Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Men with targets on them

Two priests esteemed for their fidelity to the magisterium have been the center of rumor and accusation for the past week. One is Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ave Maria University in Florida. The other is Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ.

Fr. Fessio might be thought of as the last of the true Jesuits. Having been fired from the Ignatius Institute at the Jesuit run University of San Francisco, he was briefly assigned as a hospital chaplain in the Bay area before being released to concentrate on Ave Maria University. The Administration at USF first claimed that Fessio's Ignatius institute was a redundancy, and then accused him of financial mismanagement. The accusations followed him to Florida, where he has been accused of facilitating the fraudulent distribution of government financial aid. I cannot vouch for the truth or untruth of the stories. I do know that Fr. Fessio embarrassed the Jesuits in California by his orthodoxy, by his remarkable obedience during his banishment from USF, and by his founding of a new university which is a living rebuke to what many Jesuit run institutions have become. Adding insult to injury, stories have circulated that he has been picked to succeed Archbishop William Levada as head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, of such unfortunate memory for him. Because of this, many progressive (heterodox?) Catholics dislike him intensely.

Fr. Maciel might be thought of as the founder of the "new" Jesuits. That is, his Legion of Christ order of priests has gone far in picking up where the Jesuits left off around the middle of the twentieth century. They are a teaching order, intensely orthodox, loyal to the Pope, and pushy in their tactics. Maciel, meanwhile, has been accused of pedophilia involving young seminary students. These charges have dogged him since he founded his order in Mexico, where he survived an investigation the 1950s. The investigation was recently reopened, and now a bizarre series of contradictory reports concerning whether or not he has been cleared this week have been surfacing. First he was cleared. Then his "clearance" was a ruse by the LC. Then it was verified, and now it is being called a trick by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State and friend to Fr. Maciel.

The evil stories surrounding one or both these priests might be true. Then again, we may be witnessing the personal calvaries of two living saints. Only time will tell.