Recently in History Category

The archives of East Germany's "Stasi" (State Security) tell the story of decades of atrocities by the Communist state, but under the German amnesty law, most of its perpetrators will never be brought to justice. What does remain is to tell the truth. A half-hour documentary is available on-line:

Ed Peters has put together another response to the Legionaries of Christ / Regnum Christi (LC/RC) crisis, which is well worth reading. You can check it out here. Since I'm likely to be asked for a response, here's a line-by-line:

I think that Fr. Alvaro Corcuera's apparent claim that he knows nothing about Maciel's behavior, except that Maciel sired a daughter, is utterly unbelievable. I have nothing else to say about this kind of stone-walling. I will simply re-endorse Dr. Germain Grisez's and Mr. George Weigel's proposals for direct intervention by the Holy See.

Out of Christian charity I will assume Fr. Alvaro is telling the truth. The Holy See should intervene anyway. Directly.

The situation is so muddled that I cannot see how the LC/RC can fix it without outside help and expertise. Of course I'm just one canonist out of thousands in the Church. But given how the LC/RC have maintained Fr. Maciel's innocence for years, the severity of the allegations against him - both proven and unproven, and other structural problems within the movement, how the initial response has been bungled, it will be difficult for the LC/RC to regain the trust of orthodox Catholics without assurances that Rome has performed a thorough housecleaning of the movement.

Apologists for the LC/RC are already stating that Fr. Alvaro and the LC/RC are following Rome's instructions. And Rome has stated it has no immediate plans to step in, but would do so if requested by the Legion. So it might be best is the Legion simply go through the official step of asking Rome to step in directly.

Moving on Peters's rebuttal of the "reform-from-within" assertion and the "carry-on-the-charism" assertion:

Assertion 1. Because the Legion and Regnum Christi have within their ranks many obviously good and faithful Catholics, they should be allowed to try a reform from within. Response: the presence of good and faithful Catholics within an organization, particularly when the organization (in terms of Church history, if nothing else) is so young, says almost nothing about whether the organization itself is sound and/or salvageable.

Here is where I think Peters needs to make a distinction. Those making the "reform from within" suggestion (like myself) are not a unified camp. Some maintain the LC/RC should be permitted to reform from within, without any direct outside intervention. Very unlikely to work, as proven by the fact Fr. Maciel got away with his misdeeds for so long. And even if it were possible, there's still the problem of restoring the RC/LC's credibility.

Like Peters, I believe the LC/RC's current structure is deeply flawed, and have for some time, according to criteria developed with Fr. Frank Morrisey - one of the Church's foremost canonical experts on religious law and structures of institutes of consecrated life - and cult expert Michael Langone. You can read a summary of the criteria here. (Please note: I am not claiming that all of these criteria apply to the LC/RC, but those that do need to be rooted out if the LC/RC is to reform.)

Having said that, given that the majority of LC/RC members are orthodox Catholics faithful to Rome, I believe a "reform from within" is possible if the Holy See intervenes directly and appoints someone credible from outside the LC/RC to do a thorough investigation of LC/RC practices, and oversee their reform. It needs to be someone known for prayer and orthodoxy, experienced in religious life, and highly respected within the Church. For example, Cardinal Francis George from Chicago or Archbishop Seán O'Malley from Boston. Of course this assumes LC/RC members cooperate - not only in letter, but in spirit - with the reform.

Such a reform must begin with a sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's victims, followed by restitution. Also, no more excuses suggesting Fr. Maciel's innocence, or trying to dampen the severity of his sins. Of course the structural weaknesses that allowed Fr. Maciel to get away with his double-life for so long must also be fixed. Good faith only gets one so far. Peters identifies the question many canonists are asking, namely whether there are structural problems to the Legion, expressing them as only he can, when he states in response to the second assertion:

There is, I think, at least as much reason to wonder whether Maciel set up an institute in order to assure himself of ample access to sexual targets and unaccountable funds, or whether he suffered from some warped psycho-emotional condition that enabled him to compartmentalize pious devotional practices and sexual predation for decades on end...

Here is where I take a somewhat harder line than Peters. I don't wonder. In fact, I'm pretty sure Fr. Maciel set up the LC/RC to, as I put it in the following interview, acquire, maintain and protect his access to victims.

I won't comment on funds, except to say well-placed sources within and outside the LC/RC told me that Fr. Maciel was frequently given thousands of dollars in cash without any questions being asked. I haven't looked into the issue deeply enough to give it much thought; it's entirely possible the financial irregularities came after, as a by-product of the sexual irregularities. Of course, none of the above excludes the possibility Fr. Maciel also had a serious psychological condition.

But I've skipped ahead a bit. Here's how Peters begins his response to the second assertion:

Assertion 2. Maciel's canonical crime spree was a grave personal failing, but it does not negate the L/RC 'charism', and they should be allowed to continue their work. Response: This argument misses the key question, namely, whether in fact Maciel ever bequeathed an authentic charism to the L/RC...

This, then, is what separates our positions at the moment. If one believes the LC/RC lack a true charism, then Peters is right in suggesting Rome may have to shut down the movement completely and reconstitute it. (Without a true charism, there is nothing to reform.)

On the other hand, if one believes the LC/RC possess a true charism from Christ, but that it has become seriously clouded by Fr. Maciel's sexual vice, then it may still be possible to rescue the charism. Of course it will still require delicate surgery on Rome's part. It's possible the movement is so far gone that the necessary reform is no longer possible. The LC/RC will have to show they are capable of true reform.

Peters then says (skipping over the part I had quoted earlier, out-of-sequence):

I do not know whether the L/RC can (following a complete leadership replacement!) reform itself from within, although I am almost certain that they cannot;

A complete leadership change may be the only thing that can save the LC/RC at this point. Certainly this is how I feel, humanly speaking, although the Holy Spirit could intervene in a way that canonists haven't imagined. But, assuming most of the current leadership was honestly in dark about Fr. Maciel's double-life, this speaks to a weakness in LC/RC formation that so many clergy suspected so little for so long. This is not to say they were bad people or terrible priests - only that they appear to lack a certain skill-set needed to exercise prudent governance over a large religious institute.

This is not uncommon among young institutes of consecrated life where one is dealing with leadership known for its holiness (let alone living a double-life). I've experienced this at least twice in my career as a canon lawyer. A young institute and its young superior come up with some grandiose ideas, or overlook the obvious. An older priest, with several years of priestly experience before joining the institute, jumps in points out what's being overlooked, or otherwise brings some common sense to the discussion. Older priests can help guide a young superior of a young institute through sensitive pastoral issues, temper and focus the zeal of younger newly-ordained priests, and put bishops as ease knowing there is someone with experience keeping an eye on the new institute.

The problem with the current LC/RC superiors is that none of them kept an eye on Fr. Maciel. This is not surprising. Abusers cannot bear close scrutiny, which would threaten their access to victims. Fr. Maciel reportedly handpicked his superiors. Not surprisingly, he often named young priests who lacked practical pastoral experience. Which is why most Catholics would feel more confident about a reform of the LC/RC if Rome stepped in directly.

and I do not know whether Maciel developed an authentic charism for clerical, religious, and lay life, but I have serious doubts that he did.

And now the question of charism. The reason orthodox Catholics have struggled so deeply with the crisis, in fact the reason there are such strong feelings of anger and betrayal, is that the LC/RC's good works have been visible to us for so long. But looking back in retrospect, so too have the institutional signs of Fr. Maciel's double-life. How does one reconcile such a stark contrast?

Normally, an institute's charism is tied to its founder and its good works. However, the two don't match in this case. Some argue that the LC/RC's founding charism was fraudulent from the start. Others argue that God used Fr. Maciel as His imperfect human instrument. In reflecting upon this dilemma, attempting to reconcile these questions in my own mind, I stumbled across the biography of Saint Rafael Guízar Valencia.

Saint Rafael was Fr. Maciel's uncle and the bishop who oversaw most of Fr. Maciel's seminary formation prior to dismissing his nephew from the seminary. Saint Rafael exemplified many of the Christian virtues LC/RC attempt to emulate as members of their movement. In fact, his life story reads like a blueprint for the LC/RC's good works, and LC/RC members in past have recognized his influence in the founding of their movement.

Perhaps - and this is highly speculative on my part - Saint Rafael is the true spiritual founder of the LC/RC movement, and the instrument used by God to transmit its charism. It's something for LC/RC members to pray about.

Is this "our side's" Katyn?

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A "truth and reconciliation" commission in South Korea reveals that in the 1950s, government forces killed thousands of innocent people who were swept up in searches for Communist sympathizers, while US authorities ultimately in command looked the other way.

It is painful to find out about these crimes, but their dispassionate revelation aids the "purification of memory" for which Pope John Paul II called so many times: a step in making peace between peoples.

How much do we need such reconciliation within our country?

I'm going to be out of town when this arrives in Boston, but some of you will have a chance to see The Singing Revolution earlier. It sounds like an inspiring movie about the role of song in Estonia's deliverance from Communism.

Not a miracle


ujohn.jpgIt's not a miracle, but it is a sweet way to express our nostalgia for the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

pope_carter.jpgPope John Paul II visited the US on October 1, 1979, starting here in Boston. Post your recollections of the visit in the comments.

Update: for the "young adult" readers who don't remember the occasion (Hi, John!), here's a post from five years ago with my recollections.

Harvard's Russian bells to go home

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85 years ago, the atheistic Soviet state confiscated the bells of the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, and offered them for sale as scrap bronze. An American industrialist bought the bells and gave them to Harvard to prevent their destruction; since then they have hung in the tower of Lowell House, ringing to celebrate football victories and commencements. Soon they will go back to Russia and ring for the glory of God.

More at Harvard Gazette.

Grey and Black Friars

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A couple of years ago, BBC Radio 4's history series "In Our Time" presented a very worthwhile discussion on an important period of Church history: the founding of the great mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. You can read about the program and replay it (41 minutes) at Radio 4's website.

Considering how shallow some BBC treatment of religion is, the show's producers deserve credit for presenting something so informative, non-polemical, and respectful of the audience.

LiveScience has some handy pieces on-line debunking myths about the practice of justice in the Middle Ages: Medieval Justice Not So Medieval and 10 Biggest Myths about medieval torture.

While we're setting things straight, researchers have apparently confirmed that the Spanish weren't making it all up when they reported that Aztec and Maya societies engaged in human sacrifice.

The age of superstition?


A 1988 essay by Jeffrey Hart (professor of English, Dartmouth) about the rise of empiricism and the demotion of philosophical knowledge addresses a myth about the Middle Ages:

This great success story has some humorous and little known features. As customarily recounted, the story features enlightenment and progress winning the day against medieval superstition. In fact, the medieval period was relatively rational. Its folklore and fairy tales, its giants and dragons, were known to be fictions. It was the Renaissance that was riddled with superstition. Bacon and the empirical thrust indeed made their way against Aristotle and the medieval Schoolmen, but also against a world in which the French royalty was guided by Nostradamus, there was likely to be an alchemist or an astrologer in the next apartment, and audiences flocked to plays about Faust or Prospero, or plays in which the opening featured witches or commands from a ghost. The Renaissance did recover Homer and Virgil, but also the underground occult wrirtings of the ancient world as well.

The appeal of magic both black and white during the Renaissance clearly reflects a will-to-control analogous to that of the new empiricism. Faust flew through the air long before the Wright brothers did, and Nostradamus claimed to be predicting the major events of the next 7000 years -- and he was taken seriously.

Ronald Knox topples Big Ben

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Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was a Catholic convert, author, and priest who, among other things, helped G.K. Chesterton make his conversion to the Faith. Knox's extensive literary output ranged from apologetics and poetry to scholarship and detective fiction. As one observer suggested, his epitaph could have been "R.I.P. Ronald Knox, translator of the Holy Bible and author of
'The Viaduct Murder.'"

On January 16, 1926, he unintentionally stirred up panic across Britain with his own tongue-in-cheek BBC broadcast. He sent up the conventions of radio news by announcing that a mob in London had stormed the National Gallery, attacked the Houses of Parliament, blown up the Clock Tower, and lynched a minor government minister, all at the instigation of "Mr. Poppleberry, secretary of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues".

One moment, please. The British Broadcasting Company regrets that one item in the news has been inaccurately given. The correction now follows. It was stated in our news bulletin that the Minister of Traffic had been hanged from a lamp-post in the Vauxhall Bridge Road. Subsequent and more accurate reports show that it was not a lamp-post, but a tramway post, which was used for this purpose.

A look back at the spoof and its aftermath is available at the Radio 4 website, along with an audio reconstruction of the brief program based on an original transcript.

Thank you, Charles Martel

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Armed with spears and shields, an army of Frankish foot-soldiers led by Charles "the Hammer" defeated a superior force of invading Muslim cavalry in the Battle of Tours, this day in 732.

Steuben's painting depicts a gentle Mother and a sleeping Child as the very vanguard of the defenders.

Facing history

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When I'm not here, I'm often translating articles for Wikipedia, and the latest one was painful to do: the biography of a 20th-century German bishop whose servile relationship toward the Nazis was and remains a scandal: Archbishop Conrad Gröber earned himself the nickname "Conrad the Brown" in the early years of the Reich until he turned against the authorities and became one of the "greatest enemies" of the regime.

On this day in 1535, besieging forces conquered the city of Münster, at the time run by a violent Anabaptist cult.

The returning civic authorities put on an impressive display afterward.

(Janet Reno, call your office.)

Let them eat crow

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Any royalists out there should be pleased: history is correcting the smears against Marie-Antoinette, executed by the anti-Catholic Jacobin regime, and slandered by enemies before and since. In her last letter before her execution in 1793, she expresses a Christian forgiveness:

I pardon my enemies the wrongs they have done me ... I also had friends ... Let them know that, to my last moment, I was thinking of them.

A part of the history of our times


Sometimes things work out wonderfully in the world. Twenty-five years ago, mathematician Anatoly Shcharansky was a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. Now his ideas of spreading peace by spreading democracy have the ear of the Texas businessman who is the President of the U.S.

That amazing turn of events puts GWB's campaign for democracy into a broader context: perhaps it should be understood as the next phase of the struggle that occupied much of the last century. At present, the world is noticing the Islamic countries, but the status of human rights in the remaining Communist (or semi-Communist) countries reminds us that the Cold War's work is not yet finished. The idea of peace through democracy applies to China too.

"...archaeologists believe they have uncovered the remains of the Siloam Pool in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem..."

As you know, today in D.C. it was cold. As I was walking to get some coffee in the Nameless Entity's first floor, I saw a guy with a black fur-trimmed hat way down the corridor. I thought the hat looked Russian, and sure enough, it was — right down to the shiny medallion on the front of it with the hammer and sickle.

I doubt very seriously that the man was a Communist. He probably just liked the warmth, and the hat's provenance made it a good conversation piece. It was, you know, kitsch: if I were to take it seriously, and ask him why he was wearing a symbol of mass murder and oppression, he would have laughed.

Now, if the guy were wearing a cold-weather S.S. hat with a swastika, that would be another story. From his dress, I'd guess that either he worked for the Entity itself or an affiliated entity. Wearing Nazi paraphernalia would be a career-ending move, especially if he worked with any Jews (and there are more than a few at the Entity). However, if he worked with Ukrainians or Afghanis (again, not very far-fetched), their complaints would not be taken as seriously, even though the Soviets murdered millions of their countrymen.

As you know, I am a lackey of neoconservative Zionist cabal that controls American foreign policy, so I have no problem with people looking down on Naziism. But why doesn't Communism get the same treatment? I'm hardly the first person to ask this question, but I've never heard a satisfying answer. Some say that the Nazis are uniquely evil in a way that the Soviets were not; I have no idea how one evaluates such a statement, and I know of no crime (genocide, slavery, tyrrany, predatory war, forced deportation of populations) the Nazis committed that the Soviets rejected.

The best explanation is that since the Left controls the academy and the media, they are the only ones in the position to administer stigmas such as the Nazis have received, and they are unwilling to stigmatize their ideological cousins. After all, if people get turned off by collectivism, they might get squeamish about applying a statist solution to health care. And so Soviet kitsch is still safe in the halls of the U.S. Federal government.

Three institutions made me what I am today: the Roman Catholic Church, my family, and the United States Marines. The latter is turning 229 today, which is a cause for celebration among Marines around the world.

At the moment, Marines in Fallujah are celebrating by demolishing a snake pit of oppressive murderers. By all accounts, they are doing well, and one more chapter of our history is being written. The Marine Corps has never lost a battle in its entire history, and it will not now.

Long before I went to war, I thought about the kind of person I would want by my side if I were in combat. I figured I'd want a bunch of ruthless killers around. Not amoral murderers, but men who were at peace with themselves and well-trained to react correctly. A moment of mortal danger isn't the time for self-doubt or philosophizing.

It's a good feeling to be around hundreds of men whom you've never personally met, but who would crawl through a hail of bullets to drag your wounded body to safety. Which is why I'll forgive my brother Marines for their occasional crudities and failings.

Happy birthday, Marines. I wish you safety, and above all, victory over the unjust. I wish I could be there with you.

44 years of Lent

L'Espresso's www.chiesa department presents an excerpt from the testimony of Romanian priest Tertulian Ioan Langa to the persecution of the Church under Communism.

(Thanks, CWN.)

C.S. Lewis: 11/22/1963

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The world didn't notice his death the first time around either. Joseph Loconte remembers. (NYT, LRR)

Stopping the Holocaust


Mark Shea made a comment about the irony of blaming the Pope for the Holocaust when he had few material tools to end it -- or even interfere. Point well taken. I love Mark and his blessed blog, but he's incorrect in one respect. Here's the full passage:

"It is one of the weird twists of history that so many in both the Catholic and Jewish communities should survey the wreckage of WWII, a wreckage in Allied Leaders like Roosevelt and Churchill refused to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz and in which Stalin did nothing as the Warsaw Ghetto was annihilated, and look past this to a man who had not a single gun to defend himself, and yet who was responsible for the rescue of more Jews than any other man in Europe--and condemn him as practically being the architect of the Holocaust."

America bombed lots of German rail lines (and railheads and railway yards), but the Germans were very clever about fixing them. It doesn't take any skill to fill a bomb crater, and it doesn't take hardly any skill to mend a rail. Bombing the lines only caused a few hours' delay, or a day at most. Given the horribly inaccurate bombs of the day (it took a squadron of planes dropping hundreds of bombs to destroy a single target), it would have been impossible to destroy the rails altogether.

The Germans, as everyone knows, are organizational geniuses. Their wartime production kept humming along until the Allies started conquering Germany proper; a big part of their industrial prowess was dedicated to killing human beings. Since we couldn't stopped industrial processes such as tank production or oil refinement, saying we could have destroyed the killing process is inaccurate.

Novak: Capitalism has Catholic roots

It's conventional to give Protestantism the credit for fostering virtues and attitudes conducive to economic advancement, but Michael Novak points out the Catholic roots of capitalism, in the inventiveness of monastic communities and the stability fostered by the Church's legal system.

October 1, 1979

23 years ago today, on the feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Pope John Paul landed in Boston for his first visit to the United States after his election. As a Cardinal Archbishop and professor of theology, he had already been across the river in Cambridge where he had lectured to the eminences of Harvard Divinity School, but now he was coming to his own. And his own received him in a big way, filling Boston Common with a hundred thousand souls, a big crowd for a city of 500,000. We college pals who arrived on foot at 7:30 am -- making a little pilgrimage of it -- were rewarded with a place close enough so that we saw the Pope -- that is, if we had our glasses on -- and that was enough for us. He told us as the rain poured down on us all, Catholics and catechumens alike, and even a few Evangelicals: "Do not be afraid to follow Christ!"

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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