Monday, April 25, 2011

The Beatification of Pope John Paul II and Fr. Marcial Maciel

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul IIGeorge Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His two-volume biography of John Paul II comprises Witness to Hope  and The End and the Beginning. Over time he has been a defender of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, a critic and a proponent of the reform of the congregation and, mostly, a balanced commenter on the role of the Maciel scandal and the place of the Legionaries of Christ in the Church.

He has just made an interesting commentary, in the context of the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II, on the the sordid case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, whom the late Pope supported.

To focus so much attention on Maciel at the time of John Paul II’s beatification, as if his case offered a privileged window into a 26-year pontificate that changed the history of the Church and the world, is rather like obsessing on the disastrous raid on Dieppe and the bombing of Dresden at Winston Churchill’s funeral. It’s grotesquely disproportionate, from any serious historical point of view.

Given this long-standing concern that has surrounded the work of the Legion of Christ, an outsider would be unlikely to share Fr. Gill’s (a former Legionary of Christ priest) assessment that Fr. Maciel has inflicted more damage on the Church’s reputation and evangelizing mission than any other single Church leader. The Legion would have had to be far more successful and far more trusted than it ever was for this to be the case, let alone for an impartial observer to regard the damage as in any sense fatal. 
Again, a little distance is salutary. I am not saying that people were not hurt (though I am remembering as well that a great many were also helped). But with a little distance, we find that the Legion’s power and influence over souls was not as great as Fr. Gill might suggest. The Legion was not everything, nor is its current crisis the end of everything. Unless the Church herself falls, there remains to all of the fallen a source of grace and healing. [emphasis mine]

The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the LegacyJohn Paul II was clearly deceived by Maciel, who was a master deceiver. The relevant questions here, in terms of John Paul II’s beatification and its judgment that he lived a life of heroic virtue, are whether John Paul II’s failure to see through Maciel’s deceptions was willful (i.e., he knew about Maciel’s perfidies and did nothing about the situation), or venal (i.e., he was “bought” by Maciel), or malicious (i.e., he knew that Maciel was a sociopathic fraud and didn’t care). There isn’t a shred of evidence that would sustain a positive answer to any of those questions. To even think that such could be the case is to utterly miss the character of the late pope.

But during the period of the reform effort, we must not lose sight of the fact that many Legion priests and members of Regnum Christi continue to do wonderful work. The way forward will be long and hard, but it is not hopeless. Perhaps, above all, that is what I mean by perspective. Things are never hopeless. Not with Christ. And not in Christ’s Church.

"Things are never hopeless. Not with Christ. And not in Christ’s Church." Sounds to me like a fitting comment for the Easter Season.


poman said...

Thanks for this post Monk. It pains me to think of the harm Fr. Maciel's sins have caused the reputation of JPII. But I share Weigel's opinion that too much emphasis is placed on this in light of the immense things he did during his pontificate.

The irony is that some accuse LC/RC of overvaluing their worth and influence in the Church, then some of these critics overvalue the history and importance of Fr. Maciel and JPII.

Where I come from, 99% of those in my parish/diocese have no idea who or what LC/RC is or does, and it is has been running here with some very successful programs for years.

Again, this is just my little corner of the world, but I think it may reflect the larger reality that the Church is fair greater and stronger than one group. I think JPII was duped, and that says alot of Fr. Maciel's ability to hide what he was doing. JPII wouldn't be the first saint to be wrong about something, or fooled by someone. Perhaps God allowed it in this instance to remind us not to mytholigize him in sainthood, to not forget that he was still a man. That should fill us with hope that we too can be saints, faulty as we are, and to never quit striving for that.

The Monk said...

Poman, thanks for the comment.
I and so many of my peers in the LC were duped by Maciel. I certainly had my disagreements with him and predicted that his focus on "methodology" would turn us into a cult and harm a lot of Legionaries. That said, I had no idea of the "bigger" issues that came to light and eventually were proven to be true, later on. So I can understand the Pope having an imperfect grasp of Maciel's crimes when I, who traveled and worked fairly closely with MM during a good number of years had no idea of what had gone on in his past and what was happening in the background. I also had the privilege of "serving" two Cardinals and getting a closer look at how the Vatican operates than is afforded to most mortals. It is entirely believable that John Paul II know very little about Maciel's darker side.... especially, because - as you reaffirm - Maciel was never the big Church-wide influence his detractors paint him to be... especially not in JPII's time. So I, for one, am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the process of his beatification.... which, by the way, is not yet "canonization".

Anonymous said...

I am always amused at how systems defend their heroes. If the entire world suddenly became Catholic, we would say that the Pope was a wonderful man. If a whole continent falls away from the Catholic Church, we blame them. So our fearless leader is preserved from the clouds that darken other peoples halos.
This is a most necessary hypocrisy. The alternative is unthinkable.
The Legion was founded by an evil man. That is now agreed by all. Even the Vatican, which has long used the legion as 'efficacous models for youth' has been dragged screaming into the court of reality. The legion was founded to serve the ogoism of an evil man on a mission. His mission was clear from the start, to shape the Catholic priesthood into an obedient and willing and unquestioning tool for the spreading of a certain view of the Gospel. In that goal, he seemed very much in line with what very high authorities in the Church wanted to see.

Mr Weigel is wrong. He draws conclusions without evidence. He draws conclusions which suit his political opinion and standpoint.
There is plenty of doubt about whether or not the former pope knew what was going on in the Legion. We certainly know that one of his cardinals knew. Are we to presume that a cardinal kept such information from the pontiff, so making the pope look foolish in making public statement and in travelling on world trips with a paedophile in his entourage.

This is not going to be justly dealt with. This is the catholic church. The public reputation of the Church carries far more weight in the eyes of Mr. Weigel and his type than the need for truth and justice. Those seminarians, young men and priests who were forced to have sex with Maciel, and those of us who were sexually abused by members of his prder, cannot ever get justice. The order was protected, their members were protected, their reputation was protected, and power and influence was used withing the Church to make sure that Maciel's crimes were hushed up.
It is to benedict XVI's credit that he acted gainst the Legion, not an easy thing to do, given their money. But, when push came to shove, he and the Vatican backed away from disbanding the order and publically condemning the cultish practices and inhuman rigor of the prder.
There can never be justice in this case. The forces protecting the Legion are implacably against such justice. They have money and religion on their side. And, far more importantly, they have myth on theior side.