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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What Is Next For The Legionaries/Regnum Christi?

I don't really have much personal experience with the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, but I've always been a little leery about the group. This started when I was a boy of 12 or 13. My family knew 2 or 3 Catholic families in our area who sent off their 12 year old boys to the Legionaries school/seminary. These boys had very little contact with their families - if I remember correctly, all that was permitted was one letter a month and a visit home for only a couple of days every year. My parents were greatly bothered by this because it seemed to them that it was a very good thing for a boy to grow up in a normal family environment with siblings and parents. From that time, I've always thought that something about the LC/RC was a little off, considering the amount of control the group seemed to exercise over young boys going through teenagehood, who were in need of the examples of fatherhood and family life. (It looks like Baltimore Bishop Edward O'Brien tends to agree with me.)

Now there is much more reason to be leery about the LC/RC. Though the particular details are still unclear and there is undoubtedly more to come, it is reported that Fr. Maciel, the founder of the LC/RC who died last year, did not live a wholly virtuous life, had a mistress, and fathered at least one child. American Papist has all the details and a good round-up of reactions to the news here. The Legion's response is that the news is "surprising" and "difficult to understand" and that there were aspects of Maciel's life "that weren't appropriate for a Catholic priest."

Now over the years, there have been many reports of questionable conduct on the part of Maciel, but too often, they have been dismissed as calumny made by disgruntled former LC members. (Hmm, where have I heard that characterization before?) Some of these reports include allegations of pedophilia, excessive use of drugs, lack of a daily prayer life, lack of a spirit of poverty and humility, and a propensity to lie, among other things. These reports seem more credible now. These allegations about Maciel's behavior are coupled with the allegations that LC/RC is a group that is highly controlling, highly secretive, and in excessive adoration of its founder, Maciel - that the group is, in short, cult-like.

I should say that I know that much good has come about from the LC/RC and that many members of the LC/RC are faithful members of the Catholic Church who are committed to truth and holiness. But these new revelations of Maciel's unholy lifestyle raise some important questions: What is the future of the LC/RC?

In my opinion, even though I recognize that there are many good people doing God's work in the LC/RC, I think that the whole organization should be dissolved. The LC/RC is just too closely connected with Maciel at every level, in its mission, its vision, its structure, its institutional writings and teachings. For other orders, such as the Jesuits and Franciscans, no matter how wacky its members get, the organization is founded by true saints, who are examples of holiness and who have imparted holy teachings and writings to its followers. This cannot be said of the LC/RC. A mere reform of the LC/RC is not possible, because there is no solid foundation to which the organization can return by means of a reform. If there is a willingness to continue a community among current LC/RC members, there should be a clean break, and the members should create a new organization, with a new mission and new structure.

UPDATE: Nice to see that I'm thinking along the same lines as canon lawyer extraordinaire Ed Peters. Check out his opinion on the future of the LC/RC:
The Legion should (if it can, and I'm not sure it has the self-possession to do this) identify every official who knew of Maciel's canonical crimes or who suspected them, but did nothing (let alone cooperated with them!) and expel them under 1983 CIC 696. Canonical crimes by a number of persons might well have been committed here (see e.g. 1983 CIC 1389); these should be pursued.
. . . . .

The Legion could survive, of course. How, I don't know yet. How do priests live the 'charism' of Maciel? How can a religious institute disavow (as the Legion must eventually) its founder but at the same time carry on his work? It's too bizarre to think about.

But another thing could happen here: the Legion could dissolve itself. Hear me out.

The Legion will never outlive the ignominy of having been founded and entirely shaped by Maciel, and the Nixonesque mentality of Legion leadership saps any credibility the organization qua organization might enjoy. So, what is there to build on?

As I see it, the only, or at least the main, strength the Legion retains is its many good priests . . . .
. . . .the other LC priests who might wish to remain together could dissolve the Legion, and reconstitute themselves as a new institute under a dramatically new form of governance (not simply with the correction of some strange points in the Legion rule as occurred under Benedict XVI) and with a substantially new charism.

But everything that came from Maciel must be chucked. Absolutely everything. Starting fresh means starting from scratch. If that sounds like an 'impossible' solution, well, I can only say, I find it 'impossible' that the Legion has landed itself in such a massive and unprecedented debacle as this one in the first place.