Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beware the appearance of goodness

If you are a Facebook user, you’ve probably already seen this piece where Jason Berry shows some of the latest nonsense coming out of the Legion of Christ:

A booklet intended to promote the new center, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material demonstrating Maciel's posthumous hold on certain top-rank Legionaries. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays the Legion founder as harshly judged. In the quotation from the text that follows, the speaker is Fr. Juan María Solana, who heads the Magdala project:

The priest speaks his heart: "Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes" 
But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."
The Legion's expansion in the Holy Land stands out in stark contrast to the "fire sale" of assets in the Americas, as one priest calls it, sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion. The Legion's economic boom in Israel also occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States.
In Connecticut, the Legion has been sued by Maciel's son and the son's half-brother, alleging that Maciel sexually abused them as teenagers in America.
Read the whole thing heredon’t miss Berry’s detailed list of just how much downsizing the Legion of Christ has had to do in recent years, and how much in denial they still seem to be about the disgraceful life and ignominious death of their founder.
To me, the life of Maciel, the build-up of the Legion, and the wicked truth that was being hidden for so long is an object lesson in one particular point: beware the appearance of goodness.

That’s a counterintuitive point for many of us. Shouldn’t we flock to the good? Shouldn’t we seek it, find it, follow it, as leading ultimately to Christ?
Well, sure, if we’re talking about what really is good. But between what is good and what seems to be good there may be an uncrossable chasm.

Real goodness has a lot of humility to it. Real goodness doesn’t go around boasting about how good it is or how much better it is than anybody or anything else. Real goodness always measures itself up against Christ, and always finds itself lacking. The best and holiest never see themselves that way--they only see the flaws and the shortcomings, the great distance yet to be covered between who and what they are right now, and who and what Christ calls them to be.
This is why I cringe when certain people say things like “The bishops only go after the good people,” or “The Church seems to punish those of us who just want to do things the right way.” The Legion said that too, for a long, long time, and convinced a whole lot of people. Father Corapi said the same kinds of things. There are plenty of other examples.

Even outside the Catholic Church there are examples. I shared a piece critical of the Duggar family the other day and got one or two comments of the “But shouldn’t we just accept how good they are and not criticize them?” Even though the family follows a parenting path mapped out by an abuser? Really? We shouldn’t raise any questions, just because they look so good?

The idea that any group or organization made up of humans is above criticism leads to very dark places.  Within the Church, it led to the Scandal, and it leads to Church leaders one would otherwise admire saying incredibly stupid and harmful things.  As a Divine creation the Church is holy; as a Church made up of sinful human beings she’s no more above criticism than anybody else, so long as we’re clear that we’re criticizing the sinful humans that abide in her.

And it leads to the Legion, in 2014, still angling for a posthumous canonization of a man who fathered children in violation of his vows and who is credibly accused of sexually abusing them and many others.  Because, as Mark Shea puts it, sin makes you stupid--but also because people who become too enamored of the appearance of goodness are sometimes incapable of accepting the reality of evil.

1 comment:

Shadowfax said...

After our experience with the Legion of Christ and everything we learned as a result of that experience, I can no longer stomach anybody but a dead, canonized saint being described as "holy." I've seen it used as a smokescreen and a thought-stopper by cult-like groups too many times.

The truly holy would never encourage or even countenance being called "holy."