To the Editors:
A fact-checker for The New York Review of Books contacted our staff before you published Garry Wills’s review of Vows of Silence by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner [NYR, April 8]. Somewhere along the line the facts we provided were totally ignored. That is a disservice to your readers.
It appears from his review that all Mr. Wills knows of the Legion of Christ he learned from reading Vows of Silence. If he had taken note of the documentation we provide online at legionaryfacts.org, he would see—as would any unbiased observer—that the abuse allegations against Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, are demonstrably false. Mr. Wills shows himself to be more interested in speculative historical revisionism than documented historical fact. It is not just the word of the accusers against that of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries, it is fiction against documented fact.
Mr. Wills makes numerous false, gratuitous, and unfounded assertions, for example:
- that the Pope has allowed the Legion “to operate outside the normal structures of dioceses or traditional religious orders”;
- that “the Legion has had serious troubles with Church leaders in the past” and “feels…at odds…with most Catholics”;
- that Father Maciel has written only “a late self-praising memoir” (in reality, Father Maciel’s correspondence is voluminous: he has written a significant book titled The Integral Formation of Catholic Priests, and multiple shorter works, some not yet translated into English);
- that the Legion “holds to pre–Vatican II Catholic teachings that were typified by Pope Pius XII.”
In these and many other simply false assertions, Mr. Wills gives as fact his own imaginary and distorted view of how the Legionaries think and act. One can only wonder on what he bases his claims.
Mr. Wills writes approvingly of the method and conclusions of Mssrs. Renner and Berry without subjecting them to any critical analysis. One expects more serious investigation from a journalist.
Father Owen Kearns, LC
North Haven, Connecticut
Garry Wills replies:
If the Legion does not operate outside normal structures, why have bishops complained of their activities and even banned them? If the Legion does not agree with Pius XII, why has its founder boasted of a close relationship with him? If the Legion has not had serious troubles with Church leaders, why was its founder suspended by the Vatican, and why have some bishops banned or restricted its activities? Father Kearns says that the Legion does not “feel” at odds with most Catholics; but poll after poll shows that it is at odds with them on the doctrines I cited. I said that other founders wrote Christian classics, and Kearns replies that Maciel has written letters (who hasn’t?) and a book that is “significant” (to whom?). If there are “many other simply false assertions” in my article, why does Kearns bring only these flimsy denials?
April 29, 2004