Legionaries. the Past That Doesn't Want to Go Away

The Chiesa
October 25, 2010

The heirs and trustees of the disgraced founder Maciel are not agreeing to leave their positions of command. But papal delegate De Paolis is issuing an ultimatum: either they change, or it will be "disaster" for all. The complete text of his letter

by Sandro Magister

ROME, October 25, 2010 – Now that he has been made a cardinal, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis will have even more authority in implementing the mandate he has received from Benedict XVI to salvage the Legionaries of Christ, brought to the brink of ruin by their founder, Marcial Maciel, and by the men of his inner circle.

But the difficulties that the pontifical delegate is encountering are significant. The superiors of the congregation, the most powerful of which is vicar general Luís Garza Medina (in the photo), are by no means giving up on the idea of remaining in their positions of command, now and always.

In mid-September, De Paolis asked Garza to give up the main offices that he holds, at least those of territorial director for Italy, supervisor of consecrated virgins of the movement Regnum Christi, general prefect of studies and head of the financial holding company Integer. But Garza said no. A chill has fallen between the two.

De Paolis has been in office since June 16, but has only been able to operate and decide fully since this October, when he was finally given the four "advisers" that the Vatican authorities had promised him four months earlier. One of them, Brian Farrel, is a Legionary with an important role in the Vatican curia, a proponent of a decisive shift in the direction of the congregation. Two others, the Jesuit Gianfranco Ghirlanda and Sacred Heart Fr. Agostino Montan, are highly experienced canon lawyers, even more in favor of decisive action for reform. The one most inclined to negotiate with the heads of the Legionaries appears to be the fourth, Mario Marchesi, previously a professor at their university.

Last October 19, De Paolis addressed to the Legionaries and members of Regnum Christi a long and well-constructed letter, reproduced in its entirety further below, which gives fairly clear indications of the process of "rebuilding" and "renewal" that the pontifical delegate intends to undertake. And of the obstacles that he is encountering.

De Paolis describes his project as "change in continuity," with the accent on the first word. The changes – he writes – include "not a few things." They concern freedom of conscience, the role of confessors and spiritual directors, the forms of control over everyday life, and more. But the point on which he is insisting most is "the problem of the exercise of authority within the Legion," including the way in which the superiors relate with each other.

De Paolis dedicates numerous passages and one entire paragraph of the letter to the need for superiors to change the way in which they act. For the first time in an official Church document, he states in black and white the thesis according to which "the current superiors could not have been unaware of the offenses of the founder," and so "by remaining silent about them, they would have been lying." He does not endorse this thesis, but he also does not rule it out. In conjecturing that their knowledge of the outrages of the founder would have come about "late and gradually," he does not say how or when. And in effect it is now common opinion, even among the Vatican authorities, that Garza and the other ultra-faithful of Maciel knew of and covered up his double life as early as the early 1990's, long before his denunciation in 2006 and his death in 2008.

But in spite of this, it could be gathered from the letter from De Paolis that for now neither he nor the Vatican authorities intend to remove the superiors of the Legion by executive fiat. They are instead trying to get them to leave their positions of their own will, or at least immediately change their attitude, because – as stated in the letter – "if we get caught up in the desire to prevail, and to impose our own ideas on the others, disaster is certain."

The fact remains that, so far, no trace of this desired conversion has been seen in the leaders. By closing ranks, they are withholding visibility and initiative from the healthy part of the Legion, those dozens, hundreds of priests and novices who yearn for a renewal of their religious life, but continue to suffer highly suffocating restrictions and pressures, on the individual and collective level.

In any case, if the superiors of the Legion were counting on resolving everything everything in short order, a few months, and with minimal adjustments, De Paolis is shattering all of their illusions with this letter. The process of rebuilding – he writes – will take "the necessary time, which is expected to be two or three years, or even more." and he cites God's exhortation to the prophet Elijah: "Get up, eat, because the journey is too long for you."

The pontifical delegate has announced the formation of three commissions: the first for a thorough revision of the constitutions; the second for the victims and requests for compensation; the third for problems of an economic nature, until now the unchallenged domain of Garza.

For the lay movement Regnum Christi – which will soon be examined by an apostolic visitor, Ricardo Blázquez, archbishop of Valladolid – there are plans for greater autonomy with respect to the Legion.

As for the specific charism of the Legionaries, the letter from De Paolis identifies this in the education of priests and laity, in the schools and universities, toward a Christian culture capable of reacting to the widespread culture "undermined by immanentism and relativism."

It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the superiors of the Legion to overturn these guidelines. But not to impede them. And in the absence of rapid steps forward in the journey of renewal, other priests will leave, not "hotheads" as their superiors say, but some of the best, in addition to those who have already left and been incardinated into the diocesan clergy. The new vocations will disappear, and are already drying up more or less everywhere, for example in Italy, where only one novice entered this year.

Given this situation, if there is the intention to bring trust and courage to the healthy portion of the Legion of Christ, only one urgent signal of transformation can be given: the removal of those leaders, at least the highest ranking, all of whom owe their power to the man who both founded and capsized it. And they still continue to keep it in prison.

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