The Legion of Christ is apparently admitting that its founder, Marcial Maciel, led a double life and fathered a child by his mistress. They have not admitted the truth of the accusations of sexual abuse of boys that led Benedict XVI to discipline Maciel.

I have nothing personal against the Legion, but I wonder why so many wealthy, intelligent people abandon all prudence when dealing with the Legion. Why are these people so naïve?

John Paul II must bear much of the responsibility Pius XII had deep suspicions about Maciel and it seems that Pius XII was about to remove Maciel but the Pope’s death stopped the process, and in the interregnum a friend of Maciel made sure he was in good standing before John XXIII was elected.

But John Paul II refused to conduct a thorough investigation about Maciel, despite the numerous accusations, and Cardinal Ratzinger was obviously frustrated and angry because he was unable to act against an abuser. When of the first acts of Benedict XVI was to discipline Maciel.

The founders of religious orders were imperfect men (and women). Ignatius had a temper tantrum a few days before his death, and I have heard that St Jose Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, was known and feared for his temper.

Maciel was not simply imperfect but was duplicitous. No founder of a religious order was ever guilty of such crimes. The closest parallel was Joseph Calasanctius, founder of the Piarists. Himself an austere man, Calasanctius covered up sexual abuse by Stephano Cherubini because the new order needed the support of the influential Cherubini family. Calasanctius retired, and lived to see his order taken over by the abuser and collapse in rebellion against this corruption. Karen Liebreich iscovered this story in the documents of the Inquisition, and recounted it in Fallen Order: Intrigue, Heresy, and Scandal in the Rome of Galileo and Caravaggio.

A Jewish acquaintance explained to me why such charismatic, narcissistic scoundrels succeed: people are always looking for the Messiah, and will not wait until he comes, but will willingly fall under the spell of a false Messiah. I think that someone else has warned us about this.

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