Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Church and Legion

The scandal surrounding the late Father Maciel and the child--or children--he fathered continues to unfold; see the life-after-rc blog for this post and this one, which offer translations of (I believe) Mexican media accounts of the newest revelations. Among them: there are multiple children (at least three); the mother of one of them was a minor when she first met Maciel; and that the Legion cover-up of this situation goes back much farther than previously supposed.

It will probably take a while for the full extent of this story to be revealed. In the meantime, Rod Dreher comments here:
Who in the order knew that the hero-worshiped Padre had impregnated several women? Who signed off on this "hush money"? Who in the Vatican knew what Maciel had done? Did Pope John Paul II know -- and did he approve of the cover-up? (You will note that despite ample evidence that something was very wrong with Maciel and his scheme, the Vatican made no moves against him until Cardinal Ratzinger became pope).
For the record, I highly doubt that Pope John Paul II knew anything at all about Maciel's double life or the cover-ups it entailed; I disagree with Rod about this. That's not some kind of knee-jerk Catholic defense policy--it is based on my knowledge of the Legion, and of how good, how terribly good, they can be at presenting an "all is well" image to the Church and to the world, even while allowing dubious practices in terms of formation etc. to flourish in their seminaries.

We also need to remember that Pope John Paul II was advanced in years and precarious in health by the time any serious suspicions about the Legion began to surface in a way that wasn't being addressed by the Legion's own rather highly-developed damage control system. Remember, the Legion's default position for many years has been that anyone who criticizes, condemns, questions, or raises suspicions about the Legion is someone who is unworthy of the Legion's great mission and purpose, and has probably been influenced by evil to attack Maciel and the great, noble things he set out to create. Even today you will hear some Legion members utter such things: Maciel himself may be an "imperfect vessel," but the Legion and all its works are unquestionably good for the Church and the world, according to them. Attacking the Legion is attacking the Church, plain and simple, in this unwise formulation--but such a formulation would make it even harder for anyone outside the Legion to get anywhere with an investigation, especially when what is being investigated is never anything more than slippery and elusive rumors about "misconduct."

As someone pointed out over at Crunchy Cons, it would take something like an apostolic visitation to show accounting irregularities or other proofs of a cover-up of Maciel's sinful lifestyle and activities--and that's exactly what Pope Benedict XVI has ordered. The plain truth is that the pope, for all that he is the visible head of Christ's Church on earth, is not akin to the CEO of some "Catholic, Inc." business who spends most of his time as an executive reviewing the financial statements and other records of every diocese, religious order, or official Catholic-affiliated group or organization on the planet; if he did, he wouldn't have time to be a spiritual leader at all.

Is there some reform needed among the various Vatican bureaucracies whose job it actually is to keep an eye on some of these administrative realities? From everything I've heard, yes. But the Church is not a business, and the pope's job should never be assumed to be "Chief Financial Officer/Rumor Investigator/Tyrannical Head Despot with Limitless Authority over the Day to Day Workings of Every Single Diocese and Religious Order," which is what some of those still scarred by the Scandal seem to think it should be.

All of that said, the fact that more and more information is filtering out about Maciel's evil and duplicitous life is a chance for the Church to act through her official channels to do what must be done in the aftermath of so terrible a reality. The heavy questions about whether the Legion should be entirely suppressed or re-formulated with a new focus and purpose are only part of that reality; the victims of Maciel need to be compassionately and kindly helped, first and foremost. I do trust the Church to do what needs to be done, even if this takes significant time and careful effort. It is more important for the Church to act with charity and prudent responsibility than to seek to "manage" this situation with media-palatable soundbites and headlines without really getting to the bottom of this whole unsavory mess.

1 comment:

opey124 said...

If that report is right, and they (the other 3 children) were legally recognized as Maciel's children, then I do believe that the late John Paul probably knew of this. I am bracing myself because although I am/was very fond of him (JPII) there were other things going on that made me scratch my head and wonder why something wasn't being done.
I am preparing myself anyway.
I will just wait for the full report from the Vatican. This is all so sad, and sad that they let it continue.