The Legion of Christ disavows Maciel

The results of the now-concluded apostolic visitation of the Legion of Christ are still to come. But the Legion is already formally distancing itself from its disgraced founder, Marcial Maciel, after many years of resisting ugly truths about his life. A "communique" from the order's leaders is on their Web site:

We had thought and hoped that the accusations brought against our founder were false and unfounded, since they conflicted with our experience of him personally and his work. However, on May 19, 2006, the Holy Sees Press Office issued a communiqu as the conclusion of a canonical investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had begun in 2004. At that time, the CDF reached sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Fr Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians. Therefore, though it causes us consternation, we have to say that these acts did take place....

We later came to know that Fr Maciel had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts. After that, two other people surfaced, blood brothers who say they are his children from his relationship with another woman.

We find reprehensible these and all the actions in the life of Fr Maciel that were contrary to his Christian, religious, and priestly duties. We declare that they are not what we strive to live in the Legion of Christ and in the Regnum Christi Movement.

An understatement, yes, but given how integral the person of Maciel has been to the formation and life of Legionaries (and members of the Regnum Christi lay apostolate), this is a very difficult statement for them to make. Later, they are even more forceful in disavowing Maciel as their model (emphasis mine):

For his own mysterious reasons, God chose Fr Maciel as an instrument to found the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and we thank God for the good he did. At the same time, we accept and regret that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life.

The statement of the LC leaders includes a lengthy (and timely) apology to those who were victimized by Maciel, and those whose complaints were disbelieved:

We ask all those who accused him in the past to forgive us, those whom we did not believe or were incapable of giving a hearing to, since at the time we could not imagine that such behavior took place. If it turns out that anyone culpably cooperated in his misdeeds we will act according to the principles of Christian justice and charity, holding these people responsible for their actions.

They also vow to embrace whatever requirements the Vatican may have in the wake of the investigation.Also on the site is a letter from Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, the general director of Regnum Christi, addressed to RC members to accompany the "communique" above. Corcuera is faced with the difficult task of offering spiritual support and guidance to a group whose foundation has been badly undermined.

Perhaps we will never come to understand the reason for so many things that have come to light. Nor why God chose such an instrument to establish the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. Why will the Legion and Regnum Christi not be able to present the figure of its founder like other congregations and movements? God knows. We have to accept it with faith.

On the subject of Maciel's misdeeds, the RC letter is vague:

As you will see, the communiqu is devoted almost in its entirety to topics that in one way or another we have been talking back and forward on for over a year now....It has been a very painful time for everyone, even traumatic. The sudden uncovering of some facets of our founders life that were so removed from what we lived by his side, was a totally unexpected surprise for us all. We were not prepared for it.

Sudden? Unexpected? Not everyone would agree.(H/T Baptist Planet.)

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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