Paranormal investigators, an alleged Vatican conspiracy, demonic forces and a former priest. It sounds like the makings of a horror film ready to release on Halloween. Or it could be the bare bones of a new documentary on Netflix about Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit turned self-proclaimed exorcist who died from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 78 after attempting an exorcism on a small child.
Titled Hostage to The Devil just like the book Martin published, the film is produced by Underground Films and Causeway Pictures in Belfast, Ireland. The faithful would save a lot of time and angst by skipping this selection and watching something more edifying instead. Perhaps the Father Brown series, also new to Netflix, which actually appears to be based in reality and a more solid catechesis, two things which are lacking in the Martin Documentary.
Hostage to the Devil begins by attempting to be a bit creepy, although the effect is more cliche than creep. With interviews and commentary that span Malachi Martin’s personal friends, literary agent and paranormal investigator pals juxtaposed with commentary by Robert Blair Kaiser, author of Clerical Error, and several priests, the viewer is presented with a picture of a Malachi the victim, the truth teller and the target of a Vatican Jesuit conspiracy to silence him. Kaiser is made out to be the villain and the priests seem to be added in to give some highly edited commentary on exorcism and how the Catholic Church typically releases a priest from his vows.
Of particular concern is the lack of obedience and flaunting of sacraments by Martin, who is called “Fr. Martin” by some throughout the film. At different points throughout the documentary the viewer is told that Martin was released from two of his three vows as a priest (despite the fact that the Jesuits insist that he was no longer a priest when he left them), that he hears confessions as a laymen and at the very end a clip is shown during which he removes a small satchel from his pocket, uses it to bless an audience of paranormal investigators, and then declares that it is the Blessed Sacrament and that “I carry it with me all the time.” He then places the satchel back in his coat pocket.
It is revealed that Martin began a network of “Underground Exorcists” and that he and others would carry out exorcisms. The fact that he, a former priest, would act outside of the authority of the Church is very troubling. Especially given that exorcists who understand the demonic know that Satan and his demons are hierarchical. They respond to authority, and it is the Church who has authority. That is precisely why no major exorcisms are ever to be conducted without the permission of the Bishop.
Also troubling is the tone in which Martin spoke of the demonic. He was very sensational and painted a picture of fear and grandiose self-sacrifice,”You give something you’ll never get back again – a little part of you dies with every exorcism. You pay a price for anything decent you do in this life, and you don’t get it back.” When asked about the experience of performing exorcisms, Martin told his friends to “imagine the worst thing you could ever possibly imagine.” And that the actual experience “is even worse than that.”
Gabriel Amorth, who was the Chief exorcist in Rome and performed over 50,000 exorcisms in his lifetime was once asked about his own experiences, particularly if he was every afraid. His response is much different from Martin’s, “Never. I have faith. I laugh at the demon and say to him, ‘I’ve got the Madonna on my side. I am called Gabriel. Go fight the Archangel Gabriel if you will.’ That usually shuts them up.”
While there is a paltry attempt at giving a fair hearing to the differing opinions about Malachi Martin, the entire documentary is rife with error, heresy and what seems to be a cult-like obsession with the person of Malachi Martin who is hailed as charismatic, charming and a prophet. Faithful Catholics would do better to pray for his soul than follow along with the sycophantic commentary wondering what exactly was being held hostage. By the end of the film it seems the only thing being held hostage is the Truth.