Father Michael Orsi argues that seeking to uncover the details of Legion of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel’s sinfulness “merely promotes the sin of detraction.” He is not the first. Similar things have already been said from within Legionary circles. The “D” word is being tossed about now in the hopes that those of us who are serious believers will shrink from the threat of a sin which is grave because it harms a man in that which is most valuable to him short of his own soul -- his good name.
But a closer look is called for. Detraction is too easily identified with any infringement whatsoever upon the good name of another. But even Our Lord harmed the good name of the religious authorities of his day: A man’s good name decreases quite a bit when he is called a “hypocrite” by a public figure who raises the dead, heals men born blind and claims to be the Son of God.
The truth is that detraction is one of those sins where intention is key. Not everyone who says something bad about another is a detractor; one must intend to harm the good name of another. This is explained well by St. Thomas Aquinas:
It happens sometimes that someone says some words through which someone's fame is diminished, not intending this, but intending something else. This, however, is not to detract, per se and formally speaking. ... If, indeed, someone utters words through which the fame of another is diminished for the sake of some good or necessary thing, with due circumstances being observed, it is not a sin, nor can it be called detraction. (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 73, a. 2, and reply to the first, translation by author).
If a good and necessary thing is intended when one speaks words that harm another’s good name, the speaker is not committing the sin of detraction. Of course, there are the limits of prudence, which the old Catholic Encyclopedia spells out well: there has to be a very good reason, and no more should be asserted than is necessary. But it goes on to defend the rights of journalists (and historians) to inveigh against wrongdoing by public figures.
The question, of course, is whether in the case of Father Maciel, the good to be gained by a transparent revelation of his misdeeds would outweigh the obvious diminishment of his good name and perhaps that of the Legion and Regnum Christi.
I argue that the revelation of his misdeeds – and of others in Legion leadership -- would be of great benefit to the Church and the world, and even to the Legionaries of Christ and to Regnum Christi itself.
Father Orsi is right to phrase the question in terms of whether such knowledge would “bring [us] closer to Christ.” But an over-individualized and over-spiritualized notion of “closeness to Christ” too narrowly restricts the notion of the common good. This has been the particular problem with the Legion’s public responses up to now.
This is the time for concrete words and concrete actions. This is not the time to use terms like "purification" or any overly abstract word in public statements. This is not the time for giving a spiritualized account of what the Will of God is trying to achieve by this turn of events, and still less a time to refer to it as a "miracle," or a "mystery" that needs to be "processed."
Frankly, this is an affront to human intellect and ultimately to God.
The current problem is not so much Father Maciel’s fornication or pederasty. It is his deceit. The restitution that has to be made for lying is telling the truth:
• What are the accusations that have been leveled against Father Maciel?
• What did the Legion do about them? What did the Vatican do about them? We keep hearing about an "internal investigation." Well, tell us about it. Who was conducting it? Was it self-imposed, or imposed by the Vatican?
• During Father Maciel’s double life, who knew about it? Who should have known?
• Was the mother of the now 22-year old daughter a minor when Father Maciel had sexual intercourse with her?
• Where was Legion money going?
There is no way the Legion can validate its claims that it wants to be transparent and put the Church's good above its own if it does not begin by coming clean.
To hide behind the fact that Father Maciel was a flawed instrument is no answer at all. Yes, Our Lord demands that we be disposed to forgive all of our private offenders. But the order of public justice is not going to drop all charges because of even true repentance. Father Orsi mentions the case of King David. It must be remembered that God himself revealed David’s crime to the prophet Nathan, awaited David’s vocal admission of it, forgave David, and still gave him temporal punishment for his sin (2 Sam 12: 1-15). It would in fact be an injustice to the victims of Father Maciel and to the people of God if, in the name of forgiveness, we refused to recognize that there are consequences to his crimes and the lack of subsequent transparency.
I earnestly hope that the Legion gets through this. I appreciate their good work, and I want them to continue to exist in some form. But if the Legion’s next public statement is just about proposed changes, etc., without any hint of a beginning of transparency, I don't know what hope there is. What kind of change of heart is reluctant to manifest itself in exterior acts that acknowledge the gravity of the crimes committed and deals with them seriously? The damage to the Church, should the Legion fail to do so, is incalculable.
I beg the Legion: for its own sake, but, far more importantly, for the sake of Holy Mother Church, please, come clean.
Kevin F. Keiser is earning his doctorate in moral theology from Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas, and blogs with his wife Heidi at novantiqua.com.