Léo Taxil, a false anti-Mason who mocked the Church

Since the emergence of Freemasonry in the 18th century, the Church dedicated itself to fighting it.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 10:24
8 Reads
Léo Taxil, a false anti-Mason who mocked the Church

Since the emergence of Freemasonry in the 18th century, the Church dedicated itself to fighting it. From the Catholic point of view, the Freemasons were suspect because of their secrecy. Why did they flee from the public eye if they had nothing to hide? The pope and the bishops also criticized religious heterodoxy because all types of people were admitted to the lodges, without asking about their convictions in matters of faith.

But this feeling of hostility against the Freemasons ended up playing tricks on the Vatican. At the end of the 19th century, Rome, in accordance with the guidelines of Leo XIII, promoted an active campaign to discredit an organization that was perceived as a de-Christianizing instrument. It was this environment that Léo Taxil (1854-1907), one of the most fascinating swindlers of his time, took advantage of for his own purposes.

Taxil was a writer who had earned ecclesiastical animosity for his radical anticlericalism. French justice convicted him of defamation regarding a book titled The Secret Loves of Pius IX (1881). Consequently, the media related to Catholicism covered him with insults for being “one of those writers who do not respect the most respectable things on Earth,” according to El Áncora.

However, Taxil announced with great fanfare his religious conversion in Confessions of a Freethinker (1887), a book that was not distinguished by its respect for facts. Suddenly, the former curse became the darling of the anti-Masonic crusade. He then began to sell a multitude of books in which, as a former Mason, he revealed supposed secrets that he knew firsthand.

The weekly El Católico published an excerpt from his memoirs, where the author offered a strongly emotional account of his transformation. Saddened by her many iniquities, her aunt and godmother had distributed her estate among the poor and had devoted herself to religious life. This was her way of trying to atone for the sins of her evil nephew.

Taxil would have continued with his godless life until experiencing his own moment of enlightenment, a bit like Paul on the road to Damascus. Suddenly, as he wrote, memories of his first communion and the religiosity of his parents surfaced in his memory. He understood that he was surrounded by scoundrels and repented of his blasphemy. It was then that, for the first time in many years, he knelt and prayed.

Nothing in this fantastic conversion story is plausible, but it is clear that Taxil knew what he was doing. Well versed in the ultramontane Catholic mentality, he knew how to skillfully manipulate it with a fiction tailored around the classic stereotype of the sinner who redeems himself. Many Catholics, as he expected, bought his product without much reflection. The Catholic, when presenting the aforementioned chapter of his Confessions, explained to his readers that “each conversion is a miracle, if not a wonderful chain of prodigies that edify and move as well as interest.”

Taxil got his audience to take the bait. Although he overacted and his writings were very outdated, his dazzled admirers did not seem to notice any weak point in all those comics. From that moment on, the former anticlerical, shamelessly playing the victim, went so far as to say that the Freemasons had threatened him with death for spreading the truth about his sect.

The Christian press, enthusiastic about a figure who confirmed all their prejudices, never tired of citing his works as a source of authority. The world would be better as soon as all the unwary read Taxil. The Ecclesiastical Bulletin of the Bishopric of Astorga, for example, announced in January 1887 the publication in two volumes of The Three Point Brothers, one of his libels.

For its part, that same month, La Semana Católica de Salamanca gave high praise to Le Vatican et les Francs-Maçons, a “very important work” in which Taxil had compiled the Church's condemnations against Freemasonry. According to the Spanish publication, he dedicated special attention to Pius IX, whom he defended against the slander that accused him of being a Freemason.

No one seemed to realize that the former anticlerical and the persecutor of Freemasons, although they seemed like two opposite people, had in common a taste for morbid fantasy. In this sense, theirs was a case of continuity, not rupture.

Years passed. Taxil was an idol for the most conservative Catholics. A new character, Diana Vaughan, got involved. Former leader of a Masonic group, since her conversion to Catholicism she had dedicated herself to denouncing the terrible secrets of Freemasonry, including its satanic practices, aimed at favoring the reign of the Antichrist. She became a very popular character, with whom many people corresponded.

No one could say that they had seen her in person, although that did not prevent the Catholic newspapers from reporting favorably on her adherence to the Church. It constituted an example to oppose to the unwary who allowed themselves to be carried away by false doctrines: “Mrs. Diana Vaughan, who had until now presided over female Freemasonry in England, has definitively withdrawn from the sect, but not without making terrible revelations about it.” in all nations”, published La Semana Católica de Salamanca on May 12, 1894.

Everything changed three years later, when a scandal as unexpected as it was formidable broke out: Taxil recognized that all his pamphlets against Freemasonry were the fruit of his imagination. Diana, furthermore, did not exist; It was him. Humiliated, the same people who had exalted him began to condemn him.

There was everything. There were even those who tried to show their chest by pretending that they had been smarter than the others: La Tradición, a Carlist newspaper, chronicled an audience that the Duke of Madrid, that is, the suitor Don Carlos, granted to Taxil. The meeting would have served for the prince to dispel any doubts he may have had, indignant with a character who seemed untrustworthy to him, among other reasons, due to his crude flattery.

The anticlerical media took advantage of the moment to attack some Catholics who so easily believed the greatest nonsense. In El Diluvio, a republican newspaper, they referred to the “babble” of Taxil. The ecclesiastical hierarchy had sponsored his lying literature, a string of nonsense that thousands of faithful believed as if it were an evangelical word, and finally the discovery of the “grotesque farce” had fallen like a bomb among the same people who had previously fed the supposed convert.

For its part, La Campana de Gracia, also of progressive significance, did not fail to note with satisfaction that the ultramontanes and neo-Catholics, who had so celebrated the supposed revelations of Taxil, had finally been mocked.

The Church, in short, suffered enormous ridicule. He fell into the temptation of confusing what he wanted to believe with objective facts.