Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Maciel meltdown and the future of the Legion

[Second post today]

The disclosures (start here and here) that Marcial Maciel Degollado (d. 2008), founder of the Legionaries of Christ, fathered at least one child, possibly more, destroy a decade of increasingly implausible denials by Legion leadership that their Founder, contrary to LC lore, was a sexual miscreant; today's developments inevitably increase the likelihood that other allegations, including those of homosexual exploitation, drug abuse, and financial misconduct could be verified over time.

It is going to take years for the full implications of Maciel's 'lifestyle' to emerge, but among other things, the Church must now, for the first time, ask whether a religious institute that was founded by such a self-delusional and/or duplicitous character can really be sound. We don't even know how to analyze that question yet, let alone what the answer will be, but this much seems clear: Maciel and Legion leadership have handed the worst enemies of the Church a hundred years' worth of ammunition to use against her. And that must be tearing the hearts out of the many good Legion priests and their faithful lay cooperators.

Anyway, my preliminary thoughts on the Legion's catastrophe.

1. What won't happen: The 2006 canonical process against Maciel that
ended so oddly will not be reopened. Church jurisdiction extends only to the living; we can't punish the dead.

2. What should happen: The Legion should (if it can, and I'm not sure it has the self-possession to do this) identify every official who knew of Maciel's canonical crimes or who suspected them, but did nothing (let alone cooperated with them!) and expel them under
1983 CIC 696. Canonical crimes by a number of persons might well have been committed here (see e.g. 1983 CIC 1389); these should be pursued.

Everyone, within the Legion and without, who has publicly attacked the motives and/or character of Maciel's accusers and of Legion critics should, just as publicly, apologize.* While not every accusation was accurate and not every critic was temperate (an impossible standard even for those who have not been physically or psychologically abused), the denials and even recriminations that met their complaints were, in my opinion, unconscionable.

3. What could happen: The Legion could survive, of course. How, I don't know yet. How do priests live the 'charism' of Maciel? How can a religious institute disavow (as the Legion must eventually) its founder but at the same time carry on his work? It's too bizarre to think about.

But another thing could happen here: the Legion could dissolve itself. Hear me out.

The Legion will never outlive the ignominy of having been founded and entirely shaped by Maciel, and the Nixonesque mentality of Legion leadership saps any credibility the organization qua organization might enjoy. So, what is there to build on?

As I see it, the only, or at least the main, strength the Legion retains is its many good priests (admittedly, lessened by a number of other good men who knew that something was deeply wrong with the Legion but, being unable to do anything about it, left in frustration over the years). These rank-and-file priests have been lied to, exploited, and used (as have an even greater number of lay cooperators, of course) and they will need time 'to process' that betrayal.

In any case, (and setting aside those Legionary priests who will want to excardinate to diocesan presbyterates or other institutes of consecrated life, and who should be welcomed as the treasures they are, with no obstacles to their transfers being raised by the Legion), the other LC priests who might wish to remain together could dissolve the Legion, and reconstitute themselves as a new institute under a dramatically new form of governance (not simply with the correction of some strange points in the Legion rule
as occurred under Benedict XVI) and with a substantially new charism.

But everything that came from Maciel must be chucked. Absolutely everything. Starting fresh means starting from scratch. If that sounds like an 'impossible' solution, well, I can only say, I find it 'impossible' that the Legion has landed itself in such a massive and unprecedented debacle as this one in the first place.

4. What must not happen: Any more language whatsoever from Legion leadership that tries to spin this disaster. Today's
pathetic first response must not be repeated.

I have some other thoughts, but the above suffices for now. + + +

* Tom Hoopes, a layman who edits the Legion's National Catholic Register was the first, and so far the only, Legion official to offer any apology for the LC's treament of it's critics.