By now, a year and a half after the well casing of Marcial Maciel’s double life finally blew apart, wrecking the Legion-of-Christ rig he had constructed to house and conceal it, and gushing a torrent of nauseating revelations into the public consciousness, we all have a bad case of Maciel-fatigue. I know I do. I’m sick of it. (And if you aren’t sick of it, watch the video at the bottom of this post and I predict you will be sick of it too — sick at heart.)
And yet, we should shake off the fatigue, brace ourselves, and take stock of just how widespread the damage could become that this man (and whoever knowingly abetted him in his depredations) has inflicted on the Church.
How bizarrely ironic that the order Maciel established to be a vanguard of joyful, militant, conquering supporters and defenders of the pope should now be one of the present pope’s biggest headaches. This thought undoubtedly torments many Legionary priests and affiliated laypeople who’ve been wondering whether to abandon the burning rig or stay put and, hoping against hope, wait for the fire that threatens to consume everything to be extinguished.
In my estimation, amidst all the uncertainty, at least one thing is certain: The Legion of Christ as we have known it is over, and it’s not coming back.
Most people’s guess is that the house that Marcial Maciel built will either be completely rehabbed from its foundation to its gables — everyone knows that a fresh coat of paint won’t do the job — or it will be razed and rebuilt from the ground up with fresh materials. Some are clamoring for it simply to be razed, plowed over, and sown with salt. I doubt that will happen. Pope Benedict is benevolent and sagacious, and he knows that while the organization’s founder had a rather Molochian appetite for children, the Legion is not Carthage.
Three scenarios seem possible, either of the first two being far more likely, it seems to me:
1) The Legion may be radically reformed and reoriented and thus salvaged;
2) It may be drastically reduced in size (i.e., personnel), scope of activities, and influence, due to continuing defections of its priests, a drying up of new vocations, and the vigorous pruning by the pope and his collaborators;
3) It may go away altogether.
If the last scenario plays out, the Legion’s far-flung empire of schools, seminaries, apostolic enterprises and, most importantly of all, priestly vocations, would all have to be somehow absorbed en masse into the infrastructure of the Church.
Just a few years ago, heck, one year ago, such a notion would have been unthinkable. Like BP, the Legion of Christ was just too big to fail.
Well, stranger things have happened. Stranger things might yet happen.
What’s really strange, and I mean “strange” in the baleful and sinister sense, is how Fr. Maciel’s cerement-swathed hand reaches out from the grave to besmirch the memory of Pope John Paul II — the pope he feigned such adoring dedication to for all those years. While he surely harmed many men, women, and children by exploiting and devouring their trusting innocence and generosity in order to sate his own appetites, it seems that what distinguishes him as a truly implacable sociopath whose life was “devoid of scruples” is that he preyed upon even his own children.
The more it goes, the more it seems as if the trail of destruction lying in the wake of this man’s astonishing 87 years of bustling activity on this earth doesn’t just diminish, but dwarfs, whatever good he may have done along the way in the greedy, grubby pursuit of his goals.
As the pope and those who are helping him weigh the options and pray for divine guidance, I have no doubt that they are doing some pretty intense cost/benefit analyses.
St. Paul reminds us that where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). I believe this with all my heart. Which is why I also believe the Church will need an immense amount of grace if it is to repair and restore what has been lost here.