[UPDATE: I have updated part 6 below for a second time. My initial understanding of the time-frame for RC promises now appears to have been incorrect. There may also be other updates as I am now receiving more information from LC sources. - Pete]
With the Holy See having announced an apostolic visitation of the Legion of Christ, a modest discussion is taking place in the canon law world over a number of canonical and pastoral issues relating to the Legion and its lay affiliate Regnum Christi (LC/RC). I've formed my own reflections, some of which I share below.
Before I begin, there are three things I feel the LC must do to restore credibility and regain the trust of orthodox Catholics outside the movement (and many on the inside) who are both angered and hurt by this crisis. That is, besides accept and implement what reforms the apostolic visitors may reccomend.
The first is a clear and sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's alleged victims. The second is to speak the truth plainly about the current situation. And the third is to stop playing hardball with its critics.
In the recent past the LC/RC has sued ReGAIN, as well as that involving the Sellors, who founded the Familia programme before falling out with RC (click here). Now there are reports, from the same sources that helped convince the CDF to reopen the investigation against Fr. Maciel that led to his 2006 invitation to retire, of a Legion priest mentioning a lawsuit against a parent of a Legion seminarian who showed up at a Legion apostolate and persuaded his son to come home with him.
While I haven't heard the Legion's side of the story - I've been unable to get a contact number for Legion spokesman Jim Fair [Update: a reader emailed me his number late Monday evening] - my communication with sources close to the family tell me the son came voluntarily, albeit somewhat grudgingly. So I haven't seen any evidence of kidnapping.
You can read more about the incident here. If one believes the father acted criminally, then call the police and press criminal charges. Otherwise, if what was allegedly said by the LC priest is true, then parents may think twice before allowing their sons to go off to Legion seminaries in the future.
Besides, with the Legion currently asking everyone's patience and understanding, the alleged content of the priest's phone call reminds me an awful lot of what Christ warned against in Matthew 18:28-34. Specifically, "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?"
On to my other points:
1 - How does a diocese find out what LC/RC apostolates are taking place within their diocesan boundaries?
I'm far from being an expert on this point, but my understanding is that many RC apostolates in North America are incorporated under the Mission Network. A list of their apostolates can be found by clicking here.
Personally, I see a lot of good ideas there being implemented by a lot of good laity who are simply trying to carry out lay apostolate in fidelity to the Church. No matter what happens, I hope the RC can be salvaged, especially since most RC with whom I have corresponded are very open to reform. What I think would be helpful is if bishops and pastors provided stronger oversight over RC, or at least closer collaboration. In fact, this crisis has really taught me to respect the role of the diocesan bishop in the life of Church ministry, as both a successor to the Apostles and as the legitimate hierarchical authority within his diocese.
2 - Additionally, Archbishop O'Brien in Baltimore has been a model for demanding transparency from the LC/RC in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He has also prohibited LC/RC from giving spiritual direction to minors in the Archdiocese. I believe this to be a wise and prudent decision on his part, and think that other dioceses should take a good look at the Archbishop's reasons for doing so.
3 - Along the same lines (and this comes more from being a pro-family journalist than a canon lawyer) the LC operates minor seminary-type boarding schools for boys as young as twelve. Some of my friends attended these schools during their teens. I hardly saw my them after they went off to these schools.
Several parents have told me the boys are limited to approximately two weeks during the summer, and a short Christmas and Easter break. The rest of the time is spent at the minor seminary, where contact with parents is extremely limited, and reportedly monitored.
I really question how healthy it is in today's society and culture to separate young people from their families, especially in light of Pope John Paul the Great's Familiaris Consortio. I know many older churchmen who I admire, including the current pope, attended minor seminaries of youth. But today is a different age. And besides, as far as we know, Our Lord received his religious education from the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
In today's society, where our greatest ministerial need is to the family and family structure. So shouldn't we be encouraging as much formation in the family as possible?
As a pro-family journalist, God has blessed me with the opportunity to interview many great bishops, priests and religious about their vocation. With one exception, all have stressed how essential their family was to fostering their vocation, as well as how their experience with family life while growing up greatly aided them in pastoral ministry within today's context.
Additionally, this raises another pastoral concern that I keep hearing about from many RC parents. They discern the need to take some time away from the movement while the Holy See sorts things out, but are not sure how to pull their sons (who they seldom see anymore) from the Legion's minor seminary-type schools. This further complicates the pastoral process of spiritual healing, in my opinion.
4 - There has been a lot of speculation and debate - among canonists, pastors and laypeople - about the content of LC/RC constitutions. I cannot comment authoritatively because I have been unable to obtain a copy from LC/RC sources, despite multiple requests in the past. However, the following on wiki-leaks purports to be sections of their contents.
To the best of my recollection they match those that were previously available from the ReGAIN Network (a loose association of concerned former LC/RC members) prior to the 2007 or 2008 legal settlement that forced ReGAIN to remove LC constitutions from their website. (ReGAIN ran out of money and could no longer afford the legal fees).
As an interesting side note, my understanding is that the LC did not contest their content, but rather the Legion reportedly argued theft of intellectual property. (See WaPo write-up here).
5 - As far as leaving Regnum Christi, I understand that RC members make private promises (or vows, depending upon who you talk to in the movement) when they join. These can be dispensed by the local ordinary (diocesan Bishop, vicar general, or episcopal vicar) in accordance with canon 1196. The process in most dioceses is pretty simple. Simply approach your parish priest or bishop, explain the situation, and request a dispensation from the promises or vows. Many bishops and priests are concerned with what's happening, and will gladly assist you. It's a pretty simple process in most dioceses.
A - For purely pastoral reasons, I suggest you meet with your pastor (or if possible the local ordinary) after the dispensation is granted, should you decide God is calling you to pursue one. I feel that pastoral followup is important because several former LC allege (and have told me, both publicly and personally) that the expression "Lost vocation, sure damnation" was repeated to them in the past.
Many who leave the movement purport to continue struggling with this thought after their departure, some for years. I'm not sure how credible this claim is - except to say the individuals who told me this also proved credible in other allegations they made against the Legion - nor am I sure whether it carried over to the RC. However, if this was shared with you or you personally struggle with this issue, bring it to your pastor or local Ordinary.
B - Whether one discerns God is calling him/her to stay and reform the movement from within, or to leave, I have strongly suggested to every RC member seeking my advice that he or she write the diocesan bishop, expressing both the positives and negatives. This goes back to what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems of the movement, namely, that in many dioceses the LC/RC appear to have limited contact with diocesan authorities.
6 - Along these lines I hope the Apostolic Visitors won't be limited to the LC, but that they will also be given the mandate to visit and make recommendations about the LC. My biggest concern is the apparent lack of stability of Third Degree members. If I understand correctly, they make a commitment to the movement that are renewable every two years. (Again, making their constitutions available would help clarify discrepancies that have arisen over this point.) This strikes me as the ecclesiastical equivalent of living together without the benefit of marriage (minus the sin of fornication, of course!).
[Update 2: I have deleted a section here that noted contradictory claims over whether the commitment to RC Third Degree was one or two years, vows or promises, after coming across the following article on the RC website. As of April 7, 2009 at 1:20 p.m. Eastern, it appears to be promises renewable every two years. That being said, the problem here, in my opinion, is not whether they are vows or promises, for one year or two, but whether RC Third Degree receive adequate health care coverage and other benefits while dedicating themselves to full-time RC apostolate.]
With all the caveats that come when one hears from former members who don't recall the most positive of experiences, several former Third Degree RC members allege that they were without health insurance and other basic benefits during their time as Third Degree, having been told to trust God. Some also claim to have been suddenly sent home when they developed medical issues.
Again, I haven't heard the LC/RC side of the story, but there are enough former members making this claim publicly that it's being added to the allegations swirling about the Legion. Thus bishops and parents of potential Third Degree members may want to ask questions, and the RC may want to take a proactive approach, to ensure that the LC/RC is meeting the Church's social justice obligations.
7 - I have heard similar complaints (again without getting the LC/RC side of the story) from former LC about LC seminarians, also called brothers. Additionally, I have heard - both from LC and former LC sources - that their seminarians are not given a specific time frame for ordination, but that it just kinda happens when the LC feel a brother is ready. If true, I am reminded of Fr. Frank Morrisey's classes on religious law. Fr. Morrisey is one of the Church's foremost experts in this area and he always stressed the importance of having a specific time-frame (albeit with some flexibility) toward ordination or permanent incorporation into an institute of consecrated life. This is another area that I hope the apostolic visitors will look at.
8 - For some reason, more than any other institute, comparisons to Jesuits or Opus Dei keep popping up when discussing the LC/RC. Other people who interact with the movement report the same phenomena.
With apologies to Jesuit and Opus Dei readers, I tend to hear variations of: "I thought RC was just like Opus Dei, but more active and connected to a priestly apostolate," or "I thought the Legion was the new Jesuits, practicing obedience the way the Jesuits use to."
On the surface, there appears to be some similarities. This in itself is not problematical in that an institute's charism belongs to the Church, and so institutes throughout the Church's history have borrowed from institutes that came before. Thus as a Catholic journalist much wiser than me noted, the problem does not appear to be what LC/RC borrowed from the Jesuits and Opus Dei, but rather what they may have forgotten to borrow.
With regards to the Opus Dei comparison, I believe the spiritualities are quite different. For RC members who are curious why, I recommend reading St. Josemarie Escriva's The Way and/or Frances Fernadez's In Conversations with God to gain a better understanding in Opus Dei spirituality. I assume RC individuals raising these questions are already familiar with RC spirituality.
As far as the Jesuit comparison, Nathan O'Halloran, a Jesuit scholastic and Franciscan University of Steubenville alumni, who prior to entering the Jesuits was encouraged to consider the Legion as an alternative, has blogged an excellent reflection. In it he contrasts the Jesuit understanding of obedience with what he believes to be the Legion practice of obedience. Although I found a few of his comments to be a tad polemical, he offers some excellent insights on how Jesuit obedience is sensitive to a person's conscience when asking for religious obedience. You can read the article here.
9 - All of us, both inside and outside the RC/LC, need to take refuge in St. Joseph, patriarch and protector of the universal Church.