Thursday, May 6, 2010

Father Maciel: "a life devoid of scruple"

Father Maciel: "a life devoid of scruple"
Post categories: Ethics, Religion

William Crawley | 13:57 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Two years after his death, the Vatican has decided that Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi lay movement, was a criminal, a liar, a child abuser, and a man who had no real faith. The religious congregation he founded says it can no longer look to Fr Maciel as a model of faith or a positive image of the priestly life. If the New York Times reports are anything to go by, both judgments are a serious understatement.

It appears that the Vatican was dealing with complaints about Fr Maciel from as long ago as the mid-50s. There were allegations of sexual abuse, drug-addiction, and financial mismanagement, but, every time, Fr Maciel managed to persuade his colleagues that he was the victim of character assassination. It turns out that the stories were true. And more. It is thought that Fr Maciel fathered as many as six children, sexually assaulted scores of children over five decades, and built a personal religious empire that paid for his profligate lifestyle and provided a protective cover. The congregation he founded now has 800 priests around the world, with 70,000 members of its lay order, and estimated assets of 25 billion euro. At a time when priestly vocations were in crisis, Fr Maciel raised up an army of priests who were ultra-traditional in theology and liturgical practice -- much to the admiration of Pope John Paul II, who now emerges as Fr Maciel's most highly-placed supporter in Rome. It is claimed that the future Pope Benedict was eager to deal with Fr Maciel, but felt unable to do so because he enjoyed the confidence and protection of Pope John Paul. Fr Maciel was the church's most successful fundraiser, and the wealth he offered appears to have won him many friends in the Vatican. Some of those highly-placed Vatican officials were cleared duped: they actually regarded Fr Maciel as a living saint and dismissed rumours as a devilish attack on a good man. Others may have looked the other way as the Legion of Christ's influence grew.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, he acted to remove Fr Maciel from public life: he proposed that the man described by his followers as "Our Father" should commit himself to a life of prayer and penance and avoid any ministry whatsoever. Following Fr Maciel's death in 2008, Pope Benedict sent apostolic visitors to every house, college and mission of the Legion of Christ, and to interview hundreds of legionaries. The findings of that apostolic visitation are devastating:

"The very serious and objectively immoral behaviour of Fr. Maciel, as incontrovertible evidence has confirmed, sometimes resulted in actual crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruple and of genuine religious sentiment. The great majority of Legionaries were unaware of this life, above all because of the system of relationships created by Fr. Maciel, who had skilfully managed to build up alibis, to gain the trust, confidence and silence of those around him, and to strengthen his role as a charismatic founder."

The Legionaries of Christ now face a fundamental overhaul of their life and structures. Meanwhile, the Vatican officials who gave Fr Maciel their support in the face of a mountain of evidence against him will now have some serious questions to answer.

Pictures: Fr Maciel, right; and, left, 60 Legionaries are ordained to the priesthood in St Peter's Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1991.

Watch here: An ABC news reporter has his hand slapped by the then Cardinal Ratzinger when he tries to ask a question about Fr Maciel.

Read analysis from Fr Thomas Reese, SJ.

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