Legionaries of Christ – Communiqué

The leaders of the Legionary of Christ, gathered for their annual meeting, wrote a communiqué to the members of the Legion of Christ and of Regnum Christi, their friends, and to all those affected or hurt by the reprehensible actions of their founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, apologizing for the harm done and for the failure to take seriously those who had brought the issues to their attention.

There follow some excerpts from this communiqué: read the entire document (link is to PDF format).

regarding the current circumstances
of the Legion of Christ
and the Regnum Christi Movement

It has taken us time to come to terms with these facts regarding his life. For many, especially the victims, this time has been too long and very painful….

1. Regarding some facts in the life of our founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, LC (1920-2008)

We had thought and hoped that the accusations brought against our founder were false and unfounded, since they conflicted with our experience of him personally and his work. However… [through the canonical investigation] the CDF reached sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Fr Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians. Therefore, though it causes us consternation, we have to say that these acts did take place.


2. The Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement in the face of these facts

We express our sorrow and grief to each and every person damaged by our founder’s actions….

We ask all those who accused him in the past to forgive us, those whom we did not believe or were incapable of giving a hearing to, since at the time we could not imagine that such behavior took place.

We also ask our families, friends and benefactors to forgive us, and all other people of good will who have felt that their trust has been wounded.
In addition, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ we feel the need to expiate his sins and the scandal they caused, making reparation with a Christian spirit. We ask all the members of our religious family to intensify their prayer and sacrifice.

For his own mysterious reasons, God chose Fr Maciel as an instrument to found the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and we thank God for the good he did. At the same time, we accept and regret that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life.

Apostolic Visitation

…We will embrace with filial obedience whatever indications and recommendations the Holy Father gives us as a result of the apostolic visitation, and we are committed to putting them into practice.

Looking toward the future

… Humbly and gratefully we acknowledge the blessings and fruits that the Lord has granted us up to now, and we accept our responsibility to deepen our understanding of our history, charism, and spirituality.

We face the future with hope, knowing that our one support is God. We trust totally in him and in his all-powerful love which, as St Paul says, “makes all things work for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). We know that as we follow this path we will be aided by the Holy Spirit and the Church’s motherly guidance.

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.

Questions for those discerning a religious vocation

Fr. Philip Powell gives some good practical points, and questions that those discerning a religious vocation should ask themselves. These questions to ask when discerning a vocation may be found, together with comments on the Anti-Christ, and the difference between magic and prayer, at his blog Domine, da mihi hanc aquam!

Single vocation?

Someone was asking recently whether it is true that there are only two vocations–marriage and religious life–and that being single isn't really a vocation.

Actually, when you get down to it, there is only one vocation: the vocation to love. In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul says:

11. God created man in His own image and likeness(20): calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love.God is love(21) and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.(22) Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

The last sentence is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2392.

Now, what are the basic ways we fulfill that vocation? Love has to be self-giving, and if it is to be complete, it has to involve the whole person, body and soul. So our sexuality has to be included in the way we live out our vocation to love. Moreover, self-giving is most complete when we give not only the present moment, but also our future lives, so far as we can–the love should include commitment.

For these reasons, the normal ways of fulfilling the vocation to love are (1) marriage, and (2) dedicated virginity or celibacy–a committed single state.

Pope John Paul II continues in Familiaris Consortio:

Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being "created in the image of God."

I say these are the normal ways, because there might be circumstances that would exclude a full dedication to either way of life: if men or women are unable to marry, yet their spiritual director and confessor urge them not to promise virginity or celibacy. I would think it rare that such advice would be right for a person's whole life, but can't be excluded. God permits some to have bodily sicknesses so severe that they can't live a normal life, and similarly God permits some to have psychological sicknesses of a nature that they can't fulfill their vocation to love in the normal way–it is to be fulfilled in acceptance of their sickness, and in doing what they can to live according to love and grow in it.

So, it is right that as a rule you can't choose as a vocation an uncommitted single life (though in some cases one might have to accept it, at least for a long time). But you can choose a committed single life, by vows or some other promises dedicating one's single state to the service of God, one's neighbors and the Church. Such a life committed to celibacy or virginity for the sake of the kingdom is possible, however, outside a religious community, and therefore it's not entirely correct to present the two alternatives as "marriage" and "religious life." Pope Pius XII writes in his encyclical on consecrated virginity:

While this perfect chastity is the subject of one of the three vows which constitute the religious state, and is also required by the Latin Church of clerics in major orders and demanded from members of Secular Institutes (Cf. apostolic constitution Provida Mater, art. III, section 2), it also flourishes among many who are lay people in the full sense: men and women who are not constituted in a public state of perfection and yet by private promise or vow completely abstain from marriage and sexual pleasures, in order to serve their neighbor more freely and to be united with God more easily and more closely. (Sacra Virginitas, n. 6)

There is of course a connection among all the counsels, and it is quite natural (even to some extent necessary) that a person who commits himself to virginity or celibacy for the sake of love will give himself over to the spirit of the other evangelical counsels, poverty and obedience. Quite possibly he will also embrace the actual practice of these counsels. But this actual practice of the counsels could happen at a later stage, and does not hinder the state devoted "to the Lord" (1 Cor 7:35) in committed virginity or celibacy from being a vocation.

Sometimes the vocation to a single life dedicated to service is discovered only through the fact that marriage is not impossible. In my book Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation, I explain it this way:

A second way in which a way of life may be found by divine providence is when providence determines the way of life. Thus, if one believed that one was called to religious life, but due to an incurable case of severe depression, one was unable to enter religious life, then one should accept this as God’s will, and turn one’s attention to other ways of life. Or again, someone might believe that he should marry, but find himself unable to do so. In such a case, he could then accept the situation as appointed by divine providence, and embrace the single state as a means of serving God and neighbor. Thus Pope Pius XII, speaking of the various ways in which a vocation to virginity may be experienced, includes the example of a woman who wants to marry, but is unable to do so.

When one thinks upon the maidens and the women who voluntarily renounce marriage in order to consecrate themselves to a higher life of contemplation, of sacrifice, and of charity, a luminous word comes immediately to the lips: vocation!… This vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse manners… But also the young Christian woman, remaining unmarried in spite of herself, who nevertheless trusts in the providence of the heavenly Father, recognizes in the vicissitudes of life the voice of the Master: “Magister adest et vocat te” (John 11:28); It is the master, and he is calling you! She responds, she renounces the beloved dream of her adolescence and her youth: to have a faithful companion in life, to form a family! And in the impossibility of marriage she recognizes her vocation; then, with a broken but submissive heart, she also gives her whole self to more noble and diverse good works.

The Catechism does not directly speak about this, but it touches implicitly on it, when it speaks about those single persons who are without a family by circumstances beyond their control, and who serve God and neighbor in an examplary fashion.

1658 We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the "domestic churches," and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. "No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'"

More articles on the single vocation