Legionaries of Christ

I was thinking some time ago about doing a post on the Legionaries of Christ, whom I never put in the list of suggested Catholic religious communities, due to serious concerns regarding them. Occasioned by the Apostolic Visitation just beginning now, this interview with Fr. Thomas Berg, who left the congregation in April 2009, is a fitting occasion to say a few things.

The disordered life of the founder, Fr. Maciel, is not simply something that can be left aside. Some legionaries seem to have hoped that this could be done, that their rule of life, approved by the Church, was not essentially tied to Fr. Maciel, and therefore could be basically just retained. However, the Church's approval of the rule, an approbation of it as a suitable means for living a life of Christian charity, is first, not infallible, and second, the approbation of a rule does not strictly imply that there are not substantive defects in it. And in fact, there seem to be a number of legionary practices criticized over the years (and rightly so, in my opinion) that are not entirely incidental to Fr. Maciel's problems.

One of the most obvious of these is the "vow of charity," a vow not to criticize superiors and to report those who do so. According to the Legionary web page (available at the Internet Archive–page has been taken down from the live web site), the vow covers something that would be obligatory anyway, namely the avoidance of slander. However, the website does not give the actual text of the vow–apparently it is a secret, despite the denial that the vows are secrete. The text of the vow is, apparently "I, (Name), promise and vow never to criticize any act of governance of the superior, nor his person, and to inform the superior if I am aware that anyone has broken this promise." I could be wrong, but it seems to me that this vow is simply invalid, and never truly bound anyone. A vow is "a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion" (Code of Canon Law n. 1191). "Not to criticize" is not simply speaking a better good. If one were to say "imprudently criticize" or "wrongly criticize" than it would be, and such a vow valid. It seems the real purpose of the vow may have been more to protect the reputation of the congregation and of Fr. Maciel than to foster charity among its members. (It could be that Fr. Maciel thought to himself that its purpose was charity–it is a characteristic in many cases that persons who commit such abuse are actually guilty of self-deception as to their true motives in pursuing relationships, maintaining good reputation, etc.)

Fr. Berg mentions four problems: (1) the inability of the legionaries as a body to engage in honest and objective self-critique, an inability "to see and honestly recognize the flaws and errors that so many people outside the Legion are able to see"; this problem is connected with (2) a mistaken understanding and living of religious obedience, an excessive dependence on the superior, and the prohibition of criticizing one's superior. Fr. Berg critiques this as follows:

The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal "dependence" on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding "reporting to," "informing," "communication with," and "dependence on" superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.

…Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

(3) the continuance of seeking vocations as usual; Fr. Berg's suggests the Legion should call a halt to vocational work during the apostolic visitation, or even longer, until it clears up its critical problems; this is not a easy question, but he may well be right. (4) the deprivation of seminarians of honest information concerning the Legion: "a complete presentation of the basic facts of Fr. Maciel's double life; the understanding that the religious life, with its norms and internal discipline, they have come to live is deeply problematic and in need of thorough scrutiny and review; a thorough presentation of the reasonable criticisms that have been leveled against the Legion and Regnum Christi; and an honest admission on the part of the major superiors of the Legion's errors."

Regarding the last two points I would add my own thought that for a long time the vocational practice of the Legion seemed ordered more to "recruiting" and keeping vocations than to fostering true human development. In this respect it is not surprising if it continues a drive to recruit and keep "vocations."

The biggest question Fr. Berg raises is whether there is a genuine charism in the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, or whether the work of God in the Legion has been only drawing good out of a merely human and fundamentally flawed project. This is indeed a question. As pointed out above, it would be wrong to suppose that there must be a true inspired charism, just because the Church approved the institute. While the guidance of the Spirit guarantees that the Church on the whole and in the long run acts wisely in its approbation of forms of life, individual decisions are not infallible.

Related: see the Legionaries' communiqué of March 25, 2010.

16 thoughts on “Legionaries of Christ”

  1. Yes, there are some interesting thoughts there on the website. The website, which is very new (apparently created just one week ago) is not perfectly clear about what it's goal is. But it appears to be intended as reflections on the legionaries accompanying the apostolic visitation. Since it doesn't seem to be publicized at all on the Internet, I'm guessing that you are either the author or know the author. I am right as to the purpose of the site? Incidentally, the title page should be changed from "Home – A WebsiteBuilder Website" to something more descriptive.

    The argument appears to be that the institute really has no charism, and must either find one–hopefully as close as possible to the legitimate goals which the members sought in becoming Legionaries and as far as possible matching the spirit of its present members–or else be dissolved. It is a plausible argument.

  2. Today on the Internet, I was much relieved to learn that "Attorneys distance themselves from recent claims against Legion of Christ founder", because recent public accusations DIFFERED "in some substantial form" from what the attorneys had previously been told.

    A few months ago the same thing has happened to me. I – an 89 years old priest – was accused of child molestation. At first I was charged with a crime allegedly committed in 1984. When they learned that I had been moved away from my parish in 1983, and therefore could be readily exonerated by ALIBI, the accuser simply and stupidly rewrote his claim and changed the date from 1984 to 1983.

    Unlike what has happened to me, Father Marcial Maciel the founder of the Legion of Christ has an illustrious name to defend, and a great following to protect. Yet he had no way to extricate himself from the mess, and has been ordered by the Vatican in 2006 to withdraw from public life and spend his final years in "penitence and prayers". The priest humbly bowed his head and died in 2008 at the age of 87. How pathetic!

    1. Dear Reverend Father,

      May God bless you. You have been on the cross.

      Christ withdrew when they decided to kill him. He was becoming too popular. The Pharisees and Scribes were envious and thus they wanted to kill him.

      There is an apostolate in the United States which helps priests who have been falsely accused (Opus Bono Sacerdotii). The attacks and false accusations about priests are not about seeking the Truth, they are about persecution of the Church.

      Finally, God uses us as instruments to save souls. If Father Maciel was guilty of what they have been so quick to state he is guilty of (there were no trials!) then there would not be the incredible evangelization fruits that have come from the Legion. It would have been impossible.

      If Father Maciel was guilty he would have been in a state of mortal sin, and those who are in a state of mortal sin are used by the devil to spread his lies. Thus there would have been no fruits from the Legion. There would be no counter-modernist reformation and that is what the new movements are about: the Truth.

      May Mary protect you, Reverend Father.

      1. First: It is not strictly speaking necessarily true that if Father Maciel was guilty then he was in a state of mortal sin. He could have been suffering from a psychological sickness and subject to certain intellectual errors that would have reduced his culpabiliyu.

        Secondly, and more importantly: Those who are in a state of mortal sin can play a part in fruitful work, even very fruitful work. The story is told of a priest who entered into a pact with the devil, in exchange for a fruitful ministry. For twenty years he converted people through his ministry, and was seen as a holy man. (One thing the devil might intend in such a case is to scandalize even more people when the evil appears, drawing them to think, "if even the holiest people in the Church have nothing more than an appearance of holiness, the Church must be a sham.") Whatever the facts about the particular case, such things are possible.

        1. Another case that comes to mind is that of the movie "The Passion of Christ". Just about everyone agrees that this had tremendous fruitful effects, yet many also agree that Mel Gibson has made a mess of his life vis-a-vis his Catholicism.

  3. "We believe in the remission of sins" !!! The Catholic Church professes that Jesus, true man and true God, and his Mother conceived without sin (she claimed this prerogative herself at Lourdes "Je suis l'Immaculée Conception") are the only SINLESS persons ever living on earth. If someone claim himself or herself a person without sin, he or she is a liar. Turning toward ourselves let us make penance and thank God for his mercy, and please, let us condemn no one, even the woman caught red handed committing adultery. Our duty must go still further let us forgive if we want our sins to be forgiven.
    Coming now to the case of the Founder of the Legionaries of Christ. He and I are all sinners as I have said above. So in his humility he did not defend himself, and only said "I did not "molest minors", period."
    To me, when he kept his mouth shut, knowing that the pack of wolves which ran after him quaerens quem devoret, would be further emboldened, and his own reputation would be FOR EVER TAINTED, Fr Maciel has proved himself a faithful follower of Christ anointed with true charism. His great concern when he came up to the house of Jesus' Father was the future of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Dei his spiritual children. But, let your heart at rest, Father Maciel, your followers have been – together with Opus Dei – great servants of the Church. When they are protected by patrons such as the Holy Spirit and Mary, who could harm them? They will be SAFE.

  4. Fr Maciel sexually abused many many people.
    Never place him in the same company as Jesus Christ.
    He will now be with a millstone around his neck.
    He refused the last anointing and said "I said no", revealing his demonic
    interior. All pedophile priests are great liars and scheming and sick.
    They invoke a piety and even Our Lady to cover their tracks.
    I felt sick reading what the Priest above wrote.

    1. Your affirmation is the first I heard about any refusal of last anointing. Do you have a reference for it?

      Universalizations are dangerous, especially in matters of great weight. It is not true that all pedophiles, whether priests or laity, are "liars" and "scheming". Certainly some of them are, but not all. The claim that they are all "sick" is sounder, at least if pedophilia is understood in the sense of having sexual attraction (and/or relationships) primarily for prepubescent children, since this is of itself a distortion of the natural sexual order.

  5. http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/how-fr-maciel-built-his-empire

    Is this good enough for you?
    Have you ever met an honest pedophile? Do tell.
    What is of great weight is that Maciel was a world class liar for decades and was backed by many many powerful people. Were they dupes or just accustomed to going along to get along? Talk of "natural sexual order" is ridiculous at this stage. Not that it does not exist but what is most pressing is the corruption in our Church where at least two cardinals are partly responsible for the rape of little children. Law and Brady. If I met a pedophile and let him go on and rape more I would hang myself and certainly not take up residence at Santa Maria Maggiore. You are misguided in defending these people, if you do so from some idea that I am anti-catholic or Church. I have worked in the Vatican and lived in Rome for three years and my blood boils when I think of what happened to those kids and how indifferent many in the clergy still are to this crime.

    1. Thank you for the link.

      I am not primarily defending or accusing anyone, but seeking to ensure that all parties in such a discussion reason logically, objectively, and fairly. I made no claim, for example, about whether Fr Maciel is or is not a liar, but about the broad generalization that "All pedophile priests are great liars and scheming and sick."

  6. http://www.dnaindia.com/world/report_pope-john-paul-backed-praise-for-hiding-abuse-cardinal_1372772

    Let us hope that this cardinal is a liar or else crazy. Pope John Paul was my hero and through his leadership I came to the Church. In Ireland we knew about the Pedophilia in the mid 90s and the Pope said nothing. I was confused. I thought there must be something we do not know. If this is true and the Pope condoned as this cardinal does the protection of pedophiles a canonization would be blasphemy. I hope there was a misunderstanding and it comes to light. A great line I was once told by a very orthodox Priest regarding myself was that I was "Too close to the Church, too far from God". He was right and his ecclesiology sound.

  7. Fair enough. It is important to keep balance and to recognize things as they are not how we would like them to be. That Maciel was a sociopath is beyond doubt and nobody of sound mind would doubt that he was one of the foulest individuals ever to appear at the church door. For years I told friends that the Legion was plagued with lies and liars and did so from personal experience. There may be good priests there too such as Fr Berg but I have met 6 and 4 of these told me little white lies to maintain a good image. It is certain too that Alvaro Corcuera knew about Raul Rivas and hid it from everybody thus participating in the tissue of lies. He knew it was a married man with kids whose face adorned every wall in a collar. Then they accused all of the victims of being liars, and of course talked of Maciel suffering like Christ. The legion allowed this knowing what a double life the guy was leading. What to do with the current leadership? Defrocking? They lied to Popes. Top that.

  8. The comments Of Daithe de Paore are simply hateful. These kinds of things would not be allowed on any blogsite if they were directed at anybody other than a priest.

    Even when a priest is guilty of any crime, Christianity teaches to love one's enemies and to pray for them.

  9. Elizabeth,
    To say hateful is wrong. Truthful would be better. Maciel is not my enemy but the enemy of Christ. People often write very strong things on blogs against people other than Priests. They even attack them with lies and calumnies. I only said what the world finally knows. Maciel raped children including his own and brought them to the Vatican and knowingly fooled Pope John Paul and destroyed the lives of many people. I have prayed for him but many Catholics have to stop trying to rationalize away the evil in our Church and listen to what the Holy Father is saying. If you were comfortable with the lies for so long as many in RC and LC were of course you will invoke a great holiness now. The time for self-deceit is over and trying to silence people through "spiritual" talk will no longer work. Elizabeth, if you simply admit that the guy was a complete conman as well as a pervert you will surprise me a great deal, if not I will have your number.
    God bless and purify HIS church.

  10. A tough ask indeed and not one that many would reslih taking on and sustaining. I simply wonder whether the example of the Franciscans who have spawned numerous autonomous versions over the centuries (CFR being the most recent example) in an attempt at reform offers the LC's a possible way forward. Otherwise it appears that they are going to be left between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand refusing to sever ties to their founder despite the seemingly definitive stance from Rome, yet at the same time professing obedience to the Pope who has openly declared the Founder's guilt. This is why I wonder whether playing up the Order's Ignatian ideals while at the same time airbrushing the Founder out of the picture in favour of St.Ignatius would help them to begin again. Appoint a good American Jesuit like Fr.Fessio as superior and let him shine a light on some of the more murkier aspects and bring the whole thing into line with where such an order should be. I still think the idea has some merit.

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