John Paul II and the Legionaries

Time has an article about Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ that touches on a particularly sensitive issue: the promotion of the order by Pope John Paul II, now under consideration for canonization.

The Vatican had investigated Maciel’s personal life as early as the 1950s; but John Paul, whose papacy began in 1978, showered praise on the Legion’s founder, calling him “an efficacious guide to youth.”

Vaca says that remark is what compelled Maciel victims to tell their stories for the book Vows of Silence, published in 2004. They eventually got the Vatican, even under John Paul, to take their allegations seriously, but Church watchers say Benedict’s current mission to canonize his predecessor is another reason Rome won’t want to punish the Legion too harshly. “The Legionaries of Christ are going to withstand this [latest] blow,” says Elio Masferrer, an expert on the Catholic Church in Latin America at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Rome, he predicts, “will not take any meaningful action” — just as it hasn’t, he argues, in widespread clerical sex abuse cases in Ireland and the U.S., despite Benedict’s vow to remove the “filth” of sex abusers from the priesthood.

But it’s causing the Catholic Church to lose credibility, particularly in Mexico, the home of the Legion; Time suggests that the loss of moral authority is having both political impact and is helping to accelerate the movement of individual Mexicans from Catholicism to evangelicalism.

4 thoughts on “John Paul II and the Legionaries

  1. Its amazing how some people here have such a shallow perception.

    Being Irish I have seeing my fair share of scandals within the catholic church and not just in Ireland, where priests have fathered children.

    Not that I condone the reported behaviour of the legion, in any shape or form, but should we really condemn the legion and if so should we condemn the catholic church as a whole, let’s face if we compare the reported sins of the legion in comparison to the reported sins of the church, in which direction to you think the scales would tip?

    • Oh, I think you’re right in comparing the Legion with the Catholic Church as a whole. The Legion operated under the guidance and patronage of the popes. The popes taught the bishops and the heads of religious orders how to deal with scandal. It was always, shut up the victims and protect the institution. Priests protected other priests; bishops who were personally guilty protected others. And none in the hierarchy ever spoke up for the victims or expressed anger. The infection goes all the way to the top of a church that proclaims its unique holiness and infallibility. Yes, I think there are implications for how we should view the Catholic Church. For more, see Lee Podles’ excellent book, “Sacrilege.”

  2. Actually Bill, some spoke up – my colleague Fr. Tom Doyle comes to mind – but sadly they were few and far between when the abuse was happening. What I’ve learned through Church history is that the Church goes through cycles with this issue.

    Bad people get into the priesthood, corruption spreads, ecclesiastical authority attempts to keep things quiet to avoid scandal, and finally the laity say “Enough!” and besiege the clergy until God raises up a saint to reform the clergy and impose strict penances upon perpetrators.

    That being said, it would be interesting to hear your perspective on yesterday’s press statement from the Holy See:

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