Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Maciel Situation

By now, most people have read the latest allegations concerning the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. If you haven't, here are some links to go to:

Amy Welborn's take;

Patrick Madrid,

American Papist,


Rod Dreher,

Catholic Culture,

Ed Peters,


I may add more as things continue to unfold, especially if there are more official Legion statements made public.

Let me start by saying that I have long believed there are very serious problems with the Legion and many of its apostolates. I have a family member who was briefly involved with the Legion, and in addition have heard from many others who have experienced problems with Legion-led ministries or groups. One of the most frequent, and disturbing, aspects of Legion spirituality was their tendency to elevate Fr. Maciel to a state of near-sainthood during his life; even after his discipline, many in the Legion saw him as a suffering Christ-figure, unjustly accused by his enemies, instead of a person who may have had some very serious sinful behavior in his life.

Some of the writers of the posts linked to above have expressed their personal belief that the Legion will have to formally repudiate Fr. Maciel at this point in order to continue as an order; one can certainly have a flawed founder, and not all religious orders were founded by canonized saints, but a founder who has been guilty of egregiously sinful conduct without ever admitting to it and openly repenting (indeed, while insisting until his death that he was innocent) is not really an advantage for an order. That's why it saddened me (though, alas, it didn't surprise me) to read this from the CNA article linked to above and here:

CNA contacted Legionaries of Christ spokesman Jim Fair, but received no specific confirmation of any allegations.

“We’ve learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult to understand,” Fair told CNA on Tuesday.

“We can confirm that there are aspects of his life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.

“Obviously he had human feelings but it remains true that through him we received our charism, which has been approved by the Church.

“Our commitment remains and we‘re going to go forward and love Christ and serve the Church,” he remarked.

Asked to verify the specific allegations, Fair replied:

“Fr. Maciel died over a year ago and obviously whatever has happened is between him and God and God’s judgment and mercy, so we’re going to let him take care of that.”

CNA asked Fair to verify whether the Legionaries of Christ were distributing information on the allegations through their regional directors.

“We communicate internally, but I can’t make any comment beyond that,” Fair replied.

“I know that there have been rumors about are we somehow denouncing him. Obviously we are not. Fr. Maciel was and always will be the father of the legion.

“One of the mysteries of our faith is that God sometimes works through flawed human beings.”

Nobody is disputing that God works through flawed human beings; but having an unrepentant (at least, publicly) sinner for one's founder could be a liability; and clinging to that founder in the face of such terrible evidence of his sinful way of life could open the call for the order to be suppressed altogether, something I think the Legion ought to consider.

And the language employed by spokesman Jim Fair, that there were "aspects of his (Maciel's) life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest..." and that God "works through flawed human beings..." could be more minimizing of the serious nature of the present allegations. We're not talking about some minor financial irregularity or some similar offense: Maciel is reported to have fathered at least one child, who is now in her early twenties--an indication that Maciel's sexually sinful behavior was continuing even in the somewhat recent past, long after the time period during which the original sexual abuse allegations, involving seminarians, were made.

Quite frankly, it seems as though there were aspects of Fr. Maciel's life that weren't appropriate for a serious Christian, let alone a practicing Catholic, let alone a Catholic priest who stood at the head of a growing religious order. The Legion needs to confront this with honesty and integrity, sooner rather than later, instead of minimizing the situation and pretending that they can keep their pictures of "Nuestro Padre" in their seminaries and continue their habit of treating Fr. Maciel's letters and writings as key spiritual formation documents. It cannot be done.

Admitting that the man who founded their religious order was a man who apparently did not live up to the vow of chastity he had taken as a priest is going to be a hard thing for those in the Legion who nearly idolize the man. But we are not to have idols; the Christian response to the Maciel situation is to pray for the man's eternal soul while refusing to pay any more false homage to him, to see him as an admirable character worthy of emulation, or otherwise to elevate the comfortable myths above the stunning and ugly reality. It's time for the Legion to take steps to separate their order from the memory of "Our Founder" who is still lionized all over their website (though silence is kept about the order he received to do penance at the end of his life). The Legion will survive without Fr. Maciel's memory--but they will not survive, if they cling to their practice of considering him a saint.


Hélène said...

I was with my husband interviewed for a job with the Legion. At one point the priest pointed to a set of about 20 volumes of books and said that those were the letter of Fr. Maciel. He then said that by the time their seminarians are ordained, they have read the entire set. I was surprised that they spent so much time reading the writings of a living man instead of the Fathers or Doctors. After my husband got the job, we saw a lot of other bizarre things. It makes me sad that so many bad things are turning out to be true, but we are lying to ourselves and giving a poor witness to Catholicism if we ignore or deny them.

Hélène said...

I was with my husband WHEN HE


Babs said...

Formost in my mind right now is the very clear mental picture of ABC reporter Brian Ross asking then Cardinal Ratzinger why Marcel Maciel was not being investigated by the Vatican after so many men had come forward claiming abuse. Ratzinger PHYSICALLY SLAPPED Ross and scolded him for bringing such a thing up. Who does that? I mean really, who slaps somebody just for asking a question? As a younger Catholic I was appalled and embarrassed... and now, when all is laid bare, I can see to the depths of this corruption.

It's always better to know the truth.

freddy said...

Insightful and charitable handling of a difficult subject. I pray it will be handled so at the top, too.

freddy said...

Babs, have you seen the video? Look for it here: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4658963&page=1

To me, it looks almost inadvertant, but judge for yourself.

Anthony said...

Well I watched the video (having read about the incident some time ago) and while its certainly not flattering, its not really worth getting riled up about.

It's clear that Ratzinger is bothered by a question he is not prepared for, and he says so himself. He's not informed enough to comment.

He doesn't even refuse to ever answer questions about it, just "not now".

It's worth noting that, IIRC, it was Ratzinger/Benedict who reopened the case against Fr. Maciel and forced him to retire.

Babs said...

Inadvertant? Are you seriously kidding me?

This is the kind of self-delusion that both fuels and protracts corruption in the church. I just have to give up on this one, if you don't find a grown man at sixty something, reportedly persuing a life of self-control (at least) and holy witness (hopefully) WHACKING another man's hand after he asks a simple question seeking information and justice.

Do you do that? Could I do that and appear normal to you?

Funny, that is just how these characters in cults like LC work on poor parents, separating them from their children and eliminating all their natural responses to what is not normal.

It is NOT NORMAL. Something is really wrong here.

Anonymous said...

Like you I wasn't shocked. I am more shocked at what has been said in his defense than anything else.

From what I understand, when you have been in an occult, it isn't like you are going to wake up all of a sudden and realize something is wrong, although this may help some. They live in a make believe world. they are not allowed to criticize him in any way. It is terribly sad. So I even think others suspected something but denied it to themselves. That would be along the line of cult thinking. Even the lady or ladies probably are still very fond of him.
It is very wrong and very sad.

Garth said...

Dear Erin, These comments are taking on a life of their own.

Twenty volumes of letters How is that different from Furrow or other books of good advice within Opus Dei. If all was otherwise well and one wanted an insight into the charism then reading those letters over a period of years is surely OK.
No criticism permittedThis aspect was one of the aspects that first attracted us to Regnum Christi. It is a virtue to look on the good aspects of a person and draw the best from them, from our children's teachers, from our parish priests, and bishops. One Legionary priest put this well to us once when he said that we should not criticize anyone unless the person we were speaking to was in a position to help the situation for the better in some way. This is a virtue taken to excess, obviously, if used for an evil purpose. But now, I agree, everything has to be said that will enable this to be put behind us.

Red Cardigan said...

Garth, I tend to take a fairly light hand with the comments, unless people are trolling or being abusive.

As for the letters--why would anyone's spiritual formation be helped by reading the letters of a man who lived a double life of unchastity while writing them?

It is a virtue to see the good in people. It is not, however, a virtue to avoid criticism. Many saints in the past spoke loudly and clearly about abuses in the Church, in their own orders, and so on--even while submitting to the authority of those they criticized. There's a difference between "Avoid unjust criticism" and "Pretend everything's fine even when it's not." The one is admirable, but the other leads to a situation where evil men may remain in power far too long--in the world and within the Church.

I've heard of the "don't criticize unless the person you're speaking to can help the situation for the better" command from the Legion before, too. But how do you know who is in a position to help and who isn't? That fellow seminarian may come from a well-connected family, and help could be a phone call to a highly placed cardinal away; but the unhappy seminarian who has witnessed something bad doesn't know this, and is taught to avoid voicing criticism to his fellows on the grounds that they can't help anyway. This isn't good spiritual advice--it's a strategy of dispiriting and demoralizing the rank and file, to keep them from ever blowing the whistle.

And, apparently, it worked.

Anonymous said...

I joined the Legion in 1989 after a visit from Fr. Anthony Bannon who presented the Legion as a conservative, orthodox order. When I arrived in Cheshire, I found that the reality of the order was very different from the image that I had been given. The theological training was weak, sentimental, and in some cases heretical. Prayer life consisted of quantity, but little quality.(Yes, we were given only the bound letters of Nuestro Padre to read, but in the original Spanish... not much help if you didn't speak or read the language). The daily examination of conscience was directed towards reflections on how we had hurt the Legion that day in any errant thought or deed. They were vague as to their charism; they didn't seem to know what they wanted to do. No parish work, little missionary work, just some "family centers" in DC and a school or two here and there.
There were two things about the Legion that were most disturbing to me, and caused me to leave the order as soon as I could. The first was the Legion attitude towards the family, and the lengths they went to in order to replace the family with devotion to Fr. Maciel. On my first day at the Legion I was told that Legionaries didn't just leave their families, they turned their backs on their families. Some boys I knew who were in the Seminary had left their families when they were just 6 years old, in order to join the Legion. (And in some cases, those families were in Mexico or Spain, and these boys hadn't seen their families since they had left) They were placed in Legionary schools in New Hampshire and began training to enter the seminary in Cheshire. They were disdainful of the parents they had left behind, ridiculing them for having chosen the vocation of the "weak", i.e marriage. This attitude was prevalent amongst the seminary members who had come from Legionary high schools. These young men were extremely devoted to Fr. Maciel, and considered him to be a better father than their own fathers. This devotion to Fr. Maciel, they way they spoke of him, the whispered conversations of his sanctity, the reverence for his writings, the rumors of his numerous medical ailments that would have felled weaker men (don't worry, though you cause him pain, he's offering it up for you!), all led me to conclude that the order was a cult of personality all centered around Fr. Maciel. These young men had been separated from their families, taught to despise them and to love the man who had taken them.
The second issue that made me realize that the Legion was not what it represented itself to be was the unrelenting psychological pressure that they subjected all of the novices to from the moment we arrived. We were constantly reminded that because we had come to the Legion, we all had priestly vocations. We were told that if we left, we would be responsible for all of the souls that were lost. We were told horror stories about what happened to men who had left the Legion. They were always testing, creating peer pressure to bring us all in line. Novice masters took every opportunity to find and criticize weaknesses, ridiculing, in front of the entire class, those who didn't measure up. I knew one young man who cracked under the pressure and had a complete breakdown. I have since met others who were abandoned by the Legion and left in a damaged and fragile state. These are lives that have been destroyed by the Legion.
With all of the talk about Fr. Maciel's personal failings and the potential damage that might befall the Legion, I'm afraid that the investigation might not go far enough. WIth the spin, denials, and misdirection that they have engaged in in the past, the Legion can spin even this. I understand the appeal of the Legion and RC; they supply an avenue of devotion and dedication to those who are conservative and orthodox in the Church, and there are very few organizations that do that. The problems in the Legion, however, are truly Legion, and the order needs to be seen for who they are and what they do. In my opinion, having seen the Legion from the inside, the mark of Fr. Maciel is too deeply ingrained in the character of the Legion and it needs to be dismantled.

Anonymous said...

In addition to what Red wrote, and in response to your No criticism permitted post, I would like to add that Pope Benedict saw something wrong with the secret vows or he would not have dissolved them.
"Pope Benedict XVI had personally asked for the repeal of the private vows professed by the seminarians and priests of the Legionaries of Christ. These were oaths, related to the internal life of the order, which assured its secrecy and impermeability: the first [oath of "charity"] prevented any kind of criticism of superiors and their decisions by members, while the second [oath of "humility"] forbade the religious men from aspiring to positions within it."

Also, ReGAIN's websit has some information that may help you in seeing how some of the things practiced by the LC/RC were cult-like.

God Bless you

Steve said...

Thanks, Erin, for posting this. Your comments are right on.

And thanks to the seminarian who posted here as well. Over time, those of us who have been trying to get this message out for so long may actually be listened to. It's been a long road.

freddy said...

Erin, I'm really sorry to derail the comments again, but I do think I need to respond to Babs.

Babs, you said: "This is the kind of self-delusion that both fuels and protracts corruption in the church."

You have made an assumption regarding my character from one comment I posted. This is unjust. However, I will explain further: I have older German-American relatives who do just this sort of thing. In conversation, they grab hands, tap hands or even hold hands to make a point -- even the point of a joke. The more hurried the conversation is, the more emphasis is given. I could be wrong but I believe other cultures do this as well. When I saw the video I just didn't see any big deal.

Regarding Fr. Maciel, however; his deeds were done in secret and covered up all of his life: no convenient camaramen around to document his misdeeds and make sure they were seen by people who could then use their own judgment to determine his culpability. Worse, his followers allowed him to be revered and even participated in *malforming* the ability of others to judge wisely. His life and lies need to be exposed; his order reformed or possibly suppressed.

How the LC and the Church deal with this will affect so many souls -- we need to pray, and pray hard -- for wisdom, justice and peace.

Anonymous said...

A family member sent this link to me. I believe I am somewhat impartial so thought I would comment on the video of then Cardinal Ratzinger's "hand slap". Every moment he was speaking, his hands were moving in the same manner as when he "slapped" the reporter's hand. It truly seemed to be inadvertent. He slapped the air immediately before the reporter put his hand in the place at which it got "slapped". I'm quite surprised anyone saw that as malicious.

Anonymous said...

I saw the slap as kind of a grandfatherly rebuke. "Stop it now, I told you I wouldn't talk about that at this time, you are being very rude, go away young man..."

Mainstream American journalists simply do not understand the decorum they should show when talking with high-up churchmen. The Cardinal is used to being approached with respect, and this little hot shot reporter thinks he's got the balls to confront a Cardinal with "hard questions". That's just not the way it works, sonny. Go to the Vatican press office. Or request an appointment. The Cardinal is busy and doesn't like to be ambushed or shouted at from the peanut gallery like you all do to ordinary American politicians.

-a different Anonymous

Charlotte (Matilda) said...

In all charity to Babs, :) I do have to concur with Freddy after watching that video. That is a classic move that I have seen my Germanic grandfather make many times over. I guarantee you, if they had been sitting at a table, he would have hit the table, not his arm. My grandfather was usually in his recliner so it was the arm of the recliner that got hit most frequently and if your hand or arm was in the way, so be it. I do agree that then Cardinal Ratzinger was very perturbed by the questioning and seemed to take a "shame on you tone" with the journalist but I have no understanding of the context. It looks as though he was expecting only to be photographed walking to his car so if he was ambushed so to speak, I can easily see why he was so annoyed and angry. That German temper is comparable to an Italian temper any day!

Anyway, I think it will be best to watch how the Vatican reacts now to get a better sense of Pope Benedict's feelings on the issue.

Timothy said...

Babs, you come close to bearing false witness about the Holy Father when you simply say he slapped the man. He did barely more than touch his arm, and said that things would be addressed in due time.