Is schism possible?


The following line stands out in America Magazine's latest blog on the LC/RC crisis: "[The apostolic visitators'] main task, apparently, is to assess whether the order's members will be accepting of whatever Rome decides." (Emphasis mine).

This leads some readers to ask whether schism is a possible outcome. Possible? Yes. Probable? I would say no at this point, except perhaps for a small rump group. (Whenever emotions run this strongly with a religious movement going through meltdown or serious change, in my experience, small pockets of "true believers" will always separate and go their own way. So don't be surprised if a dozen or so LC priests break off to start the "Maciel Catholic Church".) That being said, only the LC/RC can answer this question with certainty.

Yet one never knows until decision time comes. To understand how schism could happen, please see my blog entry from last April: How schism becomes an option.

Having said that, schism offers no benefit for the Legion. In my opinion schism would kill their fundraising and recruitment, which to outside observers like me appears to be at the heart of their charism. The Legion would have to spin its separation from Rome after decades of propaganda trumpeting its fidelity to the Holy See.

This can be done, as seen from other ultra-montane movements that ended in schism. However, the cost of doing so is the near-death of new recruitment coupled with heavy losses among rank-and-file membership who recognize the Holy Father as the Church's supreme visible authority. As said to me recently by a wise canon lawyer who had been part of a similar movement that melted down, "What convinced me to leave was the very principles they had instilled in me when I joined, namely, fidelity to the Holy See and obedience to the Holy Father."

So the schism option ends with Fr. Alvaro and the Legion as a footnote on page 296 of some future Church historian's doctoral dissertation.

On the other hand, a re-founding offers the LC/RC a fighting chance at survival, especially if the movement renounces Maciel, brings in a superior general from outside the movement to oversee the reform, and is careful not to burn bridges with priests like Fr. Berg - former insiders who have left the Legion and/or called for serious reform. Orthodox Catholics outside the movement are more likely to give a refounding the chance it needs if individuals like Fr. Berg vouch for its sincerity and credibility.

Additionally, it's not a bad position for Fr. Alvaro to find himself in should he turn over leadership of a refounded movement gracefully. He's reportedly been with Fr. Maciel since he was 12. In retrospect, most people will find it understandable that he struggled to come to grips with Fr. Maciel's secret lives, how it impacted the old movement and its methodology, and that this affected his ability to lead the old movement through its meltdown. But there's no shame in stepping aside for younger leadership, not as heavily tainted with Maciel, if the movement is refounded.

Should Fr. Avaro do so gracefully, accepting reform overseen by outsiders appointed by the Holy See, and in doing so give a refounded movement its fighting chance at survival, Fr. Alvaro can then assume the role of elder statesmen within the refounded movement. If the refounded movement survives, then history will not record Fr. Alvaro as the General Director who presided over the LC/RC's downfall. It will record him as the individual who led the LC/RC into refounding as a new movement, one focused on Christ and not Maciel, and as an individual who had enough wisdom to step aside and allow the refounded movement to reform and take root. It may even record him as the founder of the movement.

So Fr. Alvaro kinda becomes like Moses. He was close to the Pharaoh, but eventually he accepted God's will to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert and to the border of the promised land. God would not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the promised land, due to Moses's past sins, and leadership was turned over to Joshua who then led the Israelites into the promised land. But God forgave Moses and allowed him to see the promised land from the border. And to this day we honor Moses for his part in salvation history.

Of course, there's still the question of apology and restitution to Maciel's victims. However, I think we are likely past the point where such an apology and reform can save Maciel's movement.



Thanks so much for the insightful commentary. I agree that schism is highly unlikely but would not venture to guess how this is all going to play out in the end.

The problem I foresee with Alvaro grasping onto the "elder statesman" role is that he has already lost so much credibility. Moses acknowledged his past sins. Alvaro has not only NOT apologized to Maciel's sexual molestation victims for his part in allowing the LC to malign them, calling them enemies of the church, but he has also not expressed ANY kind of recognition of his extreme carelessness/imprudence (and that's taking a charitable view!) in encouraging Maciel to be treated like a saint long after being disciplined by the Holy See. Real children in Legionary schools were made to venerate this child molester--reading his works, celebrating his feast days, folding their arms the way Nuestro Padre did, measuring all their actions by what Maciel would do. As a mother, this outrages me. Alvaro&Co are now admitting they knew about Maciel's mistress and child as far back as 2005. My children were still being forced to read Maciel's works until Feb of this year, when I immediately forbade them to ever read a word written by that child molester again.

So my problem with your idea of Alvaro taking a sort of avuncular backseat in the possible re-founding of this order is that I strongly believe he is as steeped in the methodology of Maciel as they come---and because of that methodology, he does not know the true meaning of virtues such as charity, truth, and purity. Giving him a place of honor in the a new order would be like setting up an altar to the methodology of Maciel. It would give LC priests a reason to believe Maciel wasn't really that bad--because, after all, it's his right hand man who (without showing any recognition of the twistedness of the methodology he has lived and perpetuated since the tender age of 12) is leading this Movement into the next "chapter".

I believe, for the sake of all followers of the Movement, that a clear and concise decapitation needs to be made. Otherwise there is just too much room for followers to convince themselves that Maciel is "intervening" for them in Heaven (an LC priest expressed his belief in just that recently!) and guiding Alvaro as he moves forward with the Movement.

And one more thing. Maciel was a child molester. I think all the seminarians he had direct contact with as children are possibly victims of sexual molestation. I hope that this is addressed and that these LC priests are given the counseling they may need. Abuse victims sometimes become abusers themselves, and this aspect of the order bears investigating.

Just my .02

HA! I can totally see Fr. A reading this and saying to himself...yeah, I'm like Moses!!!

If we were to pay more attention to the teaching of the Gospel and put Canon Law where it really belongs, there would be fewer schisms and many more happier Christians.

With all due respect, Francis, this case is precisely what Canon Law developed over centuries to confront.

Here is an entirely hypothetical question, but one which I would like Pete to address.

We talk about the possibility of a rump of LCs going into schism if the Pope doesn't rule their way.

What are the possibilities of the opposite happening, that some of the Legion's critics refuse to accept Rome's verdict were the Vatican (again, this is hypothetical) to allow the Legion to continue on?

In other words, what would happen to the brave blog jousters who sally forth against the dragon that is the Legion if the Vatican were to magically transmogrify that dragon into a peacefully turning windmill. Would our brave champions continue to tilt? Perhaps riding to battle on a new website,

I'm a jouster (only in the comboxes, though---don't have the stomach for a blog of my own!)! And I'm so grateful to all the jousters before who did not quietly accept the verdict of the First Visitation or the opinions of JPII when he honored Maciel and held him up as an efficacious guide to youth. Those jousters weren't schismatic.

The good news is that disagreeing with the verdict of an Apostolic Visitation does not a schismatic make! We can, and should, continue to use our God-given brains to discern right from wrong. And not rely on the Pope or the Vatican to tell us what that is. Popes are only infallible in very specific circumstances. There have been plenty of seriously mistaken (and sometimes very bad!) Popes and plenty of corrupt churchmen over time, and thankfully disagreeing with the opinions of such did not make Catholics schismatic over the centuries.

Moving on to my next windmill.......

Interesting. So what are the non-negotiables for some of you "jousters"? What are the points about LC/RC that you will say, "even if the Pope says this" my conscience still says it's wrong and therefore I will oppose it? Are there any at all? Should there be any? Is there a line that should be drawn in disagreeing with a papal verdict, over which one risks stepping into heterodox territory? Or not? What are some of your thoughts?

Hold on there. Let's not paint the critics of the LC into a corner.

The Pope's directives and the visitators' report (though it probably won't be made public) are not an act of doctrinal teaching. The faithful are not required to assent to them intellectually.

So if some Catholics eventually think the outcome is a "whitewash", they will be free to think so, and even say so (with proper respect). That's not disobedience. It's exercising your right to express your views on the good of the Church.

LC members who think the directives are too soft on the current leadership will want to leave the LC, and will be permitted to do so. No disobedience there.

But for the current LC leadership and its internal defenders, leaving the congregation would mean giving up their cause. For them there might be a certain temptation to stay in and rebel against directives they find unfavorable.

So the question is not really well-founded.

Richard Sutcliff said:
"So what are the non-negotiables for some of you "jousters"? What are the points about LC/RC that you will say, "even if the Pope says this" my conscience still says it's wrong and therefore I will oppose it?"

My non-negotiable is an apology to Father Maciel's abuse victims, who went public in 1997 to reveal Maciel as an abuser. The Legion lauched a campaign to defend Maciel, and maligned the reputations and character of the victims. In early February of this year, individual LCs or LC employees either conceded that the abuse allegations are likely true or even apologized to the victims for failing to believe them. The Legion has yet to offer an official apology. We have heard from Father Bannon (in April?) that they are trying to locate the victims. Ah, so you admit, there ARE victims, and they are owed an apology! We heard (from LC priests in our section) that the LC is going to apologize, but "privately", and that after receiving an apology, the victims can choose to go public with the facts of the apology, if THEY so choose. Pretty self-serving, no?

I know RCs who refuse to so much as buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks because the company supports Planned Parenthood. Yet they don't bat an eye at seeking spiritul nourishment for themselves and their children from a congregation of priests which cannot summon the humility and courage to apologize to a group of victims who have been so clearly wronged.

Richard S, I would like to turn this around. What are your thoughts on the lack of apology?

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This page contains a single entry by Pete Vere published on September 18, 2009 10:25 AM.

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