Sandro Magister, one of the most informed and attentively read Vaticanists, has obtained a rather interesting letter from a member of the gravely disgraced order of the Legionaries of Christ.
Leaving aside for a moment the acute (but well-known) considerations of Magister about the energy of the Pontiff in dealing with a man and an organisation that had been able to acquire a status of almost untouchability during the Pontificate of John Paul The Gullible, Magister points out (with the help of the letter, which he reports in full) to these in my eyes very important facts:
1) The hierarchy within the Legionaries of Christ is still largely the one surrounding Marcial Maciel before his fall from grace.
2) The scale of Maciel’s shameless failings lets it appear more and more unlikely that he could lead his double life without the acquiescence of the people nearest to him within the organisation. The official “we knew nothing”-mantra seems therefore increasingly more untenable.
3) Portraits of Maciel still appear in several locations owned by the Legionaries. This indicates an utter absence of the will to come clean and try to make amends for the past.
4) Most importantly, the letter reveals a scandal of astonishing proportion: the systematic treatment of the followers mainly in light of their ability as potential spenders. Families are divided into “categories” depending on wealth and accordingly assigned to members of the orders, a praxis suitable for an insurance brokerage but not for a religious order. As the priest is the one who will work as spiritual counsellor, the scope for abuse is immense. Mind, this is not simply what used to happen during Maciel’s tenure. This is what is still happening today.
A long time after the exposure of Maciel’s corruption, the leaders of the organisation he founded continue not only to stonewall, but to openly identify with him. If this were not enough, they continue to use at least some of the extremely questionable practices put in place by the founder.
I have often stated, and would like to repeat today, that in my eyes The Legionaries of Christ must be disbanded. The idea to reform such an ideologically rooted organisation is in my eyes as unrealistic as it would have been to allow the Nazi Party to survive after 1945, taking away the personality cult and transforming the party into a democratic organisation. People don’t change so easily and they most certainly don’t change when they are allowed to stay within the organisation which has totally formed their personality.
Besides this obvious organisational point there is another point we should not neglect: the effect of the survival of this organisation on the Church’s reputation. I could not name to you one single big Catholic religious order established by a person who was less than a saintly man, let alone an unspeakable bastard like Maciel. St. Francis was not homosexual. St. Dominic was not a child molester. St. Benedict didn’t have a double life with lover and several children. St. Ignatius was not an embezzler. Maciel was all these things together. They were all Saints.
Do we really want all the detractors of the Church to point out, in two or three hundred years’ time, that one of the Church’s biggest orders was founded by such a (I must say the word again) bastard? Do we really want the Church getting on record for having allowed the Legionaries to go on? How can the Church allow such stain to haunt her for all the centuries to come? Is this the prudent thing to do? The extremely prestigious seminary of Sankt Poelten has been closed down after its homosexual scandal; the reasoning was that there are failings an organisation cannot survive, shames from which it can never recover. Exactly.
Allow me to make a (politically incorrect, which is always good) comparison with the Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS – not to be confused with the notorious SS, to which they were linked in name only – were arguably the most brilliant military force ever to thread the fields of WW II. They were selected among the Third Reich’s best of the best, were revolutionary in their being multinational (“The first modern European army”, as it has been rightly said) and were highly admired even by their enemies. Have they been allowed to survive after Hitler’s fall? Nope. Why is that? Because good as they were, their indefensible founder made them indefensible. Because good as they were, their rotten ideology made them (collectively) irredeemable. Because had they been allowed to go on after the fall of their founder, it was clear that they would have continued to share the values in which they were totally immersed. Because there are situations where how good you are is not the point anymore.
Exactly the same considerations can be applied, I think, to the Legionaries of Christ. No one doubts their devotion to the cause and high efficiency in what they do; but one must recognise that they are pretty much brainwashed by the personality cult they have lived in for so many years and that by allowing them to remain within the organisation this brainwashing would never be “washed away”. They will therefore (like the Waffen-SS) have to be disbanded and their people (the good ones, I mean) placed elsewhere, where they will be able to progressively shed their “legionary” thinking.
The Legionaries of Christ must be disbanded. It doesn’t make sense to keep an organisation so horribly tainted. What has happened is beyond reconstruction and beyond redemption. As the post-Maciel years abundantly prove.