Hard to believe a whole year has passed since revelations of Marcial Maciel’s daughter became public. Hard to believe that the Legion of Christ – the order founded by Maciel – still has not offered adequate public apology or restitution to Maciel’s earlier victims of sexual abuse. Many of these victims were minors studying for the priesthood. They were boys entrusted by their families to Maciel and the movement he founded. Their families had believed their sons were being sent off to become holy priests under the care of a living saint. One would hope than an order of “holy” and “orthodox” Catholic priests would recognize the injustice of sexual abuse committed against children in the name of Christ, and the injustice of public calumny against these victims when they came forward with the truth.
Yet in retrospect – and I say this in all sadness – we should not be surprised by the failure of Legion superiors to apologize to Maciel’s victims. We should not be surprised by the movement’s failure to apologize for Maciel’s abuse, not to mention the movement’s coverup of Maciel’s actions as well as the public persecution of Maciel’s victims.
Because like any other religious movement, good or bad, the Legion of Christ appears to derive its spirit from its founder. When the spirit of the founder is good, when the founder seeks sincerely to follow Christ and is inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we recognize the spirit of the movement as a charism. But when the spirit of the founder is evil, then it curses the entire movement.
Which brings us to what I consider the most disturbing report concerning the founder since the scandal broke. It is the recent El Mundo report of Maciel’s death. For those who understand Spanish, you can read the original report here. For those who need an English translation, former Legionary Landon Cody has kindly provided one here.
Several sources tell me that El Mundo is a reputable Spanish news source. If this is true then I am most disturbed by the following aspects of Maciel’s death, as reported by the news source:
It seems that for the previous two years, the founder had lost the faith. He did not go to mass, did not pray… The Legionaries who took care of him came to know that he felt “repulsed by religion”. […]
But the few elect who were with him at the end of his life had a hard time seeing him as an old man. For them, the last hours of the founder were a real calvary. Marcial Maciel refused to confess his sins. He did not want to and did not believe in God’s pardon. Maybe he had spent too many years accostomed to fooling the divine representative in the confessional. How to suddenly declare him a pederast, he has relations with both men and women, he had at least six children who he never took care of like a real father, the abused drugs, he coveted and obtained great quantities of money, he plagiarized the spiritual guidelines of his congregation, he lied and damaged hundreds of people without it bothering him in the least way, and God knows what more. This, God does know. So, why confess his sins? “I said no!” he blurted out to Alvaro Corcuera, who was trying to anoint the dying man with holy oils.
Of all the sins that man can commit during his time on earth, only one is unpardonable by God. It is known as the sin against the Holy Spirit, or the sin of final impenitance. It is the sin of so hardening one’s heart against God that one chooses to die unrepentant of one’s sins.
As explained by Catholic Answers apologist Jim Blackburn:
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is essentially the willful rejection of God’s grace and forgiveness.
A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture explains, “Unlike other blasphemies or sins which might be partially excused by ignorance, passion or inadvertence, this was[/is] a sin of willful malice and blindness to the light. As long as such a mentality persists, pardon is impossible, not because of any limitation of God, but because those who are guilty of this sin refuse to respond to the promptings of grace” (p.912).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).
God alone judges the eternal fate of Maciel. We cannot know what conversation took place between God and Maciel in the final moments of the founder’s life. Perhaps, as he was breathing his final breath, the prayers of all his followers cracked the hardness of his heart, allowing him to make peace with a God he had betrayed throughout his life. One can fool the wisest of popes and presidents, but one cannot fool God. And God forces each of us to face the truth of our sins. Better to face Him in the confessional during this lifetime.
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore this report of Maciel’s death – a report that describes all the visible signs of final impenitance. “A tree falls in the direction it is leaning,” my Benedictine spiritual director use to say when explaining the importance of living a Christian life in preparation for facing God in death. If Maciel’s heart remained consistent with the double-life he led, if his heart remained true to his reported actions facing death, then he died either unable or unwilling to repent. In which case, but without judging, his eternal fate seems bleak.
This is something every Legionary and Regnum Christi member must reflect upon, two years after the death of their founder. Not only because the movement continued to describe Maciel as a saint in Heaven, despite an alleged death that suggests anything but. Not only because several top Legionaries reportedly witnessed the visibly unholy death of the founder. But because this spirit of impenitance, so visible (allegedly) in founder’s death, has cursed his movement that refuses to renounce him. Just as Maciel reportedly appeared to choose death rather than repent of his sins, so too have current Legion superiors vis-a-vis Maciel’s movement. Bossuet’s description of Jansenist nuns seems apt in this situation: “They are as pious as angels and as proud as devils.” But even more fundamental as Christians, what we are witnessing is St. Paul’s warning to Romans: “For the wages of sin are death.”
I pray the founder’s impenitance has cursed the Legion and Regnum Christi as institutions only. I pray that God softens the hearts of individual Legionaries and Regnum Christi members, so that they not follow the spirit of their founder into the grave. Let the curse die with Maciel’s movement. May Our Lord Jesus Christ free Maciel’s victims and followers from the curse of Maciel’s impenitance. And let us pray that no further soul risks eternal damnation because of the scandalous example of Maciel and those within the Legion who covered up for him.