The Imposter

By Javier Sicilia


Published June 4, 2006 in “Presente�, (Mexico).
Translated by ReGAIN Staff


Much has been written over the years about Marcial Maciel, no more so than in the recent reports of his suspension ad divinis [Tr. sic]. The punishment is one of the stiffest that Rome can impose on a priest and especially on a founder of a religious order, whose sanctity would seem to resonate in the title, Mon Pere, by which his congregation refers to him. The sentence is double-sided: the one from Rome and the one which Maciel himself assumes in response to it.

The sentence of Benedict XVI overlooks something fundamental in the life of the Church. Even now, he has not invited the victims to Rome. Nor has he summoned Maciel, as he should have, to offer an apology, which he owes to the victims and to the Church as part of an invitation to live a life of penance. Nevertheless, pardon and acknowledgment speak well of the pope. Benedict XVI was not someone whose radical views and whose role as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested a recalcitrant conservative. His encyclical on love, his meeting with Hans Kung and the recent sentence imposed on Maciel reveal a pope inclined to recognize the vestments of the Church, a pope — assuming he does what all Christians expect in this case and acknowledges Maciel’s victims — of justice and charity.

But if Rome has been truthful, just, and partially charitable, the same cannot be said of Maciel and his congregation, whose name, Legion, appears only once in the gospels and is used to speak of demons. This would still not to bring to light the truth about the complicities responsible for the victimizations and lies carried out over many years to maintain Maciel’s “innocence.â€� Although Notre Pere and the Legion accepted the pope’s sentence, and although Rome protected the Congregation by uncoupling it from Maciel and by praising it for services rendered to the Church, neither one nor the other accepts the reasons for the sentence. In a subtle, but almost imperceptible way they said “yes, but no”. Maciel’s laconic words accuse: “(I accept) with faith, with total serenity and with tranquility of conscience.â€� Those of his congregation affirm: It is “a new cross which God has permitted him to carry and which will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ.â€� The words of Cardinal Rivera cast doubt: “I was not thereâ€� (during the acts of which Maciel is accused). If Rome has found him guilty and they have accepted this — for they are a part of the Church and, in the case of the Legion, the prelature — they do not believe in the legal proceedings which lead to the papal verdict. For them Rome is mistaken and the victims continue to lie. Therefore, Maciel affirms his conscience is at peace; therefore, the congregation sees him as a misunderstood saint who completes the sufferings missing from the Passion of Christ.

Aside from the fictional character of Fr. Cenabre — the famous priest who never believed in his own widely praised mystical writings, which he wrote as if “charity did not existâ€� — from Georges Bernanos’ 1927 novel, “La Imposturaâ€� (Tr. “The Hoaxâ€�; Ed., Fr. “L’IMPOSTURE”, about the spiritual crisis of a prominent member of the Parisian clergy), the reality of the horror of an imposter at the heart of the Church had never been shown with such clarity. To encounter it, one would have to read the soon-to-be-released “Feloniaâ€� by Francisco Prieto in which the author, long before the pope’s sentence was promulgated and with the foresight of a novelist, portrays the soul of Maciel himself.

As in the case of Notre Pere in “Felonia,� what destroys Maciel is not his conduct as a pedophile, but rather the emptiness of his life. By substituting sanctity —something which can only be achieved through charity — for an illusion that is nothing more than the dream of ambition, he exemplifies the most atrocious sin that one can commit: a sin against the spirit. If Marcial Maciel has stirred up the dust cloud which we have seen — a dust cloud that in the case of Michael Jackson is only a whirlwind for the morbid consumption of a society without mystery — it is because in him sanctity demonstrates the unspeakable horror that implies his corruption. Maciel, abusing his aura of sanctity, not only submits his victims to a double humiliation (using them for his pleasure, destroying their emotional lives, and incriminating them as liars), but also now, faced with the evidence of his culpability, refuses to accept it. Neither he nor his [Religious] Congregation have responded in a Christian way, with the heartfelt pain and by asking for the forgiveness his sin requires, which would allow us to recognize in them something of the sanctity and greatness they are said to possess. As with Cenabre in “The Hoax�, Maciel’s sin, in which a large part of his Congregation seems to be in solidarity, is rooted in his lack of love, in a power that is transformed into pride, in the simulation of sanctity, and in believing that the life of the Church is built, as in worldly institutions, through force and through lies, and not through the poverty and weakness of its Lord.

A long time ago, Maciel chose to betray truth, and it alone chooses to betray those inhabited by the lie. It is impossible to think that someone who possesses even an atom of truth would sacrifice it if the lie had not already taken possession of him. As Dina Dreyfus puts it so admirably, “We do not become imposters; the history of the hoax can only be seen in a retrospective hindsight that degrades the intemporal absence of a lie to a historical genesis. . . The liar becomes inhabited by a lie, which overwhelms him. There is no isolated lie, but a single lie is enough to rot the soul, for in every lie can be found the totality of the lie, the essence of the lie, ‘the will to lie.’�

In this sense Maciel’s hoax is terrifying. It is not his moral life that is at stake here — his lie is not a simple one — but rather his own spiritual life. His response to the pope’s verdict and his contempt for his victims is an immense act of arrogance that can only be healed if he publicly asks for forgiveness, accepts what God has to say about twisted explanations, and humbly and painfully retires, not to his wealthy mansion in Cotija, where he is now looked after by his subjects, but — following the example of Courveille, the trustee of the revelations which inspired the foundation of the Marists — to the poor and prayerful life of a monastery. I desire this. I desire it immensely for him and for the evangelical truth which he claims to serve. Nothing would move one to pity and edify the faith of the Church more; nothing would put an end to the doubts the world has about it more quickly, than to see this example of pride bow down before charity and truth. Otherwise, as I wrote in the prologue to “Felonia,� “may God have mercy on Notre Pere.�


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