This Is No Time for Happy-Face Stickers

Last night, as many of you are learning this morning, some very sad allegations about Fr. Marcial Maciel’s duplicitous actions began seeping into the mainstream. While a significant number of people knew ahead of time that this was coming down, no specifics were disclosed publicly until yesterday, and more details will come tumbling out soon in the mainstream press.

Predictably, the range of reactions to this bad news spans the gamut from outrage and stunned incredulity to something approaching despair to blasé “I-told-you-so” unconcern.

Regardless of how you react to this unfolding tragedy, be sure you look at it in perspective. Judging from what I’ve seen in the blogosphere in the past few days, it appears that some people just don’t seem to understand what this deplorable situation really entails and what ramifications may arise from it.

Some have prattled on about how this really isn’t bad news. It was long expected and now that it’s been proven and publicized, and the temptation to lounge smugly in the worldly-wise posture of “I-told-you-so” may be something too difficult for some to avoid. But we should avoid it, because this story is bigger than just the sum of the embarrassing details of sexual (and other) sins. Let’s keep in mind a few important points.

First, this is indeed very bad news — the worst possible kind — for the tens of thousands of good and faithful Catholics in the Legionaries of Christ religious order and its lay-affiliate, the Regnum Christi Movement — the vast majority of whom have, over the years, steadfastly refused to believe any accusation against Fr. Maciel, however plausible and vehemently attested to by those who claim to have been witnesses.

Now, these faithful and dedicated Legionary priests and seminarians (there are thousands of them, don’t forget) and the tens of thousands of good-hearted Regnum Christi folk are realizing that they have been duped. They are faced with the stunning, crushing, irrefutable evidence that their trust in this man was in vain, their unshakable faith in his goodness and innocence has finally been shaken to pieces. The gleaming giant of holiness they had admired for so long has been shown to have feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-32).

Yes, many of Fr. Maciel’s ardent followers have been naive in their refusal to consider that there may have been some truth to at least some of the myriad of accusations that mounted against him, but I believe theirs was a naiveté born of sincerity and love for Christ and the Church. This sincere love attached itself firmly (and now we know, undeservedly) to a man who, at least by outward appearances, seemed to merit their trust.

If nothing else, this sordid saga proves the powerful truth of Scripture’s warning: “Put not your trust in princes, in man in whom there is no salvation. When his spirit departs, he returns to his earth, and on that day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3).

Second, it is true, as some are saying, that, while painful, this bad news is actually a good thing, at least insofar as it entails light shining in a dark place.

This may be exactly the necessary impetus — albeit a horrible one — that will lead to a purification and renewal of an organization that could do great good for souls in ways that go way beyond what many critics say was merely good work that had serving the Legion as its ulterior motive. I make no judgment personally on that criticism, as to whether it is legitimate or not, but regardless, this new chapter in the Legionary saga can become the starting point for a very good thing in the Church. It may in fact be a bitter harbinger of a sweet and long-hoped-for outcome: a Legion of Christ that becomes free from the controversies and complaints that have dogged it for decades, a religious order that is seen by others to be truly at the service of the Church as a whole and not, as many of its critics allege, merely at the service of itself. It could be that, by God’s grace and the prudent courage and honesty of the group’s leadership, there can be a good outcome — possibly a spectacularly good one. There may be a viable effort to undertake a thorough reform and reconstitution of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, although there remain nagging reasons to wonder if that will really happen. It’s too early to know. But we should be praying now for that to happen, if it be God’s will. Time will tell.

One thing is for sure, though. If the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement are going to emerge from this crucible in one piece and remain in existence for the long haul, they cannot lapse into robot mode, they cannot don a happy-face mask and attempt to deny that
this is a very serious problem for them. At this precise juncture, denial and dismissal of the clear and present danger that this situation poses to the Legion, will, I believe, sooner or later, prove fatal to its efforts at sustaining itself.

Again, we must keep this unfolding situation clearly in perspective and not sucumb to the various myopic temptations that beckon: at one end, to shrug and simply ignore it as a non-issue, and at the other end, to join in a gleeful feeding-frenzy of morose delectation. Already, on the blogs, one can see people falling into both camps.

Third, let’s be realistic. No matter what some of the Internet pundits and commenteers may be saying, THIS IS BAD NEWS. To call it anything else is to badly misunderstand the import of what’s taking place here. These salacious revelations (please God, may there be no more of them) have caused and will continue to cause serious damage, not only to the shell-shocked members of this group (many of whom have spent years in dogged defense of the holiness of Fr. Maciel and who now feel the sharp knives of betrayal and fraud sever the bonds of trust they once had in this man), but to the Catholic Church in general.

Watch and see. You’ll soon notice certain people trying to use this scandal to malign Pope John Paul II (a long-time supporter of Fr. Maciel and the Legion), in a way similar to how some are right now attempting to exploit the recent SSPX Bishop Williamson Holocaust-debacle against Pope Benedict XVI.

As I’ve been saying all along on my blog, what we need to do is pray earnestly for all the people involved in this mess. They need our prayers, now more than ever. Pray for the soul of Fr. Maciel. Pray for the Catholic Church and also for those outside the Church who will be swayed or disoriented by this scandal, many of them seeing in it confirmation of their worst suspicions about Catholics and Catholicism. And let’s not omit to pray for ourselves, that we might not fall from our own fidelity to Christ, however firm or tenuous it might be.

Now is a good time to contemplate the famous maxim that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” If nothing else, these revelations about Fr. Maciel should serve as a cautionary tale to hammer that point home for each one of us.

Finally, it’s worth repeating: Don’t lose your sense of perspective. Don’t think that this bad news isn’t bad news. Let’s call it what it is and avoid the temptation to slap a happy-face sticker on it.


  1. yuyi

    I went to a RC School (Elementary and HighSchool) in Mexico and I’m thankful for the complete education I received there along all those years. I once was part of the movement and worked hard for Christ and for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Eventually, I drifted apart but I have nice memories of the work done and the spiritually satisfying results we got. My team and I learned a lot about discipline, effort, respect, commitment, achievement, we learned a lot about ourselves, and how to make the best out of any situation. Even though I’m not the most fervent catholic now, I felt shocked and heartbroken when I heard the news because I don’t want the movement to lose strength or credibility… it is a path for many souls…We don’t need to forgive Fr. Maciel, indeed, we were never told to follow him but to follow Christ, we only admired this man for his vision and tenacity… We have to cope with the truth in a mature and not-judgy way… we could never know what it was to walk in his shoes… I guess most of us reading this blog will agree that being human is, more often than we would like to admit, existing in a state of contradiction. And THAT precisely is the inexplicable BEAUTY of HUMAN CONDITION. And GOD made us SO… And GOD LOVES US SO, and I guess maybe HE is trying to tell us this by letting us know that still, within our fragile condition, we are HIS HOLY INSTRUMENTS and he wants us to EXPAND HIS MESSAGE OF LOVE!I hope that RC and in general the Catholic Church take this crisis as an opportunity for reflection and renewal… GOD will bless US all!

  2. PlainCatholic

    We shall keep in prayer those who have been good and earnest in serving our Lord as the backwash from this will hurt every Catholic, even those who are not remotely connected to this.Aye and the Bible says the wheat shall be separated from the chaff Luke 3:17. We need to remember that all our actions affect each other in the work for Our Lord.

  3. Beautiful Oak Tree

    Several years ago, in one of my religious studies courses, I had a student who had chosen to give a class report on the LC. The student phoned her LC’s blood brother to get information about the society. When other members of the society overheard the phone conversation about the LC’s rules and everyday life, they reported the student’s brother to the superior. This was the end of the report. (The student’s LC brother had been a close associate to Marciel.)

  4. Gabriel and Shena

    Please consider signing this petition to the Legion of Christ asking for more transparency, reform and reparation:

  5. fathertyler

    May I make a suggestion? Could not the Legion of Christ ask Pope Benedict XVI to refound the Legion of Christ, and thus to become its second founder? Pope Benedict, I believe, has known the Legion well and knew Marciel well, and stepped in when Cardinal Ratzinger to bring things to a halt. The Legion needs a refounding and a new founder. Could not Pope Benedict XVI be this man, and could not his writings be their new source of spiritual and theological nourishment. Of course Pope Benedict would have to delegate much to others, but he could be the guiding hand, the source of a new spirit, the new head. I am sure the Legion would give him their full obedience. Just a thought for the leadership and the membership, looking now for a new lead, a new life, a new founding, a new founder. Father Ted, Australia

  6. fathertyler

    I would suggest that the Legionaries of Christ (and especially their critics) consider the history of some very good religious orders. Let us take the Capucins, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap). The order arose in 1520 when Matteo da Bascio, an “Observant” Franciscan Franciscan friar native to the Italian region of Marche, became inspired by God with the idea that the manner of life led by the Franciscans of his day was not the one which St. Francis had envisaged. He sought to return to the primitive way of life in solitude and penance as practiced by the founder of his order. His superiors tried to suppress these innovations, and Friar Matteo and his first companions were forced into hiding from Church authorities, who sought to arrest them for having abandoned their religious duties. They were given refuge by the Camaldolese. In 1528, Friar Matteo obtained the approval of Pope Clement VII Matteo and the original band were soon joined by others. Matteo and his companions were formed into a congregation, called the Hermit Friars Minor, as a branch of the Conventual Franciscans. However – and this is the point of my mentioning this order – the new congregation at the outset of its history underwent a series of severe blows. The two founders left it, Matteo di Bascio to return to the Observants, while his first companion, on being superseded in the office of vicar became so insubordinate that he had to be expelled. The case of the third vicar, Bernardino Ochino who became a Calvinist, 1543, and married, was even more extreme. The whole congregation came under the suspicion of heretical tendencies and the pope resolved to suppress it; he was with difficulty induced to allow it to continue, but the Capuchins were forbidden to preach. In a couple of years the authorities were satisfied as to the soundness of the general body of Capuchin friars, and the permission to preach was restored. The congregation at once began to multiply with extraordinary rapidity, and by the end of the 16th century the Capuchins had spread all over the Catholic parts of Europe, so that in 1619 they were freed from their dependence on the Conventual Franciscans and became an independent order, with a general of their own. They are said to have had at that time 1500 houses divided into fifty provinces. They were one of the chief tools in the Catholic Counter-reformation. Many Capuchins have suffered martyrdom for the Gospel, and have had many saints to their credit, one of the most recent being Padre Pio. They have done great work for the Church and souls.So, chin up, Legionaries. I repeat a suggestion I made earlier in a previous contribution to this blog: why not look to Pope Benedict XVI as the new founder, and ask him to assume, in some sense, this role? Father Ted, Australia.

  7. Patrick Madrid

    That suggestions has a lot of merit, Father Ted. Thanks for raising it as a possibility. If the Legion were to make such a courageous move, it could help their situation a great deal.

  8. Anonymous

    We seem very concerned with the political implications of all of this and the effect on the reputation of the church, the lc/rm, Fr. Marcial and other people that either worked with him or knew about his immoral way of life. Not one comment above mentions the victims. God forgave David for an affair with a consenting adult and Peter for denying him 3 times. He also took a whip to people who were disrespecting The Lord's temple. Anger is appropriate at times. When will it be more appropriate than when our children are being abused? Are their bodies not temples of Christ? These are God's Children. When will we brave enough to protect and defend them if we are more concerned with the politics and reputations of our church?

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