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.
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…
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.
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.
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.