|A Catholic Exchange on the Long Dropping of the Other Shoe: Foundational Shift for the Legionaries of Christ — Part Two
By Mary Kochan
February 7, 2009
We are continuing our discussion, begun yesterday (Part One), on the implications for the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi of the shocking revelations about their founder. Within days the LC/RC has gone from effusive praise occasioned by the one-year anniversary of Father Marcial Maciel's death, to public admission that he fathered a daughter and sexually abused multiple young men over a period of decades. (Bizarrely, even the story of where he died has changed, from Houston, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida.) We rejoin Fr. James Farfaglia, canon lawyer Pete Vere, Genevieve Kineke, and Isaac Chute.
CE: What would you like to see happen internally with the LC/RC at this point?
Isaac Chute: Disband or reform. They are the only two options. Because the organization is so large and there are so many good people caught up in it radical reform may be the best option, however that would entail a complete reformation and re-foundation of the Legion without any vestige of Maciel. I would also like to see the Legion make an apology to those who all who have been abused in particular to the victims of Maciel. I would also like to see the Legion make restitution in some shape or form to these victims. I would also like to see the Legion apologize to the ReGain organization and thank them for their efforts which have helped the Church flush out the cheater Maciel.
Fr. James Farfaglia: This too is a very good question, and probably the most important question of all. Perhaps I may rock the boat, but I am known for being honest and sincere. Things are too serious in the Church today to be "prudent". There are too many people here involved. There are a lot of wonderful guys in the Legion. They need help.
OK, here is where I am going to rock the boat: As I have publicly said before, the only way that anyone can really understand the Legion of Christ is by understanding Mexico. I don't mean this as any kind of criticism of the Mexican people. They are wonderful people. However, there is a certain way of doing things in Mexico. Corruption and lying are an endemic part of the negative side of the Mexican culture. Perhaps, because of the culture that they were brought up in, the Mexican leadership of the Order simply can't see clearly what has been going on within the Congregation. The present Vicar General comes from a very, very powerful family from Monterrey. I am not judging him at all. I am sure that he is a very fine and holy man. However, if the Holy Father wants to really save the Legionaries and bring about some kind of reform, he should step in and ask the Vicar General to resign. A new Vicar General should be appointed by the Pope and that new appointment should be someone from another nationality.
Secondly, the Pope should also ask the General Secretary to step aside. His family has a very important relationship with the family of the Vicar General. The new General Secretary should also be someone from another nationality. This then would allow the present General Superior to perhaps act more freely in bringing about necessary reforms within the Congregation. I do know the present General Superior very well. He is a very, very holy man and a very kind man. The Pope should give him a certain amount of time to bring about any kind of reform. If he just continues business as usual, then the pope would need to step in again and replace him with someone else, someone who is not from Mexico. The Legion of Christ almost seems like a Mexican oligarchy. If this is broken up and changed, perhaps some "fresh air" will come into the Order and they can be free to really do what they do very well — educate the young, form the laity, and evangelize.
Aside from all of this, I think that the real questions at hand are these: What did the leadership of the Legion know about the lifestyle of their founder? Were they in denial? Did they know things and decide to keep quiet? Or did anyone go to the Vatican? I don't know.
I think that it is very important to understand that we priests are all human. Sometimes people think we are "angels" and that we are never tempted in any of the seven deadly sins. As priests, we sure do have a lot to live up too. We can easily scandalize the laity. Moreover, as priests, we are prime targets for Satan. People should not be scandalized to understand that the charism of celibacy does not come without difficulties, struggles, crisis and even failings. I am not excusing Father Maciel. Sexual contact with a woman outside of marriage is a sin. But sexual abuse of minors is a crime and a perversity. There is a big difference. Let us recall the Gospel: He who is without sin, let him throw the first stone. Whenever a priest has issues, he doesn't need stones thrown at him; he needs help! And he need to get help. Spiritual direction, counseling, even a sabbatical may be necessary. But, it seems that whatever is true about Fr. Maciel, he just kept on going, living a hidden life. This is really different from the priest who struggles, falls, gets up again and grows in the delicate and elegant living out of the charism of celibacy. Many times a period of crisis and struggle can be a providential way in which the priest grows in sanctity. But the Maciel story is different. It seems that he just kept going: living one way in the Legion and another way outside of the Legion.
What did the Legionaries around him know? Did they try and help the founder? Were they in denial? Were they part of his proclivities? I think this is what the Vatican really needs to find out. The Vatican may have to step in with an Apostolic Visitation and really find out what is going on in the "inside". Is there a cover up? Are there more abusers?
Genevieve Kineke: I'll reserve comments to Regnum Christi. The entire structure right now has three focal points — formation of the members through apostolates, growing the ranks through recruitment and raising money to give to the Legion. The first has a completely good end to the degree that members are invited to learn more about their faith. Most of us joined specifically because we found such resources woefully lacking in the larger Church in the latter decades of the 20th century. The harm in that formation, though, is in the area of integration into the "charism" of the Movement. The chain of command kept close tabs on the members and freely shared with superiors how each was doing, who was adopting the ways of Regnum Christi and who had raised questions. I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard from distraught women who realized that their confidences were betrayed or that stray comments came back to haunt them far removed from a given conversation. That Stalin-like practice has to stop.
The second area, recruitment, was more problematic because there was often a measure of duplicity about the hidden ends of the apostolates. The Regnum Christi sponsorship of many groups and events was often hidden in promotion material, which distressed many faithful Catholics who didn't know that they were promoting "front groups" for the Movement. There was the perpetual added pressure for members to bring friends (and it was a select kind of friend). Every section (geographical sub-group of RC) was accountable for a certain amount of growth, and numbers often seemed more important than relationships. I can remember a specific conference where a high-ranking Legionary came to visit our women's section to tell us that the Pope had asked for a specific number of members so that we could accomplish something, and we shifted into overdrive. Now I see that it was highly unlikely that the pope said such a thing and it was duplicitous of the priest to say it. (Perhaps he was only following orders.) If the pressure to constantly grow the Movement would relax, then I think everyone would benefit. Especially at this traumatic time, the consolation of friendships combined with a reflective period would allow the members to discern how to meet their own needs, rather than prioritizing the need to share the charism with others.
The fundraising has raised very troubling red flags for many people. Of course providing for the room, board, and education of priests is a very important thing, but so many apostolates seemed more akin to being money makers than authentic means of formation. There are participation fees, the materials were expensive, those with larger families found it hard to participate, and the accommodations so often targeted such a well-heeled crowd that there were legitimate questions raised about what was really being accomplished. Now the revelation of Fr. Fichter, the former chief financial officer for the Legion, that the treasurers always kept large amounts of cash available to hand to their superiors might lead the rank-and-file to demand more accountability.
Finally, we need to look at the consecrated members (3GF's) who are most often women. I have always been highly troubled that these women live in a kind of limbo — with no canonical protections whatsoever. Now idealistic Christians can be like naive children in the sense that they think, "This is the Church; why would I need protection?" Well, this is a fallen world and the members of the Church make mistakes. These women are categorized as laymen who have freely chosen to live in community. Since they are not in vows (as Religious) they actually don't exist in the eyes of the Church, but are solely subject to the Legion. They usually don't have health insurance, many of their academic institutions are not accredited, there are high indications of depression within, and those who leave are alienated from friends and family and themselves wondering if they have "divorced" Jesus.
Up to this point, those who remain have been loyal daughters of Maciel who scrupulously read his writings, obey his chosen superiors, and work zealously to recruit more members to the group. They are dedicated and lovely women — but I am greatly concerned for their future. How they can separate themselves from his personality remains to be seen, but at present I'm not sure they have the tools to honestly assess their situation. Regnum Christi members were always told, "in following the methodology you can never go wrong," which gives it an infallibility it doesn't deserve. Thus it will take a real mental leap for these women to begin to critique their very way of life — and I would beg all readers to pray specifically for their discernment to that end.
Pete Vere: Practically speaking, I don't think this is a problem the LC/RC can solve on their own. Their current practices are too wrapped up in the personality of their founder, in my opinion. While it's true in a metaphysical sense that the sins of the founder will not fall upon the head of the members, it's not so true in an organizational sense. How can the members trust that certain practices were implemented to help the members grow in holiness, and not to cover up for the founder? And this is where allegations of secretive practices come in.
That being said, I don't think disbanding is realistic. Or rather, I think it would do more harm. Nobody joined the LC/RC to cover up for Fr. Maciel's sexual vices. The vast majority of members were not even aware of the problem. Rather, these folks joined, in good faith, to deepen their spirituality and come closer to Christ. There are literally thousands of them — including hundreds of priests who gave their life to the Legion full-time. It would be irresponsible to simply dump them all on the curb without help or a support structure in place. We already know from ReGAIN (an organization of former LC/RC members who brought to light the initial allegations against Fr. Maciel) how difficult it is for many to adapt to life in the outside world after leaving the Legion. The Church would simply be inviting more problems in the future if she completely disbanded the LC/RC.
More importantly, there's a matter of Christian charity. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are going through an extremely painful moment. We cannot simply turn our backs on them when they need help the most. And along the same lines, we must reach out and apologize to former members — especially those who suffered abuse and were marginalized and made out to be liars when they spoke out. The Legion owes them an apology. And the Legion ought to make restitution, paying for any necessary counseling. One cannot simply slough off one's institutional responsibility, saying "The Legion is not Fr. Maciel, so we're not going to apologize to victims for what he did" or "They already got whatever help they needed elsewhere, so it's no longer the Legion's responsibility." The world deserves better from an institution calling itself Catholic.
Also, for the sake of the members, who — pardon the cliche — have been their own "church within a Church" for too long, I believe the LC/RC need to ask Rome to appoint some outside help to temporarily take over, someone who can help reform the organization from within, ideally, someone who has demonstrated zeal for orthodoxy, prudent pastoral discernment, experience with religious life, commands the respect of the Holy See and local churches, and is surrounded by good advisers. This person can bring a fresh perspective to the LC/RC's current practices, while sympathizing with its stated mission to serve the Church faithfully.
Speaking personally, I think Cardinal George of Chicago would be ideal. He has surrounded himself with a number of the Church's finest canonical and pastoral minds. He has also shepherded large Church organizations through difficult situations when the media was watching closely. However, I am merely a layman, offering a layman's perspective. This is a decision between the Holy See, the bishops in whose diocese the LC/RC minister, and the LC/RC.
There is no shame in asking Rome to appoint someone outside of the LC/RC. That's what the Holy See is there for. The beauty of our Catholic faith is that it's a family effort. When one member of the family is going through a rough patch, other family members step in to help him get through it. And this is one of those times when I think the rest of the Catholic family needs to intervene, for the welfare of the member.
CE: What message would you like for members of the LC/RC to absorb right now and what resources can you point them to?
Fr. James Farfaglia: The problems are not just with the Legion of Christ. The problem is with the whole Church. We are still in a very serious mess on many fronts. The guys within the Legion should have the guts enough to demand reforms. Change is needed.
Isaac Chute: That there are many ex-members out there who are praying for them and will do anything in their power to help them no matter what they decide. If they do want to reform they should start with having ex-members help them understand what they have been doing wrong so that they can actually build something better from the ground up on a more solid foundation, as clearly Maciel's house is built on sand. It they want to leave or even disband we will welcome them with open arms. I would also advise members that this may not be the end of big announcements. If Maciel fathered a child in his 60's there is good reason to anticipate that there may be even additional cases like this that will worm their way out of the woodwork.
Pete Vere: We love you and we're praying for you. You're part of our Catholic family. The LC/RC has the potential to do much good within the Church. However, right now you need help. You've helped us in the past — in fact, speaking personally, a Legion priest and several Regnum Christi members were instrumental in my return to the Catholic Church. Now let us help you.
Genevieve Kineke: It has never been easy to criticize the Movement because those who do are marginalized from the group and labeled as "disgruntled" enemies of God. Please know that we are no such thing. We joined because we shared your ideals, saw the needs of the harvest and wanted to serve the Church. We still feel the same way, despite having a different opinion about how to go about the task. I'm grateful for my years in Regnum Christi, for the marvelous women I met and for the opportunity to spread the Gospel through its apostolates — but I've also grown as a wife and mother to understand that one cannot manipulate others into the Kingdom, no matter how badly you want to save their souls. That is ultimately God's work.
If you are really curious about how such a seemingly orthodox group could be manipulative, then please go to www.life-after-rc and peruse the list of articles offered on the left column. I do believe that even the most Catholic rhetoric can be abused if the end doesn't respect the free will of individuals. The broad acknowledgment of Maciel's many misdeeds last night on EWTN's "The World Over" should cause every member to reconsider the very methodology that was the mechanism of his deceit, and steadfastly prohibited both transparency and correction.
The ReGain network (www.regainnetwork.org) also has many people — priests, professional counselors and laymen — who are making themselves available to those who need to understand what might have led to this circumstance and how to heal from the damage inflicted. I hope that at least our readers know that these patient souls have wanted the greatest good for others — and to spare them the very suffering which has accrued. We know that, although the Church is herself infallible, her members must grow in holiness and count on mutual assistance in this purifying pilgrimage. Let us at least pray for one another as we proceed.
CE: What would you like those who have never been members of this group to understand and how can we help?
Fr. James Farfaglia: Lots of prayer is needed. There is a lot of good within the Legionaries of Christ. They are very much needed for the salvation of souls. However, the whole Church is still in dire need of reform. Let's just talk about America. Here is the bottom line: if the majority of American Catholics reject Humanae Vitae and continue going to communion and at the same time reject the sacrament of confession, how can we expect God to bless us? If more than half of American Catholics voted for a radically pro-abortion presidential candidate is this not a clear indication that the Catholic Church in America is desperate for reform? If the majority of American bshops are not speaking out clearly about contraception and abortion, can we be surprised they may do nothing about reforming their clergy when they themselves are in need of serious reform? Pope Benedict is right: the Church will become smaller and more faithful. We need to really get back to basics and become more faithful, more prayerful, more simple. We really need a new St. Francis to reform us.
Isaac Chute: I think Fr. James hit the nail on the head. We need lots and lots of prayer. There are a lot of good people within the Legion and the Church needs them. I think that it's time that the faithful, both those within the LC/RC and others who donate to them, insist on transparency and accountability for the use of all funds. I also believe that anyone considering a vocation should go elsewhere during this period of change. Remember the world is crying out for priests, "the harvest is great but the laborers are few" – go where the need is great.
Pete Vere: Like Father said, much prayer is needed. The first thing we must do is pray for our LC/RC brothers and sisters. Secondly, we must let them know that we are praying for them. We must reassure them that they are part of a broader Catholic family, and as concerned brothers and sisters we have their best interest at heart. Finally, we must reach out to — and pray for — estranged members of the family: those who were formerly part of the LC/RC, who previously raised concerns, and were dismissed as simply disgruntled former members.
Genevieve Kineke: Prayer, sacrifice, forbearance and trust. We must all trust Benedict at this difficult time and remember that anyone can go astray. If we cling to the successor of Peter we will endure — apart from him we founder. No one from the outside can really understand what Maciel means to members. Please tread lightly as each one sorts this out and forges ahead. Life is long and filled with difficult stretches — this is a very fragile time for the Movement and they count on your patient support.
CE: Thank you all for your illuminating comments. It is clear that we have not seen the last of this story and we will be following it closely.
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