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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fr. Michael Orsi on the Legionary Story

Fr. Michael Orsi has an article over at Our Sunday Visitor about Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries, entitled "Please, no sordid details." Fr. Orsi begins by warning against the base inclination of seeking out the sordid details of a scandal, which has no good purpose and leads to further injury. I think that is a very commendable admonition. But I wonder why Fr. Orsi is bringing this up - though I've seen many strong opinions in the Catholic media and blogs demanding transparency and changes for the Legion, I don't think that I've seen many demands for "outing" the identities of victimes. Further, Fr. Orsi's advice against seeking out the sordid details of a scandal should not hamper or restrict any attempt to accomplish justice, to make amends to those who have been injured, and to correct what is flawed in the Legion.

Fr. Orsi goes on in his article to argue that though Maciel may have been flawed, that doesn't mean the Legion is flawed. This is where Fr. Orsi goes wrong in his analysis.

Fr. Orsi says "By their fruits you will know them," and that there are many good fruits coming from the Legion. I recognize that there are many good fruits, but there are some bad fruits too: the injuries suffered by Maciel's victims, both at the time of the initial abuse and since, with the victims being scorned and their pleas for justice disparaged; the complaints of former members of the Legion and Regnum Christi; and of course, the current scandal and its effect on the faith of many members of the Church. Fr. Orsi also says "God writes straight sentences with crooked lines," and that good can come from flawed sources. Of course, God is all powerful and can bring good out of evil. But that doesn't mean that we should just accept flaws and fail to correct what is evil or flawed. Institutions which are flawed must be fixed, and if the flaw is sufficiently large or deep-set, then the institution may have to be entirely dissolved.

Then, Fr. Orsi weakly argues that Maciel is like King David, because David was also flawed, being an adulterous and murderous person from whom much good came and who is now honored. The comparison of Maciel to King David is entirely wrong for two reasons. First, King David publicly repented of his sin, corrected his sinful ways, and lived the rest of his life as a generally virtuous man. Maciel did not. Though it is possible that Maciel may have made a death-bed conversion, Maciel never publicly repented of his sin. Moreover, Maciel (with the help of the Legion) lived the last few years of his life as a hypocrite claiming that the allegations of wrongdoing were baseless and that he was imitating Christ on the Cross by suffering the ignominy of untruthful accusations. This difference between Maciel and David is significant - the very reason why David is honored by the Church is because he repented. For Maciel, at the current time, there is no evidence that Maciel repented and tried to make amends for his sins, and so there is no reason to honor him.

A second important difference between King David and Maciel is that during the sinful period of his life, David never created a religious institution with followers who would look to the words and example of David during his life of sin. Maciel created the structure and mission of the Legion while he lived a life of duplicity and sin. Members of the Legion can no longer look back to Maciel as a man whose life is to be honored and who is to be held as an example of living the mission of the Legion. The words and writings of Maciel (though some of them appear helpful when considered separate from their source) can no longer be considered as being the thoughtful reflections of a holy man - instead, they are hypocritical statements of a man who did not sincerely believe them. This is the reason why I think that the Legion may need to dissolve itself and be refounded. "It redounds to the good of the Church that institutes have their own particular characteristics and work. Therefore let their founders' spirit and special aims they set before them as well as their sound traditions - all of which make up the patrimony of each institute - be faithfully held in honor." (from Vatican II's Perfectae Caritatis) I don't know how the Legion can continue holding Maciel's spirit and special aims in honor.