To affirm that the fruits &#i.e. good works) of a person or institution are sufficient proof of their inherent goodness is questionable.
The Gospel admonition that
by their fruits you shall know them does not refer exclusively to good works done or achieved, but to the whole human action involved in this achievement. To dissociate results from the manner in which they were obtained, or the true intentions behind these actions, is simplistic and could lead to mistaken conclusions, even in the secular arena. There is no doubt that certain dictators, for example Napoleon or Mussolini, had lofty intentions and glorious achievements, but at what cost in human freedom and human lives?
Ethical, moral and more so Christian behavior does not consist in a sort of tally where one adds up the good and bad works of an individual to come up with a positive balance and conclude that good was done. Indeed, on the contrary, in the Catholic vision this balance could be almost entirely negative, i.e. bad, and yet merit salvation for the individual. This contrasts with the Calvinist interpretation which assigned enormous importance to earthly success (
good works) as a visible sign of an individual's eternal salvation, and is perhaps the source of the much-touted
Protestant work ethic.
In relation to the
fruits of a person or institution there are two aspects to be considered before concluding that they are
Firstly, the intention: the great philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, said that an action is good, ethically speaking, only on condition that it is totally disinterested, i.e. nothing else is desired but good itself. If there is any ulterior motive, whatever it may be, then the action is not truly moral. This is called
purity of intention in the religious sphere. In the case of Marcial Maciel and the congregation he founded, the Legion of Christ, one cannot deny that many good works have been attained, yet there are elements present which give the impression that the intentions behind these achievements could have been tainted.
Specifically, and based on well-documented anecdotal evidence and facts, one could raise questions such as: were they motivated by monetary gain (?), by a desire for notoriety; growth in the number of adherents as an end in itself (
empire-building)? By a desire to gain influence and power in the Church and in civil society? We know that many, if not most, of Fr. Maciel's followers did not have such obscure intentions and are truly inspired individuals, yet we are not talking here about individuals, but about an institution, so these followers of Maciel may have been unwitting accomplices to these tainted goals, and the end result, the
fruits, were not truly good. Integrity may be present in most of the individuals but was and is not a hallmark of the institution itself.
Secondly, and related to the first point, what means and methods were used to achieve these fruits or
good works (?). If any form of coercion was employed such as peer pressure, excessive manipulation, overly-zealous recruiting techniques, reminders of dire personal consequences for not complying with God's will, or whatever, this equally distorts the original intention and invalidates the morality of the whole process no matter how good the outcome has been: the fruits are partially a product of something other than the pure, unencumbered desire for the glory of God.
Unfortunately, there is documented evidence of more obscure methods deployed by the Legion of Christ in pursuit of its goals: questionable practices such as inordinately generous gifts to senior members of the Roman Curia; falsification and/or substitution of documents submitted to Church authorities to expedite approval of the congregation's constitution; disregard for Canon Law regarding important aspects of religious life such as spiritual direction and confession; an unwillingness to submit to the normal Church procedure for the female members desiring to consecrate their life to God ( i.e. approval by, and a vow of obedience to the local bishop ). Above all, the invention of vows designed to quell any internal criticism, however constructive and positive, of the institution's directors, totally in contempt of Canon Law in the matter, and of the dignity of human reason and freedom. Many of these devious practices have now been abandoned, but one wonders if the culture of manipulation which inspired them remains.
Finally, if we were to accept that the
fruits of an institution such as the Legion of Christ were indeed proof of its inherent goodness, would it withstand a more rigorous scrutiny and come out with a highly positive balance? Opinions on this may differ, but one could indeed question the abnormally high rate of attrition within the ranks (i.e. defections), many of whom left the congregation with serious trauma, or the many who stayed and were ostracized by Fr. Maciel for daring to disagree with him. Worst of all, the many who were victimized by his sexual proclivities, both inside and outside the congregation. What kind of internal governance, or non-governance, would allow a senior member of a religious institution, even its founder, to carry on a hidden life of drug abuse and sexual deviancy for fifty years without ever questioning and much less censuring such conduct?
We would also have to take into account the enormous reputational damage inflicted upon the Catholic Church by this scandalous behavior, and which is now casting a shadow over the life of the beloved and respected Pope John Paul II, not to mention the feeling of shock and deception produced in so many of the founder's followers. Such considerations are impossible to quantify, but they should certainly be borne in mind in any evaluation of the institution in question, such that a highly positive balance is not a foregone conclusion.
The point of this essay has not been to deny or minimize the many good achievements in the human and spiritual spheres of the Legion of Christ. Yet an excessive contemplation of the
fruits or good works of this institution runs the risk of blinding people to the possible existence of a fundamentally flawed orientation in the pursuit of these latter, the use of questionable means and methods and a cavalier attitude toward the institution's egregious failings, leading to the conclusion that change is not necessary:
why should we criticize or change our ways?, we are vindicated by our good works!.