Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fortress Catholicism Under Attack

If you are a charter member of Fortress Catholicism, the last few weeks have been hard. With the revelations of Father Maciel’s licentiousness and Bishop Williamson’s anti-Semitism, traditional Catholics have been spun into a tail spin as they face the most serious criticism they have ever faced.

So, it turns out that Father Marcial Maciel, L.C. was very much what critics had accused him of being -- an ephebophile, fornicator, drug abuser and embezzler. A case can certainly be made that Father Maciel constructed the Legion of Christ as sort of a sick joke. While giving the pretense of manliness and hyper-orthodoxy, Father Maciel used the organization to fund and hide his numerous, habitual, global and grave sins. Given the extent and duration of Father Maciel’s transgressions, it is also clear that, at the highest levels of the Legion and Regnum Christi, there was an equally widespread and durable conspiracy to cover up his actions.

Not only does this tarnish the whole LC/RC organization, it also tarnishes the legacy of Pope John Paul II. As claims of abuse and evidence of malfeasance continued to pile up against Father Maciel, the late Holy Father seems to simply have refused to hear of it. As great as he was, this is a serious failure on the part of the late Holy Father. More evidence and testimony will need to be collected to know for sure, but it seems that as long as a particular individual showed an intense loyalty to the papacy, much was overlooked.

The situation with the Society of Saint Pius X provides both joy and sadness. Certainly one of the key duties of the papacy is to seek reconciliation with our separated brothers and sisters. In this sense, the lifting of the excommunications against the Lefebvrist bishops is a step forward in the willingness of the Church to repair the wounds of the breach. Bishop Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust is quite revolting. As one explores SSPX further, one sees a pattern of anti-Semitic beliefs and practices in the whole organization. To put it as plainly as possible: there is absolutely no place for such disgusting views in the Church. And this is my fundamental concern with attempts to reconcile with SSPX.

The great steps forward in Jewish-Catholic dialogue since the Second Vatican Council should not be put into jeopardy in order to integrate anti-Semites back into the Church. I am sure Pope Benedict XVI is well aware of this tension and I hope he continues to make it clear to the Lefebvrists that the acceptance of Vatican II AND the purging of all anti-Semitic beliefs and practices are required for a return to full communion.

I am sure those progressives in the Church are feeling a bit more justified than they have in a while. And a little bit of "I told you so" may be in order. To the traditionalists who are feeling downtrodden by these recent revelations, I hope you will take this moment as a chance to grow in wisdom. In the future, harden not your hearts.

Mason Slidell


Anonymous said...

I am an active LC priest, dismayed by the silence and passivity of many of my brothers. Outrage at this entire situation and our hapless leaders' response to it is the ONLY acceptable position.

I find particularly dismaying our superiors' reliance on the argument that runs something like this: "We know all is well in the LC because the Pope has tols us how much he esteems us and Cardinal Whoseewhatzit and Cardinal Whatzhisname have been visiting our centers saying how wonderful we are."

How could that type of reasoning convince anyone? Least of all those of us who lived through the LC's halcyon years under Pope JPII?

Fr. Maciel was praised publically and privately by the Pope and other Vatican officials time and time again during the 80s and 90s when he was actually living the double life we now recognize with horror. The Pope said lots of nice things about us then when the Founder was in the act of duping us all.

How could anyone's praise or approval of us now be a sign that all is well? We've already seen that Popes and Cardinals can be fooled and manipulated. We already know that the LC does its best to show them only what the LC wants them to see.

The only thing that can save the LC is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Full disclosure, full transparency and full renunciation of its policy of deception.

It doesn't matter who approves of us or disapproves of us if we are not truthful with ourselves.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Thank you very much for your honesty. This is a constant temptation of many new groups, to point to those who support them, and to ignore those who criticize. In a sense, there is a certain need for this kind of self-buttressing when building a new way of life. But not when it is founded upon lies and deception. I too hope that honesty and a desire for the truth will characterize the coming months and years inside the LC.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Bravo Father! Your honesty is to be praised. I hope you can convince your brothers in religion to do the same.

Mason Slidell

Woody Jones said...

As a current somewhat inactive member of Regnum Christi, I have been trying to proceed along the path of believing that the LC/RC charism is good even if the messenger (MM) had his (apparently multiple) bad sides. As succintly stated in documents like the protocl approving the RC statutes (Christ-centered spirituality and effective apostolate) one could hardly disagree with the proposition.

Nevertheless, here it is Friday and I will be praying the Way of the Cross today. Now, do I use the RC Prayerbook, with the stations containing readings from MM's writings such as, from Station III, Jesus Falls the First Time: "It matters not if you fall a thousand times, as long as you love the fight and not the fall." As soon as one reads something like this, which in other cases would be an elevated sentiment, a note of cynicism enters into the mix: "I wonder what he was thinking of when he wrote THAT." And the serenity with which one should approach this great prayer is lost.

So I will use another set of the stations. But this raises the larger question: if the RC prayers are products of MM's thought(or may be--even the possibility that they come from MM will now evoke the twinges of cynicism), and one cannot therefore use them serenely, how can one remain united in spirit with the Movement except on the most abstract level, or else on the purely material level of attending meetings, etc., engaging in the kind of busy work noted on another blog as a well understood means of securing the commitment of the participant?

It is all most disturbing.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Your point is well stated Mister Jones. As I understand it (and LC/RCs are free to correct me), members of the organization are required to read all of Father Maciel's letters as a primary source of spiritual food. I would have a very difficult time with such an endeavor, as I would read each word unable to take the writer seriously.

How could what is written be a source of spiritual nourishment given the fact that the writer was a fraud? It seems to me the equivalent of reading any of the multitude of gnostic gospels. Even if in my reading I stumble across Christian themes and tenants, I know full well that the author(s) deep-seated rejection of the priority of upright Christian living that I recognize the lack of spiritual worthiness in the text.

Mason Slidell

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know more about the connection, if any, between SSPX and anti-semitism. I had an odd experience with SSPX a few years ago. I was invited to a New Year's Eve party at the home of a couple that supported Levebvre. I did not know them personally, but was brought along by a mutual friend.

They were an affluent couple with a beautiful home. Above a grand fireplace in the living room were four large pictures of men in 18th century dress in heroic postures. I could not place them at first, and then it came to me. They were heroes of La Vendee, the Catholic counter-revolutionary movement that opposed the French Revolution in the early 1790's. They were defeated after a fairly bloody civil war.

I had simply associated SSPX with love for the Latin Mass, but those pictures made me wonder. Vatican II was about opening the Church to precisely that world which the French Revolution set in motion: a secular, pluralistic world, where the Church has no direct role in government.

The French Church opposed the Revolution for a long time -- in part because the Revolution sent its former clerical allies to the Guillotine. The opposition was understandable, but brought with it some unfortunate political views.

In any case, I have to wonder if Lefebvre was not opposed to vast areas of modern thought, including the separation of throne and altar. That sort of person is often anti-semitic, or attracts antisemites.

Woody Jones said...

Mr. Slidell (I love the name), although we in RC have been somewhat mildly encouraged to read the more generally available 4 volume set of Fr. Maciel's writings (in English; I think the 15 volume set is only in Spanish), there has been no requirement as such to read them that I am aware of, at least not for older guys like me. I have dipped into them and find them to be pretty normal as far as simply stating truths of the spiritual life that are held by most Catholic writers on the subject, with a little more urgency in the apostolate to be sure.

As it turns out, the latest edition of the National Catholic Register (yes, owned by the Legion) has an article quoting Fr. Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, to the effect that many of the older religious orders in fact no longer follow their founders' teachings slavishly, and in some cases the current members would find the founder to be pretty forbidding on the personal level (he makes this comment about his own founder, St Eugene de Mazenod). His point seems to be that the members of the order in fact are bound to it and to each other by the charism and by group loyalty, more or less. Thus he sees a future for the Legion and the Movement on that kind of basis.

With this in mind, I am thinking that I will focus on the letters of Fr. Alvaro, the General Director, and the prayers and meditations available to all on the Regnum Christi web site, which are written by Legionaries for daily meditation and use. The RC Prayerbook also has a good selection of prayers aside from writings of Fr. Maciel, and even if some of them were written by him originally, by long use one makes them one's own, so to speak. In most cases, one would not even know which prayers were written by MM, so it does not hit one in the face anyway. A notable exception is the Prayer for the Pope, which MM did write, and which I find says exactly what I feel about loyalty to the Holy Father (we are for it), so I have just made that prayer my own, too, and plan to go on with it. The Prayer for Fidelity, which mentions the spirit of our founder, may be a little harder for some, but I merely mentally modify it to refer to the charism of the Legion and the Movement.

So for tonight, anyway, my bottom line is that there is plenty of undisturbing material for us in RC to use and absorb, and so one can continue in that spirit while taking advantage of all the opportunities for spiritual growth and srvice that it presents.

All the best to everyone associated with or reading this blog, which is a very good one.

Anonymous said...

In the interests of transparency, what are these anti-semitic views and practices of the SSPX that you allude to? I have read this kind of thing alot, but I don't really know what you mean. I would say that it is anti-semitism to dislike jews because they are jews, but I would also say that it is pro-semite to say that it would be a good thing if the jews entered the Catholic faith. Now, some Jews would say that any implication that conversion would be a good thing for them is anti-semitic, which is simply not true. Now, my elderly neighbor somewhat surprised me by talking about "jewing" somebody down, as I really hadn't heard that kind of comment in years. Is that anti-semitic? She wasn't a SSPX member, as far as I know. -Sam

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...


For a great overview of SSPX and their anti-semitic history, I would suggest reading this article from John Allen:

Mason Slidell

Anonymous said...


Can I interject one defense of Maciel without going too far? I do not want to defend him against what is known and that is the fathering of a child with all the obvious implications of dishonesty and sinfulness and possible complicity of others, etc.

But, you started this post by implying that we know much more and we do not. We probably ASSUME much more, but we do not KNOW anything new about him possibly being an "ephebophile" or an "embezzler".

Granted, there is talk from the New York Times of his handling large sums of cash with no accounting, but, even if true, this is not necessarily embezzlement in either a technical sense nor in the spirit of it. IT MIGHT BE of course, but I think it is possible that the converse is also true.

And the ephebophilia claim seems to me to have no new evidence. Don't get me wrong. I understand that he is a far less credible man suddenly, but I have heard no gossip nor public statements that indicate this to be known. All the LC leadership seems to believe is that they are less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I don't mean to annoy you with this demand for precision, but I think it helps us not to go too far AND IT HELPS MAKE THE CASE FOR THE LEGION TO BE MORE PUBLICLY TRANSPARENT ABOUT WHAT THEY HAVE DISCOVERED.

Joe in Texas

Bobadilla said...

Mr. Slidell,

I have no quibble with what you say about the SSPX (which now seems embarrassed enough to finally root out the anti-Semitism in their midst) or the LC/RC.

I find in strange that you see this as a traditionalist vs. progressive issue. From my perspective, most traditionalists, even narrowly defined as those who love Latin liturgy and have qualms about Vatican II, are not members of SSPX but instead are in full communion with Rome. Before Maciel’s crimes were known, the LC/RC for a long time have had few friends, even in conservative circles. (Read Mr. O’Halloran’s post) Obviously, they now have fewer.

Progressives may feel buoyed by this story, but they really shouldn’t. Rejecting anti-Semitism and the Legion is something that conservatives/traditionalists have been doing for a long time now, and will only improve in that area. If this story shows anything about progressives it is their irrelevance to major Church events.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Mister Bobadilla,

Just a few notes.

1) What do you mean by members of the Church (not SSPX) having “qualms about Vatican II?” The Second Vatican Council must be accepted as an authentic, Holy Spirit-guided council of the Church. Maybe you mean qualms about certain implementations of the Council documents that resulted in excess in the immediate years following. But if one has qualms about the authenticity of Vatican II, then they have placed themselves outside of full communion.

2) A fanciful dalliance with SSPX because you love the Latin Mass opens you up to their theology of Jewish hatred and their rejection of Vatican II. This is the problem, especially for those who do reject anti-Semitism. Silence does not necessarily mean agreement, but it does necessarily mean complacency, which is sinful. Like the old Southern quip says: Be careful whom you bring, because you got to dance with what you brought.

3) I am not as deep in Fortress Catholicism as maybe you are, but your claim that the LC/RC “for a long time have had few friends” is not credible to me. Certainly I think my dear friend Nathan would agree and I am sure many others would as well that support for the LC/RC has been as resolute and devote as they come. How else do you explain the shock and grief experienced by so many in the Church over the last few weeks if said organization had been “for a long time” a pariah?

Mason Slidell

Anonymous said...

Mason wrote "[...] The Second Vatican Council must be accepted as an authentic, Holy Spirit-guided council of the Church."

In fact, Mason, I think at best we pray that it (or any other council) was guided by the Holy Spirit. I think it would be the sin of presumption to assume that said guidance was present.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) decreed (in Canon 68)that Jews and Muslims be obliged to wear distinctive dress in Christian lands.

Was that the operation of the Holy Spirit?

Councils are no more assured of the guidance of the Holy Spirit than papal conclaves are. We pray for guidance but the "validity" of a council (or papal election) doesn't necessarily ensure that the Holy Spirit was guiding and/or inspiring events.

Bobadilla said...

Mr. Sildell,

1) So much to say. First, I would make a distinction (and I’m sure you will pastorally) between a member of the faithful who has, as a private opinion, whatever theological misunderstanding of Church teaching on the one hand and members of the faithful (such as the leadership of SSPX) who persist in promoting false teaching despite repeated admonishment. The latter certainly have put themselves outside full communion, but would you say the same for the former? That seems to be a formula for pushing people out of the Church, not catechizing them a better understanding. (Just curious, would you say the same “they have placed themselves outside of full communion” for individuals who are for women’s ordination, contraception, and other errors of the left?)

Second, Vatican II, like all ecumenical councils, is to be treated as inerrant in her texts, no doubt about it. But, as a great theologian once said, “Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time.” (You probably don’t want to know the author of that quote; you may declare him outside full communion and have to become a sedevacantist.) The pastoral decisions made after Vatican II (not just the abuses) need to be thoughtfully considered, neither rejected wholesale nor just declared irreformable dogmas. Pastoral decisions never are.

2) I don’t know anyone who has had a dalliance with the SSPX, fanciful or otherwise. You are right that the poison of anti-Semitism infects also those who merely tolerate it. That is why is it is a good sign that the SSPX have been cleaning up their act in this area since the spotlight was placed on them by the lifting of their excommunications. I sure we both hope they continue in that direction…not just rejoice in their wrongs.

3) I am not as deep in your brain as maybe you are, but I have no idea what you mean by “Fortress Catholicism.” That seems like on of those vague labels people come up with to stigmatize others with rather than understand and make proper distinctions. Some fuller description of who you specifically mean might be helpful (and no doubt entertaing).

I have met no one who is in shock or grief over these two scandals, although many who know about it are saddened and/or angered at these two groups. As I read the Catholic blogs, only those who were already supporters of the LC/RC or the SSPX have been shocked by this. Most others are saddened & angered, at most; a lot seem none too surprised.

4) You mentioned in your original post that progressives may feel justified by these turn of events. Tell me, do you think progressives have anything to contribute to this discussions as progressives? If so, what?

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Mister Bobadilla,

I think we share a lot of common ground. I agree with your distinction between theological misunderstanding (or ignorance) and persist disobedience. I also agree that the latter puts himself outside of full communion, while the former does not per se and is in need of an effective pastoral approach that emphasizes catechesis.

The quote from Pope Benedict is spot on. Some councils have been less than fully fruitful and/or helpful to the Church, and some have produced downright frivolous decrees (such as the crusader canons of Lateran IV). The Catholic is expected to grow in sensus fidelium and, if done so while thinking with the Church, will be lead to separate the wheat from the weeds, instead of burning the wheat because of the weeds.

Do progressive have a contribution as progressives? Good question. I find the biggest mistake made among those who talk Church is that traditionalist and progressive are seen as dichotomy instead of complimentary. The Church is in a world in constant flux. In order to be both loyal to the Great Commission and to remain relevant to the modern world, the Church recognizes the need to be both unchanging and changing. Ideally, the Catholic must strive to be a traditional progressive. When the hardcore traditionalist closes himself off from the modern world, he grows calcified and irrelevant. When the hardcore progressive closes himself off from the foundation-stone, he grows incoherent and irrelevant. The happy medium is the place to be. Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas are two examples of men who were deeply rooted in the heart of the Church and, at the same time, very much aware of and engaged in dialogue at the center of the world. Among more modern scholars, my personal favorites are Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, David Schindler and Joseph Ratzinger.

Mason Slidell

Bobadilla said...

Agreed. I tend toward pessimism, and am not as hopeful about what progressives qua progressives can provide, but I certainly hope your description is closer to what is actually happening in the Church.

I also hear what you’re saying about calcified traditionalists. I tend not to experience those types where I am, but rumor has it that seminaries these days sometimes attract that type. God bless you if you do.