On the Founder

19 02 2009

lefebvre

I just read John Zmirak’s latest on Inside Catholic on the scandal of Fr. Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, among other things. The general sentiment behind it, as the opening lines explicitly say, is that it is not a great time to be Catholic. With a sex scandal in one of leading “conservative” religious orders in the Church, the hubbub over Bishop Williamson’s eccentric views, the almost open rumblings of the a rebellious episcopate in Europe, and the general malaise of the world in general, the Church in the world’s eye is in a bit of a funk. Gone are the years of “JPII, we luv u” and other ecclesiastical hype. We now have a church that is no longer led by a photogenic leader, weakened by scandals, and with many bishops giving a quiet “non serviam” to Benedict’s more reactionary measures. The “santo subito” cries are seldom heard, and the cults of personality seem to be slowly dying away.

For me at least, it’s a good thing. If John Paul II held the Church together with charisma, then I think that was just as unhealthy as the economy being held together by toxic loans. While one cannot think that it is okay that a lot of people in a lot of high places messed up big time, and one must mourn the fact that such scandals harm souls as well, one must also see that the silver-lining is that people will have to find their spiritual foundation not just who is in power, but in what they are supposed to believe and practice. It is true that bad clergy make for a worse laity, but sometimes the only way to get by is to try to be a good Catholic in spite of the clergy. At the end of the day, it is you and only you who will have to answer for what you believe. There is a difference between being in community and being on a team. Communities require love and commitment, teams require charisma and hype. The sooner we get rid of any sense of the “Catholic team”, the better.

I feel for what Zmirak is saying about the Legionaries since I too was part of a (far more controversial) religious order, the Society of St. Pius X, and we too felt the push to imitate and revere the “founder”. In our first spirituality year, a sort of novitiate, we were taught the statutes of the Society along with the life of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. We were told first hand anecdotes by priests who were ordained and taught by him how to be good priests. Unlike Maciel, Lefebvre was basically an upstanding figure in the Church prior to his downfall in later years. Educated at the French Seminary in Rome, he possessed two Roman doctorates in theology and philosophy and was slated for great things as a young priest in France. He gave it all up to go into the west African jungle to preach to the natives there, and ascended all the way to being first Archbishop of Dakar in Senegal, the Apostolic Delegate to all of French-speaking Africa, and Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, in which capacity he participated in the Second Vatican Council. The only reason he did not receive the red hat was due to his opposition to the aggiornamento in the Church. People often don’t remember these things about Archbishop Lefebvre. Rest assured, if any dirt could have been dug up on him, it would have been. His only real sin was to believe too firmly in what had been passed down to him as a seminarian and missionary, and to not change when the rest of the Church did. In memoriam aeternam erit iustus.

So when we were taught about our founder, it was not hard to see in Lefebvre a bit of a superman figure. Problem is, I think, all religious orders are taught to see their founders in this way. In the seminary at La Reja, there is a picture in the cloister next to the door leading up to the dormitories. I have seen seminarians kneel before it to pray, though I never did. In the entryway itself, one of his cassocks hangs behind a glass case as a relic. Whenever a man was ordained for the Society, he always had a special extra ordination card with Lefebvre’s picture on it. And the list could go on.

So when I think of people affiliated with Fr. Maciel’s movement, I can’t help but feel really sorry for them. If I had found out anything comparable about our own founder when I was a seminarian, I would not have known what to do. (True, Lefebvre is a “schismatic”, but if you are already inside an SSPX seminary, that is a battle of conscience that you have already fought). If you enter into a religious order, you enter into a family. To find out your father did despicable things to people you would consider your brothers, that is something that could shake you to your very foundations.

Nevertheless, I learned early on that you can’t really put that much trust in people, no matter how holy you think they are. I essentially gave up on personality cults when I was 21. Prior to that time, I had come under the influence of an SSPX priest, Fr. Benedict Vander Putten. The man was a walking ball of charisma. He had basically turned the SSPX retreat center in Los Gatos, Ca., into something a little less than a cult. He had certain families that were under his influence, and some young men who lived on the ground full time working and praying under his guidance. I was only there for about three months while he was there, but I lived there a total of a year, and saw the aftermath of his departure. Now I know why he was whisked away on one spring night; he was seducing the underage young women of those families who had fallen under his influence. It was one of those things that I had suspected but had told myself that I had no right to think those things about a priest. Turns out my gut instinct was right, and if you google Fr. Vander Putten’s name, you will see that he was defrocked by the Holy See and returned to the lay state.

With this and other experiences, it is hard for me not to be cynical at times and almost anti-clerical. But in the end, you have to tell yourself constantly the cliché of “priests are people too”. And as hard as it might be to swallow at times, there is NOTHING perfect this side of death, and sometimes the greatest act of Faith is to merely call a spade a spade, no matter how bad it might make ourselves or others look.


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12 responses

21 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

The SSPX was founded in 1969 under the bishop of Sion, in Switzerland, as a fraternal society of priests (not a religious order) whose charism was to preserve the traditional formation of priests as had existed prior to the Second Vatican Council. Many of the first seminarians were originally in the French Seminary in Rome when the chaotic events of 1968 took place, and urged the then retired Archbishop Lefebvre to found a place where they could finish their studies. The general spirituality of the SSPX is not based on any particular mystery or charism (poverty for the Franciscans, the Passion for the Passionists, etc.) but is supposed to flow from the liturgy of the Church as it been organically passed down until the 1960’s. The SSPX only go in trouble when they refused to use the book of Annibale Bugnini, and the rest, as they say, is history.

20 02 2009
Apolonio

The SSPX is a joke. What the hell is its charism? Saying the old mass?

But anyway, to the actual depth of the matter…

Trusting people is one of the most fundamental needs we have as human beings. Most of our knowledge comes from trust. There is nothing more beautiful than putting your hands in another person, no better sign of humility. Of course, we need to have reasons to trust that person. Those who do not follow a particular person is following an abstract Christ. A person can speak about following Christ and his conscience any time he wants, but the fact is, the minute he takes Christ away from concrete people, he has abandoned the method of the Incarnation. To obey Christ is to obey a particular person (wife, boss, children, superior) with the knowledge of Christ’s intention of giving that person to one’s life. Anything less than this is an ideology. The problem with many movements today, especially Catholic education, is that it is based on ideology and an ahistorical way of seeing reality. Sorry, but one cannot just put down orthodoxy in one’s throat in a college setting. That won’t reform the world. A truth repeated without it being lived is an ideology, no matter how true it is. It will suffocate you in the end.

But this is by no means a reason to think that we should not trust people. To somehow think that one is adhering to Christ just because he repeats what the Pope says or he thinks he is adhering to Tradition is wrong. It becomes moralism when it does not take into account the human person and his contexts. That is why Maciel and Lefebvre both failed. Lefebvre was an ideologist and Maciel was a moralist. The thing is, all of us are moralists and ideological in some way. All of us live a double life.

20 02 2009
Pat

It can never ever be a bad time to be a member of Christ’s Church!

19 02 2009
elysia

“Once that is corrected, I am sure he will proceed directly with the writing of pollyanna blather.”

You mean that which prevalently inundates several writings of the Internet Orthodox?

19 02 2009
ochlophobist

Yes, Arturo reveals a lack of reading up on “Midiaeval times.”

Once that is corrected, I am sure he will proceed directly with the writing of pollyanna blather.

19 02 2009
elysia

“Church history has never been non-messy. ”

That’s why I find Arturo’s assessment here so disturbing:

“With this and other experiences, it is hard for me not to be cynical at times and almost anti-clerical.”

If he really wants to see just how far worse things can get — and have actually gotten — he should read up on Midiaeval times wherein Saint Sir Thomas More himself wanted to initiate a Reform of his own within the Church (and incidentally not that which, unfortunately, came into being, thanks to that infamous heretic Luther) in order to rid it of the various scandals that he considered a bane to the Church that must be eradicated in order to preserve its Christian integrity and Christly mission.

Still, the good saint would remain ever so faithful to the Church Christ founded, continuing to believe even unto his death that the Church was (is) the Mystical Body of Christ, comprised of both the living & the dead of Christendom, and that even these could not destroy the divinely instituted sanctitas of the living Church with its inherited customs from ancient & Apostolic Tradition.

19 02 2009
Diane

But I disagree that this is a bad time to be Catholic. We are actually solving our problems and addressing our scandals, which is a heck of a lot more than can be said about most other communions. The Bishop Williamson matter is a tempest in a teapot…so the pope goofed; he’s not infallible every time he sneezes. It will get resolved, and we’ll move on. Church history has never been non-messy.

There is never a bad time to be a Catholic. It is a privilege to be a Catholic.

19 02 2009
Diane

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that trad cults would be just as susceptible to this sort of thing as far-left groups. Any time you veer off to the fringe in either direction, you become unhealthy.

As John Mallon observed to me long ago, the best place to be is in the center aisle — walking down to receive Communion. 🙂

19 02 2009
Leah

Why is it that people in general seem to think that their group, whatever it may be, is immune from sexual impropriety? A couple of years ago, I read somewhere (FIRST THINGS, maybe) that if orthodoxy reigned then these sexual abuse cases wouldn’t happen. The scandal with the LC is simply the most extreme refutuation of that assertion. Sexual predators will say anything that gets them close to victims. If they’re among conservatives/traditionalists, they’ll talk about the rosary, the Latin Mass, and vocations. If they’re among liberals, it’s women/married priests, gay marriage, and self-actualization. To make matters worse, the “orthodox” publications who should be telling us about these things (e.g. FIRST THINGS, NCRegister) won’t discuss it, leaving it to the secular and “liberal” Catholic media to do their job for them.

Of course these issues are not limited to the Catholic world. There also seems to be a big problem with sexual abuse in the charedi Jewish community, where many rebbes are often venerated as living saints and families very private. However, because the charedi cut themselves off from outsiders, there isn’t much that can be done. Lessons learned? Trust no one, except God.

19 02 2009
Lucian

Now I know why he was whisked away on one spring night; he was seducing the underage young women of those families who had fallen under his influence.

The Crime of Father Amaro Vander Putten. 😀

19 02 2009
Lucian

The only reason he did not receive the red hat was due to his opposition to the aggiornamento in the Church.

You mean they didn’t let him use Linux? How awful! 😦

19 02 2009
elysia

“The “santo subito” cries are seldom heard, and the cults of personality seem to be slowly dying away.

For me at least, it’s a good thing. If John Paul II held the Church together with charisma, then I think that was just as unhealthy as the economy being held together by toxic loans. While one cannot think that it is okay that a lot of people in a lot of high places messed up big time, and one must mourn the fact that such scandals harm souls as well, one must also see that the silver-lining is that people will have to find their spiritual foundation not just who is in power, but in what they are supposed to believe and practice.”

AMEN!

It’s about time we filter out/allow in only those who actually & genuinely believe in the Catholic Faith rather than some hyped-up version of it.

I would rather have a devotedly faithful even if small flock, as then Cardinal Ratzinger has mentioned more than once, than a mass of practically fair-weather friends whose only reason to be in the Church is because everybody (Protestants, etc.) is doing it (i.e., converting).

Still, the present times are nothing as compared to how they were back in the Midiaeval Ages.

Yet, gold must ever be refined, no? And what better way to do just that than by turning up the heat even further!

Get rid of the heretics both without but, most especially, within the walls of the Church herself!

If these should feel the Church, which has so lasted for over 2000 years, is too archaic, uncool and/or not Protestant/heretical enough, begone!

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