Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Legion Needs A Fresh Start

The mainstream press has started to pick up the Fr. Maciel story. Reuters:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The founder of an influential Catholic religious order, who was disciplined in 2006 for sexual abuse of boys and men, also fathered at least one child with a mistress, his order acknowledged on Wednesday.

The latest scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church concerns Father Marcial Maciel, founder of Legionaries of Christ, who died last year at the age of 87.

News reports and blogs in the Catholic media have said that Maciel, a Mexican, had lived a double life for many years and members of the order had been told privately that he had an affair and fathered at least one child.

Asked if the reports were true, Father Paolo Scarafoni, a spokesman at the order's headquarters in Rome, told Reuters: "We cannot deny the existence of these facts but we can't go into detail because we have to respect the privacy of people involved."

He added: "Recently, we have come to know some aspects of his life that are very difficult to understand, aspects of his life that were not appropriate to the life of a priest."

Apparently, "...difficult to understand..." and "...not appropriate to the life of a priest..." are the Legion's official take, since Jim Fair said almost the same thing. Sadly, this is a weak-as-dishwater, wholly ineffectual response to the reality of Fr. Maciel's life, and it doesn't bode well for the Legion that they can't seem to see just how horrific and outrageous this all is for them, given their long-held belief that "Nuestro Padre" was a saint whose informal canonization by his order during his life would be swiftly followed by an official one once he had left this earthly existence.

More mainstream media reactions at the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, and the New York Times. And Damian Thompson with the UK's Telegraph gets pretty outraged:

The Legionaries of Christ, a hitherto dynamic conservative order of 800 priests and 70,000 lay affiliates, is on the verge of falling apart following reports that its founder, the late Fr Marcial Maciel, fathered at least one child at a time when he was demanding the strictest moral standards from his cult following.

Maciel, a Mexican priest who died a year ago aged 87, was lavishly praised by Pope John Paul II but sent into exile by Pope Benedict XVI as punishment for sexual assaults against young men decades ago. It was widely thought that he wasn't a ladies' man. So you can imagine the shock when it was revealed this week that, in old age, he secretly fathered a daughter.

This new scandal is tearing apart the Legionaries, conservative priests known for their extreme preachiness and natty dress. And their lay affiliate organisation, Regnum Christi, is also on the verge of collapse. It's becoming clear not only that Maciel was a liar of the first order, but so that his lieutenants covered up many details of his life while demanding that he be treated as a living saint. [...]

One interesting aspect of this sordid business: although the Legionaries are extremely conservative – their strangely good-looking Roman seminarians always sport ruler-straight side partings – their critics extend across the whole Church. The holier-than-thou manner of Legionary priests and Regnum Christi lay people gets up everyone's noses. Of course, there is a lot of sympathy for good Catholics who have been duped – but this is the risk you run with personality cults. The question for this wealthy and well-connected order is: what next? And no one seems to know the answer.

What next, indeed?

I'm with those who believe the Legion ought to be disbanded, and start again as a new order with a new charism and a new founder. The Legion, however, seems to think they can murmur words like "difficult to understand" and "not appropriate for a Catholic priest" and remain exactly the same order that, knowingly or not, enabled and covered all of this up for far too long.

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