Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marcial Maciel. "There, but for the grace of God, go I"

www.driving One of the central themes developed on some blogs over the past several years is that Maciel was never a well-intentioned soul who turned down the wrong path; rather, he was a con-man from the start, utilizing the Church and the priesthood to gain access to money, power, adulation, an easy life, and boys (for sex).

Recently, I was asked my opinion of the above"diagnosis" to which I replied:

Truth be told I think a comprehensive analysis of Fr. Maciel's behavior is way beyond my pay grade.

Much of the early "analysis" of Maciel is tinted with understandable hatred and revulsion for the man - crystallized somewhat in Espinosa's book ("El Legionario") which sets up the diagnosis referred to in the first paragraph.

I got to know Marcial Maciel's mother, brothers, sisters, and extended family quite well - I even met the nanny who cared for him as a child in Cotija. They didn't seem like the sort of family that would produce a born pervert and con-man. But then you have the whole nature vs nurture debacle. It doesn't seem like anyone else in his family, who grew up in the same environment, shared in any of his dysfunctional traits.

No doubt we are born with inherent, genetic personality traits which, for better or worse, are nurtured by our environment. And of course, we have free will and are subject to the workings of sanctifying grace in our soul.
Bottom line, for me, Maciel in his totality is a mystery - we may never understand him because we don't have the ability to know the depths of another person's soul.

I've tried to describe the confluence of a dysfunctional personality, susceptible followers and a conducive environment ("How the Mighty Fail") which, I think, goes a long way towards explaining the "Maciel phenomenon." But it is only a partial explanation. For those who suggest such analysis might be an exercise in futility, I submit it is necessary to identify and prevent similar behavior in the future.

About 4% of the world's population seem to be born without the evolutionary drive to "bond" with other humans in order to survive. (More on this when I continue with "How the Mighty Fail.")  They can be described as "people without a conscience." I don't know if Fr. Marcial Maciel completely fits the description - however, in my estimation, and as I describe him in my book "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines," he was a narcissistic, charismatic type who, for the most part, did not seem to care for a personal "other."

If indeed he inherited disturbing personality traits, I think a good case can be made to explain how they could have gotten out of hand in the environment in which he grew up - especially with regard to his ambivalent relationship with his father and the credible stories of his early abuse by ranch hands in his native Cotija in Michocan, Mexico.

 So, my take is that he grew up with an orientation towards manipulation of others in order to fulfill his own unmet needs. I don't believe he necessarily set out on a "deliberate," freely chosen path of perversion. However, as happens for all of us, one "little" decision built upon another and at a fairly early age he had gotten himself into quite a moral mess. He was far too intelligent not to be acutely aware of the dichotomy between his teaching and his personal behavior. I suppose he chose not to care (rationalizing his conduct however he could) and freely continued to pursue his choices until he became a monster of his own creation.

While his behavior is the antithesis of everything I would want for myself, I recognize that potentially "there but for the grace of God go I." Every day I am faced with small choices between good and evil and every day I pray for the grace to make the right choices.

So many who rightfully condemn Maciel never knew him. For those who did, it's quite awful to have "known" his charm and apparent love of God and the Church and it is extraordinarily humbling to accept how little we know about "the heart of man" and the tenuous distinctions between good and evil in our own lives.


Anonymous said...

Jack: Alejandro Espinosa has a very colorful style and he is very imprecise concerning Church structures but nothing of what he has said about MM has been proven false. But if you like a more objective approach read Fernando González. Alejandro Espinosa, being MMs relative, obviously knows very well Cotija and his people

The Monk said...


I've read both books. "Nothing of what he has said about MM has been proven false" is a tad ambiguous. Personally, I've found several inconsistencies between some of his "testimony" (including memories of memories and dreams...) and my personal experiences of places and characters.

The bulk of his story is compelling and, in general, I accept his overall version as truthful. His book could have used better editing and, I think, if he had been able to dial down his "rage" (which I totally understand) I submit his book would read more "believably." There is a certain "style" that die hard Macielistas seem to be immune to. I think Espinosa could have reached a much broader audience and influenced people who were "on the fence" with a more fact based account of his experiences.

Those of us who now understand the perversity of Fr. Maciel and the awful legacy he left the Legion and the Church constitute one audience. Espinosa reached us.

However, I think there is another, more important "audience" that needs to be reached - the Vatican, Bishops, Church bureaucrats, faithful Legionaries, Regnum Christ members and supporters. They need to understand the Maciel phenomenon - especially if they want to reform the Legion - in order to deal with rampant "clericalism," old-boy networks and loyalties,and the absence of "checks and balances" in the governance of the Church.

Until this second audience understands nothing significant will change quickly. When they see critics or witnesses as "the enemy" they more readily avert their eyes and dismiss the facts. Somehow we need to reach them, in a way that produces results.

Lauretta said...

Hi Jack,
I was intrigued by your comment on the other thread that Maciel seemed the odd one out in his family. Could you expound on that? Also, do you know if he was the only family member abused? Was he the only light-skinned sibling? There are so many things that can enter into this situation and I, like you, would like to see some knowledge gained from this whole debacle to help us in the future.

The Monk said...

I think that the Maciel family are the forgotten victims in the sorry story of Fr. Maciel. While I appreciate your question, I'd rather respect their privacy.

However, it's public knowledge that from a very early age, Maciel wanted to be a priest and he wanted to found his own congregation - much of his zeal fostered by his experience of the Cristero war. His family would have been very pro Catholic Church in the convoluted, anti-clerical environment in Mexico.

Marcial was the "odd" one, in my estimation, because while still very young he was very determined to leave home and get on with the business of founding what would eventually become the Legion of Christ. I've heard from people who knew him while he was very young that other kids considered him a tad "strange" for a variety of reasons. Subsequently, his critics give different interpretations to "strange."

He was not the only light skinned sibling. However from his earliest years he cultivated a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan "image" than would have been typical in a relatively small, prosperous, provincial town.

He didn't have a good relationship with his father; his mother sought to protect and care for him. Not sure how well he responded since his dominant obsession seemed to be the founding of his new congregation.

His brothers and sisters all seemed perfectly normal and likable to me. As did his mother. His surviving siblings are left to figure out what happened to their brother. Like the rest of us they are trying to reconcile the "good" they saw with the underlying dark side which now dominates the narrative of his life.

poman said...


I think the fact that Maciel's family was relatively normal can be extremely maddening/frustrating to many, myself included. Our human nature wants something to point to, something to explain who Maciel was and how he was able to do what he did. His family situation, while not perfect, certainly does not give us much to go on.

I think Pope Benedict XI's comment that Maciel is an enigma reflects my own feelings. While we should never stop searching for answers, we may also need to accept that much will remain a mystery (at least in this life)! We may never find that "smoking gun(s)" to give a satisfying explanation of why he was the way he was.

The Monk said...

I accept the fact that Maciel is a mystery or an "enigma" as Pope Benedict called him.

That said, I put together a fairly long article on leadership using Fr. Maciel as a "case-study." I posted the article in installments on this blog. If you want to read it in one continuous document check here:
Or go to www.DrivingStraight.com and check the articles tab.