We have been warned about false Messiahs. As ordinary laity we must to some extent rely on the judgment of those most responsible for the Church, that is, the clergy. They have the time to investigate matters.
When I first heard of Medjugorje, I relied upon the Rev. Rene Laurentin’s favorable judgment. He was a sane, balanced theologian and was favorable to Medjugorje. I followed the requests for prayer and fasting (good in themselves). But Laurentin ignored or misrepresented evidence that the whole phenomenon was tainted by fraud, and even pious fraud discredits religion.
I had no direct contact with the Legion of Christ, but I had a favorable impression of them, and made a substantial contribution to their school in Naples, Florida (which had its own problems with another con artist). After the initial accusations against Maciel came out, I relied upon Neuhaus’s judgment. He assured everyone that he had read all documents about the case and he was morally certain that Maciel was innocent. But the evidence began to pile up. I helped Jason Berry produce his documentary Vows of Silence. I at first asked him to give at least another side of the question. He, wisely, refused. Benedict XVI showed by his actions that he agreed with Jason that Maciel was corrupt.
I was tracked down by the Society of St. John; they claimed they liked my first book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. They assured me they were trying to form masculine seminarians. I checked with the bishop of Scranton, who assured me that they were entirely on the up and up. It turned out not to be so. God knows what depravity my donation helped pay for.
When authorities in the Church fail to carry out their important role in discerning the spirits, they leave the laity in a quandary. Whom can we trust? If we encourage our children to go to confession, will they be seduced in the confessional? If we encourage a religious or priestly vocation will they be seduced in the monastery or seminary? If we give money to a parish will it be stolen by the pastor to finance his male or female lovers? Our shepherds seem to care little for protecting us from such wolves.
The divisions in the Church, although painful, can perhaps serve a useful purpose. No one would think that John Allen is conservative, and therefore his generally favorable evaluation of Opus Dei carries far more weight that papal approbation would. But reporters cannot replace bishops, the appointed overseers of the Church, and I wish more of them would spend less time on fund raising and career advancement and more on protecting the sheep.