The True Significance of the Fr. Maciel Story

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 5, 2009 | Categories: Accountability, Celebrities, Politics, Scandals

My post, New Fr. Marical Maciel Degollado Sex Scandal, prompted a few comments. One came from Greg Krehbiel, who writes the blog,  Crowhill Weblog.  Mr. Krehbiel wrote, “I don’t think people have yet come to grasp with the real significance of this story. If a manifest fraud like Maciel was able to deceive so many devout, serious people (including the pope!) what does that imply?”

Mr. Krehbiel included a link to his excellent article on Google, “The True Significance of the Fr. Maciel Story.”   Some key excerpts:

“Those of us who believed the accusations against Fr. Maciel were scolded and lectured in stern tones from on high, with brows furrowed in anger and the accusing finger wagging. We were told that Fr. Maciel was being persecuted by people who hated the church, but he, saintly fellow, was taking it all in stride, bearing it like Jesus, glad to be a martyr and take his part in the sufferings of Christ.”chismylijeco-m.jpg

“Specifically, what does this story tell us about movements, leaders, followers, charlatans, con artists and enablers of various sorts, and how does that affect our reckoning of the history of the church and the evidences of Christianity? How were so many people, including Pope John Paul II, fooled by this guy?”

“This is not an idle question for Christians, for although it’s certainly true that Fr. Maciel’s sins say nothing directly about the truth of Christianity, they have indirect but important implications for Christian apologetic and epistemology, and I think these implications haven’t been seriously addressed.”

An article to read next to Mr. Krehbiel’s is the  late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s defense of Fr. Maciel, “Feathers of Scandal”  which was published by First Things in March 2002.

Fr. Neuhaus’ withering reflection was inspired by the fallout from  a 1997 story in the Hartford Courant, a Connecticut newspaper, that was reprinted in the National Catholic Reporter, “a left-wing tabloid,” Fr. Neuhaus called it.   Read the NCR article here.   It is about the testimony of several  of the men who claimed Fr. Maciel sexually abused them as seminarians, and how the Vatican put a protective wall around the Legionaires founder, refusing to investigate any of their charges.

The Hartford Courant story had been coauthored Gerald Renner,  formerly the religion writer for the paper, and Jason Berry, a freelance writer in New Orleans, the author of the  books  Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children  (1992) and Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (1996).

Here’s what Fr. Neuhaus had to say in   Fr. Maciel’s defense:

“I am not neutral about the Legionaries. I have spent time with Fr. Maciel, and he impresses me as a man who combined uncomplicated faith, gentle kindness, military self-discipline, and a relentless determination to do what he believes God has called him to do. They are qualities one would expect of someone who at age twenty-0ne in Mexico vowed to do something great for Christ and his Church, and has been allowed to do it. In the language of the tradition, they are qualities associated with holiness; in his case a virile holiness of tenacious resolve that has been refined in the fires of frequent opposition and misunderstanding.”

“Nonetheless, because I care about the Legion, and because I was outraged by what I suspected as a gross injustice, I decided to go through endless pages of testimony, counter-testimony, legal documents, and other materials related to the Berry/Renner attack on Fr. Maciel.   It was not an edifying experience. For Berry/Renner, it is worth noting, the case of Fr. Maciel is not all that important in itself, but it serves another purpose. ‘To many,’ they write in the recent NCR article, ‘the case against Maciel is important because it tests the Vatican’s resolve to pursue charges related to sexual misconduct at the highest levels of the Church.’ The ‘many’ includes, first of all, Berry and Renner. That is clearly the reason for the latest re-raking of the muck of their 1997 article. They report nothing substantially new in the allegations themselves; the only new thing is that the Vatican has again considered the charges and found them without merit. A cardinal in whom I have unbounded confidence and who has been involved in the case tells me that the charges are ‘pure invention, without the slightest foundation.'”

It counts as evidence that Fr. Maciel unqualifiedly and totally denies the charges. It counts as evidence that priests in the Legion whom I know very well and who, over many years, have a detailed knowledge of Fr. Maciel and the Legion say that the charges are diametrically opposed to everything they know for certain. It counts as evidence that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and others who have looked into the matter say that the charges are completely without merit. It counts as evidence that Pope John Paul II, who almost certainly is aware of the charges, has strongly, consistently, and publicly praised Fr. Maciel and the Legion. Much of what we know we take on trust. I trust these people. The suggestion that they are either deliberately deceiving or duped is totally implausible.” (My emphasis) maciel.jpg

A last  point from Mr. Krehbiel’s article: “Christianity was spread by personal testimony. There was no Wall Street Journal or–God forbid–New York Times to verify the information. People believed the Christian testimony because they respected the lifestyle of the people they heard it from.

This is an important equation that lies at the root and foundation of Christianity–i.e., the fact that you live a decent life makes me want to believe what you say about God.”

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3 Responses to “The True Significance of the Fr. Maciel Story”

  1. Thom Says:

    This is powerful- thank you for putting this all together.

  2. GregK Says:

    Thanks for posting this.

    Fr. Neuhaus was a great man who was very kind to me on a couple occasions, but his defense of Maciel was a big mistake.

    This whole sad episode should teach us that it does not “count as evidence” (as Fr. Neuhaus said) that seemingly eminent, sensible, orthodox and respectable people believe in somebody.

    There doesn’t seem to be a clear link between religious orthodoxy and having a functional B.S. detector.


  3. Christine Says:

    This is why freedom of the press, democracy, separation of powers are so important in civil societies, and hopefully, one day in the church it will be too. A trademark of sects is the impossibility to criticize the leader.

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