As the Holy See released its statement in Rome yesterday vis-a-vis the recent apostolic visitation to the Legion of Christ, a strange meeting took place along the Canada/U.S. border. Two active Orangemen, an active Freemason, an active Knight of Columbus and an Opus Dei cooperator donned disguises, met secretly in a field, and under cover of darkness discussed in whispered tones how best to manipulate falsehood into real temptation, hoping to lure the unsuspecting into a deathly trap.
Sound sinister? Like a new twist in a persecution invented by Maciel’s imagination? Or the plot of cheesy thriller written by someone who read too much Dan Brown and Andrew Greeley? Well, the meeting truly happened. I happened to be one of the participants. Yesterday was the second Saturday of Wild Turkey season on St. Joseph’s Island, and what better day to shoot a St. Joe’s gobbler than the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker! So into the wilderness we trudged in Mossy Oak camouflage, shouldering 12 gauges and turkey decoys.
Of course our little hunting expedition had nothing to do with what was going on in Rome (except, perhaps, that someone who guts wild animals with his hands is probably unsuitable for eating pizza with knife and fork). But this story illustrates an important point in interpreting the Holy See’s statement and the LC/RC saga in general: It’s not just the truth that matters, but the context in which the truth is presented and how the truth is stated.
Having said that, let’s move on to a line-by-line commentary of the Holy See’s statement. The first thing to notice is the date – Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. I find this significant for several reasons. First, when the scandal first broke over a year ago, several orthodox Catholics on both sides of the debate committed to a perpetual novena to St. Joseph over the situation. Likewise, the statement comes at the end of a novena to St. Joseph the Worker for those who have been harmed by LC/RC. So I cannot think of a better sign from Our Lord that His foster father has played a leading role in this spiritual battle.
And what better saint than Joseph, second only to the Blessed Mother in holiness and heavenly honor? He is the protector of the universal Church and of virtue, which Maciel spent his life undermining. He is also protector of orphans, among which – spiritually – we find Maciel’s victims as well as rank-and-file LC/RC. So I have no doubt personally that St. Joseph will play an important role in the reconciliation that must take place between Catholics now that Pope Benedict has spoken.
Additionally, Regnum Christi is often compared as a movement to Opus Dei. As St. Josemaria Escriva use to say, “Don’t imitate me in anything except my love for St. Joseph.” Opus Dei is essentially built around the spirituality and charism of St. Joseph the Worker. So I also see this personally as a nod from St. Josemaria that he is assisting St. Joseph in his heavenly intercession, and those affiliated with Opus Dei are called to show charity toward their RC brethren during the road ahead. But again, this is mere speculation on my part.
On to the text of the letter, pieces of which I will blockquote followed by my personal commentary:
1… The Holy Father was present at one of the sessions, at which the visitors presented a summary of their reports, which had already been sent in.
It appears the Holy Father already had a game plan set out, and that the visitation was his way of assessing the plan’s viability.
The five visitors have told of the sincere welcome which they were given and of the constructive spirit of cooperation shown by the congregation and the individual religious. Even though each of them acted independently, they have come to substantial agreement in their assessment and to a common opinion. They testify to having met a great number of exemplary religious who are honest and talented, many of them young, who seek Christ with genuine zeal and are offering their entire lives to spread the Kingdom of God.
The Holy See believes there is enough good will among the rank-and-file to save the movement, or at least ease their transition back to normalcy.
2. The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.
Confirmation that Maciel’s sins were not simply personal, but seriously influenced how LC was structured and how priests and seminarians within LC carried out their daily apostolate. What’s needed is more than cosmetic change or a few renovations. There are serious structural flaws.
The very serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, as incontrovertible evidence has confirmed, sometimes resulted in actual crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious sentiment.
Maciel was a criminal. His behavior was immoral. And his life is incompatible with the religious vocation. The Holy Father will kabosh any of the Legion’s reported plans to resurrect Maciel’s influence in the future.
The great majority of Legionaries were unaware of this life, above all because of the system of relationships built by Father Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up alibis, to gain the trust, the confidence and the silence of those around him, and to strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.
Most LC were unaware of Maciel’s double-life (meaning some were aware). However, their lack of awareness was in part due to Maciel’s corrupt methodology that he built into the movement.
Not infrequently, the lamentable discrediting and dismissal of whoever doubted his behavior was upright, as well as the misguided conviction of those who did not want to harm the good that the Legion was doing, created around him a defense mechanism that made him untouchable for a long time, making it very difficult to know his real life.
Those who suspected the truth were hampered by the methodology of Maciel’s movement.
a) the need to redefine the charism of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, preserving its true core, that of the “militia Christi” that characterizes the apostolic and missionary activity of the Church and is not the same as prizing efficiency at any cost;
The Legion’s charism, as currently understood by the movement, is too clouded in utilitarianism to be an actual charism. However, there are some elements to this understanding that may be extractable, in which case they can provide the nucleus for a real understanding of charism.
b) the need to review the exercise of authority, which must be joined to the truth, to respect the conscience, and develop itself in the light of the Gospel as authentic ecclesial service;
Authority must be used at the service of conscience and truth, not to hide the truth and violate conscience.
5. The Holy Father wishes to assure all Legionaries and members of the Regnum Christi Movement that they will not be left on their own: The Church is firmly resolved to accompany them and help them on the path of purification that awaits them. It will also mean dealing sincerely with all of those who, within and outside the Legion, were victims of sexual abuse and of the power system devised by the founder: They are in the Holy Father’s thoughts and prayers at this time, along with his gratitude to those of them who, even in the midst of great difficulties, had the courage and constancy to demand the truth.
The Holy See will help LC through this period of purification and reform. However, his primary concern is for Maciel’s victims of sexual abuse, followed by gratitude toward those who withstood persecution from the Legion to help bring to light the truth of Maciel’s double-life and the Legion’s methodology. The road to authentic reform lay through the movement facing the fact their critics were right, and offering their victims sincere restitution.
6. The Holy Father, in thanking the visitors for the sensitive task they have accomplished with skill, generosity, and profound pastoral sensitivity, reserves to himself…
Pope Benedict is thanking the visitators for their help and suggestions, but ultimately what action follows will be the Pope’s decision and responsibility.
…the task of soon instructing how this assistance will be organized, beginning with the appointment of his delegate and a commission to study the Legion’s constitutions.
The Pope will appoint a delegate to oversee the Legion, as well as a commission to oversee the restructuring of the Legion’s constitutions.
The Holy Father will send a visitor to the consecrated members of the Regnum Christi Movement, who have insistently requested this.
Okay, this 3gf thing is a lot more serious than we imagined initially. Otherwise we would have included it in the apostolic visitation of LC, or that of the women religious in the U.S. On a positive note, it’s the women themselves who have requested it, meaning they recognize something is deeply flawed in their structure.
7. Finally, the Pope renews his encouragement to all the Legionaries of Christ, to their families, and to all the laypeople involved in the Regnum Christi Movement, during this difficult time for the congregation and for each of them. He urges them not to lose sight of the fact that their vocation, which originates in Christ’s call and is driven by the ideal of being witnesses of his love to the world, is a genuine gift from God, a treasure for the Church, and the indestructible foundation on which each of them can build their own future and that of the Legion.
Interesting. He does not say that their vocation is to the Legion or Regnum Christi. But rather that their vocation is a foundation upon which the Legion can be rebuilt.