During a sermon that meditated on The Good Shepherd, (9AM Mass Brompton Oratory, April 18th) Fr. Bowen bravely developed his sermon to examine the issue of faux shepherds within The Catholic Church, and how the Legionaries of Christ were fanatical about following their leader, Marcel Maciel, to the point where they could not see/refused to acknowledge that he was a very flawed individual. That the idea sold to Legionary recruits was 'follow me and you'll be safe.'
The above sermon was still simmering in my mind when I had the privilege of attending High Mass at Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane on April 19th. Fr. Finigan’s homily was a celebration of the milestones (to date) of Pope Benedict’s papacy – that day being the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s election. Fr. Finigan, known for his enlightening forthrightness, illustrated that Pope Benedict ‘remains innocens manibus et mundo corde (innocent of hands and of a clean heart) most especially in the scandalous tale of bribery and corruption that enabled Fr Marcel Maciel to be shielded for so long – until Cardinal Ratzinger stepped in against his senior colleagues in the Curia. As Pope, within his first year, he had the man dismissed and sent for perpetual penance. (And we should pray that God may have mercy on his soul.)’ The full text of Fr. Finigan’s sermon can be sought here; http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/2010/04/sermon-for-fifth-anniversary-of-pope.html
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our pope, because dismissing Fr. Maciel was no mean feat, and on account of which many were quick to scorn His Holiness. More importantly however, Maciel’s removal from office clarifies once and for all that we cannot follow Maciel, Heaven forbid! Yet, I was nearly ‘sucked into’ the Maciel milieu, (for a brief period – but one that knew a Drastic finish) I became involved with the Legionaries. Everyone that I met in the Legionaries, (the priests and the consecrated lay-people were all very impressive), were holy individuals and they clearly were magnificent examples to all around them.
They did however, have a ‘fanatical’ focus on their founder. Books on Marcel Maciel’s life were given to me with the instruction to read and re-read them. When I tentatively questioned them on ‘the stories which were in the media about Maciel’, the Legionaries defensively told me that ‘those stories are lies. False accusations. That’s all they are – accusations.’ I do not doubt for one second that the Legionaries were fully convinced of this themselves, and their enthusiasm for their founder was infectious – I thought to myself – ‘what’s written about Maciel must be fabricated, how could such good, devout, generous people in the Legionaries be in earnest about following a…pervert?’
I pushed my nagging doubts to the side of my mind, and looked further into joining Regnum Christi. My mother had discussions with a Legionary priest about my candidacy for Regnum Christi (I was much younger at the time) and that’s when Mum dropped a bombshell. She mentioned that I had a love of ‘the Old Mass’, and she watched the priest’s face go ashen white. There was some confused discussion about Maciel accepting the New Mass, and that on account of this, I should reject the Old Mass. Things cooled, they regarded me as having a strange predilection for the Old Mass.
Things stayed pleasant until Mum received a letter from the same priest regarding exhorting that I would have to ‘get with it’ (I kid you not) and more or less forget about the Tridentine Mass in order to reach Legionaries/Maciel standards. Mum was perturbed, ‘It’s odd Mary! Maciel is their primary leader, perhaps to the detriment of serving the pope. They know there are provisions [John Paul II’s indult] for the Old Rite, but chose to ignore this. And how DARE they send me a letter cautioning me because you go to the Old Mass!?’ Years later, ‘that rotten letter’ from the Legionaries is still a red rag to Mum; its mention causes her blood pressure to soar.
But the letter marked the end of all my formal contact with the Legionaries. They did not possess authority from the Pope to command me to stop attending the Masses organised by The Latin Mass Society. I intuited at the time that there was a clear choice, them or the Tridentine Latin Mass. A choice? Not really; my conscience would never let me ‘give up’ the Mass of my grandparents to reverence Maciel. Years later, there is a musty irony that I would hear stern words concerning Maciel during a Tridentine Mass at the Oratory, and then at Corpus Christi. In my short life, things have come full circle.
Did I write ‘musty’? Ah yes, that’ll be the search for old missals and the unpacking of old lace.