|A Catholic Exchange on the Long Dropping of the Other Shoe: Foundational Shift for the Legionaries of Christ — Part One
By Mary Kochan
February 6, 2009
In light of recent news events impacting the Legionaries of Christ, Catholic Exchange has gathered you to provide some insight to our readers. Let's begin with an introduction so our readers know who you are and what your background of involvement with the Legion is. I will start with myself. I am Senior Editor of Catholic Exchange and am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any organization associated with the Legionaries of Christ. I hope here to represent the concerns of our average reader with only minimal surface knowledge of the Legion.
My name is Fr. James Farfaglia. I am the pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church, a new parish in Corpus Christi, Texas. I joined the Legion of Christ after graduating college in 1978. I was ordained in 1987 and I was a member of the Congregation until May, 1999.
Pete Vere, JCL here. I'm a canon lawyer, Catholic journalist, and professor of canon law and catechesis at Catholic Distance University (CDU.edu). Prior to reconciling with the Church in the early 1990s, I was an adherent of the Society of Saint Pius X during their period of excommunication. Since earning my license in canon law in the year 2000, I have written extensively on Church law, new religious movements, and the Catholic Church — including volumes one and two of Surprised by Canon Law, published by Saint Anthony Messenger Press. My work has appeared in the Washington Times, CE, Zenit, Wanderer, and Canon Law Society of America Advisory Opinions.
Genevieve Kineke. I am married, the mother of five children and write extensively on the vocation of women. In addition to my book, The Authentic Catholic Woman (Servant Books), my writing has appeared in Catholic World Report, Inside the Vatican, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. I also write a bi-monthly column for various Catholic newspapers. I was a member of Regnum Christi for seven years.
Isaac Chute. I was first exposed to the Legion from the ages of 15-21, attending various retreats and seminars several times a year, plus Christmas and Easter. I was a member of the Legionaries of Christ from the July 1980 to Oct 1983. I'm just an average lay person these days.
CE: The Legionaries of Christ and its lay arm, Regnum Christi, have been given some sad news recently that is of concern to the entire Church. By way of starting this discussion, would you please fill us in on the details as they have become public this week?
Fr. James Farfaglia: There has been a public admission that the deceased founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, was living a secret, hidden life where he had at least one mistress and at least one illegitimate child. However, there is all sorts of news leaking out of the organization which frankly, really surprises me. Since there are so many rumors flying around that have alarmed a lot of good people, total transparency is needed. Someone should clarify exactly what is going on.
Pete Vere: Along with a number of rumors flying around this week, there have been both official statements and further details that are confirmed by various sources within the Legion and Regnum Christi. What has been acknowledged is that Fr. Maciel, the founder, fathered a daughter out of wedlock.
Only God knows the reason why it came out this week. However, if we keep in mind that the alleged corruption within the Legion was at the top, and that most rank-and-file Legion and Regnum Christi members were devout Catholics seeking to live a holy life, I can see God's hand in this. The Legion and Regnum Christi have been going through a period of reform that began after Fr. Maciel was asked to withdraw from ministry in 2006, intensifying since Fr. Maciel's death almost exactly a year ago. The two most important signs of this reform, in my opinion, were the repealing of the extra vows not to criticize the Legion, and the willingness of Legion and Regnum Christi members to work more closely with the dioceses, while continuing to subject themselves to Rome. Without this show of good faith, the Legion and Regnum Christi likely would have fallen apart or fallen into schism.
Every new Church community is to a certain extent wrapped around the personality and life of the founder. To sever one's connection to one's founder requires a tremendous amount of spiritual fortitude. This is why I think the details emerged this week. There is now a year's space between now and the death of the founder so his memory is starting to recede from the organization and it coincides with the time of their annual retreat, making it easier to convey a sensitive message. Having already begun the process of bringing their institute more in line with Church practice, and having committed themselves to doing what is necessary to remain within the Church's sacred bosom, the momentum is there to help them do what is necessary: help members face the facts, renounce the actions of their founder, and move forward.
Genevieve Kineke: While I respect the charity in Pete's words, I have to side more with Fr. James in asking, "What exactly has been revealed?" There have been a host of charges over the years from drug use to pedophilia. First-hand accounts from within the Legion have them acknowledging that "some" accusations have proven true. That leaves a cliff-hanger — which ones? There is a remarkable sigh of relief in some about the revelations of a daughter, as though fornication is less distasteful than pederasty and that they can live with a simple "mistake" like that. None of this touches two important topics: where is the apology to those who have tried to share their stories of suffering at his hands and what about the institutional defects that allowed his cult of personality to flourish?
Pete Vere: Certainly I understand where Genevieve is coming from, and I don't disagree with her analysis. However, I think we must also look at the historical context of what's happening. Only a year ago, despite numerous allegations against the founder, you had an entire organization defending him, believing Rome had made a mistake in shuffling him off to a monastery for his final years. Today they have admitted he lived a double-life, and many key members of the Legion and Regnum Christi have come forward to repudiate his actions and apologize to victims. This is a major step forward, I believe. Hopefully it will serve as a launching pad for the Legion and Regnum Christi to address the systematic defects that permitted this to happen.
Isaac Chute: At this time no official statement clarifying the facts to the outside world has been made other than about Maciel, the founder, leading a double life "not consistent with the life of a priest," not to mention a holy founder of a religious congregation. Hearing that Maciel has a daughter in her early 20s, which suggests that she was conceived when he was in his late 60s is quite disturbing and suggests that he may have had other similar affairs earlier in his career. There is also the suggestion that Maciel used Legionary funds to support this family. Neither have we heard of any apologies from the Legion to the men who accused him of sexual abuse while they were young members of the order over 50 years ago. What has been said officially through a Legionary spokesperson is that they still regard Maciel as their founder but acknowledge that he was living a double life. The current members of the Legion have a very difficult decision to make. They can 1. disband or 2. go through some radical reform and root out all the writings of Maciel, and I would even suggest re-write their constitutions. The Legion also owes a huge debt of gratitude to all those who have been spreading the truth about Maciel for years such as Jose Barba, Paul Lennon, et al. In addition they owe these gentlemen a sincere and deep apology. Those who spoke ill of the Legion were said to be spreading calumny, however it now appears that the Legion and Maciel are guilty of that crime.
CE: We certainly do not rejoice with unrighteousness, but we do rejoice with the truth. And while it is a matter of great sadness that any ordained person would be engaged in grave wrongdoing, there have to be mixed feelings about this when we consider the victims and the rough road that some of them traveled to bring this to light. Briefly, if you would, give us a bit of a synopsis of the history of this.
Fr. James Farfaglia: Once again, transparency on the part of the Legionaries would be helpful. There is a history of accusations of sexual abuse against the founder. He was sanctioned by Pope Benedict XVI to live a life a prayer and penance and have nothing to do with the internal running of the Congregation. The founder, God rest his soul, is dead. A telegram of condolences was never published by the Vatican and not one Vatican dignitary attended his funeral, to my knowledge. The Vatican's silence on Fr. Maciel's death is very significant, in fact, quite amazing. Since the intervention of Pope Benedict XVI against Fr. Maciel took place, I do know for a fact that the attitude in the Legion and Regnum Christi has been as follows: We will always love and obey the Roman Pontiff (essential element of Legionary spirituality which is terrific); the Holy Father made a bad decision based upon bad information regarding Fr. Maciel (this is classic denial); therefore, Fr. Maciel is being persecuted and he is a new Padre Pio (this is crazy).
Look, I do not know any of the original accusers of Fr. Maciel. I never ran into any one of them when I was in the Legion. I do not know any specifics about what is true and what is not true regarding their cases. However, now that I am out of the Legion and a parish priest, information comes to me and I have become aware of the situation of two of Fr. Maciel's alleged victims who were young boys at the time. One is receiving therapy from a certified psychologist. The other was among the first groups of minor seminarians that Fr. Maciel brought to Spain.
I am not looking for any dirt on Fr. Maciel. He is dead and has been judged by God. Besides, I have a lot of work to do and I have really moved on from the whole Legion of Christ mess. Clearly, we need to pray for his soul and for everyone who has been harmed, whether directly or by scandal. But living close to the Mexican border and working pastorally with the Hispanic community, I hear things. Mexican people come to me with concerns. Some of them are hurt and very concerned for the Catholic Church. Now, according to the rumor mill, the Legion is shocked because the founder seemingly had a double life. They were in denial regarding Father's possible homosexual proclivities, now they are shocked about Father's possible heterosexual problems. I guess the Legion is waking up. This is going to be a very difficult time for the Congregation.
Pete Vere: Fr. Maciel is dead. For better or for worse, he has faced God and gone on to his eternal fate. There isn't much we can do for him other than pray he made his peace with God before death. However, it is important that members know the truth. And it is important that members act on the truth. It's important that the LC/RC apologize to victims, and support necessary reforms — such as greater transparency and accountability to the rest of the Church, including to bishops in whose dioceses the LC/RC minister.
Some have suggested the members renounce their founder completely, but I'm not sure this is possible. Facts are facts. The Legion and Regnum Christi were founded by Fr. Maciel. The apostolates have grown quite large and powerful within his lifetime. You can't change that. However, the members can repudiate his example. The members can also purge his influence in several areas, and apologize to victims. Reform will be painful, but worth it. There is much the Legion and Regnum Christi can offer the Church once they get their house in order.
Genevieve Kineke: I am more jaded by this because of the years I spent counseling exiting members and family members of those inside. I have met the victims and find them eminently credible, but beyond their terrible abuse, we have a structure that allowed it, enabled it, covered for it, and now is trying to take the moral high ground about "recent discoveries." We cannot ignore the fact that their existing structure allows no internal criticisms and has spread a wake of divisiveness in both parish settings and families. The Regnum Christi formation material promotes a system of "integration" which permits no questioning of directives, and subsequently leads to a method of isolating and shunning those who don't conform. That's not what our faith is about, and yet many fine Catholics have been very wounded by the the loss of friends and family because they had reservations about "the Movement", as those inside call it. Whatever the sexual proclivities of the founder in the past, the present-day suffering continues — and that has to be counted as part of the fruits of this group.
Isaac Chute: Many people were scarred by the Legion in different ways. Now that the Legion is admitting both that Maciel's immorality was over a long period of time and involved unidentified "others," I cannot help but think about the men who have been continually coming forward accusing Maciel of having sexually abused them in their early years in the Legionary houses of formation. They tried for many years to reach Pope John Paul II with information on Maciel, a Mexican national who founded the Legion in the 1940s. However it took the noble German Cardinal Ratzinger to have the courage to re-open this case as JPII laying dying in Rome and guess what? The Holy Spirit chose him to be our next Pope. There is no better man alive who is as informed as Pope Benedict on sexual abuse by the clergy given his former role in the Vatican. Benedict's verdict on Maciel was to banish him to a life of prayer and penance. Pope Benedict is slowly but surely working his way through things. I believe that Maciel having fathered a child was tantamount to him having his hand caught in the cookie jar and as this is something which can be genetically proven, the Legion had no choice but to save face by going public with this. However, I have heard of no apology to the ex-members who accused Maciel of having abused them. While this is all painful for the faithful, this is the hand of God at work via His most Holy Spirit, who is shining a cleansing light into the darkest recesses of the Legion of Christ.
CE: I'd like us to focus in on the impact that this revelation will have on the LC/RC and I think that to comprehend this we need to understand who the LC/RC understood Maciel to be and what their aspirations were for him.
Fr. James Farfaglia: I can imagine that this new situation is like a tsunami for the Legionaries and the Regnum Christi, because for whatever reason, a cult of personality was built around the life of Fr. Maciel. I don't know why, but a spirit of unhealthy adulation always existed around the founder. I must admit that I too got caught up in this attitude, but never to the point of losing my sense of critical thinking. Whenever I saw something that we could do better or some situation that needed to be corrected, I always brought those few things to the attention of Father Maciel and my immediate superiors. I always had an open and frank communication with him and my superiors, and they with me. I had a great relationship with them all. However, when I left the Congregation, I had a major disagreement with my immediate superiors in Mexico and then with Father Maciel over a serious situation of corruption that I discovered in their Prelature of Cancun-Chetumal. I confronted that situation vigorously only to be persecuted by my immediate superior. I left the Order at that point because there was nothing more that I could do, so I moved on to diocesan life and I kept on working hard for the Church. This new situation with the Legion and their founder will be like a "night of the spirit" for the Legionaries. They need to take their focus off of men and put their focus entirely on the Lord.
Pete Vere: As Father mentions, this is a major tsunami for the Legion. Institutes generally draw their charism — that is, their unique spirituality and gift to the Church — from their founder. How an institute or apostolate conducts its daily affairs, from prayer to internal governance to interaction with the wider community, whether it be the wider Church community or the society in which it finds itself, is wrapped up in the vision of the founder.
Of course no founder is perfect besides Jesus Christ, which is why the Church, founded by Christ, is perfect, but not the institutes within the Church. And this is why Catholic organizations must turn to the Church for guidance during difficult times.
I recall attending a social event organized by another popular lay movement shortly after the canonization of one of their members. Sitting around the table were several early members of the group, who had worked alongside the founder during the early years. Also present were several younger and newer members of the group. The old-timers started reminiscing about all the mistakes they had made at the beginning, from having allowed their zeal to get the better of them to trying to cover up personal faults or actions inconsistent with Catholic teaching.
"Thank goodness local Church authorities stepped in and wrapped our knuckles," one of the older members said, to the laughter of the other "old-timers" present. "We were no older than you young guys, and we were a big bundle of zeal without the common sense to act prudently. Fortunately, the Church stepped in, imparting her wisdom and correction where necessary, and guided us in the right direction."
Genevieve Kineke: Perhaps that will prove to manifest the difference between a healthy spirituality and an unhealthy one, Pete. We will have a greater confidence in the sincerity of the Legion when there is evidence of actual changes in the way the group operates. Time will tell.
Isaac Chute: This will have a number of different reactions among current members. Some will leave as it will be the last straw after having spent a life serving something which they now perceive to be founded on a lie. Others will stay on believing that this is a trial by God. However there is really only one way out of this, actually two, 1. disband or 2. utter and complete reform; get rid of everything that Maciel contaminated, everything. The entire spirituality of the order is so bound up in the cult of the personality of the founder that it is hard to see how anyone can convince themselves that Maciel helped build a work of God; if anything it is the aspirations of the innocent good-willed current and former members that have built anything good that exists within the Legion today.
CE: I am reminded of a true story I heard recently about a man who had lived and died as the father of a family. He was a cruel and abusive head of the family, and they lived in want a good deal of the time. Some time after he died, his children discovered that he had been a bigamist and that he kept another wife and set of children in a neighboring town. The second family was kept materially at a much higher level and his treatment of the children was kind and left them with fond memories. We can imagine the deep sense of betrayal that his first set of children would experience at learning this, how cheated they would feel. I imagine this is something like what the LC/RC is experiencing. Can you give us a sense of what the emotional state is right now in the LC/RC?
Fr. James Farfaglia: Your question is quite interesting. Since I am no longer in the Legion of Christ I really don't know what they are thinking at this moment. However, I can tell you what I have experienced. When I left my last assignment in Mexico I left with a profound sense of peace that God was now using me for another mission. Although I really loved my work in Chetumal, something huge had to happen to get me out of the Legion. I have very fond memories of my life in the Legion of Christ. I am very grateful for the formation that I received. I could never do what I do now without that formation. I lived among saints. I really miss the laughter. There was always laughter. The Legionaries are a very happy group of men. My last correspondence with the founder was when I had already left Mexico for the last time. I informed him of the corruption that I had discovered and how I was persecuted by my immediate superior. Fr. Maciel's letter to me was devastating and it made me very angry. He never addressed the problems that I found and tried to turn the whole thing on me. I answered his letter clearly and forcefully. I remember what I told him too: One of the main reasons I joined the Legion was because of his stand regarding all of the problems going on in the post-Vatican II Church. I thought that the Legion was really going to bring about a reform and do something about the mess. Fr. Maciel frequently addressed the Church's problems in his letters and conferences. I always agreed with his assessment of the situation and his solutions. Here is where I was really disappointed and angry — I told him to clean up his own house before trying to clean up everyone else's.
Now, when the decision came from Pope Benedict against Fr. Maciel, emotionally I rallied to Maciel's defense. Initially I too felt that the pope was making a bad decision based upon bad information. I was ready to defend Fr. Maciel. But, soon things began to surface. People started to come to me with concerns, questions, stories. Within a few months I then realized that Father Maciel really did have a problem. I was very angry. I felt totally let down and betrayed. I was angry for about a year and I dealt with this anger with my spiritual director. He advised me to really bring this situation into deep contemplative prayer. I did. I really feel healed from the anger. I feel totally detached in the true sense of the word. My total focus is on Jesus. Of course we need to work within the structures of the Church, but we need to realize that people are limited and sinful. We all are sinful and limited. The Holy Spirit is in charge.
Genevieve Kineke: Of course I left in 2000, so I don't have a sense of current sentiment other than what comes to me in phone calls and emails. Most of the current members who contact me indicate it's an emotionally trying time and I sense some fragility. They always add a heroic ending saying that Regnum Christi is still a valuable gift, that this is a cross that will require heroic grace, which is true — but I'm sensing a shift even in this brief time since the revelation, leaning towards some sort of gratitude that the inevitable "defect" was not more lurid. That is unfortunate, because it ignores decades of firm assertions from the Legionary hierarchy that Maciel was "the perfect Legionary" and that he "never said 'no' to God." If there's simply a quiet shift away from that teaching, the members will never address why that claim was made and what structures kept it in place for so long.
Pete Vere: I cannot speak personally to the issue of viewing him as a father, as I have never been a member of the LC or RC. However, I know several former members, as well as several current members. So I've watched this unfold over the past few years as a concerned friend. Moreover, I have faced similar situations as a Catholic traditionalist and a canon lawyer. I remember the devastation I felt when similar rumors began to surface about the Society of St. John in Pennsylvania, where I lived and worked as a canon lawyer. The same is true with the aftermath of the wider sexual abuse crisis within the Church that hit canon lawyers just like all other areas of the Church.
At first the feeling is shock — you don't want to believe these individuals who you had been supporting, and ministering with, were capable of the allegations. Then it is followed by despair as the evidence overwhelms you and the truth comes out. This is where one's faith is really tested. Then one realizes that one's faith is in Jesus Christ, and not His imperfect human instruments, and that this is why He instituted a perfect Church — because we, His human instruments, are imperfect and the Devil will use our imperfections to tempt us with despair. Fortunately, we can turn to Christ and His Blessed Mother during these times. They are the perfection who see us through our imperfections.
Using the example you cite of the family with a father leading a double life, we can take this opportunity to heap further scorn and condemnation upon the family, at a time when they are most vulnerable, or we can offer the family members our support, even though it won't be easy. One thing I have learned from my Tribunal experience is that children often carry the scars of their parents' sins. To turn our backs now on rank-and-file RC/LC members will only force them to withdraw more inwardly, as they sense the opposition and ridicule of the outside world. This is the mistake the Church made with the SSPX and followers of Archbishop Lefebvre back in the 1970's. Only now is this situation starting to heal.
I believe the Christian response is to step in as concerned family members and offer our LC/RC brothers and sisters in faith our prayers and support. Yes, they will need to ask some hard questions. Yes, they will need to change some of their practices. Yes, they will need to acknowledge their past wrongs. But all of their problems built up over several decades. We cannot, in charity, expect them to resolve these problems overnight. Fixing the problems will require both time and patience. More importantly, it will require prayer, discernment, and renewing one's faith in Christ and trust in the wider Church community.
Isaac Chute: How about another example? Imagine you worked alongside St. Patrick when he came to Ireland to convert the Irish, you revered him as a saint and followed his every example to try to pattern your life on that of a saint so that you too might be a better person and leave a positive mark on the world. Then, 20 years after St. Patrick died and you have lived his example, you find out that at night he went out and did the opposite of all the things that he preached against during the cold light of day. Do you think we Irish would have converted to Christianity and stuck for so long if our noble Saint had been such a fraud? By the same token it is hard to imagine any sane person wanting to cling to anything that is Maciel's legacy. Personally, I feel completely betrayed by the man whose hand I personally kissed so many times – makes me want to rinse my mouth out with Ajax – and I've been out of the Legion for many a year. I believe it is hard to imagine what must be going through current members' minds. Remember it is the cult of the personality of the founder that everything was founded on. Where do you go from there? It is a far cry from the stone that was rejected that became the cornerstone. In actual fact Maciel was the preordained cornerstone that now has to be hacked out and what does that do to the building?
Pete Vere: I can understand Isaac's feeling of betrayal. I've been there myself, most notably with the Society of St. John — a group of traditionalist priests I thought I knew, only to discover that they had been engaging in sexual misconduct and the abuse of seminarians. It's not only a feeling — one really has been betrayed by those whom one held in high esteem spiritually. And this is where Christ comes in. The institute must separate Fr. Maciel's legacy from that of Jesus Christ.
It won't be an easy process, and it will require help from the larger Church community — for something of this magnitude, I don't think the Legion and Regnum Christi are capable of reform on their own. However, the alternative is turn thousands of clergy and lay members out on the street, without the support system necessary to make sense of what happened. To return to the example cited in the question, you don't correct the deceased father's infidelity, abuse and neglect by breaking up what's left of the family support structure — dysfunctional as it is — and turning the children out onto the street. Rather, you help the children.
Tomorrow, in Part Two, we discuss the future of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi.
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