Taylor Marshall, Aspiring Novelist
How the Catholic church got its own crappier version of Alex Jones
[a note on content: this piece contains extended discussion on the Catholic church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis.]
I'm going to be in dangerous territory for most of this piece, as I'll be critiquing a work of fiction by an independent author who frequently self-publishes his work; in other words, I'm about to throw a big-ass stone in a glass-ass house. I've self-published three works of fiction since 2016, and while I don't think they're terrible, writing is my hobby and not my job, and my work is not going to compare to the work of someone with more time to write, more resources for research, and help from a professional editor. There are definitely valid criticisms of each of my books, but I feel like I'm on solid ground in critiquing the work we'll be looking at today, for a few reasons.
First, the author is very successful for a self-published novelist, having topped the Amazon charts multiple times and built up a dedicated online following. His most recent work absolutely demands engagement and response; I feel like he would agree with me on that point. And most importantly, although I just called it a work of fiction, the author is marketing it as a brilliant journalistic expose. The book is 2019's Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within, a dense and sensationalist account of an apparent conspiracy by Communist Freemasons, working on instruction from literally Satan himself, to corrode the leadership of the Catholic church, up through 2013's installation of Pope Francis, a secret crypto-Marxist (possibly gay?) pagan hell-bent on destroying God's kingdom on earth and sowing sinful salt so it can never be built again. I’ve shared the opening paragraph in another piece, but it’s worth revisiting it as we kick this off:
“Why did Pope Benedict XVI resign the papacy on 28 February 2013? And why did lightning strike the Vatican on the night he announced it? Was it prompted by scandal at the Vatican Bank? Was it a sex scandal tainting the highest cardinals? Was it a doctrinal crisis? All these questions and doubts coalesce when we acknowledge a substantiated and corroborated fact: Satan uniquely entered the Catholic Church at some point over the last century, or even before that. For over a century, the organizers of Freemasonry, Liberalism, and Modernism infiltrated the Catholic Church in order to change her doctrine, her liturgy, and her mission from something supernatural to something secular.”
At the time of this writing the book has topped Amazon's bestseller list and received over 1,400 overwhelmingly positive user reviews; the foreword was written by a bishop, and it received high praise from a very high-profile cardinal. I made a passing reference to Infiltration in my earlier G.O.T.H.S. piece on Rick Heilman and Catholic alt-right conspiracy theories. While I looked at how those theories got spread and how Heilman's online presence deteriorated over a very turbulent four years, I didn't go into a lot of detail on the actual conspiracies themselves, and I definitely didn't spend enough time researching the fascinating author of Infiltration: former Episcopal priest, adult Catholic convert, and philosophy professor Taylor Marshall.
In 2013, Marshall left his job at a small Catholic college, in what appeared to be a principled stand against overly reactionary conspiracy theorists in the American Catholic church. Six years later, he put out Infiltration while hosting a YouTube interview show that feels like the Catholic equivalent of Alex Jones' InfoWars program, where his guests are other conspiracy mongers or, in one case, a literal Nazi. That's an awfully big swing for Marshall, and it's worth looking at what happened then and what's happening now to better understand the reactionary wing of American Catholicism. It's also worth looking at what happened to Marshall in between now and then, because it includes a self-published YA fantasy trilogy.
CHAPTER ONE - SOLDIERS IN CHRIST, IT'S TIME TO POST
“I will readily admit that I’m a regular listener of Taylor Marshall’s YouTube channel/podcast, so much of the information in this book was not new to me. However, it is so clearly and concisely written as to make all of the connections clear to assure than [sic] a Freemasonic/Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church has certainly occurred. This is a fabulous book that every Catholic should read. Be ready to be red-pilled!” (5 stars, verified purchase)
The story of how Marshall came to leave his job at Fisher-More College in Texas - which no longer exists - includes three different plot twists. FMC (officially the College of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More) prided itself on its very focused mission, which was essentially providing a Catholic Great Books-style education to a small student body of less than 100. Part of their mission was also keeping the school fully in the good graces of the Catholic magisterium; similar to Ave Maria University, which we've looked at before, FMC prioritized fidelity to the church and the local bishop, even if it meant ceding some ground on their autonomy and academic freedom. It was certainly on the more conservative side of Catholicism, and regularly offered pre-Vatican-II-style Latin mass on campus. All of that leads into our inciting incident in 2014, when the newly-installed bishop of Fort Worth told FMC that they weren't allowed to offer Latin mass anymore. Marshall resigned his seat on FMC's board and position as Chancellor shortly before this happened, but we'll get back to him in a minute.
First, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth appeared to abruptly and unexpectedly prohibit FMC from offering Latin mass anymore, as one of the earliest acts in his tenure as bishop. It wasn’t clear right away why he did this, so let's check in with Rorate Coeli, the self-described "most-read international traditional Catholic blog on the Internet" that first reported on this event and got a leaked copy of the correspondence between the bishop and the university. I'm sure the blog has very chill views on Latin mass in general, and this incident specifically:
"It's just a complete ban on the Mass, a naked power grab by a young bishop who clearly has a lot to learn about the politics of abusing authority...just goes to show that younger prelates do not automatically represent a "biological solution" that will solve the problem of hierarchical opposition to Tradition or outright modernism...Please, dear readers, blog about this grave injustice. Email this to your families and friends. Tweet it on Twitter, including retweeting our Tweets which you will see on the right-hand side of this page. Send it to the media. We must do everything in our power to spread the word and help this school and students regain their God-given patrimony. Don't think for a second this starts and stops with this college. If we don't act now, we will surely regret it later."
FELLOW SOLDIERS IN CHRIST, IT'S TIME TO POST. The Remnant, another conservative Catholic blog, took up the call from Rorate and drew similarly hysterical conclusions about what was going on at FMC:
"While other Catholic Colleges are being overcome by the winds and waves of secularism and the politically correct agenda of the Left, Fisher More is resisting the ways of the world, and the Modernism shaking the Church, by holding fast to Tradition...Fisher More College stands out as a beacon of light in its Catholic vitality and fidelity to the unchanging teaching of the Church...the school is now facing another obstacle – one that not only threatens to undermine the school’s mission, but places it future existence at great risk. His name is Bishop Michael F. Olson.”
The Remnant's article gets increasingly unhinged as it goes on, eventually accusing Olson of taking his cues from centuries-old Anglican heretics. Their explanation, shared by FMC president Michael King, was that Olson was a straight-up leftist heretic who hated Catholicism, somehow became a bishop, and used his newfound power to quash the Latin mass that was serving less than 100 people. The actual details of "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite" politics are dull, but to summarize: while FMC strongly objected to this and actually retained a canon lawyer to try and appeal the decision, Olson wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. Celebration of the pre-Vatican-II Latin mass had recently been allowed by Pope Benedict XVI if a priest celebrated it in private, but there are still all sorts of hoops to jump through if you want to offer that mass in public, and FMC hadn't jumped through any of them. So everything with this dispute got blown way out of proportion, except - and here's plot twist number one - the reason it got any attention at all was that FMC's president was leaking stuff to the media and trying to leverage this incident to gin up controversy and cover up that he was, in fact, very bad at his job.
In parallel to the hysteria from Rorate or The Remnant, other sites like Catholic World Report - which also considers itself conservative - had learned that King had actually leaked his own correspondence with Bishop Olson to Rorate, specifically to get people angry at the bishop. According to FMC employees, as reported in CWR, King had a huge ideological bent against the post-Vatican II vernacular mass, and in fact against pretty much anything that had happened in the church after Vatican II:
“An acquaintance of this author, whose husband has worked for Fisher More College for two years, says that the college president is “a borderline sedevacantist” (i.e. suggests that the post-conciliar popes have not been valid), has alienated the families of many former students, has fired faculty members on the spot for disagreeing with his views, and has then threatened them with lawsuits if they go public with their complaints.”
King, to his detractors, wasn’t a fearless defender of the Latin mass and traditionalist Catholicism, he was a petty tyrant who used the Latin mass as a cudgel with which to beat his employees, which is just sad to a non-Catholic, and also to most Catholics. Bishop Olson likely disapproved of King’s management style at FMC, and felt that if he wanted to offer Latin mass on campus, he at least had to stop inviting speakers to campus who rejected the validity of everything that had happened in the Catholic church since the 1960s.
Still, a weird conservative Catholic who resisted the leadership of the modern church? That sounds like Taylor Marshall in 2019, so he was probably a fan of King back in 2014, right? Plot twist number two: no, Marshall really, really didn’t like King, and that’s one of the reasons why he resigned. All of the other reasons why Marshall resigned are detailed in a post he made on his Facebook page in March 2014, which includes this passage:
“Michael King estranged himself from the diocese of Fort Worth by not allowing the Ordinary Form (as stipulated by the previous ordinary Bishop Vann of Fort Worth). He also contracted an irregular/suspended priest without faculties, and hired “trad resistance” faculty while there was no bishop in Fort Worth to check these developments…Clearly, a bishop’s intervention was inevitable. The current controversy really has nothing to do with the Latin Mass per se. The Latin Mass is at the center because Michael King is politicizing the Latin Mass in his favor, knowing that “bishops vs the Latin Mass” is red meat for some traditionalist blogs.”
That’s Taylor Marshall, in 2014, taking a strong principled stand against “trad resistance” academics, and against politicizing Catholicism to give red meat to traditionalist blogs, which is completely insane if you know where his career is going to go over the next five years. Just to drive home how incredible this is, when you go to Marshall’s Facebook page today, if you aren’t logged into your account and use a cookie-free private window so you’re truly getting recommendations from scratch, the “related pages” include Donald Trump’s official page, The Remnant itself, Church Militant founder and ultimate red-meat blogger Michael Voris, and what appears to be an account for anti-GMO thirst trap photos:
Marshall was out claiming that “it would be a danger to my soul to remain at Fisher More College”, but he also had a more explosive allegation in his post, which is plot twist number three. The inciting incident for the FMC controversy, as Marshall told it, wasn’t Bishop Olson’s prohibition on Latin mass, it was a shitty land deal that King oversaw in which he sold off a large part of FMC’s campus and locked the school into a rent-to-own scam, eventually leading to the collapse and closure of FMC later in 2014. The Latin mass controversy, according to Marshall, was just a smokescreen to rally conservatives to King’s side before everything blew up in his face:
“Much of the politicization around the “Latin Mass and FMC” is Mr. King’s careful attempt to distract attention away from his financial misdealing at FMC. The college is currently teetering on bankruptcy and this latest entanglement with the bishop will lead to a public statement: “Fisher More closed down because the new bishop of Fort Worth persecuted the Latin Mass!” when in reality the College is failing because Mr. King entered into a dubious real estate deal that washed out the college’s endowment AND all the proceeds from the sale of the original campus.”
Marshall and I shared this view: you should never accept a complicated theological explanation when your other option is "there once was a guy who was bad at his job". And however Marshall wanted to play the politics of leaving FMC, he was definitely right that the school's finances were in a catastrophic place, as the school would close later that year. Fun fact: one of FMC’s original founders, Ronald Muller, left the school in 1998 to assist with the founding of Ave Maria University’s original campus in Michigan, and is therefore officially tied to two different conservative Catholic schools that got entangled in shitty land deals that were exposed by other conservative Catholics blogging about them. Congratulations to him on this very specific distinction.
As happens a lot in G.O.T.H.S., everything devolved into a weird pissing match of online posting (SOLDIERS IN CHRIST IT IS TIME ONCE AGAIN TO POST), between Taylor on his Facebook page, and official statements put out by King and the FMC board rebutting Taylor. King would assert, in a statement on FMC's website, that the land deal was good, actually, and if it was bad it was actually Marshall's fault:
"Anyone experienced in commercial real estate would envy the terms of a transaction he has called crippling. Moreover, I recall no member of the staff being more enthused about our future home than was Dr. Marshall, nor do I recall him ever suggesting a viable alternative to the one that he now claims has crippled us through my personal orchestration. From his seat in Board meetings, Dr. Marshall should also be familiar with all of the budgets and expenditures that followed the sale of our former campus. In fact, financial issues should have weighed heavy on his mind because fundraising and development were the main duties of a title, office, and job description that he personally requested and confidently assumed.”
Oh yeah, my land deal was bad? Well what if it was...YOUR LAND DEAL? Still seem bad to you, dipshit? This even spilled over to the edits on FMC's Wikipedia page, where dueling users kept editing the page multiple times a day in the spring of 2014, each discrediting the other side's sources and trying to paint the opposition as the bad guy. A hilarious now-deleted sentence read "Former Fisher More Chancellor Taylor Marshall further criticized the college and even went so far as to call the college president, Michael King, a layman"; a different user deleted it because not only was it subjective, but also ‘layman’ isn't an insult. The saddest edit, of course, came in late 2014 when all of the verbs got changed to past tense, from "FMC is a university in Texas" to "FMC was a university in Texas". The only name ever listed under "notable faculty" on the page is Marshall's, which was added in late 2019 after Infiltration came out and, far as I can tell, was not added by Marshall himself.
So, Marshall left his job, and FMC would eventually collapse before the end of the year. Marshall, as he tells it, had no other prospects lined up, and seven children to provide for; in the time since FMC, he’s welcomed an eighth child, making him either a shining example of Catholic sexual morality, a terrible argument for the efficacy of Natural Family Planning, or, most likely, both. He struck out on his own, and within another year, he had self-published his first bestselling novel.
CHAPTER TWO - THROBBING BONER CATHOLICISM
"I’m now truly WOKE!! This book is completely enlightening and engaging! Leave it to the extremely educated and articulate convert to Catholicism, Dr. Marshall, to truly educate and engage both myself and countless other cradle Catholics to understand our role in taking back and sustaining our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church...I see future textbook usage of this book in the future.” (5 stars, verified purchase)
Sword and Serpent was Taylor Marshall’s YA fantasy trilogy; he published the first volume, also titled Sword and Serpent, in late 2014 through his publishing imprint, Saint John Press. All three novels were bestsellers on the Amazon lists. As much as I would like to roast him for this book, I have to say that the first volume was far better than I expected; of course, I could be saying this because I came in with extremely low expectations, and followed it by reading the unbearable Infiltration. My biggest criticisms of Sword and Serpent are that there's a Game of Thrones-inspired plot twist around page 250 that really undercuts some of the previous plot development, and also the protagonist is an idiot, so most of the Catholic themes are presented by having other characters impatiently explain things to him (“but how could David have defeated Goliath if Goliath was a giant?” oh my God pay attention you dumbass).
One great thing about the book is that it contains almost zero instances of weird and unnecessary phallic imagery; one bad thing about the book is that the weird and unnecessary phallic imagery that it does contain appears on page six, when we are introduced to an early antagonist, a member of the ancient Roman legion named Flaccus Casca, which is obviously from the same Latin root from which we get the word “flaccid”, but in case that wasn’t blunt enough for you, here’s his first appearance, interacting with Jurian, the protagonist:
“Someone sidled up behind him and dropped a flaccid hand on his shoulder…[Jurian] realized the hand belonged to Casca...he had the unfortunate aspect of a new beached fish - he always looked surprised and a bit breathless, his face a little too pale and eyes a little too wide. But for all his flabby, goggled-eyed looks, Casca was a snake in the grass.”
And, in case that still wasn’t enough, the conversation between Casca and Jurian heats up as Jurian needles him for his limp-dick name:
“Don’t call me that. And don’t ever call her that again, Flaccus,” Jurian said, his voice low.
“That’s not funny!” Casca said, glaring at Mariam as if she’d put Jurian up to saying it. “That name has belonged to my family for hundreds...maybe thousands of years!”
“Of course it has,” Jurian soothed. “It perfectly suits your family. Or wait, are you ashamed of it?”
Weird and stupid, but it's just one isolated incident of how this character happens to be introduced at the top of the novel. Oh, and here he is again in the epilogue, where the word "limp" is used twice in the same sentence: "The man walked with a little limp that Diocletian wasn't even sure was genuine, and he kept one hand flopping limply across his stomach."
This all hints at a warped variant on the understanding of masculinity that we’ve seen with other conservative Christians and Catholics. To these people, including Marshall, being a good Christian and being a manly man go hand in hand. Practicing your faith is of a piece with camping outdoors and playing football in high school and not letting your wife have a job and making Tim Allen grunt sounds. Being a Christian is the manliest thing you can do, and is tied to concepts of masculinity that likely wouldn’t have been around in the early church; this is a version of what’s in the past been called “Muscular Christianity”. When you take it too far, though, and the flow of ideas starts to reverse itself, you get stuck on the idea that not only is Christianity the manliest thing out there, but anyone who doesn’t measure up to the standards you have for Christianity are also small-dicked, impotent, effete men; Marshall will use that latter term in Infiltration to describe bishops that he believes are inadequately defending the Catholic faith. In other words, we move from Muscular Christianity to what I call Throbbing Boner Catholicism, where the full expression of Christian faith is not only tied to concepts of masculinity, but to weird phallic innuendo. It’s not always in the foreground of the novel, thankfully, but when Marshall does hit it, he hits it hard (lol, hard); after the climactic scene and Jurian’s victory in battle, another character remarks on how he looks older and more masculine now, and has even suddenly developed a five-o-clock shadow on his face.
But I've been making boner jokes when we haven't even covered what Marshall's novel was about. Sword and Serpent is a retelling of the legend of Saint George, one of the most popular saints in Catholic culture. Even if you're not a devout Catholic, you can still probably get one clue right about St. George on Jeopardy, since he's depicted in countless works of art slaying a dragon. Marshall’s story tracks George as a teenage boy named Jurian in the fourth-century Roman empire, and his journey to slay Molech, the pagan dragon-god in what is now Libya (spoilers: Molech is also Satan). In parallel to George’s journey, Marshall includes the story of Sabra, the pagan priestess facilitating the human sacrifices to Molech and having second thoughts about her vocation; Marshall admits in the acknowledgements that this storyline wasn't in his original drafts and he added it after friends read the manuscript and pointed out that he didn't have any female characters that didn't die by halfway through the novel.
George is not the only Catholic saint to make an appearance in the first volume of Sword and Serpent. Saints Blaise and Nicholas also appear as minor characters, with adapted names; they are two other wildly famous Catholic saints, and there is no mistaking the extremely clear references to their legends (Blaise cures one character’s consumptive illness, and Nicholas at one point sneaks down a chimney to deliver gifts to a poor family). More importantly, Saint Christopher is one of the major characters in the book, adapted into the fantasy trope of the gruff-but-kind giant, and joining George on part of his journey.
At least for a large part of the novel, Sword and Serpent is very successful at what it’s trying to do. Marshall develops his characters fairly well, knows how to incorporate narrative and character conventions common to the genre, and keeps the plot moving at a nice clip for much of the book. He’s also clearly done his research into the fourth-century Roman empire. And to be honest, I think seeing famous Catholic saints as characters in a work of narrative fiction is kind of cool! Nicholas and Christopher are both very likeable characters (Blaise only has one scene), and George kind of grew on me after I got over his being such a dumbass. All of them are built off of some of the most well-known and beloved stories of the early church, and I can’t help but feel some sense of Catholic pride in seeing these stories I first heard in grade school come to life in a new way.
But something kept bothering me as I was working through the book. I have referred to Sword and Serpent throughout as a YA fantasy novel, because that’s what it is. As Marshall explains in the acknowledgments, the book started out as bedtime stories he made up for his kids. The final product is for young adult readers, and it contains elements of fantasy. Dragons - and this is very important - are not literally real. The legend of St. George is a legend - a valuable one, to be sure, and one that can teach us about our faith, but it didn't literally happen as Marshall tells it, where the sword George acquires to slay the dragon is actually Excalibur, passed through the church over generations because the uncle of the second pope was actually Merlin, yes that Merlin. St. Christopher being a major character in the novel is also important; St. Christopher had his feast day downgraded in the Catholic church, because there aren’t reliable historical records that he was ever a real person. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his story, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t stick a statue of him on your dashboard (he’s the patron of travelers), but it's another instance of Marshall incorporating something that's legend, not history. All of which is totally fine and common practice in fantasy, but would be weirder in something that was marketed as, say, historical fiction. You’ll never guess what genre Marshall, as both author and publisher, classifies Sword and Serpent under in the Kindle store.
To call Marshall out for publishing a novel with Excalibur and a dragon and the wizard Merlin in it as "historical fiction" may seem cheap, but it points to a recurring theme across Marshall's past decade of work: his inability or unwillingness to distinguish history from fantasy, the natural from the supernatural, and fact from fiction. Plus, it was in Marshall's interest as a self-published author to list his books in less-populated genres where possible, to make it easier to climb the sales rankings.
That Marshall chose Saint George as the subject for his trilogy is also interesting to me; he’s a famous saint with a famous story, but he was also a Christian under the Roman emperor Diocletian, who oversaw widespread persecution of the early church. Marshall set his story in a world where being Christian, and especially being open about your faith, was dangerous and countercultural and put your own life at risk; Saint George is the patron of soldiers, of the Boy Scouts, and of the United States Cavalry unit. He is the embodiment, in Catholicism, of a traditionalist understanding of masculinity and the service of God through combat and protection of the state.
St. George, in a way, is the patron of Catholics Who Think They Are Actually The Troops. I don't know if this is how Marshall saw himself, although in 2013 he did start an organization literally called The Troops of Saint George. TSG was essentially a dorky Catholic version of the Boy Scouts, which is an organization that does all the same things, also has St. George as its official patron, and has a virtually identical motto ("be prepared" versus "parati semper"). I just hope Marshall didn't do the same thing as Randall Terry where he started selling t-shirts depicting himself dressed as St. George. Now, I already looked it up, so I can tell you he definitely did, and there's a photo of it further down the page, but before we get there we should probably talk about his YouTube channel.
CHAPTER THREE - JUST A GUY WITH A PODCAST SHOW
"Buy multiple copies to share! I had preordered the hard cover when I first hard [sic] about it’s [sic] publication but I couldn’t wait! I ordered the Kindle version and started reading the day it was released. I’m glad I’m also getting the printed version because I can loan it out to people who might not want to buy it. That’s hard to do with the ebook.” (5 stars, verified purchase)
Marshall’s YouTube channel - currently at 102,000 subscribers - and earliest videos predate everything we’ve just talked about, as he started his channel back in 2010. As we’ll see, the tone and content of his channel shifted dramatically over time. But let’s start in the early part of the decade, when Marshall was posting more sporadically, and putting out shorter, ask-a-professor videos on questions about Thomism or the history of the early church:
There’s also some more clickbait/listicle stuff to drive up page views in case you want to hear his Top 5 Catholic Novels or Top 5 Christmas Movies of All Time, videos that talk about the intersection of Catholicism with popular culture. You’ll see here that we’re up to 2015, and the thumbnails, as well as Marshall’s facial hair, are starting to get more polished:
In my estimation, the most important video from the early Taylor Marshall YouTube era was “Catholicism and New Social Media”, posted in 2013 (the ad that ran before I watched this video on a private window was for The Epoch Times). This is before the pissing match at FMC, this is before Sword and Serpent came out, and it’s well before Infiltration. The video is not particularly sophisticated in terms of production; Marshall sticks in a few stock photos but it’s mainly him talking to his laptop for five minutes in a hotel room shortly before he presents at the Catholic Media Conference. The video begins with a discussion of the concept of the Vatican’s imprimatur, which was the old way that the Vatican would formally approve works of theology and philosophy for publication, to prevent heresies from spreading. Marshall acknowledges that in 2013, this isn’t really a relevant concept anymore, since the church doesn’t have the same sort of power to influence writers and publishers like this, and more importantly, it’s just too easy to publish and read stuff without any gatekeepers now. As he puts it:
“We all have laptops now, we all have smartphones, with the click of a button I can pull up heretical books, heretical websites...so this raises an ethical question for us in this day, which is how can the church legislate, or create policies to protect the faithful...how can the Pope and cardinals guide the faithful on what they can and shouldn’t say online?...before, when you wanted to publish a book you would get an imprimatur. Well, now you can go onto Wordpress...it’s even easier to access, because it’s free, you don’t have to ship it or pay for it...technology has advanced in a certain direction where it can no longer be regulated.”
Marshall is lamenting that the church no longer has the ability to tell writers not to publish or write things that would be too off the reservation. Again, given that I first heard of Marshall through learning about wild Catholic conspiracy theories, this really was a huge surprise to me. Even more surprising was how he answered his own question:
“I think the best solution is what we see now with Pope Francis. We see the Pope and the Cardinals taking the lead on social media...the example of making the information available from them directly, with a certain level of authority...they can no longer control [the discourse], so they might as well be in it, by virtue of their moral authority...this really puts an onus on the hierarchs to lead by example and be part of the conversation. We’ll see how it works out. The story of technology is not yet over.”
PRIESTS, JOIN THE SOLDIERS IN CHRIST AND POST SOME MORE. I did make a note of Marshall saying “the best solution is what we see now with Pope Francis”, an idea that he will not be repeating very much in the future. And I think there’s a lot we can learn here about how Marshall views online debates and discourse, because if you extend his thinking far enough, you get to “if you can’t control what’s going on, just jump in and start posting anyways,” which works as a tidy summary of Marshall’s post-2018 work.
There are some other interesting videos from this era that, I feel, tell us more about Marshall and where he’ll end up. He has a 2014 video titled “How to Deal With Depression at Christmas”, which I think misuses the word “depression” when he’s trying to say “grief or stress or loneliness”, since his prescription is that “the answer to your troubles, the answer to your problems, to your depression, your discouragement, it might sound cliche, but somehow the answer to your problems is there in the creche," which is not what you'd want to say to somebody seeking help for actual clinical depression. It's a very weird conflation of faith and medicine that is probably unintentional, but that is going to foreshadow his prescriptions for the church a few years later. He’s posted far more upsetting things, of course; he even posted more upsetting things that same Christmas, when he listed The Polar Express and the Jim Carrey adaptation of A Christmas Carol as two of his all-time favorite Christmas movies, both of which are batshit picks (Marshall has a special devotion to both Saint George and Robert Zemeckis). His number one is a more respectable choice though: It’s A Wonderful Life, a film that he not only loves, but identifies with:
“I think the character of George Bailey is someone I relate to, and I’ve written some blog posts on this - GBS, George Bailey Syndrome, that all fathers go through, where you just kind of melt down, and like he says, go ‘why do we have all these kids?!’ and you feel like everything you’re trying to do, like with work, with charity, is breaking down, you feel like you’re going to lose it...this movie makes you feel like there’s still hope.”
I very much get this coming from someone who, at this point, had seven kids. This is probably the single most relatable and understandable thing Marshall has ever posted, and while I don’t have seven kids, I certainly have felt overwhelmed personally and professionally, and understand what he means by “George Bailey Syndrome”. In turn, George Bailey Syndrome helps me understand Marshall’s ongoing efforts to monetize his work and support his family as a self-employed theologian, including his novels, his videos, his merch, and, beginning in the middle of the decade, his podcast.
The Taylor Marshall Show was a podcast “for everyone who wants to create daily habits and learn enough theology to take their faith to the next level”, and his expansion of the ask-a-professor video into full-length podcast episodes and interviews where he rotates his professional headshot every four installments:
In one episode in 2016, he receives a text from his wife updating him on her first OB appointment for baby number eight; he was not at the appointment with his wife and, at the time, mother of seven, because, just to reiterate, he was recording a podcast. Outstanding.
All of these episodes operate under the umbrella of the New St. Thomas Institute, Marshall’s unaccredited online school for teaching courses in Biblical studies or theologians of the early church. Most of the subject matter is dry and academic, but recording the show was definitely great preparation for Marshall's later YouTube career. The podcast allowed him to perfect his Latin pronunciation and (honestly) great radio voice, which has paid off in his interviews with Catholicism’s most insane members today, where he always comes across as extremely measured, erudite, and thoughtful, and overall a very talented communicator.
He very rarely talked about politics on the podcast, as he put it “I’m not on Fox News, CNN, anything like that, I’m just a guy with a podcast show." But that doesn't mean things didn't get weird on the podcast, notably around the time Marshall began dedicating podcast episodes to a deep dive of the Book of Revelation, and his Catholic interpretation of the coming apocalypse. The Taylor Marshall Show was distributed from 2015-2018 on regular podcast outlets like Apple Music, etc., so most of these episodes on YouTube have a play count in the low hundreds, because YouTube isn’t where most people go to listen to podcasts about “Finding Fellowship Like Samwise Gamgee” or “The 7 Lies We Believe About Our Failures”. BUT, the Revelation episodes consistently got into the four- and five-digit play count. And Marshall’s most successful episodes on YouTube, a website that we know does a very effective job recommending increasingly unhinged videos to reactionary viewers, are the videos with apocalyptic subject matter. Here’s every episode of The Taylor Marshall Show with more than 10,000 plays on YouTube, as of the end of 2019:
“Was Muhammad Evil?” (25K)
“Do NOT Name Your Guardian Angel” (36K)
“My Opinion of Martin Luther” (60K)
“Lucifer vs. St. Michael” (17K)
“Catholic View of the End Times and Tribulation” (54K)
“What is 666 and Mark of the Beast?” (49K)
“Revelation Ch. 1” (16K)
“Revelation Chs. 2-3” (11K)
“Taylor’s Conversion Story to Catholicism” (16K)
I have never given serious thought to naming my guardian angel - certainly not enough to watch a 23-minute video on why I shouldn't do it - but that and the conversion story are the outliers on this list. Otherwise, when Marshall talked end times, Satan, or splits in the church, his play count, and presumably his subscribers and ad revenue, got a boost, all after he left his job at FMC and needed to boost something in order to raise a large family. Maybe he saw an opportunity there, or maybe he never noticed this trend. But I’d be real fucking surprised if he didn’t, because I know he’s a smart guy, and the contents of his channel began to change an awful lot in 2018.
Beginning in 2018, Marshall’s videos became a lot longer and a lot more explicitly political, both in the sphere of the relationship between the Catholic church and American politics, and in the sphere of the actual internal politics of the church. The increased views came with all of it. Marshall’s show fully pivoted to video (I mean, it was 2018, everyone pivoted to video), and started including some more interesting guests, including:
Michael Voris, founder of fascist Catholic website Church Militant and Catholicism's equivalent of Andrew Breitbart
Climate denier and homophobe Austin Ruse of the think tank Center For Family and Human Rights, who helped Steve Bannon set up a Rome bureau for Breitbart, in case my previous Breitbart reference wasn't explicit enough
Rick Heilman, Wisconsin pastor, former G.O.T.H.S. subject, and inventor of the "Make America Holy Again" baseball cap
Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, creator of the Word on Fire Catholic YouTube channel, and, perhaps most famously, the guy who suggested at a USCCB conference that Catholics should watch more Jordan Peterson videos
Alexander Tschugguel, guy who broke into a church in Rome in response to the Amazon Synod, to steal a statue that he thought was of an indigenous fertility goddess, prompting a discussion on the show of whether Pope Francis was actually a pagan who worshipped idols
Faith Goldy, former Canadian politician who isn't a Canadian politician anymore ever since she went on The Daily Stormer's neo-Nazi podcast and talked about how great the Fourteen Words were
Regular co-host Timothy Gordon, author of Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome, which asserts that the founding fathers were all secret deep-down Catholics; he also hosts a show called Rules for Reactionaries and is a self-described "godfather of bro-man Catholicism", presumably because he didn't hear me coin Throbbing Boner Catholicism, and also as promised here he is with Marshall on a shirt sold in Marshall's Teespring shop where they are both depicted as St. George:
So if you came to Marshall's channel for insights on Thomas Aquinas, you're now getting white supremacists and calls for a holy war. While Marshall's early pop culture stuff on how Dracula is a Catholic novel could also do numbers, it wasn't the same fit for this moment in church or political history. Keep in mind that in 2018, the American Catholic church was falling apart with the unsealing of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The massive sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, first exposed in the early 2000s, wasn't going away, and the story landed right in Marshall's sweet spot of a fractured church, the importance of traditional Catholic principles, and the dangers of Satanic influence. So, the man who found his niche talking about end times and Satan to YouTube's most ravenous reactionaries, who had a tendency to conflate fantasy and history, and who once warned about "trad resistance" guys throwing red meat to Catholic blogs, sold Infiltration.
CHAPTER FOUR - BLOOD WAFER SEX MAGICK
"Obviously, such a thesis could easily veer into conspiracy theory. In fact, let's put that differently. Obviously, this thesis has been put forth before and rejected as a conspiracy theory. So what is different about this book? Dr. Marshall has taken on a very real challenge. His conclusions draw only upon points of history supported by credible, verifiable sources. This paper trail does not include tin foil hats....If Dr. Marshall privately references more outré resources, he doesn't let on. In order to make a case to you, my friend — yes, you with the craft beer and the ironic "Cheech and Chong" t-shirt — he limits himself to sources which the average person will accept." (5 stars, verified purchase)
As you've pieced together by now, all of the chapter epigraphs in this piece are from Amazon reviews of Infiltration. I picked these less to show that Marshall's book is insane, and more to show that insane people think his book is brilliant. The book itself, as it turns out, is not insane, it's just dumb and a tremendous waste of time. There's so much material here that an author, especially an author who plays fast and loose with history and fantasy, can work with: papal elections do involve a lot of politicking, there are shitty people at the Vatican bank, John Paul I did die weirdly and unexpectedly, church officials did cover up widespread sexual abuse, and every Pope and Cardinal is a strange guy full of all sorts of contradictions, because that's what it takes to advance in the job. Marshall somehow finds a way to make all of this dry and boring as shit.
I'd recommend not reading the book at all, but if you must, skip the entire first third, as that focuses on prophecies and mystical experiences, including the secrets of Fatima; it's not the sort of hard proof that’s going to convert the skeptics. This entire chunk of the book is dry and dense and will probably put you to sleep right away; it doesn't feel like it's from the same guy who wrote Sword and Serpent, but it does feel like it's from the same guy who made increasingly conspiratorial YouTube videos and has a stack of flowcharts on his desk, or possibly the guy who writes the supermarket tabloid pieces on new Nostradamus insights. That aside, Marshall also goes into detail on how the Vatican is not the global superpower it used to be, and his theory that it's due to a Masonic conspiracy makes perfect sense if you can overlook two world wars, Western imperial campaigns, population growth in the global South and its corresponding impact on economics and immigration, the creation of worldwide telecommunications, free trade and an increasingly global economy, the arrival of nuclear superpowers, and the industrial revolution's contributions to capital.
The first workable piece of evidence in Marshall’s account comes about a third of the way through the book, in the early-1950s Congressional testimony of a woman named Bella Dodd, whom Marshall describes as a former Communist party agent living undercover in America, who left the party after converting to Catholicism. Dodd’s testimony outlined the Communist plan to plant party agents in American seminaries and execute a long-term infiltration of the church hierarchy. Whether you take Dodd’s testimony as gospel, as Marshall does, depends on how you view the people to whom she was testifying, the House Un-American Activities Committee, best known for browbeating witnesses and ruining lives to stroke their egos and please an alcoholic Wisconsin senator. This was not a group of Congressmen well-remembered for being able to draw out the truth, and was widely criticized for being awful even in its time.
Marshall also called out that Dodd, in her conversion and testimony, was mentored by one of the most respected anti-Communist bishops in the church, Fulton Sheen, from whose 1948 Communism and the Conscience of the West Marshall grabs an epigraph. Sheen's approval of Dodd is further validation for Marshall that Dodd's testimony was unassailable. Hell, when Marshall published Infiltration, Sheen was about to be canonized. Of course, six months after Infiltration came out, Sheen’s canonization was put on hold in anticipation of an incoming New York State AG report that is likely to reveal that he covered up allegations of sexual abuse across his diocese as bishop, and was, in fact, not an upstanding anti-Communist bishop but just another piece of shit willing to do anything, include obstruct justice, to keep the church looking good. Oops!
Separate from speculating on which cardinals are still Communist party members today, Marshall covers Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, who was not part of the Communist psyop but is still also evil because he was under the insidious sway of Saul Alinsky, described as a radical Satanist and [mouths the word "Jew"]. Marshall's evidence that Alinsky was pulling the strings of Paul VI's papacy is that the two of them had dinner early in Montini's career and seemed to get along, but there doesn't seem to be any indication that Paul VI ever met with Alinsky after becoming Pope. Alinsky is mainly in the narrative because every conspiracy theory needs a Jewish liberal in it to scare people; I'm honestly surprised Marshall didn't find a way to work George Soros into all of this, but he can always publish a revised and expanded edition.
The Alinsky connection, like everything else in the book, is supported, not by reporting or firsthand accounts, but by some other bishop complaining for political reasons, or Marshall openly and wildly speculating; whatever number of sentences in this book you think should begin with "some claim" or "one can assume", you've undershot it. Every key argument of the book hinges on "a guy said a thing", and if that was enough to upend the church, I feel like it would have happened before 2019.
You've probably guessed that Marshall is no fan of the post-Vatican II mass, despite his reluctance earlier in his career to use it as a political wedge. Specifically, he questions the efficacy of a more accessible mass and asks "whether we better meet Christ in the mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our own pedestrian, workaday world." If Marshall thinks Christ doesn't deserve to be dragged down with all of us, I'd be eager to hear his thoughts on the Incarnation and how offended he is by our all-powerful God coming into our pedestrian world as a baby in a manger and a criminal on a cross. Marshall objects to pretty much every reform of the Novus Ordo - which he neatly ties, Alex-Jones-like, to the "new world order" the globalist pagan gay skeptic Masons are building - but this part is my favorite because he throws in a plot twist at the end:
"Paul VI also extended to the laity the permission to receive Holy Communion in the hand. These changes had two negative consequences. One was that they reduced belief in transubstantiation...The other negative consequence of Communion in the hand is that it allowed for Hosts to be dropped on the floor more easily or, worse, for people to steal Hosts for desecration and occult potions."
Unrelated, please check out my upcoming funk-rock album Blood Wafer Sex Magick. Marshall immediately follows this passage with details from Kenneth Jones' 2003 study on trends in church attendance and seminary enrollment in the 40 years since Vatican II, asserting that "the updated numbers for 2015 are even worse", and using this as his proof that Vatican II was solely responsible for global disengagement with Catholicism. This, of course, is the part of the book where I threw my Kindle across the room.
To be fair to Marshall, he’s not misrepresenting the study at all - the thesis of Kenneth Jones’ analysis was that Vatican II was the direct and singular cause of all of these declines in the church, and Jones is clearly not a fan of the council. He wrote about the study and its objectives a few times shortly after publishing his analysis. Now, Jones was just tracking statistics, he didn’t have any way to prove causation - that is, he just showed that these declines happened after Vatican II, but assumed on his end that this meant Vatican II was the cause. And he anticipated me pointing that out, in this piece for Latin Mass magazine, a publication which I’m sure is generally very chill about Vatican II:
“I have several responses to the post hoc objection, which comes mainly from conservative Catholics. First, the correlation in time between the holding of the Council and the subsequent decline is just so startling it's beyond reason to deny the link...Second, the most serious declines came in exactly those areas that were most affected by the changes — for example...the change of the Mass resulted in plummeting Mass attendance; and the emphasis on ecumenism brought about a decline in conversions and missionary activity. The list is endless. Third, I think the burden is on those who make the post hoc argument to offer a better reason. If the changes made after Vatican II did not cause the crisis, what did? They offer no other reason. In response to the post hoc objection, I submit another Latin slogan — res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.”
I’m going to punch the next person who speaks Latin to me. But sure, Ken, I’ll take a swing at another cause. And I won’t pick the countercultural movements of the 1960s that led to a decline in attendance across many faith traditions, although we should consider those. I won't pick the sex abuse cases and cover-ups that were revealed in the decades before Boston, although we should consider those. I’m going to pick something the same pope in the same church did in the same decade as Vatican II: Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which famously formalized the church’s teachings on contraception in the context of marriage, over the objections of the Pope’s advisors. It’s maybe the one thing Paul VI is most famous for in his papacy - it’s certainly the most famous thing he wrote - but neither Jones nor Marshall makes any real mention of it. But it was a critically important teaching of the church, rejected by a large number of lay Catholics - it’s still ignored by over 80% of Catholic married couples today - that undermined the church’s authority, as The Catholic Herald put it when writing on the encyclical’s fiftieth anniversary:
“The controversy caused not so much a collapse of authority in the Church, as it did its fragmentation. In practice, if not in theory, any religious group contains a complex of individual authorities. For Catholics, these include one’s parish priest, the half-remembered maxims of one’s teachers and catechists, the opinions in Catholic media and the views of various Catholic “experts”, including learned theologians, bishops and (sometimes) the pope.”
For many Catholics, Humanae Vitae was when they realized that they didn’t really want to and didn’t really have to do everything the church told them, especially when everything conflicted with everything else, and when the church was telling them how they were supposed to have sex with their spouses. It was a time when people thought the church teaching was going to change, and it didn't, leaving a lot of Catholics wondering why they were still doing this. This is not to say that I've singlehandedly figured out all of the reasons why church attendance was down after the 1960s, but it does seem very easy to identify reasons beyond Vatican II, and not doing so comes across to me as willful ignorance from both Marshall and Jones. And they both use that ignorance to support their story that Vatican II was a disaster. As Jones put it in his call to action:
“My final piece of advice is: Let's turn back the clock. And don't tell me it can't be done, because it can. In fact, people do it all the time. Remember in 1985 when Coca Cola was the dominant producer of soda in the world? Company experts got the great idea of introducing New Coke and doing away with old Coke. How did people react — the statistics are undeniable. Sales of Coca Cola plummeted, the numbers proved that it was a failure. And what did the company do? It turned back the clock. It pulled New Coke from the market, and brought back Coke Classic, the real thing.”
What a stupid, dated analogy. At least Taylor Marshall is erudite, knows how to communicate, and wrote his book a full 16 years after that study, I’m sure he thought of a better analogy to use:
“Any business, club, or corporation with evidence of such declining numbers would fire management and return to their once-winning strategy. When Coca-Cola issue New Coke in 1985, it was met with consumer outcry and dismal sales numbers. After fifty years, the Catholic numbers for Mass attendance, priestly and religious vocations, baptisms, and marriages has declined, decade after decade. The updated numbers for 2015 are even worse...the novus ordo Church is just as unpopular as New Coke: even though nobody wants to drink it, the bishops keep telling us how much better it is than Catholicism Classic.”
Oh goddamn it. As an addendum, regarding the updated attendance numbers for 2002-2015 being worse, I think that’s due to the global child sex abuse thing. Let's see what Marshall thinks about the scandal!
CHAPTER FIVE - THERE ONCE WAS A MAN WHO NEEDED A JOB
"Like it or not, we’re in the middle of a hot war waged by Satan and his army against Christ and His Church. It’s in our best interest to pay attention - we and our children are in the crosshairs of the infernal enemy. The devil knows his time is short and he’s dragging as many of us down with him as he can. Dr. Marshall invites us to put on our flak jackets and fly with him over enemy lines, where he points out the battlefields, recounts the history, and names the false prophets, lying teachers, and wolves in sheep’s clothing who have been so active of late." (5 stars, verified purchase)
Incredibly, I'm only at the halfway point of Infiltration. There’s some details on the Vatican banking scandal, which is very real, but has already been reported on extensively; Marshall was not uncovering any new information. He also doesn’t cover any new information on the sudden death of Pope John Paul I just one month into his papacy, but rather restates existing conspiracy theories that have never been proven (this is acknowledged in the book’s foreword).
The second half, though, is also when we get into the church's sex abuse scandal, which includes countless cases from the first half of the twentieth century, so naturally Marshall pinpoints the start of the abuse scandal at 1983. This was the year that John Paul II revised the Code of Canon Law, which used to include a detailed list of no-no sex crimes for clergy, and was reworded to put everything under one large umbrella prohibition. In Marshall's estimation, getting away from specifics dropped the green flag for priests to start fucking and sucking their way through parishes, which is not only a gross misunderstanding of how "breaking the law" works, but also how time works. When Marshall asks "Is there any doubt that the Catholic Church largely ceased disciplining her sexually aberrant priests and bishops in the 1980s and 1990s?" the answer is "yeah there is"; the crimes and coverups span a far longer time than the past three decades. As an example, here's National Catholic Reporter covering a case from the Archdiocese of Portland, with all of the dates redacted. See if you can guess when the piece ran:
"The district attorney prosecuting Laughlin said in court that the priest's involvement with young boys has probably occurred over a 15- to 20- year period, and informed sources at the middle-class Portland parish where Laughlin served as pastor since [date] say that concerns about the priest's sexual activities were brought to the archbishop's attention several times before [date]. In an article in the diocesan newspaper Catholic Sentinel, Power made reference only to a [date] meeting with a sex abuse victim and his parents, and said he responded to the problem by directing Laughlin to seek professional counseling. The mild action by the archbishop has subsequently raised questions of both pastoral and legal responsibility within the archdiocese."
Well, we have sex abuse being an open secret for a prolonged period of time, a pastor covering for an abuser priest, and lay concerns being ignored. It feels like something from the Spotlight era, but this piece ran in NCR in 1983, the same year that the Code of Canon Law got updated. The instances of abuse detailed in the piece go back at least another decade. This is another instance of willful ignorance on Marshall's part; I cannot imagine any scenario in which he isn't aware that the failure of the church to police abusive priests began long before the 1980s, but to acknowledge that would hinder his ability to shit on the bishops he doesn't like, so here we are.
Finally, Marshall takes aim at Theodore McCarrick, the defrocked cardinal and sexual predator. McCarrick is a pretty horrible person who grossly abused his power and severely damaged the reputation of the church, I certainly won't dispute that. Marshall also says that McCarrick was part of a secret faction of bishops, referred to as the "Sankt Gallen Mafia", working to get a globalist crypto-Marxist pope elected, and ultimately achieving their goal with Pope Francis. Marshall doesn't have any documentary proof of this beyond "a guy said a thing", but I suppose it looks possible if I, like, squint with my brain. Then Marshall suggests that McCarrick was in fact a student of Satanist writer Aleister Crowley and participating in more Blood Wafer Sex Magick, built off of quite an argument:
"It is remarkable that this notorious pedophile and homosexual predator overlapped his time in Sankt Gallen with the establishment of Crowley’s OTO religion and the headquarters of the Gnostic Catholic Church’s being moved to Appenzell, thirty-one miles from the town of Sankt Gallen. Sankt Gallen provides a convergence of false Catholic religion focused on phallic worship, sex magick, and homosexuality with the visits of the young Theodore McCarrick...One cannot help but wonder if Sankt Gallen served as an infiltration center for recruiting young men to infiltrate the priesthood in a way similarly described by Bella Dodd. Perhaps the arrival of the fatherless Theodore McCarrick to Sankt Gallen in 1949 provided them a perfect agent to infiltrate the American Catholic Church with pedophilia, sex magick, and Communism. The gross sex magick of Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Catholic Church is symbolically connected with Theodore McCarrick since Crowley’s cremated ashes are buried in Hampton, New Jersey — within McCarrick’s first diocese of Metuchen."
Okay, look. I've been Catholic all of my life, I've been disenchanted with my church, and especially its leadership, plenty of times; as I tell people, I've permanently left the Catholic church four different times. I haven't studied as much theology as Marshall has, so maybe I'm just a big dumb idiot. But I feel that claiming that McCarrick and Crowley were associates because they lived in the same country at the same time, and then leaning on the burial location of Aleister Crowley's ashes to make a point about the cause of the church's latest scandal is, perhaps, a rhetorical misstep. Marshall also treats McCarrick as the only perpetrator in the scandal; obviously he's not, and Crowley couldn't have mentored every abusive priest in the Catholic church, if for no other reason than nobody has that kind of time.
I've had to leave out so much of the book to pretend to keep this piece to a reasonable length: Marshall's tendency to call any clergyman he doesn't like a "sodomite" because everything bad to him is also gay, his assertion that Catholic churches are removing tabernacles (I have lived in three diocese in my adult life and have been in zero churches that do not have tabernacles; this feels like a David Brooks column sounding the alarm that high schools now all teach Gender Studies instead of U.S. History), the idea that the USSR lasted so long because the Pope didn't use specific enough prayers, positing that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were Satanic because one of the bishops' last names had the letters 'baal' in it, the suggestion that John Paul II went too far in apologizing for the church's silence during the Holocaust, the cringey descriptions of Aleister Crowley's church and teachings on "level nine anal sex magic" (before you laugh, please reflect seriously on the level of anal sex magic you are currently on), his analyses of papal conclave votes where he doesn't have any reliable records and just makes educated guesses of who voted for who, the fact that either he or his editor made an arithmetic error in one of those vote counts, and of course the alarm over Pope Francis and the church's "strong shift toward ecumenism, globalism, immigration, and socialism. His encyclicals and teaching stress environmentalism, the redistribution of wealth by governments, a relaxation of sexual morality, and a supreme emphasis on following one’s conscience over and above Catholic dogma".
One recurring theme that I can't gloss over, though, is Marshall's repeated condemnation of any efforts by the church hierarchy towards greater understanding or fellowship with other religious traditions. Every time John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis (the only Popes with any real capacity to frequently travel across the globe, and the latter of whom is the only Pope, ever, from the global South) attends a service or meets with a leader of another religion, Marshall treats it as ironclad evidence that all three of them are working towards a Masonic one-world religion. Church teachings on tolerance are appalling to Marshall, who appears to see the primary functions of the Body of Christ as exclusion and scorn, specifically targeted at people who don't look or pray like him or his fans. It's got to be a huge relief to him that things just worked out like that.
None of these are as jaw-dropping as Marshall's actual conclusion and recommendation on what Catholics should do in this situation. The options, as Marshall lists them, are below, and he rejects all of them but one:
Become a modernist Catholic, accepting the church as it is today
Become an atheist
Become a Protestant (an option that looks better to me the longer I spend writing this piece)
Practice in the Eastern Orthodox rite
Become a "sedevacantist", rejecting the validity of anything that has happened in the church since Vatican II
Become a "resignationist", rejecting the validity of Benedict's resignation and thus the current papacy
Recognize and resist
The "recognize and resist" option is Marshall's final recommendation; here's how he describes it:
"Since no pope since 1950 has exercised his extraordinary magisterium by declaring anything infallibly ex cathedra, the Catholic may in good faith and conscience resist errors spoken by a pope on Twitter, on an airplane, or even in a papal document...The “recognize and resist” position comes in a variety of shades. One observes conservative diocesan bishops who celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass and sometimes praise Vatican II, but who also resist certain statements and actions of the pope."
In other words, "fine, we'll acknowledge that the Pope is legitimate, but we're going to bitch about everything he does". That's the entire solution! He also includes a list of prayers that he encourages you to pray for the church, but outside of bitching to your friends or the media and saying prayers, Marshall doesn't have any solutions for reform, for addressing the church leadership, or for taking any other meaningful action. He just lambasted Pope Francis for encouraging Catholics to follow their consciences if they disagree with the teachings of the church hierarchy, but thankfully Marshall has found a solution: if the church hierarchy teaches something Marshall disagrees with, he'll just follow his conscience HEY WAIT A SECOND. Marshall is so bad at this that by the end of Infiltration, he's eating his own ass. His magnum opus (Latin!) is not only characterized by its idiotic train of thought and parade of questionable sources, but by the complete absence of meaningful solutions or ideas for improving the church's current situation. The book is nothing more than red meat for conservative Catholic blogs, something that Marshall spoke out against a mere five years earlier.
Of course, Infiltration was an Amazon bestseller and got rave reviews from every right-wing Catholic media turd that you would expect. Perhaps the most notable endorsement of the book came from Cardinal Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican diplomat. Vigano is probably best known for laying the full McCarrick scandal at the feet of Pope Francis. Vigano is also alleged to have done plenty of shitty stuff in his career he himself quashed investigations into sex abuse while working in the U.S. - but has successfully rebranded as a high-profile political critic of Francis and voice for Francis' other critics on "Team Vigano". I did not invent that term; Marshall puts it on coffee mugs and phone cases that he sells in his TeeSpring shop.
I really wanted to come to a definitive conclusion on how 2013/2014 Marshall turned into 2019 Marshall. But I can't speak with the same certainty as Marshall, so all I have are theories. Maybe he was always like this, and he was just full of shit when he quit FMC because he thought that was the right move for his reputation at the time. Maybe he wasn't always like this, but spending too much time on YouTube eventually turned him into a conspiracy theorist, he wouldn't be the first. Or hell, maybe he's actually a really normal dude that was just the first person to stumble across this massive Satanic conspiracy, although that seems pretty unlikely.
What seems far more likely to me is that he’s a self-employed father of eight who finally figured out where the money was. Maybe it was a combination of having George Bailey Syndrome and seeing his church, which he built his career around, start to fall apart in 2018. He couldn’t control that, but he could post about it, and hey, it also gave him an opportunity to sell books and merch. I can't say with certainty that this is what happened to Marshall, but in general, I don’t accept a complicated theological explanation when my other option is “there once was a man who needed a job”.
Here's what I can say with certainty: Taylor Marshall has the ear of powerful people within the church hierarchy, as well as virulent reactionaries and white supremacists. His work consistently blurs the line between fantasy and history. He is a skilled writer and communicator when he wants to be, and he has tens of thousands of fans who think he's a genius. None of this, in my estimation, adds up to anything good for Catholicism.
Weirdly, Taylor's tendency to drift away from the material and natural is also what hamstrings him. When God is literally striking St. Peter's with lightning over a Pope's resignation, what's the point of organizing or speaking out against injustice in the church? What sort of power do we have to affect anything in the face of that? Marshall prays and posts, and his contribution ends there. And that's a nice way to absolve yourself of responsibility for making your church or your world better, but it's dismissing the real and material needs of the body of Christ in front of you and alongside you here on earth. In the midst of the earth's climate decaying, inhuman crimes against immigrants across the world, and impending military conflicts, moral leadership and witness is desperately needed from the church. But as long as there are cardinals and bishops reading Taylor Marshall, the church, instead, is living in a fucking fantasy novel.
Grift of the Holy Spirit is a series by Tony Ginocchio detailing stories of the weirdest, dumbest, and saddest members of the Catholic church. You can subscribe via Substack to get notified of future installments. The current series covers personalities in right-wing Catholic media.
Sources used for this piece include:
Taylor R. Marshall, Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within (2019)
Taylor R. Marshall, Sword and Serpent: A Retelling of Saint George and the Dragon (2014)
National Catholic Register - “A Tiny World of Big Ideas in Texas” (1998)
Rorate Coeli - “Bishop Bans Fisher More College From Offering Traditional Latin Mass to Students” (2014)
The Remnant Newspaper - “Newly Installed Bishop of Fort Worth forbids the Traditional Mass at Fisher More College” (2014)
Catholic World Report - “Bishop of Fort Worth Draws the Line” (2014)
Taylor Marshall - “Regarding Fisher More College…” (2014)
National Catholic Register - “Ave Maria Institute Joins Growing Group of Small Catholic Colleges” (1998)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - “Student Effort Saves Small Catholic School - For Now (2014)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - “Fort Worth Catholic College Prepares for Moving Day” (2014)
Fisher-More College - “Statement from Fisher More College President Michael King re: Dr. Taylor Marshall” (2014)
Fisher-More College - “Statement of the Board of Visitors of Fisher More College” (2014)
Taylor Marshall - “Catholicism and New Social Media” (2013)
Taylor Marshall - “How to Deal With Depression at Christmas” (2014)
Taylor Marshall - “Top 5 Christmas Movies” (2014)
Taylor Marshall - “The Taylor Marshall Show ep. 44 - How to Escape Joyless Catholicism, pt. 2” (2015)
Latin Mass Magazine - “The Vatican II Renewal: Myth or Reality” (2003, reprinted in Seattle Catholic)
Catholic Herald - “How Humanae Vitae Changed the Church” (2018)
National Catholic Reporter - “Sex Abuse Sparks Program” (1983)