Saturday, June 06, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I had a visit from a friend, a priest in another religious congregation.
The Somascan Fathers (CRS), founded around the beginning of the 16th century, have a relatively small operation in the USA, but can be found serving in parishes with high levels of poverty or large numbers of recently arrived immigrants.
This priest told me the troubling story of their last superior general, which I related to immediately. By all accounts a saintly man, a kind and gentle pastor of souls with a deep spiritual life, something cracked inside. After a number of years serving as superior he unexpectedly called a press conference and stated that he would be resigning his post. He asked the Vatican to appoint someone better fitted to assume the grave responsibilities of his office. Although he made no further disclosures at the time, it appears that something arose in his private circumstances that was serious enough to merit his immediate retirement.
Think what you will, this man was honest enough to know that the turmoil and challenges of his personal life were radically incompatible with his religious commitment and obstreperously contradictory to his role as superior general of the congregation.
There was pain on all sides: his, in leaving; his brethren’s, in ‘losing’ a friend and spiritual guide; the faithful’s, in wondering what inner crisis would cause a beloved priest to abandon them...
And yet, he drew a line of basic decency in the sand and rejected the leading of a double life. He made a choice. He now lives with it. But he refused to hurt, insult and betray those around him with disdain and duplicity.
I guess you can see where I’m going with this.
A Legionary priest, working in a women’s center of RC in South America, recently responded to the anguished questions of the Movement’s members about the fraudulent life of Fr. Maciel by saying, in short, that “as a man he had his shortcomings, we should not be judgmental and we should look to the good that has come from the Legion in its works”.
That’s like saying that Caligula had his ‘quirks’... or that Amy Winehouse has her occasional ‘bad hair day’.
If we are to believe that Fr. Maciel was somehow a ‘flawed saint’ or simply ‘an imperfect instrument of God’, how do we defend the fact that he perpetuated the lie of his double life and drew so many ingenuous, enthusiastic followers into a spider’s web of wanton deception that lasted till his death?
Why didn’t he go to the Holy Father at some stage, reveal his ‘failings’ and ask for a replacement to guide the Legion? Did he never perceive the monstrosity of the warped and pestilent theater of the absurd that his life had become? Was he so far beyond the concept of good and evil that he feared no judgment, no retribution?
He chose to lie and he slaved tirelessly to inflate an image of sanctity, of inspiration, of leadership and of relevance for the Church throughout his entire despicable career. He diligently hid his secret life from the acting LC superiors over the years so that the realistic appearance of the illusion he was spinning would be flawless.
It is the lie that kills me.
I know he was a sexual predator. I know he was morally corrupt. I know he duped, popes, bishops, authorities both civil and ecclesiastic.
But the lie that he seduced me with and with which he held me compliantly captive for thirty years smolders in my gut, invades my dreams and sullies my experience as a priest.
His was a masterful and heartless betrayal of that which was noblest in us. We are all damned fools and the sorry, hapless remnant of a vicious fairy tale. He has made cynics of us all.