Two breaking news stories today have interrupted my week catching up on other projects. The first concerns the release of a decision in a major case before Canada’s “Human Rights” Tribunal that, to everyone’s surprise, came down on the side of freedom or speech and religion. For the past decade anti-Christian activists have been using the tribunals to persecute Christian organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Fr. de Valk (Canada’s equivalent to Fr. Frank Pavone) and Christian Horizons for promoting traditional Christian morality. For more information, check out my book with Kathy Shaidle (featuring an introduction by Mark Steyn): The Tyranny of Nice.
In writing this book, I noticed several similarities between the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Legion of Christ in how they try always to promote “the appearance of nice”, treat those who dissent and express legitimate criticism of their methods, and how they create hierarchies of power and contribute to a culture where the average person is reluctant to speak the truth.
The second story is the following letter reportedly sent to Regnum Christi members in Atlanta and New York by Fr Scott Reilly and Fr Julio Marti. Giselle has posted it here. Assuming this letter is legit (I haven’t confirmed with Legion sources [UPDATE – a Regnum Christi source confirms receiving the letter]) my overall impression is that this is both encouraging and substantial. It may not be perfect – and here I agree with Giselle’s criticisms, and have a few questions of my own (like “How can we be sure Fr. Alvaro and other high-ranking Legion superiors didn’t know while Maciel was still alive?”) – but these questions can be resolved later. For now, I believe this is a significant step in the right direction, and we as Catholics need to encourage the Legion and Regnum Christi to keep walking along this path.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now for an in-depth analysis. But here is a summary of why I believe this reported letter is significant, substantial and important step in the right direction. These points are listed in no particular order of importance, and some of the quotations are out of order from which they appear in the letter:
– “We also hope to remedy some of our shortcomings in communication – for which we are sorry-, so that together we can continue walking what will surely be a long path of healing and reconciliation with those who have been hurt by the misdeeds of Father Maciel.” This is both an admission and an apology for the Legion’s questionable communication strategy thus far.
– “As priests, our hearts go out to all those who have been harmed or scandalized by [Fr. Maciel’s] actions. To all we extend a special apology on behalf of the Legion and our General Director…” This is admission that Fr. Maciel’s actions have both harmed and scandalized the Church, and a clear apology for the harm and scandal.
– “We also regret that our inability to detect, and thus accept and remedy, Father Maciel’s failings has caused even more suffering.” This is an admission and an apology on several levels – for not accepting the truth about Fr. Maciel sooner, for not fixing the problems sooner, and for additional suffering caused to Fr. Maciel’s victims because of inaction on the Legion’s part.
– “In the recent past, after Father Marcial Maciel had retired, we came to know that he had had a relationship with a woman and fathered a child. Even more recently, there have been allegations of other relationships and other children.” and “All this leads us to value even more the wisdom and pastoral approach of the Holy See concerning the allegations of past sexual abuse against Father Maciel that had surfaced.” The expressions “fathered a child” and “allegations of past sexual abuse” is clear language, unlike vague euphemisms like “the founder’s double life.” I also believe it’s the right (and most charitable) language for the Legion to use in these circumstances. It spares us the sordid details, which the vast majority of us don’t need to know, but is specific enough to inform us what Fr. Maciel allegedly did.
– “Given the partial nature of the information available and the impossibility to evaluate immediately and in a definitive manner these complex allegations, the Legion of Christ cannot, at this time, make a statement regarding them.” The Legion is telling us what they don’t know, rather than try to avoid their potential to be true or continue to attack the alleged victims.
– “As it was stated in the communiqué published on May 19, 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith investigated these issues and invited him to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry.” Given the context in which this statement appears, the Legion is de facto admitting that the 2006 invitation from the Holy See was not a reward for Fr. Maciel’s exhaustion after a “lifetime of building God’s Kingdom,” nor are they maintaining Fr. Maciel’s innocence like Christ suffering on the cross.
– “As an institution, as a family and as individuals, this unexpected turn of events has been traumatic. Being weak humans, even if reacting with Christian virtue, many of us have gone through experiences of shock, anger, disbelief, denial and fear, both humanly and spiritually. These emotions, the vast tangle of information, supposition, speculation and opinion, the different cultural sensitivities, and the Christian duty not to publicize the sins of others, have made it difficult to publish the sort of direct statement that many expected of us.” The Legion is admitting to a wide-range of human emotions, that such emotions are normal, instead of resorting to Legion “happy talk” about “serenity” and other Stepford impulses.
– The Legion also states the problems are beyond its capacity to handle internally, and what steps it is taking – involving outsiders – to recognize, address and correct problems within its internal culture.
– There are several statements in which the Legion tries to identify – I believe sincerely – with those victimized by Fr. Maciel.
– The Legion appears to repudiate the “lost vocation, sure damnation” mentality of the past, saying it’s okay to leave the Legion, take a break from the Legion, seek confessors and spiritual direction outside the Legion, and one is not any less Catholic or acting contrary to God’s will in doing so.
– Instead of passing the blame to the Church, the Legion is taking responsibility for its actions, showing where the Church is acting to correct the Legion’s problems, and attempting to restore trust in the Church.
Again, it might not be 180 degree turn, but given the Legion’s past handling of this crisis, 160 degrees is both substantial and encouraging. It shows the Legion is taking the scandal seriously, is taking responsibility for the problems leading up to it, and that the internal culture that led to this scandal is starting to change.
My advice to the Legion? Words need to be followed up by action. Now that the Legion is turning in the right direction, they need to begin walking forward. My advice to current LC/RC members is as follows: The one point from this letter where you are open to fair criticism concerns the claim that the Legion has tried to contact Fr. Maciel’s potential victims.
We know the Legion has contacted the RC membership, that it was in touch with Maciel’s mistress Norma and her daughter who is also named Norma. We know that Fr. Anton spoke with at least one alleged victim who had been a seminarian with the Legion. But what about those former priests and seminarians who initially brought forward the allegations in public?
Up until now they deny having been contacted by the Legion. Their allegations were public, so to a certain degree they have forfeited their right to privacy in these matters. Was there an effort to contact them? If so, when, where and how?
If not, does the Legion intend to contact them? If the answer is yes, when, where and how?
This is a point I think current RC members need to press the Legion on. How the LC answers this question will impact how everyone else continue to view the order.
My advice to the Legion’s critics? Of course this will require baby-steps at first, until the Legion is sure of its footing. So while it’s important that we keep pushing them forward, we must be careful not to push them down. As my former spiritual director use to tell me: “God doesn’t expect perfection from us overnight. But he expects improvement.” So let us continue to encourage the Legion to improve, by encouraging the Legion where it is making significant improvement.