Sad Days For the Legionnaires & Regnum Christi

Via Amy Welborn:

A year ago last week – January 30 – Legionary of Christ founder Marcial Maciel died in Houston and was, a few days later, buried in Mexico, rather than the tomb that had been constructed for him in Rome.

Over the past week, with more intensity over the weekends, rumblings have been heard about the Legionaries of Christ and their founder, Maciel. The rumblings have now reached the level of blogs, so here we go.

The Life After RC (Regnum Christi) blog has the general story

There has also been a war going on over Maciel’s Wikipedia page. (view the “history” tab)

I could always guarantee that a blog post dealing with the Legionaries of Christ or the lay arm, Regnum Christi, would engender scores of comments in very short order. I am sure this one will be no different. Speaking for myself, although I know a few LC priests who seem to be very good men, as well as a few RC members, I have always found the movement to be afflicted with the disease which leads one to equate one’s own particular angle or charism with the totality of the gospel.

Serious problems have surfaced in relationship to the group, both present and past.  Financial questions. Questions of formation. There is much, much to be concerned about, concerns voiced by many observers and several bishops, most notably Archbishop O’Brien of Baltimore, who stepped in and requested complete transparency from LC and RC regarding their apostolates in his see last year.

We should note, in retelling this story, that the charges against Maciel apparently had no traction at the Vatican, for whatever reason, until Benedict XVI became Pope.  In May, 2006, Maciel was ordered to retire to a life of prayer and penance. Here is the text of the communique,  which was intermidably parsed here and other places, but whose meaning is hard to escape.

There are, indeed, good people associated with LC and RC – many of us reading this blog know them.  They need our prayers and great strength – the strength that any and all of us need when we have been deceived in the name of God.

That said, the book on this affair will be long and complex. Torturous, in fact. There will undoubtedly need to be several volumes.

The news coming out now is sketchy and incomplete.  The word is that the leadership is admitting that Maciel fathered at least one child, perhaps two. Some sources are saying that the leadership is admitting the veracity of the previous accusations, as well, but that is fuzzy to me at this point.  Over the past few days, various parties and groups have been informed of this.  After the question of the accusations against Maciel himself, the huge question waiting to be unraveled, but extraordinarily difficult to do because of the group’s obsession with secrecy, is the awareness of the LC leadership of all of this over the years.

The third question is that if the leadership is admitting the truth of the bulk of the many accusations against Maciel…will the victims, long vilified by the movement and its defenders…receive an apology?

The greater point, though – is this:

Movements of all kinds (including religious orders) are a constant source of renewal for the Church. But there are risks and problems associated with any movement, and it is the Church’s responsibility – and by “Church” I mean every one of us – to view movements with open eyes, to see the good, be wary of the bad and call the evil to task.

Secrecy, hero-worship, deification of individuals, reflexive dismissal of critics as wrong-headed or even of the devil, an untoward interest in money and appearance, manipulation of members, demeaning attitudes toward non-members, deceptive means…

trouble.

There is another message for church leaders, including pastors and bishops here. Let’s be frank.

What is the appeal of Regnum Christi and its apostolates in the United States?  The appeal may be negative in some ways, but those I have met who have been drawn to it are thirsting for solid faith content. They know that their children live in a challenging world and have no confidence in what passes for catechesis in the parish or even in many Catholic schools to equip them for that world. They do not see these programs or liturgies seriously oriented toward bringing those participating into a deep, committed relationship with Christ.

So something substantive appears…it appeals.

Take note.

It is wrong to derive the truth about the nature of something simply from anecdotes, but anecdotes can be telling. I have two, regarding Regnum Christi:

I gave a talk in a parish once, mostly to youth. The youth ministry and adult catechesis in the parish had been revived by the enthusiasm and efforts of Regnum Christi members.  A good thing.

As I was carrying my books out to my car, I was assisted by a 14-year old boy, a son of one of the Regnum Christi families.  He was slight and nervous, but seemed particularly anxious to speak with me, which he did at some length.

He told me that he had been at a LC boarding school – preseminary, in fact -  for a year, but had come back to be with his family. I do not remember his exact words, but there was a clear sense that he believed that he had failed in his “vocation”  – that there was something wrong with his return home, that he had not tried hard enough, that his return was a revelation of a flaw.

14 years old.

It made me so, so sad. All I could say to him was, as forcefully as I could, that it was normal and good to want to be with your family. That for right now, it was where he belonged.

The second was simply strange.

Back in Fort Wayne, there was a convenience store a few blocks from our house. It was just a normal, busy neighborhood convenience store where I got my Diet Coke refills, gas and would run into neighbors, including the bishop a couple of times. (For his house was in our neighborhood.)

One day, I went in and in front of the counter stood a small table on which stood a large empty plastic container with a hole cut in the lid.  The sign affixed to the display was written in a child’s hand.  It said something like, “Please donate for our birthday party for our founder.”  Next to a photocopy of a picture of Maciel.

Something is not right.

Already, all over the Internet, there are comments indicating that LC and RC can easily get past all of this, that we should focus, not on the apparent sins of the founder, but on the good in the present. We can separate them.

The question is real – can we?

I am not so sure.

Update:

I would simply ask the doubters to read Tom Hoope’s comment below. God bless you, Tom, and thank you so much for commenting here today.

I have only had limited (and almost entirely negative) experiences with the Legionnaires & Regnum Christi. But this is a very sad situation, and we should keep all those affected by it in our prayers.

  1. I too have had experiences both negative and positive. Unfortunately more of the former. I do believe many members make authentic growth in their spiritual lives. Will pray for them.

  2. I wish leaders other than Maciel would have faced and disclosed these truths much, much earlier.

    And the LC/RC spin machine up to just these past days made even the Clinton White House during the Lewinsky affair look like a Truth Squad.

    Sadly, the mythical life of Maciel was so intentionally central to virtually all LC-RC spirituality and activity. I pray for many, many well-intentionned and God-seeking members who now must be suffereing through the experience of betrayal and emotional/intellectual upheaval.

  3. The only amazing aspect of this kerfuffle is that the LC organization should have learned from the blunders of Americano dioceses during the Priestly Scandals of 2001-05. As in- come clean, mop up the mess, do it quickly and publicly, move forward. If LC’s appeal comes from the charism of one man, it will dry up like the orders of nuns who went cloud cuckoo. If it’s rooted in Christ and His Church- not Maciel’s Church- it may find, like Opus Dei during the Da Vinci Code hysteria, that bad publicity is better than none.

  4. During times like these, it is important to remember the words of the Gospels, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” It is right to judge the gravity of the sin-the actions-however one cannot judge the sinner. This is because in order to judge the sinner, one has to have infinite knowledge of that person. This means knowing his interior life, thoughts and dispositions, as well as his exterior life. I am in no way condoning such terrible actions. I am only saying this because it is at the heart of Christian social teaching. This applies not only to this specific situation, but also to the other men who , during their time as priest, have committed such sins throughout the history of the Church. I learned at an early age this lesson in not judging on by their sin and am grateful that, by the grace of God, I have been able to adhere to it.

    The constitutions and the statutes of the Legion and Regnum Christi have all been approved by the Holy See and the good that has been done for the Church cannot be denied. The mission has always been to have a deep interior life with Christ and to share that love with the world in the most effective way possible. This knowledge does not only affect the Legion and Regnum Christi, but also the Church as a whole-the Body of Christ.

    At this moment, it is important more than ever to pray for holy vocations and the fidelity of all religious in their marriage to the Church. We, as the Body of Christ, cannot focus on what “we” wish would have happened in the past, as those things did not happen. What we shoud do rather, is pray for the mercy of God and the fidelity of all Catholics to Christ and the Church. We must live in the present, live in Christ, and in the spirit of Christian charity. This is a very sad and disappointing time, but it is in the most distressing of times that one must cling to the Crucified Christ and not only seek to console Him in his suffering, but to seek Him for consolation as well.

  5. Rebecca,
    Jesus spoke about millstones for those who act like this. those who lead the little ones astray. The effects of this tightly guarded secret will impact many, sadly, not for the good. It will give ammunition to those who oppose the Church and it will give pause to those who might have considered the Church. If he really knew God, he knew that all things would be revealed. What was he thinking?

  6. I have always been taught that regular confession, partaking of the Eucharist and the other sacraments give us plentiful grace in time of struggle and temptation.
    I would appreciate the insight and comments to bring clarity to this horrific happening.
    I, too, am acquainted with RC/LC persons who have grown in the spiritual life. I have attended the “meetings” (or nights of reflection) and often departed with a odd feeling, stomach ache or like I had just gone to a clean sororiaty event. I coughed it up to my own personality and temperament and the realization that I had no calling to such a movement.
    Comments or insight please!

  7. I would like to ask legionaries and RC priests whether you consider yourself as catholic priest or just a RC priests. I have met many of you who to this day defend Father Maciel so vehemently that make me realize you don’t trust on the verdict and recommendations Pope Benedict has given RC.

    Mi opinion is that the more you insist on defending what is not defendable, the more the rest of the Catholics and people with common sense will separate from you. I honestly believe that regardless of all the sins and crimes of Father Maciel, RC has gather a lot of good people, it is up to you to disengage of the memory of Father Maciel and all his brain washing practices.

    Movements like RC give the impression that the members adore the founder above the only figure we should be adoring and setting as an example which is Jesus Christ.