Back in January, I published my essay on Bella Dodd and rethinking the infiltration of the Catholic priesthood.
I also wrote an abbreviated version. Happily, Mass of Ages has published it in its Summer, 2021 edition. You’ll find it on pages 42-43.
Here are images of the text (with permission) as it appears in Mass of Ages:
The text was not published in Mass of Ages with the footnotes due to space. I have permission to reproduce the original article with those footnotes here.
Rethinking Bella Dodd
and Infiltration of the Catholic Priesthood
Dr. Bella Dodd, the famous Communist lawyer who reverted to the Catholic Faith of her youth, is said to have planted some 1,200 men into Catholic seminaries. These men are said to be either Communists or Communist sympathizers who would “co-opt” the Church into serving Communism. This story was a cornerstone of arguments set out in 2002 and 2018 in various publications, in discussions of clerical sex abuse to explain the scandal. A talk given by Dodd, however, has recently surfaced that challenges this understanding of Bella Dodd and the infiltration of the Catholic Church.
1961 Detroit Lecture of Bella Dodd
In a talk that Dodd gave in Detroit on 1 September, 1961, she was asked the following question: “Have you ever met Communists among the Catholic clergy and if so, were these people ever exposed?” Dodd responded:
I never met a Ca-, uh, Communist, uh, who was, uh, a member of the Catholic clergy. Now I say that, not because I’m a Catholic. Because I was familiar with a number of the young ministers in the Protestant, uh, among the Protestant clergy. God bless some of them. They wanted so much to do good. The Communist Party used to raise money to send them to seminaries, which would last maybe for one year, two years. And, uh, then they’d come back and preach the social doctrine. Now, I never had met anyone in the Ca-, uh, among the Catholic clergy. That doesn’t mean that they may not be [Communist]! My feeling is that, uh, the long years of [slight pause] preparation required for the Catholic clergy may deter, uh, the Communist Party line as to putting people in.
Dodd’s statement appears to run contrary to what many believed about her for many years. Let us see, however, whether there is a contradiction by looking at how some of the more important publications that discussed Bella Dodd discussed the story.
The publication Christian Order, in its November, 2000 issue, published an article entitled “The Greatest Conspiracy” and listed “The Editor” (Rod Pead) as the author. The overall picture painted by Pead is the following.
There was a worldwide directive in the 1930s from Communist leadership ordering the infiltration of the Catholic Church. Remarks are attributed to Bella Dodd about 1,100 men being put into the priesthood to destroy “the Church from within.” After some editorializing, Dodd is again attributed as having said that these infiltrators were “right now [working] in the highest places in the Church” and that the Catholic Church would be unrecognizable. Not everyone was a card-carrying Communist as some were just “young radicals,” according to Pead.
Regretfully, the article does not provide citations and the statements attributed to Dodd and others cannot be verified.
Several months later, the publication The Latin Mass Magazine published an interview with the famous Catholic philosopher Dr. Alice von Hildebrand. The interview was entitled “Present at the Demolition” and published in the magazine’s Summer, 2001 issue. During the interview, Dr. von Hildebrand made a statement about Bella Dodd and the Church being infiltrated:
It is a matter of public record, for instance, that Bella Dodd, the ex-Communist who reconverted to the Church, openly spoke of the Communist Party’s deliberate infiltration of agents into the seminaries. She told my husband and me that when she was an active party member, she had dealt with no fewer than four cardinals within the Vatican “who were working for us.”
Dr. von Hildebrand presents two claims: 1) Bella Dodd “openly spoke of the Communist Party’s deliberate infiltration of agents into the seminaries,” and 2) Dodd privately told the von Hildebrands that she “dealt with no fewer than four cardinals” that were working for Communism within the Vatican. Whether they were actual Communists or just friendly to it was not specified. Von Hildebrand maintained her two claims in the public forum in later years.
In December, 2002, after the clerical sex abuse scandal arose within the United States, Sandra Miesel wrote an article entitled “Swinging at Windmills: A Close Look at Catholic Conspiracy Theories” for Crisis Magazine. In it, Miesel referenced Bella Dodd: “Dodd implausibly claimed to have sent a thousand young men into American seminaries….” Dr. Alice von Hildebrand responded in April, 2003 in a letter to the editor of Crisis entitled “A Final Swing.”
Dr. von Hildebrand affirmed her two claims from her 2001 interview and added new details. For example, she claimed that Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Dodd’s director, had forbidden her to reveal the names of the four cardinals. Dr. von Hildebrand also claimed that Dodd gave a talk in Orange, California wherein she admitted that she had been told to infiltrate the Catholic seminaries with “Young men who had neither faith nor morals.”
On 28 July, 2003, Toby Westerman, of the web site International News Analysis—Today, published an article entitled “Infiltration of the Catholic Church?” The key to this article was an affidavit, dated 28 March, 2002, that was provided to him by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand. The affidavit, however, was from a couple in Texas, Johnine and Paul Leininger and it discussed their experience of a talk they attended from Bella Dodd in Orange County, California in the 1960s.
Dodd’s talk was not exclusively about infiltration of the Catholic priesthood. She did remark, according to the Leiningers, on the subject. For our purposes, they essentially affirm Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s two claims. They even add the detail that it was specifically Communist “Party members” who had infiltrated seminaries and the Vatican.
From 2003 to 2016, the claims about Bella Dodd and the infiltration of the Catholic priesthood were discussed on the Internet, and some details were lost or distorted. The story arose in 2016 in an article for Catholic News Agency by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand entitled “Recalling a Hero.” Among other things, she reiterated her belief that the Church and the seminary system was infiltrated and that “evil men” infiltrated the Vatican.
Two years later, the matter came back after the revelation of sex abuse perpetrated by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. People once again began to ask questions about the origins of clerical sex abuse and the story that Bella Dodd put men “without faith or morals” was a compelling answer.
Making Sense of Matters
When one examines carefully all of the available information, some fine distinctions have to be made. First, with respect to Bella Dodd’s 1961 Detroit lecture, Dodd does not deny that Communists existed among the Catholic clergy. Second, Dodd’s statement that she “never met a Communist who was a member of the Catholic clergy” is not a contradiction of Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s claim about the four cardinals. She did not state that Dodd had physically met the four cardinals. The same is true for the Leininger’s claims in their affidavit.
What about the 1,200 or so men that Dodd allegedly put into the seminaries? First, she could only have encouraged men to enter seminaries as she had no control over admitting someone to a seminary. Second, how many became priests? Due to the rigors of a seminary program (indicated by Dodd in her Detroit lecture), the chances that all 1,200 or so were ordained is not likely. Third, a seminarian is not a member of the clergy until later in his formation. No one has demonstrated that Dodd had contact with these men after they became clergymen. In that sense, she “never met” a Communist who was a member of the clergy.
The available documentation also indicates that a distinction has to be made between seminarians and strategically-placed Communists within seminaries (or other diocesan structures). In speaking before Congress about Communist infiltration of American education, Dodd indicated that a strategically-placed Communist influencing many teachers could do a lot of damage. If this tactic worked within education, why not use it with seminaries?
Why would Dodd discuss the matter of the cardinals in Orange County but not mention them in Detroit? She was asked if she had ever met a Catholic cleric who was a Communist and if they were ever exposed. Dodd, a trained lawyer and gifted speaker, would have known to address only the precise question to her and not be effusive with her words. As we saw earlier, we don’t know if she had ever physically met the cardinals. We do not possess the details of her talk in Orange County and her reference to the cardinals might have come up in another context.
Bella Dodd’s 1961 Detroit lecture presents a challenge for Catholics who believe that she helped to infiltrate Catholic seminaries. The challenge forces them to look at underlying presumptions as well as to be critical towards the sources. Those sources have largely rested upon the good reputation of Alice von Hildebrand, herself a titan in Catholic life and thought.
The facts, as they presently stand, indicate that the claims of Dr. Alice von Hildebrand and Johnine and Paul Leininger are not necessarily contradicted by Dodd’s 1961 Detroit lecture. We must, however, reconsider some underlying presumptions that have grown up around the facts. The best way to do this is by informing ourselves of the facts and understanding the larger historical picture while acknowledging that there is much yet to be discovered. Until more is known about Dodd and she is better understood, interested persons would be wise to exercise good judgment.
 Iban Thranholm “Catholic abuse crisis is likely no accident.” Life Site News (September 17, 2018). Dr. Robert Moynihan, “Letter #48, 2018: ‘Some Enemy has done this.” Inside the Vatican (September 1, 2018).
 Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 18.