Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Recently, some new priests were ordained for the Legionaries of Christ. I had thought that this order was being dissolved due to the scandals created by its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who committed everything from fraud to pedophilia.

Why is the order continuing when its founder was a sociopath whose life was a lie to everyone? (May God have mercy on his soul.)

I have read that the order is in a process of “healing,” but when the roots are rotten, what is there to save? Why can’t we just close a painful chapter in the church’s history by simply relocating the order’s good priests into other congregations or dioceses? (Virginia)

A. First, a bit of background. The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order of men, founded in Mexico in 1941 by Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. Only a few years ago, it numbered nearly a thousand priests and 2,000 seminarians and was embraced by the Vatican for its success in attracting young men to the religious life.

Disaster struck, however, when investigations showed that its founder had, over the years, been guilty of wide-ranging immorality, including (in the words of the order itself) “abuse of minor seminarians,” “immoral acts with adult men and women,” “arbitrary use of his authority and of material goods” and “indiscriminate consumption of addictive medicines.”

In 2006, the Vatican disciplined Father Maciel, sentencing him to a “life reserved to prayer and penitence, renouncing all public ministry.” Father Maciel died in 2008.

Following these reprehensible disclosures, the question you raise, “Why not disband?” was advanced by critics of the order, including by some former members. Instead, in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI installed a papal delegate and placed the order under a Vatican-supervised reform.

That process culminated in the election in early 2014 of the order’s new general director, Father Eduardo Robles Gil, who said that the mandated reform had filled the members with “hope, enthusiasm (and) optimism.”

However, the awkwardness of the founder’s moral disgrace is apparent in the new director’s words. Following his recent election, Father Robles Gil explained that, although Father Maciel’s writings are free from doctrinal error, they are no longer assigned to be read by the order’s seminarians. And he admitted that, although canon law calls on religious orders to be faithful to their founder’s spirit, Father Maciel can no longer serve as such a “reference point.”

Q. The Confiteor prayer, which we often recite at the beginning of Mass, contains these words: “Blessed Mary, ever-virgin.” Yet in New American Bible (written especially for Catholics) we read (Mt 1:24-25): “(Joseph) did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Wouldn’t this indicate that Joseph and Mary did have sexual relations after Jesus’ birth, meaning that she was no longer a virgin? (Terre Haute, Indiana)

A. The perpetual virginity of Mary has been held by the church since its earliest centuries. It was perhaps most strongly expressed by St. Augustine in 411, namely, that Mary was “a virgin conceiving, a virgin bearing, a virgin pregnant, a virgin bringing forth, a virgin perpetual.”

As to the argument you raise from Matthew 1:24-25, you have imposed a modern meaning upon an ancient word. The use of the word “until” in biblical times (Matthew’s Greek word was “heos”) simply meant that some action did not happen up until a certain point.

It did not imply anything about what happened after the time indicated. A good example is 2 Samuel 6:23, which is sometimes translated, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death.” Are we to understand that she had children later?

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.