Fear is not a charism

I received an interesting email from a reader, who like many readers wonders what one should do when one’s entire family is involved in RC. The reader kindly gave me permission to rewrite and blog it:

There are individuals and families who have been involved in RC for 10, 12, 15 years. Some families include mom, dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and children – all RC. How does one objectively discern one’s path through this scandal when one’s own family members are diehard RCs. How does one dissent from the group? What does Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house look like when one decides to leave, or take a ‘time out’?

I can appreciate your tough situation. The best solution, in my opinion, is to speak the truth in charity. I won’t lie: your family may hate you for it, in which case you will hear back immediately. Or they may feel the same way you do, and are just waiting for someone to speak up because they’re scared they’re the only ones who feel this way. You would be surprised how many readers describe your situation when emailing me. Giselle and I have heard from several folks who, like you, are appalled by the Legion’s response thus far.
Many of your friends and family will object strenuously at first, but most will come around later if your words “have the ring of truth” to them. After all, who wants to associate openly with a liar, a fraud and a serial pervert? Would you let your daughter date Marcial Maciel? (What about your son?)
What holds the system together, as far as I can tell from reader response, is fear. Fear of a system that crushes dissent. Fear of loss of status and reputation within the movement and the parish. Fear of whisper campaigns. Fear of spending the next 15 minutes as Hans Kung when accused of going against Pope John Paul II because he approved a set of constitutions under the mistaken belief that a founder practiced what he preached. Fear of admitting one was wrong about Maciel’s victims who spoke the truth. Fear about being labeled judgmental (This is going to sound more harsh than what I intended, but it needs to be said: An unrepentant serial abuser and pedophile is not your moral superior. Neither are those who demand you not judge his actions, or those who continue to show him public gratitude while his victims wait for an apology and restitution of their good name. Nor are they your intellectual superiors, regardless of how many degrees they obtained from pontifical universities.) Fear of doing what is right.
Fear, however, is not a charism.
At least not one that comes from the Holy Spirit. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He states clearly that the truth will set us free. If one fears speaking the truth in charity, then one is not listening to the Holy Spirit. And so the fear continues.
I recall interviewing Bishop Fred Henry for a pro-life publication last year. For American readers, His Excellency is a Canadian Bishop so outspoken for the truth that he makes Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz look timid in comparison. “I didn’t set out to be controversial when I was consecrated a bishop,” he told me on the record. “It just happened because I never feared to speak the truth. Why should we fear? The worst they can do to you is chop off your head. In which case, Christ says we win.”
In looking back at how this scandal has played out since February, Fr. Berg is the only Legion priest to survive with his credibility intact. The blogs parse every statement of every LC priest, looking for evidence of ambiguity and double-talk. The one exception is Fr. Berg, whose statements are taken at face value.
Why? Because from the beginning Fr. Berg did not fear to speak the truth in public. He may not have succeeded in reforming the Legion, but his fearless speaking of the truth in charity invigorated Regnum Christi members to demand better of Legion leadership, to demand the Holy See intervene with an apostolic visitation, to demand that the truth be made public.
If the Legion movement somehow manages to reform, it will be because Fr. Berg put truth before fear. And if the Legion disintegrates because its members dis-integrate, it will be because they put fear before truth. Nevertheless, Fr. Berg will still have survived with his reputation and the Westchester Institute intact – again because he put truth before fear
And so the best course of action, whether it be with one’s family, one’s section or one’s superiors, is to speak the truth openly and in charity. That and prayer to St. Joseph.


  1. The charity is paramount — so that none of the comments become personal. While it may seem incomprehensible that rational people have signed onto this group, the mechanics of a cult and the manipulation that they have endured has been subtly toxic for a very long time. The women (esp.) have been played like fiddles, and for them to step away from the group requires accepting painful and humiliating truths.
    Imagine finding a loved one far out on the ledge of a building, a good distance from the window where they stepped out. One would never scream at them or accuse them harshly for their predicament, but rather speak gently and firmly to get them to back up, retracing their steps one at a time towards the window. That’s where we are with these family members. It takes tremendous grace to be able to extricate oneself, and God will use the charitable words we speak in His own way. It baffles the onlooker, but such is the power of cults.

  2. With all the time I’ve spent reading and contributing to these blogs, I’m still a bit confused about why Fr. Maciel was invited to step down. Was it the canonical violation of the sacrament of confession and was he in fact excommunicated because of this? If he was, would this have an impact on the validity of the so-called charism?
    Also, with regard to the LC/RC apologists who constantly call to our attention to the fact that the Legion’s constitutions were approved by Pope John Paul II and therefore the charism is assured, I’m reminded of other such groups who use this line of argument to cut off all debate. Our fundamentalist, Protestant brethren will gladly discount historical, logical or theological argument in favor of the Catholic Church because it’s “not in the Bible”. Very convenient. Again, we have less orthodox Catholics who say that such-and-such moral question has not been officially defined by pope or council, ergo there’s no prohibition. So what we have is an appeal to the highest authority to the exclusion of everything else, thinking that “we’re safe as long as the highest authority says nothing contrary to our position.”
    LC/RC apologists will cling to the constitutions’ approval and discount any and all arguments. How does one combat this?

  3. Not sure if the last comment to Paul went through, so a quick summary:
    Reason won’t work at this point. Emotion is what keeps a lot of people involved with RC/LC. So they won’t leave unless they FEEL like they’re drifting towards something BETTER and MORE WELCOMING.
    But try reading Catholic Classics together… Start with the Confessions of St. Augustine. Work together to gain wisdom about the Faith (wisdom that the RC denied, by focusing on watered down feel good books and Fr. Maciel) and, in time, that Wisdom will bear fruit.
    Also, pray like there’s no tomorrow—fast, make saacrifices, go to confession. At this point, rational argument will only make RC people feel attacked, and then they’ll cling more tightly to the organizatiopn that ‘protects’ them. So stop attacking and LOVE instead. The people who could be convinced by reason have probably already left.

  4. Giselle said:
    “The women (esp.) have been played like fiddles, and for them to step away from the group requires accepting painful and humiliating truths.”
    Giselle brings up an interesting point. I would add that, if the women are played like fiddles, it is because they allow it. The women (I am speaking about average RC women members, not RC consecrated) responded to the scandalous news in February with much serenity, focus on the fruits, much shaking of the head and murmured platitudes about
    “God drawing straight with crooked lines” and “broken vessels” and so on. My sense is that the men responded quite differently. There were more appalled, more apt to demand a meeting with their LC and more ouraged at MM’s infidelity to the priesthod, his vows, and yes, even the woman and daughter who were denied the presence of a loving father and husband.
    Where are these men now? Wouldn’t it be good for them to act as spiritual heads of their families and lead them into a dialog of what RC means to the family now, in light of all that we now know?

  5. Spiritual headship is not a trump card with these women because the Legion priests have undermined it all these years, teaching the women to wheedle their husbands for more time and money for the Legion. (There is a reason the women’s sections always outnumber the men’s sections.) For those who don’t go to the brink of divorce (or split outright), there is a squaring off within marriages whereby the wife makes her RC commitments sacrosanct and the husband acquiesces for the sake of his sanity.
    I’ve been present while the Legion pitches this. One Morning of Reflection, we were all led along the path: “You are princesses (because you are daughters of a King!)” Well, technically yes (though I like “You’re a worm and no man” better). But many of the women were in tears. What the priest touched on cleverly was their brokeness, their insecurities, and their random experiences of abuse. He built them up, using his own brand of “self esteem potion” so that they were putty in his hands. They literally fought to cook for him and to be the most active and industrious volunteers in the coming years.
    Was there something missing? Was there a God-sized hole in their hearts? Yes, but it was filled with the Legion’s Mission and thereafter carefully stroked by the local LC.

  6. The different reaction from men and women has been consistent throughout many LC controversies. Where it became clear to me was during the Fr. Euteneuer vs Fr. Jonathan Edwards debacle on Fox News.
    Many women came down on the side of Fr. Jonathan Edwards (oops…I mean Morris), either defending him or begging for understanding because “Fr. Jonathan is such a GOOD priest.” I suppose that’s true if one’s definition of goodness is soap opera charm and metrosexual grooming.
    Ironically, Giselle and I had been conversing the day before this happened, when she said to me: “You probably don’t understand this as a guy, but the Legion produces gorgeous priests. This is why women flock to them and feel flattered by their attention.”
    When this whole scandal broke over Maciel’s daughter, a female canonist with connections to RC contacted me and pleaded with me to stop demanding the Legion apologize publicly to Maciel’s victims. She felt such an apology would hurt the Legion’s apostolate, and told me to “look at all the good priests like Fr. Jonathan on Fox News.” She mentioned his example of standing up to Fr. Euteneuer, with whom I had a very minor disagreement at the time over a technical point of canon law (which I didn’t take personally and which his media rep assured me he didn’t either.)
    Boy was she surprised when I cited this as another example of Legion priests undermining the work of orthodox Catholics, adding that I felt great satisfaction in watching Fr. Euteneuer give Fr. Jonathan the GSP treatment.
    And that’s why most male readers who commented were clearly on Fr. Euteneuer’s side. What many women don’t realize is that Fr. E is a man’s priest. He’s a former Marine Corps officer cadet, who graduated at the top of his company before discerning a call to priesthood. As a priest he has fought the culture war in the trenches, using his strengths to defend women, children and those weaker than himself. He’s plain-spoken, stands his ground and likes to get the job done. Thus he appeals to Catholic men like Fr. Jonathan appeals to Catholic women.
    And what many orthodox Catholic men saw during this incident was Fr. Jonathan using flattering tones to ingratiate himself to Sean Hannity, who enjoys a higher profile at Fox News, while wagging his finger and employing nagging tones with a fellow priest doing his job in defending Catholic teaching. They saw a manly priest vs. well, I won’t go there.
    Of course I heard the other side of the story, that Fr. E was too rough with Hannity, that he lacked charity in his responses, etc. But Hannity has made his career being confrontational and combative – it’s not like Fr. E was up against Larry King. And Hannity had also suggested that Fr. E defended pedophile priests, an attack on Fr. E’s manhood that makes Fr. Jonathan’s intervention as a Legionary all the more ironic.
    I also know many women who weighed in on Fr. E’s side, so gender stereotypes only go so far.
    However, this incident was likely premeditated on Fr. Jonathan’s part, in that his comments were NOT uttered during the heat of on-air debate. (Which most guys would understand.) Rather, they were written down and published on the Fox News website. And even after the controversy erupted, with many people questioning why a Legionary would attack a pro-life hero and fellow priest for defending Catholic teaching, Fr. Jonathan never apologized publicly to Fr. E. He simply wrote a “clarification” stating he and Fr. E agreed on the topic of contraception, and that he had received several letters of support amidst the criticism.
    Being a man’s man, we of course can imagine how Fr. E. would have reacted had he been in the wrong: he would have apologized promptly, and forthright. Which is why one should never bring a Legionary to a Marine fight.

  7. Thanks for the insight re: princesses, Giselle– it helps me understand another reason for RCs power over its members.
    I think the answer to this, like the answer to SO MANY LC/RC problems, is meditation on the Holy Family.
    The ONLY BEGOTTEN SON of the King did not live as a prince. He worked in a woodshop, helped support his family, and hung around with fishermen.
    Mary, the MOTHER OF GOD, didn’t get to put glamourous apostolates before family duties. She had a HARD life. She lived as a refugee, as a mother, as a wife and as a widow. She knew that accepting God’s love doesn’t mean abandoning one’s duties, but rather completing even mundane tasks with great love.
    Even the princess-saints (Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Hungary, Hedgwig (sp?) ) lived lives that were as close to the home at Nazareth as they could manage without neglecting their other life-duties.
    It’s sort of ironic that an organization claiming to build up Catholic families seems to neglect the Holy Family, our model, at every turn.
    But I think the Holy Family is really the answer for all these families torn apart by RC– Christ gave us his family as a great gift!

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