Fr. Maciel Is Disciplined by the Holy See: What Will the Legionaries Do Now?
By Dale Vree
Dale Vree is Editor of New Oxford Review.
Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is probably the most prominent priest to be disciplined by the Catholic Church for homosexual predation, that is, pederasty. Former Legionary Juan Vaca sent the first petition to the Holy See in 1976. He identified himself and 20 others as victims of Maciel’s homosexual activity. It took 30 years for the case to be resolved. The case was reopened in 2004 by Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Ratzinger sent Msgr. Charles Scicluna to investigate the matter. According to John L. Allen Jr., the ace Vatican correspondent, Msgr. Scicluna gave the number of accusers as “more than 20, but less than 100” (NCRonline.org, May 18, 2006).
The official communiqué for the CDF on May 19, 2006, said in part: “Beginning in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received accusations, already partly made public, against Fr. Marcial Maciel…for crimes that fall under the exclusive competence of the congregation…. After having attentively studied the results of the investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…decided — bearing in mind Fr. Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health — to forgo a canonical hearing and to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry. The Holy Father approved these decisions.”
The Legionaries and Regnum Christi (the Legion’s lay affiliate) followed with an official statement on May 19, which said in part: “Facing the accusations made against him [Maciel], he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way.”
The Church certainly does allow for self-defense, so it’s obvious that Maciel could not defend himself. And if Maciel was “following the example of Jesus Christ,” who were the villains? The Sanhedrin, the Pharisees? In this melodrama, the villains can only be the Holy See.
Moreover, Jesus was not accused of sexually violating innocent boys. If Maciel really wanted to follow Jesus, he would do as Jesus says: “Whoever causes one of the little ones who believes in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk. 9:42). Oh no, not that!
As for “following the example of Jesus Christ,” and deciding “not to defend himself in any way”: When the Hartford Courant in 1997 accused Maciel of molesting boys, Maciel’s lawyers threatened legal action against the newspaper. Was this following the example of Jesus Christ? It’s so obvious that Maciel could not defend himself against the Holy See.
The Legionaries’ statement also said that this is “a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him [Maciel] to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.” Fr. Owen Kearns, a Legionary priest and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the National Catholic Register (controlled by the Legionaries), said in an Editorial in the Register (May 28-June 3): “We are not afraid of this cross — on the contrary, we are honored by it.” Oh, really? Kearns has been the point man defending Maciel against charges of pederasty.
Kearns continues: “If you pray for the Legionaries, don’t pray that this cup be taken away, pray that we be worthy of drinking it to the dregs.” This is a play on the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane: “O My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39; also Mk. 14:36 and Lk. 22:42).
Does Maciel consider himself to be a messianic figure? Certainly his followers do. Maciel even surpasses Christ when Kearns says, “Don’t pray that this cup be taken away” (Jesus says, “if it is possible let this cup pass from Me”), and Kearns says, “pray that we be worthy of drinking it to the dregs” (whereas Jesus says, “not as I will, but as You will”). Is Maciel greater than Christ?
Neither the Legionaries’ statement nor Kearns’s Editorial contained a hint of mea culpa. The Legionaries and Regnum Christi have been called cults, and their response would certainly indicate that. Only a zombie would believe what the Legionaries’ statement and Kearns’s Editorial say. The Legionaries and Regnum Christi were founded on a lie, a monumental lie. Of course, we would assume that most Legionaries and Regnum Christi members are not zombies. They were duped and betrayed, and we must feel compassion for them.
Because of Maciel’s “advanced age  and delicate health” (which is common for elderly clerical sex abusers), he was not subjected to a canonical trial. He was lucky to get off so easily, considering the dastardly crimes he committed. It was a settlement out of court, something like a plea-bargain. If it had gone to a canonical trial, Maciel would likely have been defrocked.
All this talk about Maciel’s “cross” and his “cup” is just hocus-pocus. Jesus was crucified; Maciel was not. Jesus was innocent; Maciel is not.
The communiqué from the CDF also said: “Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association Regnum Christi is gratefully recognized” (italics added). This would indicate that the Holy See wants the Legionaries and Regnum Christi to separate themselves from Maciel. However, the Legionaries’ statement said: “The Legionaries of Christ and the members of Regnum Christi, following the example of Fr. Maciel and united to him…” (italics added). There will be no “independence” from Maciel. The Legionaries and Regnum Christi are Fr. Maciel; they consider him a “living saint.” Go to the Legion centers and you’ll find a picture of Maciel next to a picture of Christ. Maciel is highly charismatic, and, from several accounts, is thought to be a megalomaniac.
In Kearns’s Editorial he says: “The Legionaries will…accompany their founder [Maciel] in his new stage of his life…. We love and trust Pope Benedict. We do not question his decision or his wisdom.” But Kearns says Maciel will be “vindicated,” and refers to Maciel’s “cross.” So obviously Kearns does question Pope Benedict’s wisdom. The Legionaries’ statement also said that they “accept and will accept always the directives of the Holy See with profound spirit of obedience and faith”; but they also say Maciel is “innocent.” The Legionaries cannot make a martyr of Maciel and then give fidelity to the Holy See with “faith.” You can see why the Legionaries are known for their Machiavellian stratagems. But it’s an outright contradiction. No doubt some of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members will fall for this.
By the way, after Kearns’s Editorial on Maciel — this being the biggest story affecting the Legion-controlled Register — there were no letters to the Editor, pro or con, in the Register. Hush, hush!
It’s clear that the Legionaries are still loyal to Maciel. This is flat-out defiance. The Holy See will quietly have to get rid of the leaders of the Legionaries. This is the Holy See’s test. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that the culture of cronyism and dishonesty does not extend to other leaders of the Legionaries as well.
The best friends of the Legionaries in the U.S. were the neoconservatives. The usual neocon suspects rallied to Maciel’s defense against the pederasty charges. They included Deal Hudson, William Donohue, Richard John Neuhaus, and Mary Ann Glendon. More oblique were George Weigel and William Bennett. Boy, do these neocons have egg on their faces.
The accusers of Maciel were vilified and scorned. For example, in First Things (March 2002), Neuhaus called the accusations — and therefore the accusers — just about everything in the book: “slanderous attacks,” “malicious gossip,” “vicious gossip,” “repugnant,” “muck,” “false and malicious” (twice), “detraction,” “slander,” “calumny,” and “odious.” Of the neocons (as far as we know) only Neuhaus was still defending Maciel after the Vatican communiqué (on the First Things website, May 19, and on The New York Times website, May 19). Neuhaus went to great lengths to defend Maciel, and he must realize that much of his credibility is on the line. Yes, it’s hard to admit when one is wrong. But, Fr. Neuhaus, you were wrong.
Lo and behold, Fr. Neuhaus did admit he was wrong — for all intents and purposes — in First Things (Aug./Sept.). Well, good for him.
The Church owes the accusers a debt of gratitude and appreciation: Maciel has ruined or distorted the lives of many boys. Maciel has in effect been found guilty, and justice has been done (and so has mercy).
As you know, the NOR has told you what’s wrong with Maciel and the Legionaries for years, and we’ve gotten many cancelations and nonrenewals because of it. (We’ve also printed many letters defending Maciel and the Legionaries — it’s tempting to reveal all their names, but we won’t.) Yes, the truth can sometimes be hard to take. But you can trust us to tell the unpleasant truths and inconvenient facts. We can’t think of any other orthodox Catholic periodical that told you the truth about Maciel — that is, before the Holy See’s communiqué.
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