I am including a chapter on anticlericalism in my revised The Church Impotent.
When I was a student at St. Matthew’s Grammar School in Baltimore in the mid 1950s, I remember being told by a nun that Leo XII had a vision of Freemasonry. He looked at all the grades from the lowest to the highest, and fainted when he reached the top because there was the Head Freemason: Satan!
I recently came across the inspiration of this interesting story: Leo Taxil. Her is a bookseller’s summary of the career of Leo Taxil and his role in anticlericalism:
Leo Taxil (ne Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pages), 1854-1907, was a piece of work. He was raised Catholic but turned against the Church at an early age and became a prolific author and publisher of scurrilous (and often semi-pornographic) attacks on the Catholic Church and the clergy. He attracted a considerable following in anti-clerical and Freethought circles throughout France. Thus, it was big news for his old following as well as for Catholics when, in 1885, he converted to Catholicism and renounced his past writings. His new main bugaboo was Freemasonry & he applied the same degree of venom and zealotry against Freemasonry that he had used against the church. Masons were corrupt, conspiratorial, followers of Satan, etc. Initially his conversion was accepted enthusiastically; he even had an audience with Pope Leo XIII. As time went on, however, his claims became increasingly grandiose. He announced that he had taken under his wing one Diana Vaughan, daughter of a prominent Freemason and descendant of the alchemist Thomas Vaughan, who had left the Order and denounced its Satanic orgies, etc. Diana’s stories became wilder and wilder and all but Taxil’s most fervent followers became increaingly uneasy Church officials began to ask for a public appearance with Diana telling her story herself. At one point Taxil revealed that Diana’s real father was Asmodeus and that, angered by a Freemason’s plot to kill his daughter, he turned the errant Mason into a crocodile who was forced to remain in his mansion playing the piano with the tip of his tail. The pressure became overwhelming and Taxil promised to produce the girl on April 19, 1897. The large crowd of Catholics and journalists was met with Taxil’s denunciation of their gullibility and the confession that the whole thing was a hoax. The Paris police got him out in one piece and he retired from the whole schmier.
Perhaps the piano playing aroused people’s suspicions. Of course it was entirely believable that a Freemason would be changed into a crocodile, but could a crocodile really play the piano with the tip of his tail? That seems a bit far-fetched.