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the man who never was

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Dec 23, 2009

A CNA story reports that the Legionaries are prepping their number for bad news to come by revealing that at least some of the writings of the late Marcial Maciel were cribbed:

In an effort to distance itself from the wrongdoings of its founder, the Legion of Christ has recently circulated an internal memo detailing how a long venerated work of spirituality attributed to Fr. Marcial Maciel was actually a slight re-writing of a book from a little-known Spanish author.


Although the memo does not describe Fr. Maciel’s copying as plagiarism, a Spanish member of the Legion familiar with the text told CNA that Fr. Maciel's version reproduces “80% of the original book in content and style.”

There’s a sense of course in which Catholics want their spiritual writers to be unoriginal: the truths of the faith and the truth of human nature do not change, and the indispensable cross-pollination between Christian authors means most of us should say of most orthodox writing, "This reminds me of something I've read before." The problem with Maciel’s unoriginality, it would seem, is that he was silent about what he knew he borrowed.

The unnaturally abject devotion paid Maciel in his boon years entails unique problems for the LCs in the wake of his disgrace. Too late the cornerstone has been rejected by the builders, and now the whole edifice is tottering. Regardless of what Maciel’s defenders maintained, it was not his teachings but the legend of his personal sanctity that held the Legion together. Now the sanctity has been exposed as a hoax and even the teachings exposed as stolen property. For the LCs simply to exhort their members to excise Maciel from the charism is to say, “Focus on the hole in the doughnut.” It can’t work.

What was peculiar about the legend of Maciel’s holiness was that Maciel himself concurred in and abetted its promotion. This shows an astonishing lack of insight into the self. A remark of Joseph Sobran is pertinent here:

Christians are called to confront evil by introspection. St. Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” -- not because he did anything to rival the spectacular misdeeds of, say, the Emperor Nero, but for a deeper reason. He judged himself not against other men in the light of public opinion, but against the divine gaze into the recesses of his own heart. The saints don’t think of themselves as saints, or as particularly better than other men. They are conscious of their own sins and their own capacity for evil.

Like a man born without a kidney or a leg, Maciel seems to have been born without this ability to judge himself, born without the awareness of his own potential for evil. At one level he must have been conscious of his wrongdoing -- the Legion's vow against criticism of superiors is hard to understand otherwise -- but it’s impossible to imagine Maciel cackling with glee at the thousands he duped and the carnal mischief he enjoyed at their expense.

The Legion of Christ is currently the object of an apostolic visitation. The best conceivable outcome is for those Legionaries who were complicit in Maciel’s fraud to reject his example and speak truthfully about their own failures, drinking the bitter cup to the lees. The more painful it is to tell the truth, the more we esteem those who do so. Who knows, such esteem might lay the foundations for a new beginning.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 23, 2009 6:13 PM ET USA

    I find very little to add to this excellent exposition and analysis. My comment pertains the possible knowledge of the late founder of the true nature of his own acts. Tragically I am forced to consider that he must have been aware. When someone acts without full knowledge of something his or her acts tend to hide or obscure all pertaining to the situation. Not in this case. He was a leader, counselor and a spiritual director. All that was in fact an act with the possible help from down under.

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