Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, one of the fastest-growing priestly communities in the Church, has been officially restricted by the Holy See in his public ministries, according to officials of the Holy See.
The restrictions, to be released officially by the Holy See perhaps as early as the week of May 21, essentially will conclude that at least some of the sex abuse accusations against Fr. Maciel are well founded. A source to the Vatican said that more than 100 interviews have been conducted by Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's promoter of justice and investigator in the Maciel case.
At press time, May 18, after a request for an interview, Legion of Christ spokesman Jay Dunlap said,
We know nothing about this. We do not have anything to say.
While priestly laicization is an extremely rare canonical step, this action, approved prior to Easter by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, is very serious, and will limit Fr. Maciel's public activities such as offering Holy Mass publicly, giving public lectures and presentations, and giving media interviews, among others.
John Allen, of
The Word from Rome, initially reported this story, with an unnamed Vatican official saying the action against Maciel should not be read as an indictment of the Legionaries of Christ or its lay branch, Regnum Christi.
However, with more than 100 essentially corroborating interviews from the U.S., Mexico and Ireland, the statement issued in a Legion of Christ news release last Fall (not dated on their website), had their newly-elected general director, Father Alvaro Corcuera Martinez del Rio, 47, saying the following:
I wish to express my desire to remain faithful to the charism of the congregation and to the person of the founder, and to continue his work at the service of the Church.
The questions that some former members of the Legion of Christ's lay apostolate, Regnum Christi, are raising appear to question the prudence and wisdom of the Legion's new general director in remaining to lead the congregation of priests in the charism of the person of the founder. The Legion news release cited Fr. Maciel's age as one of the reasons he declined re-election last Fall on the heels of news that the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith was continuing interviews with new alleged sex abuse victims.
The late Pope John Paul II often praised Father Maciel publicly, especially for the tremendous growth of his priestly congregation. It has been speculated that the Pope's upbringing under Communist rule made him automatically disregard any allegations against priests or others regarding homosexuality or sexual abuse, as this was a common smear tactic employed by Communists to ruin the reputations of their enemies. Indeed, as late as 2004, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to Fr. Maciel thanking Fr. Maciel for 60 years of
intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry.
The ReGAIN Network, an organization for former Legion of Christ priests, seminarians and members of Regnum Christi, the lay apostolate, was formed to assist those recovering from psychological, spiritual and sexual abuse within the priestly and lay groups.
Author Genevieve Kineke is a former women's section head of Regnum Christi, and was in the apostolate for 7 years:
Members of Regain are delighted with this first step, understanding that laicisation of elderly priests is extremely rare, she said.
The Holy See's acknowledgement of probable misdeeds become magnified considering the stature of Fr. Maciel, she said.
It causes all members of the movement to consider the long-term suffering of the accusers who have been rebuffed and dismissed for so long, Kineke said.
This first step will never ameliorate their pain, but it is a measure of balm for them to be taken seriously after so many years, she said.
Back in 1997, after an initial group of nine ex-Legionaries reportedly filed canonical lawsuits and made public accusations against the Legion, the Legion's crisis communications plan time was quickly disseminated throughout the Legion and its lay apostolate. After a hastily-called meeting of nearly all of Legion of Christ priests in North America to categorically deny the charges, they were instructed to relay to their Regnum Christi lay members the message that this was a modernist, liberal, anti-Church plot by those who hated the Church and wanted to destroy Fr. Maciel. The Legion of Christ website with details can be accessed here.
After the past several years of the hundreds of cases of sex abuse among clergy becoming public, perhaps the perspective that many Catholics need to move away from is that this happens only to
liberals and to
dissenting dioceses and priestly organizations. Perhaps the time has come for adult Catholics to realize that sin exists everywhere, and this problem is not limited only to liberal, homosexual-infested dioceses and religious priestly organizations, even if it may be more prevalent.
Father Maciel's apparent unwavering support by the late Pope John Paul II has perhaps confused the faithful, and it is essential to understand how papal support was simply a clever bulwark employed by the Legion against criticisms, Kineke opined.
It allowed the Legion to dismiss all complaints about the Legion's as attacks on 'orthodoxy'.
Catholics need to understand in their very being that so-called
orthodoxy, although necessary and desirable, does not shield anyone from sins of the flesh. Original sin and concupiscence are real and are just as much of the spiritual warfare for
orthodox Catholics as they are for others. The other lesson may be that Catholics need to learn their Faith in its fullness and understand that infallibility and orthodoxy and even suspected holiness of popes, like Pope John Paul II, does not extend to every public word the pope utters nor necessarily to an endorsement of everything about a particular movement or movement's founder, nor its charism.
Mike Petrik, 49, is a corporate tax attorney in suburban Atlanta, who cautions against drawing too many initial inferences from this apparent action against Fr. Maciel directly with the rest of the Legion or its lay apostolate, Regnum Christi.
It is important to remember that
St. Augustine said: 'God judged it better to bring good out of evil.
Petrik explained that it is quite common for religious orders to extol their founders, and it would be a serious challenge for the Legion of Christ to be able to overcome the practical difficulties associated with attempting to distance itself from its founder.
It is understandable that there are people who welcome this apparent new development, Petrik said.
I just hope that such responses are grounded in the desire for justice for any victims and the genuine love for truth rather than some disproportionate animosity for an order that by most accounts has brought many people closer to Christ and His Church, he said.
Lee Podles is a journalist and author and is currently writing a book entitled, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. His reaction to the current news against Fr. Maciel was the following:
The Legion is disliked and even hated by some Catholics, and not only liberal Catholics, because of its secrecy and strict control of its members, tactics which are both foreign to the American and the modern mentality, he said.
A successful attack on Maciel would discredit not only him, but also the Legionaries, he continued.
The bishops and the Vatican tolerated abuse by obscure priests for decades; the bishops and the Vatican would have an even greater motive to cover up allegations against Maciel, Podles said.
The Legionaries are a large and rapidly growing organization, extremely important in keeping Hispanics in the Catholic Church; the Vatican to this point has not been eager to discover any evidence its founder might be a pederast and homosexual.