A Swiss Cheese Riddled with Holes
Book Review and Commentary on Christ is My Life, Interview with Marcial Maciel by Jesus Colina
“The psychoanalyst’s question facing a psychotic text is: ‘what should I do with it?’ which means, as far as psychoanalytical discourse is concerned, ‘what should I say about it?’ (…) Lacan states that the psychoanalyst should serve as a secretary to the alienated. But this does not mean that he should simply be ready to take notes. To be a secretary to the alienated is also to do what Freud did: introduce the subject.”
(Eric Laurent, La psychose dans le texte)
“The essence of evil is its unredeemed ambiguity (…) Evil pretends to be a contemporary, an equal and a twin brother of Goodness.”
(Emmanuel Levinas, Humanisme de l’autre homme)
ENCYCLOPEDIC FATHER MACIEL IN THE LIMELIGHT
To a true believer and a spiritually well-read Catholic the title of this book evokes Saint Paulâ€
And yet, to those who have heard things up close the enchanting music has a different sound. It must have been in 1953 that a young victim, frustrated by Senator McCarthy’s shameless public interrogation tactics, asked the evil persecutor during one of the last hearings- “Haven’t you any decency left, senator?” This came to mind after reading through all of Christ is my Life in the Spanish original.
For the book, far from an ‘interview’, is a collection of recipes gathered from other â€˜officialâ€
The book is also used to highlight Marcial Maciel’s â€˜wisdomâ€
For the book has taken good care to cover each and every one of the Founderâ€
The word “calumnies” appears on nine different pages, opportunely correlated with the concept of “pardon”. The word “chastity” appears only on two pages, and, -most amazingly- the word “conscience” shows up on no less than fourteen pages! “Culture”, surprisingly, is repeated on ten pages. “Contemplationâ€
Analyzing the content of the book, its structure, its disposition, the encompassing purpose of its one hundred and fifty two carefully numbered apologetic “answers” and the timely inclusion of important names of highly influential co-involved contemporary Vatican personalities is revealing. It becomes perfectly evident that the target readers are churchmen of high and medium rank, people knowledgeable in religious affairs, “traditional enemies of the LC”, the common legionaries of posterity, and also very specifically the Mexican bishops. How come? The Mexican bishops, through their spokesperson, Monsignor Abelardo Alvarado, have been pressing Marcial Maciel lately to respond formally to the increasing accumulated oral and written testimonies against him. Marcial Maciel’s first typical response was his argument “by dignified silence”, his usual stalling tactic. This is then followed by the choreographed visit of Maciel’s personal and official representative, Fr. Octavio Acevedo, LC, to the bishops’ spokesperson. On the coattails of the useless emissary follows this book of “interviews”, meant to answer all questions, without having to be specific, and avoiding the thorny ones.
The “interview” book (Madrid, FundaciÃ³n Logos Ed., April, 2003, 289 pages), is divided into eight parts preceded by a prologue supposedly written by JesÃºs Colina, the “interviewer”, who incidentally â€“caveat emptor- is A Regnum Christi member and the founder and director of the Legion’s Zenit Information Agency.
The first three parts of the bookâ€
Far from being a spontaneous encounter between the “journalist” and the founder and director general of the Legion of Christ, each part of the “interview” is divided into a series of obviously highly structured questions and desk-crafted reflective ‘answers’, both, quite evidently, written by one and the same person. Marcial Maciel has been for a very long time a pioneer in what the Spanish writer Vicente VerdÃº, in his recent book El estilo del mundo, calls “fiction capitalism”: an atmosphere where everything is subject to copy and imitation, where deceit and undeclared substitution play a central role. But, since undoubtedly their kingdom is indeed of this world, why should Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ be more honest than Enron or Xerox, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. And, speaking of publishing, why not try the strategy of New York Times reporter Jayson Blair who stole information from other journalists, invented statements and simulated notes dated in places where he had never been?
THE GREAT IMPERSONATOR
The book attributed to Marcial Maciel and the “journalist” as an “interview” seems to those of us familiar with the Great Deceiver and his tactics like one more of the impersonations he pulls off with extraordinary ease. We must admit: Marcial Maciel deserves the Pulitzer Prize for impersonation, mimicry and disguise, for he is as versatile in spiritual-looking matters as certain rock singers imitating better vocalists and musicians, with rhythms Ã la mode, surrounding chorus catch phrases, sensationalist limelight and all. He is the perfect actor, without ever having opened Stanislavski. To those of us who remember Saint Paul’s words: “Induimini Jesum Christum…” (‘Let us put on Jesus Christ’) they sound terribly ironical in this context. Marcial Maciel, perfect actor as he is, has paraphrased them as a title for his book, Christ is my Life, and unmistakably aimed them at those who do not know him well enough.
But Marcial Maciel overlooks the fact that -as Vittorio Gassman once remarked to Luciano Lucignani in a real interview- “theater is a dangerous profession (…) in the sense that it has to do with a kind of mental illness. It is a profession with components of pathological dimensions (â€¦). The actor, like the witch-doctor of primitive societies, is an individual with special powers, true or simulated (…) who has become the guide and the path on a risky journey, a voyage towards something that does not exist (…). The actor, or whoever makes this journey, runs the risk of fracturing his individual personality, exposing himself to schizophrenia (…). For, in fact, what is an actor? He is someone who by profession, by choice, by nature, function or whatever, lies continuously (…). The actor lies always, he is always ready to become, to become somebody, who wants and accepts to “be” somebody else (â€¦) Camouflage, garments and disguise are the tools of the actor’s profession.”
If Vittorio Gassmanâ€
In the light of our past experiences the great performer, Marcial Maciel, who usually only sings “solos”, now, in this “interview” performs his longest duet ever, throwing in lots of falsettos; in more than one sense.
STRUCTURES OF DECEIT
We are, once again, facing another case of authorship by proxy. We know that on a previous occasion it was Fr. Gonzalo Miranda, LC, who wrote The Complete Formation of the Priest (La FormaciÃ³n Integral del Sacerdote, Madrid, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1990). This volume was included in the convenient, though totally undeserved, company of Saint Augustine, Saint Therese of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Marcelino MenÃ©ndez y Pelayo, Werner Heisenberg! All this happening just a year before the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Christ. After half a century it was embarrassing for Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ to appear practically bereft of doctrine, and it was urgent to show the world that Marcial Maciel did have some ideas after all. Permission to start the Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum had to be obtained, besides, and it was particularly important to influence bishops in Latin America to send their best candidates to the priesthood to be taught by Legion of Christ instructors.
We think the “interview book”, the way it is fabricated, can only be possible because everything, particularly men, are mere instruments to Marcial Maciel. This is basic. “I like to move my men like checkers”, Marcial Maciel said one day. Once in CÃ³breces, Santander, Spain, in the Summer of 1952, he asked one of us to bring him a table game. So a game of chess was brought to him. He immediately said- “No, I want checkers!” And we saw how much he enjoyed gobbling up his opponent’s pieces, tongue in cheek, in a fast mode. And that is an example of how Marcial Maciel, who says he believes in long term preparation, at the same time expects and enjoys, tries and gets fast, expedient results. Which corresponds to a man who, as we sadly know, has been subject to hidden, personal, licit and illicit caprices for most of his life.
Concerning the spirit and intention of Marcial Maciel’s 289 pages “interview”, we think one could most accurately apply certain lines from one of Jorge Luis Borges’ Fictions, short stories: “… a long novel written in the first person, in which the narrator omits or deforms the facts and falls into contradictions which allow a few readers -but only a few- to occasionally decry an atrocious, sometimes totally false reality…”
In no part of the book are we told that JesÃºs Colina is an ex member of the Legion of Christ and now a Regnum Christi member. Or that the Zenit News Agency and the Logos Foundation are directly or indirectly financed, manned and run by Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi people; as indeed they are. The whole work is imbedded in ambivalence. Even visually: its front cover shows the ambiguous face of the androgynous Christ of Salvador DalÃ’s “Last Supper”, raising a finger of his right hand in a way that very narrowly falls short of an obscene gesture. Marcial Maciel most probably does not know that DalÃ chose his wife’s (Gala’s) face to portray Christ’s. He most surely does not know either that DalÃ titled one his paintings “The Great Masturbator”. Again it is the Legion of Christâ€
Yes, as the ancient Latin writers would say, the book “redolet oleo”- “it smells of oil’, meaning here that it is not the true record of natural, personal, direct conversations, but rather the product of nocturnal desk homework. Thus not his own “oil” but somebody elseâ€
The style of the book contradicts the claim of really reporting true spontaneous answers to free, open questions. And, yes, the content shows that “Marcial Maciel’s” letters, memoirs and other LC treasures are obviously and constantly being used and intermingled with quotations from pontifical documents. “How right Pope John Paul II was in writing the “Fides et Ratio” Encyclical Letter!”, and well-chosen long scriptural passages readily and impeccably quoted “by heart” in such an admirable way that, as is commonly known, was never ever one of Marcial Maciel’s fortes. Besides, earnestly speaking did MM ever once read the complete New Testament?
We repeat: it seems quite clear that most probably Fr. Javier GarcÃa, LC, and a very small, secret ad-hoc team of LC members were the ones who were instructed to concoct the new numbered catechism on Marcial Maciel’s life, views and “doctrines”. Fr. Javier GarcÃa LC, a professor of Christology for some time and a man of MMâ€
FALSE MEMORIES, COMPLETE AMNESIA AND FRAUD.
Marcial Maciel’s memory, at his 83 years of age, as previously mentioned, appears too minute and felicitous. Then suddenly, in the middle of the very first part, he has a blackout and states as facts events that never happened: for instance, that cardinal Francis J. Spellman received him and his boys in New York in September 1946. The meeting simply never happened. A minor point? No! Marcial Maciel needed to construct this apparently unimportant anecdote to support the alleged veracity of some false letters he fabricated in 1949 and that he showed to the Jesuits at the University of Comillas. In those false letters MM had Cardinal Spellman purportedly saying he would readily take him and his boys into the New York diocese, were they expelled from Comillas. There are three witnesses who can testify to the contrary. For their part, professionals such as Carlos de la Isla (LC 1941-1957), Saul Barrales (LC 1945-1957), Gabriel CortÃ©s Ã�vila (LC 1943-1959), and others who accompanied Marcial Maciel on the first transatlantic voyage disavow the false story narrated on the very threshold of the “interviews”.
Another blunder: in the first part of the “interview”, taking advantage of certain poorly documented regional reports on the Church-state conflict in Mexico, Marcial Maciel promotes himself as a hero. He portrays himself at age seventeen (!) as the daring leader who enters the local government palace in Orizaba, Veracruz, to mediate between the government forces and an inflamed Catholic crowd… “I was asked to harangue ‘the masses’ from the government palace balcony and to persuade them to calm down and leave.” (page 30). What a consoling dream for the psychologically diminished Mexican adolescent who might have seen Mussolini declaim at the central balcony at Palazzo Venezia or the impressive Pius XI on the central loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica in contemporary film documentaries! It is either pathetic or comical. I refer the reader to the daydreams of the funny character in The Double Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber. For the rest, simply stated, what a pity there is not one single witness! Maciel makes a vague reference to the doubtful â€˜proofâ€
Not a word is said about his life-long dependency on morphine. There is nary a memory of that day when the Spanish police followed him from San SebastiÃ¡n to Salamanca, or of the time when, completely passed out, he almost drowned in a hotel room bathtub in Morocco. MM seems to have forgotten the day when an Irish archbishop had to rescue him from the premises of the Dublin Police; they had detained him while he was under the effects of the drug a certain day in the early sixties. Obviously he has also committed to total oblivion the terrible predicament in which he put several of us, his own seminarians, when in Spain, Italy, France and even in the United States, he induced some of us to recklessly obtain morphine for him with tricks and lies.
Little reference is made to his use of money; not a word about his illegal transactions in the Spanish money black market of the forties, fifties and sixties. There is total silence about the multiple murky sources of the LCâ€
And why should MM recall the early days of June 1949 when in TlÃ¡lpam, Mexico, brother Alfredo Torres and he rehearsed and performed the now famous “gun attack by Communist students”. The brim of the saintâ€
THE VATICAN CONNECTION?
MM “talks” of his personal friendship with Paul VI, but draws a blank regarding negative predictions about Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montiniâ€
Talking of Lady Poverty, MM forgot to mention the time when in Tangiers, in 1957, he bought, for cash, an exclusive, deluxe, all electric, two tone Chrysler model of the year. He later chose to justify it as a personal present given to him by Josefita GÃ³mez Delfino, one of his devout benefactors from Caracas, Venezuela. Nor does he mention the Legionâ€
How does the Founder fare as regards historical fairness and social sensitivity? Marcial Maciel “talks the talkâ€
Regarding The Masterâ€
And what can be said about MMâ€
Those facts are etched in the memory of witnesses and have been collected, attested in duly signed revelations or videotaped testimonies of ex members of the Legion of Christ. They are safely held in bank security boxes for their presentation in due time. â€˜When the judgment opens, what was hidden will appearâ€
“Judex autem, cum sedebit, quidquid latet apparebitâ€¦”
On the other hand, during his â€˜interviewsâ€
Knowing Maciel’s personal modus operandi, and his creative gifts, one might predict right now that, if it suited him, he and his official spokesmen could very soon show ‘notarized letters’ to the public attesting to he “true authorship” of the “interview book”. The same previous experience with the man and his twisted manners allows us to foresee immediate denial and new lies of different sorts. Inveterate liars are quite resourceful.
Nevertheless, we should not disregard these “interviews” by simply stating we definitely suspect they never occurred, and change the topic. No! Because many people of good faith cannot distinguish truth from falsehood in cases like this. The book should rather be researched and studied as a double impersonation: that of someone -as we suspect, most likely, Fr. Javier Garcia LC- playing “the journalist” and ghost writer, and the other, that of Marcial Maciel himself, impersonating a saintly follower of Christ. “Christ is my Life”: a bold and offensive title for the life and thoughts of a man who, according to so many written revelations and oral testimonies, has betrayed the most elementary virtues. Christ had harsh words for the Scribes and Pharisees.
THE ‘JUXTAPOSITION PRINCIPLE’
Why all this farce? Independent readers, please consider the strength and â€˜economyâ€
Because Marcial Maciel has always relied so much on the power of images, he in some way anticipated Marshall McLuhan’s theory that “the medium is the message” or Andy Warhol’s dictum that “the appearance is all”. In the same sense Maciel had perfect insight into the power of the movies’ “Kolokoff effect” (you “are” what you seem to be). Thus, Marcial Maciel is a perfect postmodern man. Particularly when most of his followers are just eager to believe what they have already been indoctrinated into. The Vulgate says “Vulgus vult decipi” (â€˜The masses want to be deceivedâ€
Some people will say that there are “great thinkers” in the Marcial Maciel camp and among Legion of Christ defenders. Embarrassingly enough, Benito Mussolini, too, had his Giovanni Gentile in his day. In fact, we must expect that the same way as the book we are commenting was created, likewise a chorus of well orchestrated, friendly, “independent” reviewers will very soon begin to be heard. Like dolphins around the triumphant vessel they will leap in praise of the “depth and amplitude of thought”, the “simple directness”, the “lucid patriarchal wisdom”, etc. of the never sufficiently praised Marcial Maciel.
This marvelous “juxtaposition principle” will be applied over and over again. The same also should be noted with the frequent mention of Vatican personalities, past and present, particularly the late Pope Paul VI, who, “even as a Pope, used to receive me whenever I asked him.”(!) (Page 184). This brings back Marcial Maciel’s most daring classic “naÃ¯ve” story. His self-cultivated legend tells how on his first trip to Rome in 1946, after a formal ceremony at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Pius XII personally gave Maciel -then a obscure scarcely twenty-six year old priest- a private appointment just twenty four hours after bumping into him for the first time (page 50).
Readers should continue to consider the fruits of “the juxtaposition principle”: Christ said that “the children of Darkness are more astute than the children of Light”. In spite of his now internationally known crimes, MM has managed to survive thus far, not only without punishment but even with pomp and circumstance. And done so for a longer time than several infamous men of the past. They fell because of their many personal, hidden weaknesses, their injustice, for social reasons and historical conditions and for several important tactical mistakes of a varied nature. Their greatest mistake was, however: THEY DID NOT HIDE BEHIND THE CHURCH, THE ALTAR, OR THE POPE; this being the most productive juxtaposition of all!
And yet, the fact still remains that truth is stubborn by nature, and will come out eventually. To conclude this unorthodox review and commentary, and in order not to ‘appear’ less informed than Marcial Macielâ€
“Truth, in spite of all the attempts to suffocate it, has the means to reaffirm itself. Distortion affects it only for a while. No matter to what extremes we, humans, go so as to obscure facts, to deceive our neighbors, truth always finds the way to get through the cracks and reemerge in the long run.”
In other words, and returning here to the opening subtitle of this book review and commentary: in the end truth manages to fill in all the holes of this Swiss cheese of questionable origin.
The Literary Analyst