psychologists. The concern with “acceptance,” “accompaniment,” and respect for “lived experience” seems to come straight out of the Rogerian playbook of non-directive therapy.

I have some firsthand experience of the attraction of humanistic psychology. I became interested in Rogers’ work while in graduate school, and I can attest that it had something akin to a religious appeal. Although the tenets of Humanistic Psychology contradicted key elements of Christian doctrine, it didn’t seem so to me at the time. Instead, self-esteem psychology seemed to me to be simply a more enlightened, more compassionate form of Christianity. At the same time, I was reading the work of the nouvelle theologians mentioned by Marshall—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, and the like—and what they said seemed to dovetail with what Rogers, Maslow, Fromm, and other psychologists were saying about human development and human potential.

Alas, even Rogers finally admitted that his experiments in human potential had probably done more harm than good. The prime example was the collapse of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order of Sisters after being exposed to a two-year program of intensive encounter groups led by Rogers and his team. Within a few years of Rogers’s intervention, all 600 of the Immaculate Heart nuns had left the order.

Nevertheless, despite the damage that resulted, there appears to have been no conspiracy on the part of Rogers or any of his colleagues to infiltrate the Church. Rogers’s theories certainly have a close resemblance to Modernism and other humanistic schools of thought, but he claims that his ideas simply grew out of his own experience as a therapist. As Donald Trump might say, “No Collusion, no conspiracy.” Still, it bears repeating that one would be mistaken to jump to the opposite pole and conclude that all conspiracy theories are wild fantasies.

The Saint Gallen “Mafia”
Ideas are generated by people and they are transmitted by people through articles and pamphlets, over the media, in classrooms and meetings, and in informal conversations.  Marshall devotes a chapter of his book to the Saint Gallen “Mafia”—a small group of high-ranking bishops and cardinals who assembled regularly in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, to discuss reforming the Church, and also, says Marshall, to find a candidate for pope who could defeat Cardinal Ratzinger, and, after that failed, to find someone to replace him.  That someone turned out to be Jorge Bergoglio.

Given that his suspicions are confirmed by other sources such as Austen Ivereigh, Marshall seems on solid ground here. But some of his musings regarding Saint Gallen rest on more shaky ground. Marshall points out that Saint Gallen was once a hotbed of communism and that it was located close to the Swiss headquarters of the Order of Templars of the Orient, a mystical religion associated with the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley, and that Father Theodore McCarrick travelled there annually for a period of at least ten years. Marshall suggests that there might have been a link between these coincidences and the activities of the Saint Gallen “Mafia.” But contiguity does not prove conspiracy, and in the end he is only able to make rather strained symbolic connections.

However, what he says about the Saint Gallen group itself is less speculative. He names thirteen members of the “mafia,” including Cardinal Carlo Martini, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Cardinal Cormac Murpy-O’Connor. And his thesis is backed up by Danneel’s official biographer who explained that “the election of Bergoglio was prepared in St. Gallen” because the “election of Bergoglio corresponded with the aims of St. Gallen, on that there is no doubt.” It’s also telling that Danneels himself referred to the group as a “mafia,” and that he stood next to Bergoglio on the balcony of Saint Peter’s immediately after his election as pope.

Did the activities of the Saint Gallen group amount to a conspiracy? A plot? Or were their meetings, in the words of one critical reviewer of Marshall’s book, “the normal manner in which all human groups pursue their own interest”? Well, that would depend on what sort of interests they were pursuing. One might suppose that when professional bank robbers get together to plan a heist, their meetings are similar in form to those of other “human groups”—first, some informal chit chat, then a call to order, then a proposal, then some feedback from group members, etc. The difference between a meeting of bank robbers and a meeting of the bank’s board of directors has to do not with form but with intent.

Marshall maintains that some bishops have crooked intentions—that they have been acting more like bank robbers than bishops. Indeed, Infiltration contains two chapters on scandals in the Vatican Bank—complete with charges of money laundering, disappearing assets, Mafia involvement (the real Mafia, not the Saint Gallen one), and mysterious murders.

Marshall concentrates on bank scandals that occurred during the papacies of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI (who called in Archbishop Viganò to straighten out the mess.) But Pope Francis has his own peculiar problem with banks. He seems to view them not as places where money can be safely deposited, but as safe places to deposit wayward priests and bishops. In 2013, he appointed Msgr. Battista Ricca as Prelate of the Vatican Bank despite Ricca’s involvement in a series of homosexual scandals. Ricca doesn’t seem to have had any particular qualification for the position, and, in view of the scandals, he seemed an unlikely candidate for such a sensitive job.

A few years later, after the Vatican received evidence of sexual abuse of seminarians by Argentine bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, Francis carved out a position for him in another Vatican financial institution—The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. Like Ricca, Zanchetta had no qualifications for the job.  On the contrary, he had been accused of mishandling diocesan funds. In June of 2019, he was formally charged with sexual abuse and could face 3 to 10 years in prison.

I bring this up because, except for a brief mention of Ricca, Marshall does not. He has very little to say about the many scandals surrounding the Francis papacy. Marshall assumes that most Catholics already realize that something is dreadfully wrong within the Church, and his book is an attempt to explain some of the historical and intellectual currents that have led to our contemporary crisis. Many Catholics know next to nothing about this historical context, and an acquaintance with the controversies over Freemasonry and Modernism would provide a much needed perspective.

“Ideas have consequences,” wrote political philosopher Richard Weaver. And it seems beyond doubt that the Church has been infiltrated and influenced over the years by ideas with damaging consequences. To what extent this infiltration of ideas was and is the result of deliberate plots is difficult to say. However, it’s important to try and find out. Harmful ideas can be more easily combatted if we know something about the motives of the people who promote them.

As some of Marshall’s critics point out, his book is not a comprehensive or definitive history of the time period that he covers; some of the plots he discusses are not proven. Nevertheless, ideas don’t simply float in over the transom. They are carried by people, and sometimes, we must assume, by people with malevolent intent. It’s not enough to say that these ideas merely reflect the culture surrounding the Church; that’s simply a way of saying that no one is responsible. Moreover, it’s not enough to dismiss people who raise the possibility of plots as mere conspiracy theorists. Until the release of the Venona Project papers in 1995, communist infiltration of government agencies during the administration of FDR was wrongly regarded by many as no more than a rightwing fantasy.

It would be nice to wait until all the facts are in regarding, say, the Saint Gallen group before speculating about their intentions, but time may be running out. As Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a leading member of the group once said, “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change this”—“this” meaning the Church founded by Christ.