Saturday, February 14, 2009

A thought on Maciel

There is lots on the American blogs about the secret life of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado 1920-2008. I don't want to discuss the sordid details of this man, they can be found elsewhere.
What strikes me is that Pope John Paul thought of him as living saint; there were allegations about him, but he was protected by the Pope's regard for him. One of the first acts of Pope Benedict was to send him off into silence and seclusion after setting up an enquiry to investigate the allegations.
I do not think for one instance that the previous Pope acted with any bad intention, he just simply saw the fruit which was prolific: hundreds of vocations, splendid work by the order he founded, deeply committed families that came under his and his orders influence. What he failed to examine was the root, which the present revelations show as being grossly corrupt and depraved.
One of the mysteries of the Christian life is, "where sin is, there grace abounds," or "God writes straight with crooked lines". In the second half of the twentieth century there where extra-ordinary founders like Escriva, Theresa of Calcutta, and yes, Marciel Marcel, maybe even Lefebvre could be included. There were also movements like Charismatic Renewal, Liberation Theology, the Ecumenical Movement and more localised movements like Taize or Medjugorge, possibly even the personal devotion to JPII himself.
It was an age in which the person was pushed to the fore, and in which we looked for immediate fruit and bathed in the charisms of others and searched anxiously for own. We disregarded the "charism" of being a good husband or wife, mother or father, or even just a good person and promoted the extra-ordinary. In the secular world too it was the age of the celebrity and the sound-bite.
I hope we are moving away from all that with the aid of a bit of healthy Augustinian skeptical pessimism, a return to Tradition, to a close examination of texts, to the law and what it says.
The change from the age of John Paul "the Great" to that of Benedict, described by one French journalist as, "the Ordinary" in a way epitomises the transition of the 20th to the 21st century, it is movement to solid ground.



Anonymous said...

Could it not be that the source of the good fruit of the Legionaries was Father Maciel considered in persona Christi by virtue of his ordination, as opposed to his own person?

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I agree Father, I hope that we're moving away from the cult of personality, (like I for example do not call Pope John Paul II "the great")

The fact that this guy was a sinner shouldn't surprise anyone, every founder of a religious order was one, at least last time I checked.

gemoftheocean said...

Michael, you make an excellent point. We are lucky the efficacy of the sacraments isn't dependent on the personal state of grace of the priest!

BTW, I think it can be terribly hard to follow St. Therese of Lisieux's "little way." :-D The little way can be the hardest of all for the average man/woman. She's the female saint, next to the Blessed Mother, I admire the most.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this will mark the end of the neo-conservative hegemony.

When I was a seminarist in the 1990s (for a UK diocese) there was huge pressure to conform to this sort of narrow charism, which all looked so attractive, but really didn't link in much with the day-to-day experience of human life. Sad to say, that this has led to quite a few priests leaving the ministry, or having secret lives behind the serious clerical life, because the neo-con front expected at the seminary just didn't work in the parish, nor did it resonate with our full lives. You just knew the patter expected, and played the game, and got through to ordination.

Spiritual screening, psychological screening, academic screening, well some of that is a good thing, but there isn't much room for anyone with a personality in there.

Sorry to go on, but that was just some of my experience of the problems of the neo-con agenda.

Anonymous said...

The smiles of the Legionaries in their newsletters seems so forced and "phoney."

JARay said...

A most thoughtful post Father. It makes a lot of good sense. God can indeed write straight with wavy lines.

Anonymous said...

As someone who lived in the Legion as a Legionary during the nineties I can understand how the Pope was manipulated. He was manipulated the same was a most Legionaries were. The were several parallel histories that were painted with Fr. Maciel and the Late pope, Same age, priests during religious persecution. However the Pope was a man of deep intelligence and of deep spirituality, While Fr. Maciel was a man of words and rhetoric and a great manipulator. I am not saying that the Pope was pulled in by him, rather seeing the work of the legion and its growing ranks he was reluctant to remove Fr. Maciel. I lived close to Fr.Maciel for many years. He lived a vastly different life from the ordinary legionary. He dressed different, ate different, and lived in opulence, and preached fire and brimstone to any legionary who was not faithful to the spirit of the Legion. His lifestyle was excused, we were told he was old and infirm and need special treatment. Nobody questioned him ever; any criticism was your ticket to leave the legion. We had to take private vows to not criticism a legionary superior, Vows that were in our constitution.
So as an organization that had to tow he line and obey "Nuestro Padre" Out Father founder. We gave a front to the church as a work of God, and the vast majority of the Legionaries were and are men of God. However Fr. Maciel was using the legion for his own ends. He was the master of seduction, he would give us talks for hours about conscience, faithfulness, priestly formation, honesty. molding us to the perfect Legionary. We would have to look to "traer al Reino" bring to the Kingdom the Leaders in Society. And most important convince them to support the cause financially!!!. Yes a lot of rich people gave a lot of Money to the Legion, The Slim family in Mexico, Garza Garza, Martinez del Rio, The Habsbury Family of Austria, many rich Americans. Being a Legionary was to live with the Who's who of the Powerful catholic Elite. If you happened to be a Legionary from a powerful and rich Catholic family you were protected and given special treatment. As Legionaries we were only allowed to visit our Families on special ocasiones every 7 years if you did not live in the country. If you brother or sister were to marry you were not allowed to go to the wedding. However if you were from a rich family, well... things were different, exceptions were made. I have not grudge against legionaries from rich backgrounds, they were on the whole very good guys, but the discrimination was a division within the organisation and created resentment. If a brother was to question the special treatment of another legionary he was told it was a special circumstance and that is did not concern him. The Legion was master a maintaining each legionary in his own box. We were told, "you are a legionary for God and you have taken vows to be Obedient, Chaste and Poor" We could not question the orders of a superior or criticize a superior.
So in this climate we were sent on apostolate (work) to the Legionary School, to work on Vocational trips looking for New legionaries, or looking for funds for the Legion. Its strange that the Legionaries that recruit me to the Legion had left before I was 5 years in the Legion, I also recruited others to the Legion, It was a game of growing the ranks. If a legionary left it was all hush hush, if we asked why a legionary left we got very confused and obscure answers, "he had a health problem", "it was not his vocation", Most of the time legionaries were sent to another community to work and from them they was pushed out. So outwardly the Legion was always growing, getting more members, Giving the impression of being a great work of God (which it may be). However internally it was a very well controlled organization with a master dictator at the top.

For example. Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, todays General Director has been going around the Legion for months advising various legionaries of some of the facts of Fr. Maciel's Life. They knew that the exposure of these terrible facts would destroy the Legion, so to avoid a implode they worked each individual with softened details, "he suffered from multiple personality disorder he did not know he was doing this" therefore absolving him from moral culpability. He was sick, he had periods of Mental confusion. So even today in the Legion the person of Fr. Maciel may be removed from the organization, but the explanation for his actions is a defense for his person. So if the Legionaries are manipulated in this way you can only imagine how the leadership of the Legion cultivates the leaders of the church and the Pope. The Late Pope was only shown what the Legion wanted him to see. Each Christmas I had to bring hundreds of Boys from the Academy schools to Rome where during the Popes Christmas speech were would ask them to shout "Juan Pablo Segundo que quiere todo el Mundo". There was always a visible presence of the Legion where ever the Pope traveled. The Legion if they had some important rich Benefactor could always get them to have an Audience with the Pope. I believe the Late Pope sincerely did believe the Fr. Maciel was innocent. I believed he was innocent along with thousands of others. That is because Fr. Maciel was an expert in manipulation and deception, And I am not sure this spirit of deception does not continue in the Legion today under a different leadership.

umblepie said...

Excellent post, Father. Words of wisdom, thank you.

Adulio said...

Another reason why I have always through of "new movements" as sectarian and some being as "a church within the Church". Most founders of religious orders loved to be unknown and took great lengths to achieve it.

I also think it is time to really review the facts about the so-called "great". JP II was told of suspicions about Fr. Marciel for at least a good 10 years but refused to do anything about it. Now this time-bomb has exploded and Pope Benedict, once again, is left behind to deal with the aftermath.

Christopher said...

Father, I don't understand how you can compare, for example, this Fr. Maciel, or liberation theology or charismatic renewal with the work of St. Josemaría, or even to St. Escrivá personally. He did not promote himself in any way, and spoke only ever about the love of God, the sacraments, love of the Church, all to help ordinary Christians (of whom he was one) to attain holiness. He was not given to self-aggrandisement and in fact was often at pains to point that the Saints were ordinary men and women too: he said we were cheated if we were taught only their legends, and not about their ordinariness.

I also don't understand that the latter part of the twentieth century was any different from any age of the Church before in terms of there being individual heroes of the faith. Christianity is, after all, not something nebulous, but a thing rooted in history, in humanity and that means in individual humans, individual persons. It has always been this way: think of Benedict, Athanasius, Augustine, or Thomas Becket or Francis, what about Charles Borromeo or Philip Neri. "Celebrity" has always been part of the Church's existence, and surely the fact of grace that heroic individuals exists it is something to celebrate? They may be heroic in "great" or in "ordinary" ways, though more often in a little of both. It is good to have heroes, we humans need them.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Christopher, I am comparing the reaction to them, not necessarily the men themselves.
Though hasty canonisations worry me.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei, Fr. Maciel had a deep hatred for the Opus Dei. When a statue of the Saintly Founder was erected in the Vatican he was outraged. He objected to the Opus Dei's special status in the Church. When I left the Legion I read a book "El Camino". It was obvious the Escriva had a totally different level of Spirituality to Fr. Maciel. In the Legion we had 11 or 12 volumens of Letters of Nuestro Padre, We were supposed to read them all. To be honest there was not much meaning in his writing, it was all shallow with a drizzle of faith. While "El Camino" had a different level. I am not part of Opus or am I defending them, just stating a fact as I see it.

Fr Ray Blake said...

AndresB, I am not criticizing St Jose-Maria, but trying to understand the rash of charimatic founders during the second half of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Catholic Charismatic Renewal claims no human founder.

Anonymous said...

Fr Ray Blake said...
AndresB, I am not criticizing St Jose-Maria, but trying to understand the rash of charimatic founders during the second half of the 20th century.

Easy to understand that one. The whole Church, throughout the World, prayed "Holy Spirit, renew your wonders in this our day as by a new Penteost"

And He Did.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Gerrard, Forgive me, can I suggest you either re-read the post or look up the word "charismatic".

Anonymous said...

Fr Ray Blake said...
Gerrard, Forgive me, can I suggest you either re-read the post or look up the word "charismatic".

I did. I reread your post. You included Charismatic Renewal in your lists.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I have bought the T-shirt in terms of Catholic seminaries, groups and sects (even some non-catholic groups).

My conclusions is that Opus Dei are the best. The reason why I suspect this is the old Groucho Marx rule: never join a group that is prepared to have you as a member. Opus Dei were skeptictal of me to the point of rudeness and I admire them for that.

There has been a campaign waged against their founder by a Westminster priest that is devoid of logic. The priest himself is an intimidating figure and gets away with his nonsence by dint of his own personality and nothing else. There is NO substance to his claims.

I speak as a person who never joined Opus Dei and has no intention of doing so.

PeterHWright said...

I have to say that I am deeply sceptical of anyone who is a "living saint". Someone might lead a saintly life, but by definition a saint is someone who has died, who has left this world for a better place, through whose intercession great wonders, miracles even, can and do occur.

It really doesn't do to follow too closely the secular world of personal adulation, where rational thought is displaced by the cult of the personality.

I think the cult of the charismatic leader dates back further than the latter half of the twentieth century. We know this cult is a worldly phenomenon, because all the dicators of the twentieth century used it to their advantage. As far as I can see, political leaders still do.

Yes, I would agree John Paul II was a charismatic figure. People in their adulation would push Pope Benedict XVI into the same role, if they could, but he is of a different mould.

(Mutatis mutandis, I see history repeating itself here. Pius X was a charismatic figure. Benedict XV was not.)

No. People still pursue the charismatic, the famous, even the notorious figure. It is still, I think, the spirit of the times. And in the spirit of aggiornamento, born in that unhappy decade, the 1960s, the Church became caught up with the secular mentality of the age.

In this context, that age is not over yet. When will it be ? I don't know. I see no signs that it ever will be. But it would do the Church no harm to acquire, or return to, a more critical view of the zeitgeist. And perhaps this is already happening. I hope so.

Adulio said...

I would also add here that in regards to the phenomenon of the papal cult, I believe the blame lies not with JP II (who merely took advantage of it) but with Pius IX. The mentality of "I am Tradition" was set to make the whole papacy take a turn for the worse. The idea firmly became ingrained in people that the pope literally could do no wrong. In addition to this, the unhealthy ultramontane spirit of some Catholics, the fallout at the Second Vatican Council could not have been possible. The papacy of Pius XII was also a foretaste of what was to come: just look at the Holy Week changes of 1956, which got the ball rolling for the liturgical deform of the 1960s. Paul VI just merely fed off the virus that was already there and issued some of the most radical reforms in the church, that would make his predecessors shocked. JP II also took off this and his ability to charm vast crowds, issue stirring speeches and appeal to the young as "counter-cultural" meant that he was quite lovable and uncritisable to some Catholics (cf. George Weigal, Fr. Neuhaus, etc.) To speak of anything less than absolute adulation of the last pope, is akin to blasphemy to some Catholic commentators in the press.

The plague of the papal cult that elevates the pope into something other than the guardian of Tradition, who governs the church by his direct mandate from St. Peter, is a problem.

Christopher said...

Thank you Father. Perhaps if my reading of your post had been more careful I would have understood this distinction in the first place. It just worries me that we might apply (to adapt a well worn phrase) too much of the "hermeneutics of suspicion". It is vital of course to "test everything" (as St. Paul advises), but not to "throw the baby out with the bath water". So in the testing this Maciel is found wanting, and maybe soon other things too such as the charismatic "renewal" or the "visionaries" of Medjugorje. But how this criticism can be levelled at even the reaction of people to St. Josemaria, which is quite modest when compared with these others, which has been very much tested and verified over more than thirty years since his death, which is no more extravagant than the reactions to many holy founders and other saints in Christian history, I unfortunately struggle to understand properly. Hasn't this has always been the case, that wheat and darnel grow up together and only later can they be distinguished?

Ottavani: It seems to me that people become "ultramontane" or as you say very devoted to the cult of the popes, because they are afraid of what their own bishops and priests will say and do and the Papacy offers a kind of safe place in many respects (I say this as something true of myself, good or bad). But I think it is right to say that it is primarily as the guardian and interpreter of the Christian tradition that the Pope exercises his authority.

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