A quick blog entry while on lunch break. Over at ExLC, readers are discussing the Holy See’s 2006 communique “inviting” Fr. Maciel to retire to a life of prayer and penance. (Also posted is a youtube of a recent 40 minute CNN Spanish edition interview with the lawyer representing three of Fr. Maciel’s alleged children.)
Says first anonymous reader: “If it was a suspension, why didn’t they just make that clear? Why leave it open to spin by the LC? And who the hell tacked on the ‘Apart from the founder’ clause? That has caused more confusion than anything the LC could have done.”
“I hope a canonist could help us,” adds a second commentator.
Around the time the communique was published, one of the best explanations came from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. This is ironic given that up until its appearance Fr. Neuhaus had been one of Fr. Maciel and the Legion’s most able defenders. Father even goes so far as to employ the expression “moral certitude” in his belief of Maciel’s innocence.
Nevertheless, Fr. Neuhaus is an honest man. And thus he is forced to admit in the August/September 2006 edition of The Public Square:
I do not know all that the CDF and the Holy Father know and am not privy to the considerations that led to their decision. It is reasonable to believe that they concluded that Fr. Maciel did do something very seriously wrong. To censure publicly, toward the end of his life, the founder of a large and growing religious community is an extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented, measure in Catholic history. Moreover, because the only public and actionable charges against Fr. Maciel had to do with sexual abuse, the clear implication is that that was the reason for the censure. In view of the public knowledge of the charges, it is not plausible that he was censured for some other and unknown reason.
Now Fr. Neuhaus still did not believe Fr.Maciel’s accusers. But it’s clear he believes Fr. Maciel was guilty of some serious violation of the Sixth Commandment. It’s also clear that Fr. Neuhaus had stopped believing the Legion’s version of the story, and he expresses some discomfort with the Legion’s immediate response comparing Maciel’s suffering to that suffered by Christ on the cross.
What I found most prescient, however, are Fr. Neuhaus’s comments about the Legion’s charism in light of the Holy See’s request that the Legion separate its work from the founder.
Now comes a time of daunting challenges for the Legionaries of Christ. At the highest level of the Church’s leadership, a deep shadow has been cast over their founder. In view of his age and the way the decision was made, it is almost certain that the shadow will not be lifted in his lifetime, if ever. In the historical experience of religious orders, the founder and the charism-meaning the distinctive spirituality by which the community is formed–cannot be easily separated. The Legion has been particularly intense in its devotion to its founder, who has been revered as a living saint. It is understandable that Legionaries who have known Fr. Maciel for many years simply cannot bring themselves to believe that he is guilty of the charges that have been brought against him. Whether misplaced or not, such devotion is not untouched by honor and faithfulness to a father and friend. But, in the future of the Legion and Regnum Christi, belief in the innocence of Fr. Maciel cannot be made an article of faith.
Nor is it helpful to speak of the Holy See’s decision as yet another cross imposed on Fr. Maciel and the Legion. A “cross” may mean any burden to be borne, but, in this context, “bearing the cross” clearly suggests a wrong or injustice. The cross imposed on Christ was unjustly imposed. To continue to speak of the censure as a cross imposed could have the effect of putting the Legion on a collision course with the papacy. At the heart of the congregation’s charism is wholehearted adherence to the ministry of Peter among us. The leadership of the Legion has unambiguously reaffirmed that adherence in a private audience with the pope following the censure of Fr. Maciel.
The future of the Legion and Regnum Christi cannot depend on the innocence or guilt of Fr. Maciel. Founder and charism may not be entirely separable, but they can be clearly distinguished.
In short, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 invitation to separate themselves from the life of their founder was a test of the Legion’s charism. Had they trusted the Holy See and done so, in spirit and in law, their charism would have emerged after much needed internal reform. However, Legion superiors continued to yoke the movement to Fr. Maciel, despite the Holy See’s recommendation they do otherwise. My apologies for the mixed metaphor, but that yoke has now become a giant millstone around their necks. The only way to stop sinking is to remove this millstone