So if Maciel was a criminal (or a sociopath), what of his charism?
Fr. Maciel’s siring of a daughter, obvious to everyone but still unacknowledged by Legion leadership, occurred after the 1983 Code took effect. If the mother of Maciel’s baby was, as some now report, only 15 years old when the Founder impregnated her, then, had he been caught, Maciel could (and I think would) have been expelled from the Legion and dismissed from the clerical state.* Consider two canons:
1983 CIC 695.1. A member [of a religious institute] must be dismissed for the delicts mentioned in . . . can. 1395, unless in [regard to] the delicts mentioned in can. 1395.2, the superior decides that dismissal is not completely necessary and that correction of the member, restitution of justice, and reparation of scandal can be resolved sufficiently in another way.
1983 CIC 1395.2. A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.
Some might wonder why there seems to be the slightest doubt but that clerics impregnating children would be expelled (from consecrated life) and dismissed (from the clerical state). There isn’t any doubt, in my opinion, but that needs a bit of explanation.
Most canons of the Code are meant to cover a wide variety of possible fact patterns (sometimes too wide a variety, but that’s a different issue); in regard to “sexual misconduct”, some flexibility in the law had to be accorded the local authorities who would need to apply these canons to real cases.
For example, although having sex with children is obviously an “offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue”, so is, say, passing pornography to a co-religionist in the monastery; but the latter action, while sinful, might not warrant expulsion from religious life, at least not on a first incident, and so the canon can’t realistically demand expulsion and dismissal upon one’s conviction for every imaginable sex-related offense. Of course, clerics who have sex with minors deserve no learning curve, and on that basis, I think Maciel would have been expelled and dismissed for a single proven incident of child sex abuse (to say nothing of his pattern of sexual and financial misconduct that seems to have stretched over decades.)
Which bring us to the “charism issue”: can a creep like Maciel really have bequeathed a sound charism to the Legion? The Legion implosion is making us ask, among other things, what it means to say that the Church has “approved” a religious charism. A couple of thoughts.
I defer to religious historians here, but it seems that a few saints who founded (or re-founded) religious institutes eventually found themselves at odds with their own institutes, and were even thrown out of them. Now the question goes, if those incidents were not enough to challenge the “charism” of those institutes, why should Maciel’s situation (assuming that he would have been expelled from the Legion) raise questions about the integrity of his “charism”?
Well, for starters, Maciel’s expulsion from his institute would have come about, not because he wanted to live the charism more radically than did his followers, but because he treated it and his whole religious family with perduring and pervasive contempt. Moreover, Maciel’s actions warranted not only expulsion from religious life, but additionally, penal dismissal from the clerical state, something unthinkable for the controversial founders of healthy institutes. And from all I’ve seen, the “Legion charism” is virtually indistinguishable from the “Maciel persona“. In short, the chances that Maciel (whether he was a culpable criminal or an inveterate sociopath) could have bequeathed a genuine charism to any religious institute seem diminished. If all this seems too speculative, think of it this way: what can one say, with a straight face, about a religious institute that must scramble to remove, forever, its Founder’s pictures from the walls hardly a year after laying him in the grave?
Against this, and setting aside questions about what exactly the Legion’s “charism” is, Legion spokesmen are invoking the ecclesiastical approval of their charism in the same terms that one sees used to defend the celebration of sacraments by grave sinners, that is, as if dicastery approval of a charism worked ex opere operato to guarantee the authenticity and spiritual fecundity of a given charism. I ask, says who?
Notwithstanding some authors who think that Roman approval of a religious institute enjoys the certitude of (one level or another) of infallibility, the better opinion is, I think, that ecclesiastical approval of a religious institute’s charism is not protected by any level of infallibility. See Avery Dulles, Magisterium (2007) at 78.
Which, if true, would let us explore the question of the Legion’s future with a frankness that would be harder to muster if one feared impugning a determination made by the Church’s magisterium.
* The canonical analysis here also applies to acts of sexual abuse of the sort that Maciel has long been accused of committing against boys, and which the Legion now seems to have conceded occurred in at least some cases. Because these acts were older, the canon numbers would have changed (e.g., 1917 CIC 2359 instead of 1983 CIC 1395), but the penalties were the same.
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Also today, George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published a compelling call for immediate intervention in the Legion by a personal delegate of the pope. Weigel’s call, and Germain Grisez’s similar proposal, deserve serious and prompt consideration.