Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Should the Legion be Investigated from the Outside?

Although there haven't been any new developments regarding the information released in February that the late Fr. Maciel of the Legion of Christ had fathered a daughter some twenty years ago, conversation has swirled around the ramifications of what this all means for the Legion. Thomas Peters at American Papist has remained on top of things, and is reporting today on the statements Cardinal Pell made to the UK's The Catholic Herald:
Cardinal George Pell has become the first senior Church figure to call for outside intervention to tackle the crisis afflicting the Legion of Christ.

The cardinal, speaking in Oxford last week, said a Church authority external to the Legion should investigate its founder's corruption and re-examine its charism.

His comments follow revelations that the Legion's founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, who died last year, secretly had a mistress and fathered a child.

The cardinal said it was "not entirely reasonable" to expect the leadership of the Legion to deal with these revelations without any outside help.

He said: "I think there should be an intervention, perhaps a visitation or something like that. I don't know what the facts of the matter are, the alleged corruption, if that's the word, on the part of the founder, to what extent there was a cover-up, to what extent the whole rationale of the order [should be] re-examined, but I think it should be sponsored by some extra-Legionary Church agency."
I'd just like to point out two aspects of the Cardinal's statement.

One, Cardinal Pell is specifically addressing the need to re-examine the Legion's charism. This is a key point for many people who have discussed and commented on this issue; to the extent that a religious group's charism is associated with its founder, and given the possibility that Fr. Maciel's secret life may have made it impossible for him to hand on a legitimate charism, it is essential that any investigation of the facts of Fr. Maciel's life and the extent and duration of his living a double life and/or committing abusive acts take into account the very central question of whether the Legion's charism can possibly be a valid one.

Two, Cardinal Pell specifically mentions the need to determine "...to what extent there was a cover-up..." Again, this is key. There are people still in leadership in the Legion today who because of their close involvement with Fr. Maciel during his lifetime may very well have known about or been aware of this double life he was living. If it can be established that they were, indeed, absolutely ignorant of his sinful lifestyle, then this raises the question as to whether people so capable of being fooled by a duplicitous person ought to be in positions of leadership in a large religious order.

There are still many unresolved questions and issues involving the Legion. While the initial shock at the disclosure that a man whom many thought was a living saint had been living a sinful life and had fathered a child has died down, new matters continue to be brought to light. In recent comment box conversations at American Papist, for instance, a Legionary priest revealed that he had personally spoken to three men who were victims of Fr. Maciel's abuse--a stunning revelation, considering that for so long the Legion has denied that any of the accusations of pedophilia had even a modicum of truth to them.

I'm certain that we haven't heard the last of the situation involving the Legion as of yet; we could hardly be said to have heard the first of it, given how much is still unknown. I think Cardinal Pell is on the right track, though; this is not a matter the Legion can resolve with a mere internal investigation, and putting outside investigators in charge of things will go a long way toward making the situation clearer.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Thanks, Erin, for summing up the situation very well. Hopefully, all Catholics will come to recognize that there is nothing to be gained by keeping information that people need to know secret. Jesus said "that which is hidden will become known". If we come out with what we know we can continue our walk with him. If not, we must hide our light under a basket, and even then the truth will come out eventually.

Too many of us Catholics however believe that the end can justify the means even if the means are not in accordance with Jesus' teachings. They think that we profit by not disclosing information that can reflect badly on members of the church that those affected need to know and have a right to know. It seems a pragmatic issue for them.

I don't believe that any so-called "good work" gained by denying people the information they need will bear lasting fruit. I think the recent history of sexual abuse covered up by bishops bears this out. How many more times must this happen and how many more billions of dollars of hard-earned donations must be paid in lawsuits until we get the message?