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The Catholic Federation, Hilaire Belloc, Antisemitism and Anti-Masonry
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.
The Mythicized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century English Catholic Discourses
Conventional wisdom in studies of English antisemitism has tended to suggest that by the nineteenth century religious prejudice had largely been secularised or replaced by modern socio-political and racial forms of hostility. This may have been the case in the general English discourse, but in English Catholic discourses at the turn of the twentieth century, traditional pre-modern myths, with their cast of Jewish and Masonic diabolists, were still a pervasive feature. My recent PhD investigation, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant, examined a range of sources, including the published works of prominent and obscure authors; the pastoral letters and sermons of cardinals, bishops and priests; articles and editorials in newspapers and periodicals; letters; and a small number of oral testimonies, in order to bring to light English Catholic discourses which have largely gone unexamined. Prominent mythological/imaginary villains in these discourses during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century included “the Pharisee,” “the Christ-Killer,” “the Ritual Murderer,” “the Sorcerer,” “the Antichrist” and “the Luciferian.” Jews and Freemasons were often assigned one or more of these mythological roles. In some cases the language used to describe the Jew and the Freemason drew upon a vocabulary which suggested an apocalyptic war between the forces of good and evil.
For more on this, please see the following article which was published in volume 8 of Melilah (the open access peer-reviewed journal of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester): From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse