It was with great interest that my wife and I viewed on Netflix the documentary, “Hostage to the Devil,” directed by Marty Stalker because of my great admiration for the literary works of the late Father Malachi Martin. Martin, of course wrote a book with the same title in 1975 to set the record straight after the popularity of William Blatty’s movie “The Exorcist” (1973) concerning this dark and dangerous world. To many, Father Martin was an enigma, others a villain and to people like myself, a prophet.
The documentary focuses on Fr. Martin’s work as an exorcist but also explores his life through candid interviews with his friends and enemies. Fr. Martin is no less controversial now in death than he was in life when he was a New York Times best-selling author. Fr. Martin, born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland, assisted in transcribing the Dead Sea Scrolls and was a confidant to Cardinal Bea during the tumultuous years of Vatican II while he was a cleric in Rome. The circumstances around his departure from the Jesuits has always caused questions but after his death it was confirmed by Fr. Vincent O’Keefe, the Vicar General of the Jesuit Order at the time of his departure that Fr. Martin received dispensation from his vows of obedience and poverty but retained his vow of chastity.
Martin’s life is a metaphor for the pitch battle for the soul of the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council; he was vilified for his frank and candid critique of the state of the Church in the aftermath of the Council and what the progressives did to it in the name of the “Spirit of Vatican II”. He dared take on the Jesuits in a book of the same name but with the subtitle, The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. This book chronicles the adoption by the Order of liberation theology, which was a scourge to the Church in Latin America and which its adherents hoped to spread throughout the universal Roman Catholic world.
Martin’s most prophetic work is Windswept House that he called a work of “faction” in the style of Taylor Caldwell, the author of Dear and Glorious Physician (1958). The names of the characters provide hints to who they were in real life. Written in 1997, Windswept House‘s main character is a “Slavic Pope,” surely meant to be Pope John Paul II. It ends with that Pope contemplating a papal resignation, which of course played out in the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Windswept House also sadly prophesied the pedophile scandal that rocked the Church in the years to follow.
The documentary also takes a fascinating look at Fr. Martin’s work as an exorcist. The Church, especially the progressives after Vatican II, took an unfavorable view of such “hocus pocus,” especially the Rite of Exorcism. Stakler looks into this debate, and other controversies, through the prism of Martin’s life.
The film is a New York story, Martin’s home in his latter years, and as such, is sprinkled with colorful characters including a former CIA agent and NYPD officer who were confidantes, assisting Martin in his work as an exorcist. These two men, who provide critical first-hand accounts of his life, portray Martin as a man of great charisma, charm, and faith. The film’s treatment of Martin’s death provides its most gripping moments — the viewer may well feel the immense pain and sorrow of these two close friends.
The filmmaker’s choice of antagonist was critical to the piece. Robert Kaiser, a former Jesuit himself spoke of Martin as a rogue and shyster. In 2002, he wrote a book called Clerical Error: A True Story (2002) where he accuses Fr. Martin of having an affair with his wife. It is telling to me that Mr. Kaiser during his writing career railed against John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Church’s stance on sexual morality. It seems Fr. Martin was in good company being the target of the late Mr. Kaiser’s words. Those closest to Father Martin deny these accusations leveled by Kaiser and note he only made them after Fr. Martin’s death.
Without giving away the end, the circumstances surrounding Martin’s untimely demise are a mystery, much like his life. When one listens to Father Martin’s old interviews with Canadian Catholic journalist Bernard Janzen or his appearances with Art Bell on Coast to Coast, Martin’s love for Christ and the Church are clearly evidenced. Martin emphasized the crucial distinction between the institutional Church, which he thought was self-destructing, and the Mystical Body of Christ, which he cherished and loved.
I recommend this thought provoking documentary for anyone serious about his or her faith. It is raw, scary but also a great insight into the battles waged on the mystical side and within the Church itself.
It’s not a film for the faint of heart: Father Malachi Martin did not fear making claims that shook the foundations, and that is his legacy which increasingly appears credible.