`I have smelt the breath of Satan and heard the demons' voices. . . '


Father Malachi Brendan Martin, who died in New York last month aged 78, was a priest, an author and a staunch Catholic. Though he was born in Kerry and his books sold well here, it is probably fair to say that he was better known in the United States than in this country.

Father Martin's views on the hierarchy of the church were, by most standards, extreme.

His career as a Jesuit brought him to Rome in the 1960s, during the pontificate of John XXIII, and the exciting days of the Second Vatican Council.

But in 1964 he requested a release from his vows. The move was prompted by his conclusion that many in the church, and particularly in his own order, the Jesuits, were more interested in power than in saving souls. Later, he was to castigate them for, as he saw it, allying themselves with Marxists especially in Central and South America.

In 1965, he moved to New York, which was to become his home.

He worked at various jobs - washing dishes, driving a cab - which formed a sharp contrast with his previous life, but he soon established himself as an author.

For the succeeding decades he took a firmly conservative view which he promoted in his many books, both fiction and non-fiction.

In 1996 he described himself in an interview with the Chicago Tribune as "a fuddy-duddy, dyed-in-the-wool, traditionalist conservative."

He opposed the ordination of women as priests.

His views on the church, though, went far beyond what is normally understood in this country as "conservative" and "traditionalist" and indeed would be rejected by many of those to whom these labels could be applied.

For instance, he believed satanic rituals had been carried out in the Vatican by clergy who had entered into a conspiracy with Freemasons and others to establish a new world order (Windswept House, 1996).

He also believed the church to be under threat from Marxists, a theme explored in The Final Conclave (1978).

This idea of a church under threat was a constant theme in his writings.

His 1990 book, The Keys of this Blood, was sub-titled The Struggle for World Dominion Between Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West.

His books were reviewed in serious newspapers in the United States - of which he became a citizen - where he undoubtedly had a more receptive audience than he would have had in an Ireland increasingly indifferent to church matters.

His timing as an author was good. His 1976 bestseller, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans (1976), was published in the wake of the film The Exorcist.

He had no doubt that possession occurred and could be ended by exorcism.

He told the Scotsman newspaper: "Exorcism can be extremely violent. I have seen objects hurled around rooms by the powers of evil. I have smelt the breath of Satan and heard the demons' voices - cold, scratchy, dead voices carrying messages of hatred."

His other books included The Pilgrim (published under the name Michael Serafian, 1964), The Encounter (1970), a study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and The Jesuits (1987) a severely critical book on his old order.

He also wrote for the New York Times again on church and biblical themes, including travel pieces on the Holy Land.

Rome restored his faculty to say Mass about 10 years ago, at his request.

He was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, to Conor John Martin and Katherine (nee Fitzmaurice). His father was a GP who later moved the family to Dublin.

He had nine brothers and sisters: Sister Agatha (Joan), Father Conor, Monsignor Liam, James - all four of whom pre-deceased him - Father F.X., Kay, Josette, Maura and Netta.

He was educated at Ballylongford National School, Belvedere College, University College Dublin and Louvain (where he studied oriental languages).

He was the author of a scholarly book on the Dead Sea scrolls.

His special areas of interest and expertise included Semitic languages, oriental history, and Jesus in Islamic and Jewish sources.

He is survived by his brother and sisters and by his companion, Ms Kakia Livanos.

Father Malachi Martin: born 1921, died July, 1999