Marcial Maciel has died, some reports say here in Naples, Florida, others in Houston.

He has been accused by scores of people of sexual abuse. Pope Benedict to all appearances thought him guilty, but because of his age did not have a formal trial.

The administrative acts of the popes are not infallible. The Legionaries, of whom Maciel was the founder, maintain his innocence (they could scarcely do otherwise), and say that he will be exonerated some day. Even if there had been a formal trial and declaration of guilt, such a declaration would not have been infallible and the Legionaries could still claim that Maciel, like Joan of Arc, was a victim of a conspiracy and will someday be canonized.

I think that Maciel was guilty, for reasons I explain in my book But I have no doubt that the Legion much good in the Church and will continue to do much good. I also think that Maciel’s memory will be venerated, despite the accusations against him. The Legion is flourishing, unlike great segments of the Church; Maciel if nothing else was a genius at organization and fundraising.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, in his essay on Francis Bacon, a bad man but a genius, explains this universal phenomenon:

There is scarcely any other delusion which has a better claim to be indulgently treated than that under the influence of which man ascribes every moral excellence t those who have left imperishable monuments of their genius. The causes of this error lie deep in the inmost recesses of human nature. We are all inclined to judge of others as we find them. Our estimate of a character always depends much on the manner in which that character affects our own interests and passions. We find it difficult to think well of those by whom we are thwarted or depressed; and we are ready to admit every excuse for the vices of those who are useful or agreeable to us. This is, we believe, one of those illusions to which the whole human race is subject, and which experience and reflection can only partly remove. It is, in the phraseology of Bacon, one of the idola tribus. Hence it is that the moral character of a man eminent in letters or in the fine arts is treated, often by contemporaries, almost always by posterity, with extraordinary tenderness. The world derives pleasure and advantage from the performances of such a man. The number of those who suffer by his personal vices is small, even in his own time, when compared with the number of those to whom his talents are a source of gratification. In a few years all those whom he has injured disappear. But his works remain, and are a source of delight to millions.

A few score boys and young men were hurt grievously by Maciel. The Legion benefits hundreds of thousands. In the absence of irrefutable proof of his guilt, the Legion will maintain Maciel’s innocence, and almost everyone will be of that opinion.

The judgment of history is often mistaken, and the true facts of the case will come out at the Great Assizes, when every heart will be revealed.

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