Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, February 01, 2008

Caveat lector: Fr. Maciel was not "suspended"

The death of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado occasions revisiting the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct made against founder of the Legionaries of Christ over the years. These accusations culminated in a 2006 investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which dicastery declined, however, to subject the elderly Maciel to a canonical trial and instead decided "to invite [Maciel] to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry." The analysis I offered at the time of that unusual directive from CDF still stands.

Precisely in light of that analysis, I would caution against describing Maciel having been "suspended" or "penalized" by the Holy See. Under canon law, and in contrast with civil usage, suspension is a penalty imposed on those found guilty of certain crimes (1983 CIC 221, 1319, 1333, 1400-1401). Make of CDF's directive what one will, but Maciel was not tried and was not found guilty of any crimes; it is, therefore, not accurate to describe him as "suspended" or "penalized".