By Landon Cody
It is no secret to readers and bloggers faithful to Exlcblog that this has been an eventful week in the news about Marcial Maciel, his many victims, and the entire Legion of Christ.
Excuses, excuses, excuses: they do harm.
The revelation of the existence of Maciel's children, one over the age of 28, and now at least the product of two illicit "relationships", debunks some of the explanations that die hard Legionaries of Christ and members of the Regnum Christi have boldly, if not stupidly, put forth.
Of the many excuses for Maciel's monstrous behavior, it is now clear that any head injury or subsequent surgery was not the cause of his many wanderings from the vow of chastity that he imposed on others with his characteristic draconian theatrics. The injury occurred in 1985, four years after the birth of Raul, one of the men suing Maciel's estate in Mexico. Another ludicrous theory, that of Maciel having his bodily fluids stolen while in some hospital, is quite unlikely, since it would have had to have happened between 3 and 6 times and have had to have been used to impregnate between 2 and 5 women. Ms Lucrecia Rego seems to think that these women seduced our poor priest, a mere human creature like the rest of us. Well, Fr. I-Have-Never-Said-no-to-God must have been pretty irresistible to women: he has a son, Cristian, who was conceived when the codger was 70 years old. There is no need to make up such a ridiculous script: this soap opera already has plenty of jaw dropping twists and turns on its own.
While I have no beef with individual members of the Movement, I find this type of adherence to absurd excuses to be both immature and illogical. Unfortunately, the excuses are not innocent. The effect that they have on the faithful followers of Maciel is crippling, while these poor souls look for any way to continue in the cult-like spell of this con man. Children are especially vulnerable and may begin to fear situations such as brain injury or hospital stays, and have a pathological response to the persons involved in such common occurrences. The psychological well-being of adults who refuse to face realities and instead spin fairy tales to explain the actions of others (we are not speaking of the "charity" of avoiding casting stones at others here) and to cover up scandal is also in jeopardy.
Charism, methodology, spirituality and identity
Just how does the Legion of Christ think they can pull the wool over the eyes of their own members by saying that the charism and spirit of the Legion are centered only on Christ and have nothing to do with Maciel? A subterfuge cannot mask years and years of positive reinforcement in the form of directed and scheduled meditations, conferences, indications, spiritual reading, constant reference in homilies and talks, inclusion in the liturgy of the hours, feast days celebrating his person, topics of conversation, comparisons with his life history, quoting his works and talks, melting in his presence, cherishing any sign of favor from him....
The unfortunate part of all of this disaster is the fact that the day to day rules and regulations in the Legion and the Movement, the spirituality focus, and the identifying characteristics of the "Legionary Type" are rooted in the pathological behavior of a man who created an institute where he could exercise complete power and control with no oversight or accountability, and live a life diametrically opposed to that of the gospel. The key is that the very institute and its rules and way of life was what permitted him to live this life on the margin of clerical respectability while using the typical modus operandi of an abuser: the search for complete power and manipulation. At the same time, the mirror image of this depravity of control became the Legion of Christ: an institute designed with a centralized, top to bottom control structure that Maciel micro managed and taught his successors to micro manage, complete with more rule books and norms and detailed minutia than any other order, congregation, or religious institute in the history of the Catholic Church.
Beyond the scope of the rules and norms, there are so many practices which many members and ex members have fallen victim to and which have become standard operating procedure in the Legion. This is not to say that these practices are applied to every case--there are some exceptions--but the outlandish behavior of superiors over the years falls into too many patterns to simply discount it as "rogue" or "exceptional", especially in the face of reports that such activities have their roots in orders and indications from the now besmirched founder.
It is now quite obvious that a very young and ambitious Maciel began his venture in the 1940s with small children with the aim of having a group of totally controlled minors he could abuse. The fact the the Legion of Christ continues the system of seminary "high schools" or apostolic schools, where they do take children in as young as 10 years old, should raise much more concern than it does among thinking people. Even today, these young kids are not in a healthy environment: they are micro supervised, not allowed privacy, isolated from family and friends, not taught how to positively express sexuality, indoctrinated in the life of Maciel and his writings.... Why these institutions have not been abolished is as mind blowing as the fact that some parents still think that they are doing God's will by giving over the responsibility of raising their sons (and daughters in parallel Regnum Christi consecrated schools) to a religious congregation. No papal stamp of approval of a congregation, no "predilection" of a pope provides criteria enough to allow anyone to relinquish the responsibility of a parent's vocation to raise one's own children.
The command center and enablers: more than shared responsibility
Much has been made of the fact that there are those in the Legion who knew or at least should have known about Maciel's illicit behavior. There is ample evidence that those who were in control of communities and those who followed Maciel -- tending to his obsessive needs -- did indeed know of his actions. There is no problem naming names here, as far back as Rafael Arumi, who certainly knew there was something amiss with the young apostolic boys in Rome (there to do their last years before the novitiate) who were coming and going at all hours much too frequently to and from Maciel's rooms and the infirmary.
In more modern times, the major superiors were privy to odd behavior and should have had tighter reigns on the finances that Maciel employed with no oversight or accountability: Octavio Acevedo, Hector Guerra, and Anthony Bannon come to mind. Currently, the Legion has been placing less than qualified men in these positions: someone like Scott Reilly is certainly not intelligent enough to be held to the same standards of responsibility.
Then there is the inner circle of power so often cited: Luis Garza Medina, Alvaro Corcuera, and Evaristo Sada Derby (Sada Derby is said to know so much of what Maciel did that an exlegionary recently quipped that Sada Derby was probably to blame for Maciel's having children since he might have forgotten to buy him his condoms).
Another tight circle was comprised of those who attended to Maciel hand and foot: his so called "personal secretaries" which, over the years, have included John Devlin, Felipe Castro, Bernardo Skertchly and Rafael Moreno, among others.
Another unfortunate group, maybe somewhat less guilty of being complicit, is comprised of victims of Maciel's abuse who continued in the Legion of Christ as priests, some of whom, credibly, have become abusers themselves.
All in all, there is no small number of those who share responsibility and enabled this man to commit such crimes (or at least breach a serious duty to know of the crimes and to fail to act on knowledge of the crimes). This responsibility extends also to allowing the entire Legion to become a macrocosm of the perverted power and manipulation style of Maciel himself.
I don't honestly know.
Are there priests who are really trying to be holy and serve God in the Legion? Yes, without a doubt. Is the Legion, for all of this, the place where they can fulfill this mission properly? I tend to doubt that.
Are seminarians really free to discern a vocation in the midst of this frenzy of revelations and continued control? Definitely not.
Should young men approach the sacrament of holy orders while the Legion situation is unresolved? Sadly, I think it would be a mistake to do so.
Would it be enough for the church to tell the Legion to renounce Maciel? Well, the pope has ordered them to abolish the private vow of "charity", code word for not criticizing superiors. And it is a fact that this order has only been given lip service. The vow is gone, but the practice remains with repercussions for anyone breaking the letter of the defunct vow, rooms being searched for indications of any critical material, correspondence being read to prevent any communication of any of the latest news of Maciel's life or of the investigation (and at the same time, superiors are saying that anyone can talk to the investigators freely!) Does it do any good for a doctor to tell an chronic alcoholic that he or she needs to give up drinking?
Whatever is to be done, the patient is indeed very ill and contagious.
Aspirin and cold compresses are not going to be an effective cure.