Okay, one more post – Maciel and Mama Maurita

One last post that I have been meaning to write for some time, on a topic that my fellow blog hobbits are now tackling. It concerns Fr. Maciel, family life, and the importance of truth. Giselle at Life-After-RC has posted the testimony of a parent who accuses Fr. Maciel of hurting his family life through Maciel’s lies, which touches upon why parents ought not treat Regnum Christi membership like a vocation on par with marriage (click here).
Meanwhile, ExLC treats us to some poetry in responding to my earlier post explaining how Fr. Maciel’s life undermines the teachings he advocates in his spiritual writings. Here’s ExLC’s poem:

Now here is the problem:
Who was Marcial Maciel?
Did he lie to his families about being a priest?
Or did he lie all along about being a founder?
And how can we ever know which one is the lie?
Or were they both a lie?

And of several thought-provoking weekend posts at RC Is Not My Life, one of them deals with this issue by comparing Fr. Maciel to television network executives in Jim Carey’s movie The Truman Show. What struck me was not only the author’s insight, which you can read here, but reader Simon’s comment in the ensuing discussion:

Based on what we now know about Maciel, there are really only two possibilities, aren’t there?
1. He concocted the Legion and RC to cover up for and fund his decadent lifestyle. The whole thing is a cynical joke, a scam. Marcial Madoff, L.C.
2. Anguished by the internal contradictions of his own life, this man — so utterly lacking integrity, self-discipline, generosity, genuine piety or even a fixed identity — overcompensated. He created an organization that pressed its members to sacrifice their own personalities and stripped away their ability to discern vocations, express authentic human emotions, or even decide how to part their hair.
In the first possibility, Maciel made cynical use of authentic Catholic spirituality in order to achieve his evil ends, adding nothing distinctive.
In the second possibility, Maciel actively distorted Catholicism in response to his own bizarre interior torment, so that the result is doctrinally orthodox as a formal matter, but deeply screwed up at the level of formation and spirituality.

I’m not a psychologist. Nor do I play one on television. However, I’ve ministered inside the Church’s legal structure for close to ten years now. I’ve seen a lot in that time, and heard a lot from canon lawyers who are older, smarter and more experienced than me. Often the answer to this type of mystery can be found in the childhood relationship between a troubled priest and his mother – especially if the father was absent, abusive or had a poor relationship with his son.
This reminds of an incident when I was first getting started as a canon lawyer. Along with several other canon lawyers I happened to be at a workshop explaining the process whereby priests and religious seek to return to the lay state. The vast majority of those in attendance were over 40 years of age. The handful of under 35-year-olds sat together in the back.
The presenter, a respected priest and canonist, said during his presentation: “The trigger for older priests and religious wanting to return to the lay state is seldom a love interest. The most common trigger is the death of a parent, usually the mother. Let’s be honest: how many of us are here today because our mother wanted us to become a priest or religious? How many of us would have chosen this life had we not been sent off as teenagers to the minor seminaries by our mothers?”
A look of shock and horror came over our faces in the back row, among those of us who were under 35 and had not been alive prior to the Second Vatican Council. Surely the presenter was exaggerating the “bad old days” before Vatican II! But as we watched row-after-row of older clergy and religious nod their heads in agreement, regardless of whether they were liberal or conservative theologically, us younger canon lawyers recognized that the presenter was speaking the truth. For many, it was the mother who wanted the vocation.
Now I don’t want to get carried away on this point. It’s not a bad thing if a mother, suspecting that God may be calling her son to priesthood or religious life, fosters and encourages the potential vocation. In fact, this is a good thing – if the vocation or call to discernment are a true calling from God. Thus St. Monica’s prayed for St. Augustine’s conversion, and St. John Bosco had a close relationship with his mother, who adopted the orphans served by her son’s apostolate as her own. Similarly, St. Pius X’s mother urged him to stay in the seminary when, as oldest son, he considered dropping out to support his mother and his siblings after the death of his father.
A similar story is told of Fr. John Hardon, the noted Jesuit catechist and spiritual director to Mother Teresa, and an only child who was raised by his mother after his father died in a work-related accident when the boy was only one. Reportedly, Father had thought about dropping out of the Jesuit seminary to support his mother when she began to show the effects of old age. His mother urged him to continue with the Jesuits, if this is where he felt God was calling him.
In each of these cases, the vocation is clearly present. The individuals themselves felt the call to priesthood and religious life, and those charged with their formation confirmed it. Their mothers simply encouraged them, through word and prayer, to remain faithful to God’s call. They did not seek to impose a calling that was not already clear to their the son.
This is different from being pressured into the priesthood or religious life – especially when a child’s relationship with the other parent is poor or lacking.
Mama Maurita has passed away. So has Fr. Maciel. Therefore, this avenue of inquiry can only be speculation. However, three things cause me to suspect that Fr. Maciel’s founding of his movement is tied to his relationship with Mama Maurita:
1 – Fr. Maciel had a difficult relationship with his father throughout his entire life.
2 – Fr. Maciel held his mother, who happens to have been a fervent Catholic and the niece of a bishop and a canonized saint (and who wanted to be a religious herself), in particularly high esteem.
3 – None of Fr. Maciel’s reported children (at least the ones we know about) were born until after Mama Maurita’s death. On the other hand, most of the sexual abuse allegations involving seminarians and young men seems to take place while she was still alive.
Again, I am not a psychologist. Nor was I ever Fr. Maciel’s spiritual or formation director. And having met, I never acted for him in any capacity as a canon lawyer. So this is only speculation on my part. However, it is an avenue those in the LC/RC may wish to consider in pursuing the truth about their founder.


  1. Peter– do you think this also sheds light on why the Legion heavily pushes the Apostolic Schools to parents? As an outsider, I find the idea of locking a boy into his vocation at age 12 really odd. (Heck, if I’d chosen my ‘VOCATION’ at age 12 it would be ‘celibate academic’ not ‘Wife and Mother’.)
    BUT,if vocation is all about doing what someone else wants and NOT about a converstaion with God, the apostolic schools make a disturbing kind of sense….
    I mean, my pro-apostolic-school friends have always told me that the legion is different from other orders, so the boys NEED to be in from Age 12, or else they’ll lose their vocation.
    But I’ve always found the idea of vocation as a one-time call odd… it seems most vocation stories, from the old testament to the modern world, seem to involve a constant nagging, not a “limited time offer, respond today or be damned!”
    But if Maciel was forced into his ‘vocation’ by his ‘sainted’ mother, it WOULD make sense that he’d assume this was the ideal for other boys– since he wanted to pattern the legionaries on himself…….

  2. I may be out on a limb (never having gone beyond Psych 101 in college) but I’ve had a nagging feeling about the family dynamic being an extension of MM’s game as well. Rather than Pete’s angle, though, I’ve seen MM’s abuse of the Church as indicative of his anger towards his mother, not deference. If indeed, he was abused on the ranch and cowed (or humiliated) by his father, then wouldn’t both of those elements be present here? If the pope is the father figure, then he’d “get back at him;” and if the Church is the mother figure, then he could hurt her as well for not protecting him from the father. Who knows?
    Goes back to, “Woe to those who scandalise the little ones.”

  3. This is an excellent observation b/c it does seem that MM sexually abused children in the beginning, but that these allegations go back to the 40s, 50 and 60s. His children seem to have been born in the 80s and 90s. His mother died in the 70s. I think a more exact time line would definitely be interesting to hammer out, and could provide some interesting answers to what was going on in MM’s mind.

  4. Giselle:
    Again, please note that I am NOT a psychologist or psychological expert, and I don’t have any clinical or pastoral experience with Maciel, and this not a diagnosis.
    In my marriage tribunal experience, the relationship doesn’t have to be an “either/or” between the child and the “good” parent. It can be “both/and”.
    This is especially the case when the non-physically-abusive parent is also emotionally manipulative. As a priest friend of mine, who is dual-credentialed as a canon lawyer and a clinical psychologist, once explained to me: The child is scared of Parent A who is extremely violent. So child takes refuge in Parent B, who is emotionally manipulative.
    Child then grows up conflicted over whether Parent B is hero for protecting child from Parent A, or whether child should resent Parent B for being emotionally manipulative. Inject some other childhood trauma and the child ends up even more angry and confused.
    Having said that, I’m speaking in generalities here because I don’t know the relationship between Fr. Maciel and Mama Maurita. Nor am I qualified to diagnose a possible condition if I knew the relationship.

  5. As a former member, we were told that Fr.MM’s father was abusive at least emotionally. Especially to his wife. He was a typical Mexican machismo man. Fr.MM did see his mother as the silent hero who suffered like a martyr under these circumstances.
    This was not written anywhere that I know of but more through our visits to his family home in Cotija.
    You are right Peter.

  6. I am surprised anyone was allowed to state that MM’s father was abusive, given the constant admonition to “believe the good you hear, and only the bad you see”.

  7. There are so many dynamics it’s hard to trace his path from double life (founder and pederast) to mega lives (polygamist). But I’d focus on opportunity. After the vatican investigation, the discovery that he could manage more absences, and not having his mother to interact his opportunities for “Neverland” shifted to polygamy. But one thing never changed: he mixed what passed as fatherhood with predation.

  8. Pete,
    I responded to you over at LC Is Not My Life, so I won’t repeat here, but I do think I tend to agree with Giselle on the anger part. There was a story (I think I read it on Cassandra at some point) about how he was gone for two weeks during the time his mother died, totally unreachable. I believe he even missed her funeral. To me, this story indicates 1) he was definitely living some sort of double life at that point–nobody seems to know WHAT he was doing during those two weeks, and apparently it was not unusual for him to disappear for that length of time in the 70s and 2) he very well may have been extremely angry at his mother.
    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his father wasn’t sexually abusive (as well as emotionally and physically). If his mother knew about that kind of abuse and covered for the father, that would give Maciel ample reason to be angry. At the same time, he had twisted desire to earn his mother’s approval/love and may have felt going into the priesthood would secure that. Perhaps he finally felt, once she was dead, that he was free to have a family himself (several families!).
    I think it is highly likely he was having sexual intercourse with women for decades before he started being husband/father to several families all at once. He just made sure he didn’t produce any children (or made sure those children disappeared off the map one way or another) until his mother’s death.
    Again, pure speculation. He was obviously a very disturbed person. I think there is much more to the story than we will ever know.
    What we do know is that at some point, Maciel was an innocent child. What happened to him to turn him into an abusive monster we can only guess.

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