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Dr William Barry (1849-1930), a Canon of Birmingham Archdiocese during the early twentieth century, and a prolific author, novelist and theologian, developed a composite anti-Jewish construction which drew upon contemporary myths of Jewish usury and greed, conspiracy theories linking Jews and Freemasons, and traditional religious myths about the so-called “Jewish Antichrist”.
In 1905 and 1906, Dr William Barry excoriated Freemasonry. He claimed that Freemasonry falsely professes the cause of universal peace, which it pursues by running down the Army. The Freemasons, he argued, have always been eager to do mischief to the Army and the Church, which was why they supported the cause of Captain Dreyfus. According to Barry, the conflict in France was not a battle between Republicans and the Church, but between Freemasonry and the Church. Barry concluded that people in England know little about the operations of Freemasonry in France because “the people here are guided by the telegrams that appear in the daily papers,” and “these telegrams come from the great news agencies, which are in the hands of syndicates which are generally controlled by Jews.” “The alliance between the Freemasons and the Jews,” Barry concluded, “is a very close one.” “Freemasonry in France: Rev. Dr. Barry Interviewed,” Catholic Herald, 5 October 1906, 10. See also: William Barry, “Freemasons in France,” National Review XLV (July 1905), 826-843; William Barry, Freemasons in France (London: Catholic Truth Society, ).
In 1905-6, Barry was far more concerned with stereotyping Freemasonry than pursuing the so-called “Jewish Question.” However, at some point around 1919, he became obsessed with Jews. In 1919, in response to suggestions made by some newspapers that Catholics and Jews should be excluded from the League of Nations on the grounds that they are “international” and untrustworthy, Barry argued that “on no grounds of race or religion can the League boycott any man, forbidding him to hold office under it, whether Jew, Catholic or Japanese.” However, whilst arguing that Jews and Catholics should both be at liberty to serve in the League of Nations, Barry then went on to inform his readers “that there is a tremendous power concentrated in Hebrew international finance.” Barry asked, “and who does not fear it?” The power of this antisemitic fantasy was such that even when confronting a bigotry that was as prejudicial to Catholics as it was to Jews, Barry could not prevent himself from repeating the stereotype about Jewish finance, even though it would have made his argument simpler if he had focused on the prejudice that both communities suffered. William Barry, “Are Catholics Aliens?,” Catholic Times, 10 May 1919, 7.
Barry developed this anti-Jewish theme in subsequent articles. In an article in 1922 which blended his own ideas with those of Hilaire Belloc, Barry argued that “the Hebrew domination over Europe and America has set in,” and that the social revolution has a “double aspect,” with the Jews as leaders of both. According to Barry, in the West, “the Rothschilds may stand for its triumph without violence in finance, industry, [and] ‘bourgeois’ legislation,” whilst in the East, “the Bolsheviks, tyrants and exploiters of a Russia reduced to chaos, who claim Karl Marx for their prophet, are Israelites almost to a man.” Barry agreed with Belloc that the Jews should be recognised as a separate people and treated accordingly in order to save Christendom from ruin. According to Barry, “the whole structure of our civilized world is Christian, not Jewish.” Barry concluded that Belloc had “rung the peal that should wake us up.” Barry repeated his antisemitic construction of Jewish power and greed in subsequent years. He argued in 1925 that the domination of Europe by Jewish Ministers, financiers and diplomats in France, Bohemia and elsewhere, and in particular a Russia “prostrate under the Bolshevik sons of Israel, furnishes the shameful, the appalling proof which cries aloud that Europe is declining from its sovereign rank.” “How,” he asked, “does the Hebrew contrive to get world-power into his hands?” He also suggested in 1929 that the Jews dominate the stock exchanges in London and Paris, and that the “peasant-farmer” in Bavaria was being exploited with no hope of redemption by the “Semite money-lenders.” William Barry, “The Everlasting Jew,” Universe, 12 May 1922, 8; William Barry, “Is it Peace?,” Catholic Times, 13 June 1925, 9; William Barry, The Coming Age and the Catholic Church (London: Cassell, 1929), 83. See also William Barry, “Disraeli the Jew,” Catholic Times, 24 July 1920.
Barry also incorporated the myth of “the Antichrist” into this anti-Jewish construction. Barry explicitly cited and intertwined narratives about the Jewish Antichrist by Henry Edward Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster from 1865 to 1892, with his own anti-Jewish myths and stereotypes. According to Barry, “the long-drawn anti-Christian movement, centuries old, quickened by victory after victory … is advancing, it may well appear, to universal dominion.” Barry asked, “was no warning given?” He concluded that it was, in “Dr. Manning’s forecast of 1860.” Repeatedly quoting from Manning’s lectures, Barry asserted that the Antichrist would be of Jewish blood. According to Barry, the prophecies of the Church Fathers that Israel would continue to exist, scattered among all people but baring continued enmity to the Church, rising to power in Christendom, and working in “strange alliance” with “the ‘Man of Sin,’ who will … be himself a Jew, though most likely a renegade from his faith and tribe,” were coming true. According to Barry, Cardinal Manning held to be associated in an “Unholy Alliance,” the “Revolution”, the “evil elements in emancipated Judaism”, and the “assailants of Papal Rome.” Barry concluded that “history justifies the forecast which he made of a coming Anti-Christ, now looming large upon our Christian inheritance.” William Barry, “Sign of the Times,” Catholic Times: 30 October 1920; 6 November 1920; 13 November 1920; 20 November 1920; William Barry, “Against God and his Christ,” Catholic Times, 28 April 1923, 9. For more on Archbishop Manning, Canon Barry, and the myth of the “Jewish Antichrist,” see: English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist” (1860 – 1923).
History is replete with a number of bizarre yet dangerous anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, such as the Diana Vaughan hoax, various narratives about the so-called Jewish and/or Masonic “Anti-Christ”, and the infamous ritual murder blood libels. Jews and Freemasons have also been accused of being secretive, manipulative and greedy, and blamed for supposedly controlling the press, stock markets and international finance. Anti-Catholic conspiracy narratives are no less fantastic, dangerous, and venomous. An excellent recent article in the Catholic Herald by Dr Damian Thompson – an expert on apocalyptic beliefs and Antichrist narratives – justifiably noted that we may “laugh at ludicrous anti-Catholic conspiracies. But we underestimate how many minds they poison.” He observes that conspiracy propagandists are “having a field day constructing alternative realities that frighten us and poison our minds.” And whilst those hostile to Jews and Freemasons have the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to fuel their imagination, anti-Catholics have the Monita Secreta (a forged document purported to be the secret protocols of the Jesuits). Damian Thompson, “No, the Jesuits didn’t start World War I,” Catholic Herald, 22 January 2015.
According to Thompson’s lucid consideration in the Catholic Herald, Catholics are accused, even today – or perhaps especially today in this age of the internet and mass media – of all kinds of bizarre things, such as being responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Thompson explains that according to the conspiracy theory, the Jesuits (and presumably also their so-called accomplices, the “Rothschild/Morgan/Rockefeller cartel”) came up with a diabolic scheme to build a “death ship” – which they would falsely claim to be unsinkable – in order to lure a number of opponents of their so-called US Federal Reserve cartel to a “watery grave”.
Other anti-Catholic conspiracy theories blame Catholics for starting the First World War, and instigating the 9/11 terrorist attack. As Thompson rightly notes, in the construction of these ludicrous and yet poisonous conspiracy theories: “The demons are interchangeable: Catholics, Freemasons, the Illuminati and, most persistently, Jews. The structure of the story remains broadly the same. ‘They’ are rich, powerful, secretive and plotting world domination. The righteous must act now to thwart their plans.” It is thus unsurprising that Jews and Freemasons have also been blamed for the First World War, and accused of master-minding the attack on the World Trade Center; and if someone was to tell me that a deranged theory exists, accusing “the Illuminati” or “the Knights Templar” of participating in the 9/11 attack, it would not surprise me – such is the surreal nature of the conspiracy theory.
One of the things that impressed me about Thompson’s article, is that it does not shy away from the fact that Catholics too have been “progenitors” of such theories: “Catholics need to face up to the reality that, over 2,000 years, elements in the Church have been progenitors as well as victims of conspiracy theories. Mostly this should be a source of shame – but we need to bear in mind that paranoid thinking is to some extent part of the DNA of Christianity in general; Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are also vulnerable to it.” As Thompson reports: “Alas, certain Right-wing Catholics have not been able to resist the lure of the Protocols: they were favourite reading material of Bishop Richard Williamson, disgraced bishop of the Society of St Pius X (which expelled him in 2012).” Thompson goes on to explain that: “Williamson, though an Englishman, was immersed in a French Catholic conspiratorial subculture that predates the Protocols. Ultra-clericalist Frenchmen in the Third Republic blamed all their misfortunes on Jews and Freemasons.”
Interestingly, as I discovered during my PhD, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such narratives were not confined to ultra-clerical French Catholics. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, articles and columns in popular English Catholic newspapers, in particular the Tablet (which was not then the liberal Catholic magazine it is today), also went along with such narratives, accusing Jews of conspiring with Freemasons against the Church. For example, a report in the Tablet in March 1897 noted that: “In criticizing the Anti-Semitic policy of the clerical party on the Continent, it must be remembered that the Ghetto is there the focus and centre of the Liberal warfare against Catholicism, and that Jews and Freemasons form everywhere the vanguard of the forces of infidelity. By their address in capturing and manipulating the political machinery and the power of the press, they have contrived in Catholic countries to organize a systematic persecution of the Catholic Church, and to trample on the faith and practices of Catholicism as though they represented but the belief of a contemptible and impotent minority. The alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of modern, no less than of ancient Judaism, is hostility to the Christian name.” See “Anti-Semitism in the Austrian Elections,” The Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482. During the Dreyfus Affair, the Tablet reported in February 1898, that it is suspicious that “in the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … it is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest, which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” The Tablet stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions”, The Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238. Furthermore, during the late nineteenth century, the Tablet and the Catholic Herald were somewhat credulous (though not quite as credulous as La Croix) when it came to reports of Luciferian Freemasonry (for example, during the Diana Vaughan hoax).
Thompson provides other (more theological) examples of conspiracy-like narratives. He explains that the Book of Revelation in the New Testament is “a conspiracy theory whose authors introduced early Christians to the notion of the Antichrist, littering the text with mathematical codes and lurid allegory.” Thompson correctly notes that in some Protestant anti-Catholic narratives, the Pope has been vilified as this shadowy Antichrist figure. Significantly, he also acknowledges and laments that the Antichrist has not been confined to anti-Catholic narratives, but has also been used by some prominent Catholics to vilify non-Catholics: “Today it seems repugnant to Catholics that Luther should have identified the Pope as Antichrist. We forget that both pontiffs and Catholic monarchs had previously taken great pleasure in identifying their own enemies as this Satanic figure, whom the Bible explicitly tells us will emerge from disguise shortly before Jesus returns.” Significantly, as I discovered during my own PhD research (link for brief summary of PhD), such narratives were not confined to pontiffs, Catholic monarchs, or ultra-clericalist French Catholics in the Third Republic. Prominent English Catholics during the nineteenth- and the early twentieth-centuries, such as Father Henry Manning (who went on to become the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) and Canon Dr William Barry (of the Archdiocese of Birmingham), as well as less prominent figures, repeated narratives about how the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” would arrive (or had already arrived) to lead anti-Christian forces against the Church (link for English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist”).
Thompson humbly concludes that he is “not qualified to say what the Church’s theological response should be to this aspect of its heritage.” Not being a Catholic myself, I am even less qualified to comment on the Church’s theological response to this aspects of its heritage, though like Dr Thompson, I believe the Church has a duty to respond in some way, if “it is to heal the wounds it has created.” Thompson suggests that whilst the Church did not invent the conspiracy theory narrative (for example, shadowy inventions similar to the diabolic Antichrist existed in pre-Christian Jewish and pagan myths), “in practical terms it should be alert to its persistence on the fringes of Catholicism.” Unfortunately, he suggests that Pope Francis may have his work cut out if he wishes to address the persistence of such narratives. According to Thompson: “Pope Francis is perceived – and presents himself – as a new broom in the Vatican. Ironically, this may make it more difficult to sweep away the conspiratorial mindset, since he himself hints that corrupt curial officials have seized control of dicasteries.”
Thompson suggests as a first step that the Vatican needs to learn how to better employ the internet. One can only hope that it not already too late in this age of mass media, when blog posts and tweets can circulate the globe and reach a huge audience very quickly, to dismantle the myriad of prejudiced myths and conspiracy theories (whether the role of diabolical villain is assigned to Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Ahmadi, Roma, or some other group or combination of groups). Unfortunately, one suspects that such pernicious narratives are now resiliently embedded in the digital discourse (though this should not stop us attempting to dismantle them).
Louis Charles Casartelli, the Bishop of Salford diocese from 1903 to 1925, blamed the Church’s “crisis” in France on the disunity of French Catholics. Embracing anti-Masonic myths and narratives, he also blamed the problems the Church was facing on the so-called machinations of Freemasons. In his monthly Bishop’s message (which was published at the front of each issue of the Catholic Federationist) for March 1913, he stated that “a comparative handful of Freemasons has succeeded in monopolising the political and executive power over nations pre-ponderatingly Catholic.” In August 1914, he concluded that Catholics in France had succumbed to “apathy” and the “sectarian hostility of their enemies,” as despite constituting “the great bulk of the nation,” they lacked effective organisation, were “rent into contending factions,” and thus rendered “easy victims to skilful and united foes.” He was concerned that if the Church was so open to attack in a country like France with a Catholic majority, it could also be vulnerable in England. Casartelli depicted Freemasonry as a malign force, but he also expressed a grudging admiration for it. Casartelli asked, “why should Catholics not take a leaf out their book?” He attributed Freemasonry’s success (in a battle he believed was being waged between the Church and Freemasonry) to the efficacy of a well-organised force, and concluded that it is an adversary whose tactics should be learnt from, even adopted, since they have proven effective. See Louis Charles Casartelli, “The Bishop’s Message,” Catholic Federationist, March 1913, p.1 and Louis Charles Casartelli, “The Bishop’s Message,” Catholic Federationist, August 1914, pp.1-2. See also Letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Mgr. Brown, 17 November 1911, box 158, book 14, pp.1357-1359, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives. For a detailed examination of Bishop Casartelli (and an introduction to the Catholic Federation), see Martin John Broadley, Louis Charles Casartelli: Bishop in Peace and War (Koinonia: Manchester, 2006).
Another concern for Bishop Casartelli was Socialism. His solution to the so-called organised and dangerous threat of Socialism and Freemasonry was for all Catholics to be part of an equally effective and organised movement. The Catholic Federation, inaugurated in 1906 and endorsed by Casartelli, was envisaged as the backbone of an overarching movement to unify and guide the actions of Catholic individuals and organisations. According to the Catholic Federationist, the monthly periodical of the movement, the Catholic Federation was spreading throughout Europe and America to “weld the Catholic forces into one grand phalanx to combat in a practical manner the evils of the world,” and the Federation in England was destined to “marshal the forces of the Catholic Church in the great battles of the future against the rising tides of Freemasonry, Socialism and an anti-Christian democracy.” See “A Word to Believers and Unbelievers in the Catholic Federation,” Catholic Federationist, November 1910, p.2.
In addition to the Catholic Federation, Casartelli also supported the Catenian Association, a Catholic fraternal organisation, as an acceptable “alternative” to Freemasonry. In November 1909, Casartelli informed Francis Bourne, the Archbishop of Westminster, that the Catenian Association had “already succeeded in weaning a number of Catholics from Freemasonry.” He claimed in 1911 that the Catenian Association kept young Catholic men away from Freemasonry and rescued others from “its clutches.” See letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Lord Archbishop Bourne, 26 November 1909, box 157, book “16-11-9 to 19-13-10,” pp.606-607, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives, and letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Mgr. Brown, 17 November 1911, box 158, book 14, pp.1357-1359, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives.
When Casartelli helped to inaugurate the Catholic Federation (and the Catenian Association), his primary concerns were Freemasonry and Socialism. There is little evidence that Casartelli initially had the Jews in mind. The Catholic Federationist did however link Jews and Freemasons in anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic articles appearing in the early days of the organisation. For example, in January 1911, an editorial in the Catholic Federationist described Freemasonry as a malign entity that was “sapping and mining the very foundations of Christianity in the political state, because there has been no corresponding lay movement of sufficient strength to counteract it.” The editorial claimed that another enemy of the Church was “Nathan, the Jewish and infidel Mayor of Rome, and others of a kindred breed.” Organisations like the Catholic Federation, the paper argued, are required to counter such “enemies of the Church.” A month later the paper praised Karl Lueger, the infamous antisemitic mayor of Vienna, as “an ideal Catholic Federationist.” Karl Lueger, the antisemitic leader of the Christian Social Party in Austria, was elected major of Vienna in 1897. He instigated a number of antisemitic and anti-Masonic policies, and denounced Jewish influence in banking and commerce, the newspapers, and medicine. According to Robert Wistrich, Hitler admired Lueger as “the greatest German Bürgermeister of all times.” The Catholic Federationist argued that “the Jew and Freemason had almost annihilated ever vestige of social Catholicity” in Vienna, but that upon taking office, Karl Lueger immediately set himself to restoring the ancient religious customs of the city. See untitled editorial, Catholic Federationist, January 1911, p.2, and “A Great Catholic Federationist,” Catholic Federationist, February 1911, p.2. For more on Karl Lueger, see Robert S. Wistrich, Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991), pp.63-65 and Robert S. Wistrich, “Karl Lueger and the Ambiguities of Viennese Antisemitism,” Jewish Social Studies 45:3/4 (1983), pp.251-262.
Jews became a more significant factor in the Catholic Federation’s narrative construction of so-called anti-Christian forces after Hilaire Belloc, a prominent Catholic author and close friend of G. K. Chesterton, published The Jews in 1922 (Belloc’s antisemitic discourse was also a major influence on G. K. Chesterton). Belloc argued, convincingly as far as Casartelli and the Catholic Federationist were concerned, that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. On the one hand, Belloc did acknowledge that by no means were all Jews supporters of Bolshevism. As far as Belloc was concerned, the idea that Bolshevism was part of an “age-long plot, culminating in the contemporary Russian affair,” was a “hallucination” as deluded as the idea that the Order of the Templars was behind the French Revolution. Nevertheless, he also contended that there was “a great element of truth” in the assertion that the destruction of Russian society was an act of Jewish “racial revenge.” He asserted that “the perfectly explicable but deplorable exercise of vengeance by the Jews,” was “directed against what we euphemistically term the governing directing classes, who have been massacred whole-sale.” Belloc concluded that whilst not all Jews were Bolsheviks, Bolshevism was at heart a “Jewish movement”. The Catholic Herald, an English Catholic newspaper, later repeated Belloc’s antisemitic idea that the revolution in Russia was an act of Jewish racial revenge. It stated that the “Russian-Jew-Communists” were acting callously out of a “desire for vengeance, for retribution, for the destruction and debasement of the Russian people.” See Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), pp.167-185 and “Trotsky Wants to Come Here,” Catholic Herald, 29 June 1929, p.8.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
Belloc was also a prominent contributor to the antisemitic and anti-Masonic myth of the Jewish-Masonic conspiracy. Alluding to the Freemasons, Belloc stated in the Eye Witness in September 1911, that “the Jewish element in every European country tended not so much to produce these secret societies as to control them one they arose.” He observed that the more important secret societies could be identified by their “quasi-Hebrew” ritual. Belloc stated that the Jew everywhere flocks into “the organisation of masonry and the bodies affiliated to it.” Belloc concluded that “though the Jewish race and secret organisation were not synonymous,” they were closely connected, and it was notable, he suggested, that the secret societies always “tended to attack exactly that which the Jew had always attacked in Europe.” In a speech at the Catholic Congress in Norwich in 1912, Belloc blamed the Jews and Freemasons for the revolution which had deposed the monarchy in Portugal and established a republic in its place. According to a report in the Catholic Federationist, Belloc had stated that it was not the change of regime per se that bothered him, but the fact that “it had been done by the universal method of modern secret societies, modern Masons, and modern financial Jews through committees, clique, and sham elections.” According to the report, Belloc stated that a “minority acting secretly and in conspiracy through Masonic institutions controlled by cosmopolitan and Jewish financiers” sought to “uproot in Europe the Catholic Church.” This supposed struggle “between the Catholic Church and its enemies was,” Belloc concluded, “the most important event in the world.” He made similar claims about Jews and Freemasons at a meeting of the Irish Catholic Truth Society in 1913 and the English Catholic Truth Society in 1917. By the time he completed The Jews in 1922, Belloc had revised his opinion about the nature of the so-called Jewish-Masonic connection. Freemasonry was no longer merely allied with or infiltrated by the Jews in his opinion, it had been founded by them. Belloc stated that Freemasonry is a “specially Jewish institution” which “the Jews had inaugurated as a sort of bridge between themselves and their hosts in the seventeenth century.” He concluded that as a consequence of the Masonic influence in Britain, the nation has been manipulated into the role of “official protector of the Jews in other countries.” Britain, he surmised, has thus become the ideal location for a “permanent establishment and rooting of Jewish power, and for the organisation of a Jewish base.” See Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question,” The Eye Witness, 21 September 1911, p.428; Summary of Belloc’s speech, in “Notes from Norwich,” Catholic Federationist, September 1912, pp.3-4; “Mr. Hilaire Belloc on the Church and the Modern World,” Catholic Times, 24 October 1913, p.10; “Mr. Hilaire Belloc on Catholic Progress,” Catholic Federationist, June 1917, p.2; Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), pp.223-224.
According to his diary, Bishop Casartelli “spent much time” reading Belloc’s The Jews. He seemed to find Belloc’s analysis persuasive, as he noted in his diary entry that Belloc “maintains that Bolshevism is essentially a Jewish movement” and that his book on The Jews was “wonderful.” The Catholic Federationist was also persuaded by Belloc’s analysis of the so-called “Jewish problem”. The periodical regretted that so many people have ignored Belloc’s warnings, concluding that they were unprepared to face the “problem” and thus preferred to deny its existence. See Louis Charles Casartelli, diary entry, 28 June 1922, box F163, Casartelli’s Diaries, Salford Diocesan Archives. My thanks to Bill Williams for bringing this diary entry to my attention. See also “Hilaire Belloc and the Jews,” Catholic Federationist, July 1922, p.6.