Covering accusations responsibly

fr_marcial_maciel_lc_late_2004I am impressed with Laurie Goodstein's story in the New York Times about reports that the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, an influential Catholic order, had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter. The Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado was deeply revered by many, even after Pope Benedict XVI had forced him to leave public ministry over a completely different set of accusations dealing with sexual abuse of students. Many followers had felt that those accusations were unproved. There are lots of rumors and stories out there and there have been rumblings on blogs and Web sites -- but how do you write that up for a mainstream newspaper? Read on:

Now the order's general director, the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera, is quietly visiting its religious communities and seminaries in the United States and informing members that their founder led a double life, current and former Legionaries said.

The order is not publicly confirming the details of the scandal.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for the Legionaries, said only: "We have learned some things about our founder's life that are surprising and difficult for us to understand. We can confirm that there are some aspects of his life that were not appropriate for a Catholic priest."

She just lays the facts out there in as straightforward a manner as possible. She notes what former members of the order have to say about its founder, she notes that the current spokesman says good things can come out of less than perfect people, and she provides a bit of the flavor of the Legionaires.

The story discusses one aspect of an alleged double life -- an apparent contradiction with the group's views on poverty -- and attributes it to the named former chief financial officer for the order.

But I also appreciated the way this story ended, with the comment from someone who had been very vocal in defending Father Maciel during the first round of accusations:

The Legionaries, founded in 1941, have grown as the church in many countries has shrunk. It has 800 priests in 22 countries, and 70,000 members worldwide, many of whom are lay people in its affiliate, Regnum Christi.

Tom Hoopes, managing editor of The National Catholic Register, which is affiliated with the Legionaries, posted an apology on the Web on Tuesday for having dismissed the sexual abuse accusations, saying, "I'm sorry to the victims, who were victims twice."

It is a very shocking and sad story, which speaks for itself, but Goodstein did a great job of staying fair and including some theological implications, while reporting it. And with an economy of words.

Image of Father Marcial Maciel via Wikimedia Commons.

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