From Marx to Maciel: What An Ex-Communist Can Teach Us About False Catholics
by R.J. Stove
Four years after Marcial Maciel went to his judgment, his dark legacy continues to erupt in scandal leaving one to seriously question how anyone could remain in or be associated with the Legion of Christ (L.C.). At a time when even the dimmest male Legionary might have thought it advisable to behave in the most irreproachable manner, we learn that Fr. Thomas Williams, L.C., through a statement on May 21 by the L.C.’s General Director, Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, that Williams had fathered a child. Fr. Corcuera admits that he had known about Williams’s philoprogenitiveness ever since 2005. He did not say why it has taken till now for him to make a public statement of condemnation on the matter. And no doubt the General Director half-expects that the same fantasists and dupes who gave Maciel a clean bill of moral health during the latter’s lifetime will oblige Williams likewise.
Two websites above all, ReGAIN and Life After R.C. (“R.C.” standing for the Legion’s lay outreach, “Regnum Christi”), have played an especially significant role in revealing the extent of mindless L.C. corruption: mindless because the Legion’s ruling body seems to have gone one better than even the Bourbons through its ability to learn nothing and forget everything. In authentic allegiance to Screwtape – who never neglected the need for encouraging believers to acquire, “the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique” – the L.C. has clearly operated on the premise that it is the Church, and that any Catholicism outside the L.C.’s own ambit is not merely dubious but, worse still, boring.
Consult, for example, Maciel’s “Unique Methodology.” This, as discovered by a Missouri Catholic named Patrice Becker and reported by her in 2010 to Pete Vere (whose co-authored books include The Tyranny of Nice), is a methodology that owes a hair-raising amount to … the Latter-Day Saints:
“Having lived amongst Mormons for over nine years, I recommend every R.C. member to read Judy Robinson’s book Out of Mormonism to discover Fr. Maciel’s methodology is not unique at all. When I confronted the leaders of the R.C. Movement at our L.C. school in the suburbs of St. Louis, I was told at first, ‘How ridiculous, R.C. is completely Catholic, and what a ridiculous accusation! How could you possibly compare it to Mormonism?’ Then I explained I was not saying the theology was like the Mormons, just the methodology. They replicated the Mormon methodology to the tee. A R.C. woman’s lifestyle in the ‘movement’ was so identical to a L.D.S. member’s lifestyle in their movement, I challenged a R.C. leader to read Out of Mormonism, and then tell me what she thought. … She called me back three days after reading Out of Mormonism. ‘You’re right’….She was horrified by the exact replication.”
Patrice confronted the Priest at the school, who after initially denying any similarity to the Mormons then,
“Shut the door, and explained to me that the Mormons are the fastest- growing church in Mexico, so Fr. Maciel mimicked the methodology to stop the hemorrhaging from the Catholic church to the Mormons, and said they were taking what was good from the Mormon methodology, and leaving the bad, like it says to do in the Bible.”
Still the official foot-dragging continues. From Spanish blogger José Martinez de Velasco, come the following acerbic questions – among others – prompted by the Apostolic Visitation (already two years in the past) of the Legion:
• Why [do] Father Alvaro Corcuera and other superiors in Rome or elsewhere, continue to occupy leadership positions at the head of the congregation and its territories?
• Why has the Legion not publicly apologized to the victims of the predator Maciel and why isn’t it seriously committed to compensating the victims?
• Why does the Legion continue to stifle the sexual abuse cases?
• Why do those who have suppressed scandals – and whose names are on everyone’s lips – continue in the Legion, although sheltered from view?
• What has happened with the children – recognized or not – of Maciel?
• How is it that the private vow has reappeared in the draft new constitutions, on which the Legion is working to reform? [According to a 2009 post on the Life After R.C. site, the
private vow consisted – until the Vatican overruled it in 2007 – of a passage in a contract for L.C. / R.C. employees, forbidding the signatory to criticize the Legion in any manner.]
• Why was the case of Father Thomas Williams released just now?
• Finally, Eminence [Cardinal de Paolis, Pontifical Delegate for the L.C.], when will we finally get to see that truth that will set us free?
If all this were not sufficient, we now have (thanks to former L.C. supporter Cassandra Jones) the meticulously compiled timeline of Maciel’s antics. The whole thing, for those with strong stomachs, is here. A few extracts not only give the overall flavor of Fellini-esque malign clowning, but reveal that Maciel’s “personal problems” were dismaying Mexican hierarchs as early as 1954:
“24 August 1954: Legionary Brother Federico Domínguez, prefect of studies of the Legionary apostolic school in Mexico City, reports Maciel’s shortcomings in a long letter to Rev. Francisco Orozco Lomelí, vicar general of the Mexico City archdiocese: Maciel doesn’t follow the religious rule, disrespects confidentiality in matters of conscience, uses ‘lies, distortions, exaggerations,’ and acts as if ‘the ends justify the means.’ He lacks the spirit of religious poverty, travels first class, eats luxurious food rather than that prepared for the community, spends more time in the houses of women donors than in his own religious houses. He considers his desire for sexual gratification to be a urological problem. He gives himself narcotic injections and carefully conceals it. ‘Under the effect of the drugs, he makes magnificent plans of apostolate and talks publicly about the private defects of those he is with. This is understood by the religious who don’t know what is going on as a proof of Father Maciel’s “spiritual clairvoyance”.’
“3 January 1956: Legionary novice master Father Rafael Arumí finds Maciel in a stupor in the Legionary house in Rome… Arumí, Ferreira, and Father Antonio Lagoa consider Maciel’s replacement as superior and how to deal with the scandal.
“28 January 1956: Franciscan Callisto Lopinot, a consultant to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, writes to the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious that he knows from a Catholic doctor in Rome (Walter Behrens) that Father Maciel is addicted to narcotics.
“14 August 1956: Cuernavaca Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo writes to Arcadio Larraona, Secretary of the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious, recommending Maciel’s removal and an investigation of three charges: ‘devious and lying behavior, use of narcotic drugs, acts of sodomy with boys of the congregation.’
“23 August 1956: Legionary Father Luis Ferreira Correa, rector of the apostolic school at Tlalpan in Mexico City and Legionary vicar general, reports in a long letter to Rev. Francisco Orozco Lomelí, vicar general of the Mexico City archdiocese, a number of cases of Maciel’s ‘impurely touching’ apostolic school boys and his explanation that he was in pain and must have been unconscious. He reports the story of Maciel’s drug crisis in Rome in early January, specifying Dolantin, Sedol, and Demerol, Maciel’s lies and evasions…”
There’s plenty more in the same vein. Presumably, though, most readers will by now have had enough.
While Fr. Corcuera has yet to achieve Maciel-type depths in his own person – the sheer diabolical creativity required for such turpitude seems quite beyond him – his obvious failure to keep sex-maniacs out of the L.C. provides further embarrassing evidence of an organization where ethical ruin has become inseparable from personality cults. The question immediately arises: of whom, or rather what, should that lethal combination remind us? And if we take up a long-forgotten but once-influential case-study, we shall soon discern that the parallels between the L.C. and old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist gangsterism are too numerous to be overlooked.
The case-study is The Molding of Communists (1961), by erstwhile American Party boss Frank Straus Meyer, 52 years old at the time the book appeared. It will possess elements of shocking novelty even to readers conversant with earlier works in the confessional, God That Failed genre: Whittaker Chambers’ Witness (1952), for instance, or Arthur Koestler’s The Invisible Writing (1954). Neither Chambers nor Koestler enjoyed anything like the status within their respective parties that Meyer had done before, late in World War II, he spectacularly defected. Around both Chambers (despite his youthful spying) and Koestler there hung a certain man-of-letters dilettantism. No such quality afflicted the young Meyer, a hard man even by the usual standards of Party hard men.
As to the precise sequence of events by which Meyer gave up on Communism – while also, unlike the vast majority of ex-Communists, forsaking power-mania per se – this is difficult to fathom from his own writings, and impossible to fathom from The Molding of Communists itself. The preface to a later book, In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo, cites Meyer’s discovery of Hayek (and in particular of The Road to Serfdom) as having played a causal role in his turnaround. But this claim raises more questions than it answers. No-one of Meyer’s eminence within the C.P.U.S.A. was likely to have his faith in the workers’ paradise seriously weakened – let alone shattered – by just one book, however eloquent. Those French leftists whom The Gulag Archipelago totally spooked in the mid-1970s had already harbored some misgivings about the U.S.S.R. even before Solzhenitsyn’s indictments came their way.
At any rate, by a miracle, the redemptive deed was done; after 1945 Meyer turned that formidable brain of his from the destruction of Christendom to increasingly somber vindications of it. (On his 1972 deathbed, Meyer – who had long been associated with National Review – formally converted to Catholicism.) The Molding of Communists not only tells us how the Communist stooge thinks; it achieves the much more unusual feat of telling us how, day to day, the Communist stooge acts. Therefore it is micro-history with a vengeance. Meyer describes everything in the most impersonal and least self-pitying way possible. The contrast with Chambers becomes especially obvious here. By temperament Chambers had so little in common with his Soviet masters from the very beginning, that a breach with them could well have been inevitable. True, he suffered acutely when he turned against them; but it sometimes becomes hard to avoid the conclusion that so highly-strung a figure as Chambers would have been equally traumatized by expulsion from a chess club, a P.T.A., or a barber-shop quartet. Not so Meyer.
Meyer’s earlier chapters concentrate on Marxist theory, with its horrisonant sub-Hegelian gobbledygook. He makes the often-overlooked point that Communism remains the only world religion without even the pretense of intellectually systematic texts, as distinct from hysterical pamphleteering. “Marxism-Leninism has no Summa, no Institutes, no Discourse on Method, no Essay Concerning Human Understanding – not even an Il Principe or a Leviathan. All its foundation stones are occasional polemics.”
This bears on another Meyer observation: “The arrogance … displayed by Communists in discussions with others and by the Soviet leaders in their international pronouncements is not the result of fundamental lack of self-confidence, which some claim; it is bad-mannered impatience with backward persons who don’t seem to understand the most obvious truths.”
From this comment one can predict how mesmerizing Meyer can be regarding Communist method. He mentions a statistic which perhaps gave him some unease when he believed in Communism: the remarkably high membership turnover rate – “churn”, we would probably call it now – at even the most successful periods of C.P.U.S.A. activity. During one such period, 1936-1941 (which included a golden age of “Popular Front” engagement involving championship of Spain’s Reds), the turnover rate was 80 per cent. Yet one would be wrong to suppose that this frequency of dropping-out worried most Party leaders overmuch. Quite the reverse. “The primary aim,” Meyer stresses, “is the creation of a steeled cadre, flexible enough to take any tactically desired stand on current questions, accreting strength as it moves through opposite and contradictory campaigns.”
In Chapter Seven, Meyer unforgettably describes the experiences of the neophyte Party member. His sponsor has either advised or commanded that he use a pseudonym, and has “warned him not to tell anyone of his application. Thus, even before he has become a member, he is learning his first lessons in conspiracy.” In addition, the tyro will be struck by the fact that he almost never learns his comrades’ surnames.
Finally the tyro, in whatever state of bewilderment he might have fallen, takes the Party pledge; and there he solemnly vows (or, at least, vowed in Meyer’s time) “to take my place in the forefront of the struggle for Negro rights; against Jim-Crowism and lynching, against the chauvinist lies of the ruling class.” His new Party card, “with that strange false name written on it, is accompanied with a query about his income.” Eventually he could well find himself forced to spend almost a third of his earnings upon “contributions, literature purchases, subscriptions, [and] mass-organization demands.” He will certainly find that after no more than two or three years,
“[His] life has become so intertwined with the Party that his friendships, his associations, perhaps his very career or job, can be blasted by an expulsion. It is not that this threatening aspect is important to him at the time. He could never commit the sacrilege that Comrade X has committed; and the Party is fully justified in dealing summarily with those who endanger the cause of the future. Nevertheless, a gulf is created between him and the world around him. The image of burned bridges is apt. … Commitment creates in turn a deep sense of separation from ordinary people, a sort of inner mark of Cain.”
Now and then a trainee will give senior apparatchiks grounds for unease. As Meyer puts it: “‘He has personal problems’ is the nearest Communists ever come to admitting that perhaps there are some fortresses Bolsheviks cannot conquer.” Some, yes; but on the whole, amazingly few. Meyer gives a fairly flabbergasting account of how one comrade known to him was hauled before the relevant Party tribunal because of his homosexual tastes. Back then, Communists had no qualms about “homophobic” attitudes, and they assured Comrade H that his continued Party membership depended upon abandoning his blackmailable practices.
“There was not a trace of resentment or anger [in Comrade H] against the Party. What private hell he went through in the next two days I do not know; but when I met with him again 48 hours later, he had made his decision – for the Party. I knew him and worked with him over the next seven years. From every indication, he completely transformed his life. When I last saw him he was married to a very charming woman and was the father of two children, and he rose steadily in Party responsibility.”
Nobody knew better than Meyer’s fellow Party minders the absolute contempt – which the cadre member must at all costs internalize – for ordinary human nature. Contrasting this contempt with Kant’s Golden Rule about treating individuals as ends rather than as the means to ends, Meyer writes: “The whole of Communist training … drives towards the acceptance of the revolution as the end to which all things and all persons must be strictly subordinated as means … The good or evil in any situation is determined by whether it helps the revolution or impedes it.” And to bring about this happy outcome, no chance must be lost to keep the rank-and-file as purposelessly busy as possible. In this, as in so much else, those who run the Legionaries of Christ have proven remarkably devoted students of Marxist-Leninist praxis.
Indubitably Meyer, if he had lived to learn of the L.C.’s horrors, would have been appalled. But whether such horrors would have been altogether unimaginable to him, we may legitimately wonder. As he of all people knew: place any purely human organization “beyond good and evil” – to coin a phrase – and, sooner rather than later, that organization will become a cash-cow for the Maciels of this world. No-one who has read The Molding of Communists can retain a particle of doubt on this score.
L.C. hierarchy who continue to defend the indefensible evoke Boxer in Animal Farm, who greets every official outrage with the stoic words “If Napoleon says it, it must be right” and “I will work harder.” Yet what if (as is probable) the Legionnaires are not dopey at all, but merely mendacious? Why should we believe them on any topic more controversial than the weather, any more than most of us believed the Marxist-Leninist racketeers of old? All we can suggest to them is that one day, improbably enough, the Berlin Wall did collapse; and that when the Legion in its own turn collapses under the weight of its own inequity, they will have serious explaining to do when endeavoring to justify why they adhered to it for so long.
R. J. Stove lives in Melbourne, edits the quarterly Organ Australia, and is the author most recently of César Franck: His Life and Times.