A discussion is brewing on Life After RC about Fr. Maciel’s child(ren) possibly inheriting the Legion’s property. Unfortunately, in death, as in life, Maciel’s legacy remains a tortured mess to navigate.
The issue would be simple if Maciel had owned and run a business like any other during his life. His child(ren) would inherit his property as well as his share in the business.
However, an institute of consecrated life is not a business. It’s a highly-public spiritual work of the Church. Its property does not belong to the individual who founded it, but to the Church. So from a strict canonical perspective, Maciel’s mistress and daughter would have rights against the Legion as victims, but not as inheritors.
Secondly, as Church property, all spending on the part of the Legion must conform to the intention of the donors.
In canon law, the “intention of the donors” when it comes to managing ecclesiastical goods is almost as sacrosanct as the inviolability of the sacrament of confession. Donations are to be used according to the intentions expressed by the donors in making the donation.
The reason this issue is treated so seriously is because the Church lives and dies by the donations of the faithful. No donations, no apostolate. Clergy and religious take vows or promises of poverty, but they still need to eat, sleep and have access to the basic necessities of life. If the donation process is called into question, or falls into disrepute, then everyone is hurt as the faithful become wary about donating to the Church.
So….the Church does not mess around with the intention of donors.
Having said that, it is doubtful that the majority of faithful donated to Fr. Maciel and the Legion with the intention of contributing to a luxurious upkeep of his mistress(es) and child(ren). Rather, although I have no statistic or empirical evidence to back me up on this point, I would imagine most probably donated to Fr. Maciel with the intention of “furthering the apostolate” of the Legion’s spiritual undertakings. Thus it was probably donated with assumption that the money was not going to Maciel personally, but to the Legion.
Therefore, from the perspective of the Church, the money and property belongs to the Legion (and not Fr. Maciel) to be administered according to the intentions of the donors. This is why the Church cannot simply turn a chunk over to Maciel’s mistress(es) and child(ren) as an inheritance.
That being said, what about the natural rights and inheritance of Maciel’s daughter as his daughter? Keep in mind she is not suppose to exist as siring children contravenes the promise of chastity Fr. Maciel made prior to his ordination. Hence the great mess as her rights as inheritor clash with the rights of the Catholic faithful as donors.
I don’t know the answer, except to pray for Pope Benedict who has a real mess on his hands to sort out.