It is easy to try to describe Fr. Marcial Maciel in a few, well-chosen words. Since the revelations that have come to light about his double life, the words used are most often negative.
I've just come back from a business trip to Mexico City where I had the opportunity to discuss his character and personality with people (not LC) who knew him really well. I brought my own perspective to my conversations - I first met Fr. Maciel in 1962 and I saw him for the last time in 1982.
For starters, I accepted him as my "leader" for twenty years. During the last five of those years I became aware of cult-like traits in his congregation, the Legionaries of Christ. Because of what I saw, I decided to eventually leave the congregation - but not before discussing my motives with the founder.
Looking back with the improved vision of hindsight I think Fr. Maciel was a charismatic and narcissistic leader. He manipulated people to achieve his ends - to expedite and solidify his foundation.
Narcissists come closest to our collective image of great leaders. There are two reasons for this: they have compelling, even gripping, visions for companies and they have an ability to attract followers.
Narcissistic leaders, are independent and not easily impressed. They usually adopt the role of innovators. They are driven to gain power and glory. They are experts in their professions, but they go beyond their expertise. They pose critical questions. They want to learn everything about everything that affects their endeavor. They want to be admired, not loved. They are not troubled by a punishing superego, so they are able to be very aggressive in pursuit of their goals.
Narcissists run the greatest risk of isolating themselves at the moment of success. Because of their independence and aggressiveness, they are constantly looking out for enemies, sometimes degenerating into paranoia when they are under extreme stress. When combined with charismatic traits, as I think it was in the case of Fr. Maciel, narcissism can become the deadly dark shadow of leadership.
My friends in Mexico City had no quarrel with this appraisal. However, I listened carefully when they cautioned me: "Fr. Maciel is much more than the sum of his defects." I found myself in agreement with their more subtle appraisal - in addition to my "diagnosis" they added: Maciel was an extraordinarily complex individual. We still do not know the full circumstances surrounding his deeds - especially the bad ones. There is an enormous amount of free-floating, unsubstantiated negative commentary about him - it is hard to separate the hard facts from the myth. Among the facts that get "lost" are the extraordinary good works he started - the thousands of people rich and poor his foundation has helped, his vision for contemporary priests and the universities and schools which continue to impart excellent academic and orthodox Catholic education. Yet, there is no denying he damaged many people and caused major scandal and consternation to the Catholic Church he professed to love.
I found myself more inclined to dwell on the negative. However, listening to my wise friends, I found myself again filled with a sense of confusion. I want to agree agree with their more complete perspective - they do not seek to vindicate Fr. Maciel, they condemn his conduct, they feel sorrow for his victims but they refuse to write him off with a series of trite negative adjectives. They told me that their overwhelming emotion is confusion - I came aware sharing their confused emotions and resolved to let God be the judge of Fr. Maciel.