Glenn Favreau summarises our current understanding of Maciel:
Over the years, I have come to an intimate knowledge of the workings of the Legion and the place that Maciel is given in these workings. I have carefully studied many diverse responses to the person of Maciel as his private life and public activities have come to light and been commented upon. I am of the opinion that Marcial Maciel began the with no spiritual motivation whatsoever. He was a . He was a very good con man. Whether he was caught up in the typical con man's dilemma of believing his own con or not will probably never be known, unless he confided to this to individuals outside of the Legion of Christ.
If Maciel were of any other profession (outside of the Catholic Church) and committed this type of fraud in any other framework, we would call him a con man with out any hesitation. Unfortunately, we naturally try to save the perceived "spiritual" aspect since we share in it as Catholics. I say “unfortunately” , because if we could overcome our own bias in this regard, we could put this entire saga into the annals of the history of the greatest cons of our time, and make peace with the fact that we bought into it, we were mistaken, and we can move on.
When you compare the reaction that faithful Catholics have about the "gifts" that Maciel left to the Church, no one can beat Diogenes for an analogy:
[C]onsider a woman whose husband ingeniously hid his infidelities from her for many years. Once she realized she had been deceived, the gifts he brought back from his business trips would be understood to have been instruments in that deception. Far from cherishing the jewelry he gave her, she'd feel that the diamonds now mocked the affection and fidelity they symbolized. By the same token, Maciel's addresses will be spiritually kosher -- he was after all a highly successful deceiver. But those addresses dishonor the very truths they expound, and it's impossible that they can cause anything but distress and confusion in those who attempt to nourish themselves on them.
If we consider that the victims of Maciel (not the physical abuse victims, but the hood-winked rank-and-file) are in the position of the foolish wife who trusted a man despite the warnings of others, we will understand their trauma, their reaction, their fumbling about for explanations. Betrayal is a horrific thing and it takes tremendous grace -- especially humility -- to arrive at the fullness of truth. It takes grace -- and time.
If it helps, we can remember that he fooled the hierarchy as well (the one's he didn't pay off to help cover his game) and his cloak of orthodoxy is a "plug and play" for those who understand the faith. As his followers attest, the "charism" is nothing more than Basic Catholicism -- so he didn't even take the time to invent something new. What the Magisterium didn't provide, Stephen Covey did. A clever con, but only a con in the end.