No go for Jo

Several readers have pointed me to this post criticizing critics of the Legion, authored by Jo Flemings at the Just Jo blog. I will not slag her for venting her heart. I believe I read somewhere – though I may be mistaking her for someone else – that she and her husband are converts, that her husband is a former Protestant minister, and that together they have around a dozen kids. From glimpsing through her blog I noticed her oldest daughter graduated from Southern Catholic College, that her husband and at least one child is RC, and that one of her sons is a Legionary brother (seminarian) while another son is at the Legion’s apostolic schools. Sounds to me like she was recruited.
She seems like a sincere and prayerful Catholic mom, which is why I believe God will honor her prayers vis-a-vis the LC/RC. When He does, the scales will drop from her eyes. And Jo will likely find herself in a world of hurt. Seen it dozens of times with other sincere Catholic moms in her position – including Giselle. Nothing we tell her now can prepare her for the pain of this particular cross is revealed. When one’s children confront one with the truth about their experiences in the movement. Pray that her children not lose their faith over it.
That being said, a good fisking is in order when it comes to her reader D.A. Burke’s response to her posting:

Jo – I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. I am currently reading “Pope Fiction” which deals with the question of how and why we can stay confidently committed to a Church that has regularly been subject to scandal, and abuse, and… has regularly overcome its own sin enough (by God’s grace) to do more good in the world, time, and eternity, than any other institution known to man.

This book was written by Pat Madrid, a dear friend of mine. In fact we even co-authored another book together on extreme forms of conservative Catholicism. When we started writing More Catholic Than the Pope, Pat was a supporter of the LC and tried to recruit me to RC. By the time the book was published, he had left RC and come to share many of my reservations of the movement. Today Pat is openly critical of Maciel, the Legion, and how the movement has treated Maciel’s victims.

Those who would have us abandon the Movement because of the grave sins of the founder would find themselves in a completely untenable position under many of our past Popes.

This is called hyperbole. Outside the Legion no salvation is not a defined dogma of the Church, despite the best attempts of Maciel and his supporters to make it one through their mantra Lost vocation, sure damnation. The Church can exist without the Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi. The Church existed for 19 hundred centuries without either movement. Thousands of saints were canonized without the intervention of Maciel. Dozens among the Jesuits alone.
On the other hand, Maciel’s death reportedly showed all the visible signs of final impenitance – which Catholic theology traditionally holds to be the unforgivable sin mentioned by Christ in Holy Scripture.

Would they apply the same logic and leave the Church?

The Church was founded by Christ. Christ is God. Christ is perfect. Christ guaranteed the Church’s indefectibility when He promised us the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. No such promise exists for any order within the Church. Especially not one founded by an incestuous and unrepentant pedophile. In fact, Christ makes other promises about incestuous pedophiles who harm children, not to mention religious authorities who abuse their office, and these promises are not nearly as cheery or reassuring.

Peter denied Christ! Is there any worse sin than that?

Yes, stating that one has never denied Christ (or the Holy Spirit) when one in fact was a serial child molester. St. Peter never molested or photographed himself molesting his eight-year-old child. He was, however, sorry for his sins.

Paul was a murderer before his conversion.

The word “before” here is key. Paul was not a murderer after his conversion. That’s why we speak of Paul as a convert.

Yes, they repented. Many of our corrupt Popes did not. What are we to leave?

Our false comparisons. Maciel was head of a movement. It was a movement he founded to feed his various perversions, by using the guise of Catholic piety (i.e. Vow of Charity) and orthodoxy to acquire, abuse, conceal and protect his access to unsuspecting victims. Thus the entire methodology is corrupt.
On the other hand, no Pope is head of the Church. Christ is. The Pope is merely the visible head. The Pope assumes a vicarious role on behalf of Christ. Yet Christ remains the true head of the Church.
In contrast, the longer this controversy drags on without proper apology or restitution to Maciel’s victims, especially for the role played by individual supporters in covering up for Maciel and persecuting his victims, the more it becomes clear that the movement is truly headed by the spirit of Maciel. I believe this is what other orders refer to, when speaking of the spirit of the founder, as the founding charism. In the Legion, however, the founder’s spirit has become a curse.

How do you solve a problem like Morena?

Many rumors are swirling about the future of the Legion and Regnum Christi, some receiving the acknowledgment of reputable journalists and Church commentators. In surveying these rumors, what concerns me is that there is little or no mention of the third degree consecrated (3gf). I pray the Church does not overlook their future, and what can be done to facilitate their transition to a more stable vocation..
Should the Holy See dissolve the LC/RC, most of RC can be turned over to diocesan Bishops or other Church authorities outside the movement. On the other hand, the Church will always find a place for priests willing to reform and minister within the Church’s vineyards.
However, the toughest blow – potentially – will fall upon the the 3gf and upper year seminarians with the Legion. They’ve invested years of time and effort into the movement’s formation. However, they lack any permanent binding connection to the consecrated state. Like a partner shacked up without the benefit of marriage, their relationship can be severed at any time, for little or no reason.
So what happens to people like Rocio Moreno – who as a 32-year veteran of the 3gf has spent most of her adult life promoting Maciel and the movement? Her story is one I contemplate with sadness as she likely faces an uncertain future. You can read her story here.
A few things stood out as I read through it:
– She was young when she became one of the first 3gf, accepting the call because other family members were highly active in the movement and it had the Church’s approval.
– She has spent most of her adult life connected to the movement, and is a product of their methodology.
– She appears to associate the movement, the movement’s charism, and her vocation to the movement, with Maciel.
This last point is seen through her answers to following questions:

How do you see the founder’s role in your vocation?
He himself invited me to be a part of the Movement. He showed me that God loved me so much and that God could be calling me to consecrate my life to him, just as the apostles did. I don’t remember everything that he told me, but he spoke a lot about Christ, the Church, and the apostolates and places where we would be going after we formed ourselves as consecrated women.
What has it meant for you to be one of the first consecrated women?
Being one of the first consecrated women has meant a huge responsibility for me personally. I am aware that I must live and pass on what I learned, saw, and heard directly from Nuestro Padre. I feel like it depends on me, on us cofounders, to preserve the spirit in its entirety, and I will do this if I live each day with fidelity, trying to live my life according to the Statutes (the Statutes of the Regnum Christi Movement). I will do this if I guard the virtue of charity as the most precious pearl.
What is the greatest gift for you of being a cofounder?
I think that the greatest gift of being one of the first ones is the grace of having lived alongside my founder. I saw him living what we were being asked to live: humility, detailed charity, always speaking well of others, and tender love for Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the pope.

So how do you solve a problem like Morena?

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.

No apology, no charism.

I’ve pulled this comment from the combox. An anonymous reader raises an issue with which I have been struggling since the Legion’s apology to victims failed to materialize last winter:

Pete: I do think you should see the issue of charism and apology as linked deeply to one another. I imagine in the mind of the LCs that every effort to come to full terms with the malicious nature of the founder’s acts is putting another nail in their coffin as an order, only it’s right now an emotional connection that is bringing this forth in such a malformed manner. The full acceptance and implications is still what is in the making. If they can dump in totem MM, break all ties historically, spiritually and theologically, I bet the apologies will come gushing forth. Right now the two are linked. Every step away from the founder will be a step closer to the apologies many seek, I would wager, but it is also a step closer to their own dissolution. Is that not what you see happening..? It must be a very hard process, very hard.

I agree that there is some connection between a sincere apology to Maciel’s victims and the potential existence of a LC/RC charism. It’s a question I have been thinking about since January when the scandal broke. I simply haven’t figured out the connection.
At the very minimum, a sincere apology would reassure us of the LC/RC’s good faith as Catholics. It’s kinda hard to believe a movement is inspired by the Holy Spirit when it lacks Catholic sensibility. Especially when we’re speaking about the movement’s response to a serious crisis created by the founder.
Reassurance from members takes on additional significance because the founder’s life is so unconvincing. Given Maciel’s lifetime of fraud, calumny and sexual predation, we must look toward the co-founders (pardon the Legion talk, but it’s apprepos in this context) for evidence of a charism pleasing to God.
In short, Maciel failed to convince us that his is a path that leads to holiness. So the burden falls upon those who co-founded the movement with him. Their example tells us whether a valid charism was transmitted. If their example does not conform to Catholic faith and morals – which demand immediate apology and restitution to Maciel’s victims – one can only question whether this path leads to Christ. And a charism, if it is valid, must lead to Christ.
This is not to say that the apology generates the charism. After all, as Legion superiors pointed out when the Holy See invited Maciel to retire, all of us are called to prayer and penance. But the apology is a sign that the movement is serious about holiness and its Catholic obligations before God.
No apology, no charism.

Fr. Neuhaus – from apologist to prophet

A quick blog entry while on lunch break. Over at ExLC, readers are discussing the Holy See’s 2006 communique “inviting” Fr. Maciel to retire to a life of prayer and penance. (Also posted is a youtube of a recent 40 minute CNN Spanish edition interview with the lawyer representing three of Fr. Maciel’s alleged children.)
Says first anonymous reader: “If it was a suspension, why didn’t they just make that clear? Why leave it open to spin by the LC? And who the hell tacked on the ‘Apart from the founder’ clause? That has caused more confusion than anything the LC could have done.”
“I hope a canonist could help us,” adds a second commentator.
Around the time the communique was published, one of the best explanations came from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. This is ironic given that up until its appearance Fr. Neuhaus had been one of Fr. Maciel and the Legion’s most able defenders. Father even goes so far as to employ the expression “moral certitude” in his belief of Maciel’s innocence.
Nevertheless, Fr. Neuhaus is an honest man. And thus he is forced to admit in the August/September 2006 edition of The Public Square:

I do not know all that the CDF and the Holy Father know and am not privy to the considerations that led to their decision. It is reasonable to believe that they concluded that Fr. Maciel did do something very seriously wrong. To censure publicly, toward the end of his life, the founder of a large and growing religious community is an extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented, measure in Catholic history. Moreover, because the only public and actionable charges against Fr. Maciel had to do with sexual abuse, the clear implication is that that was the reason for the censure. In view of the public knowledge of the charges, it is not plausible that he was censured for some other and unknown reason.

Now Fr. Neuhaus still did not believe Fr.Maciel’s accusers. But it’s clear he believes Fr. Maciel was guilty of some serious violation of the Sixth Commandment. It’s also clear that Fr. Neuhaus had stopped believing the Legion’s version of the story, and he expresses some discomfort with the Legion’s immediate response comparing Maciel’s suffering to that suffered by Christ on the cross.
What I found most prescient, however, are Fr. Neuhaus’s comments about the Legion’s charism in light of the Holy See’s request that the Legion separate its work from the founder.

Now comes a time of daunting challenges for the Legionaries of Christ. At the highest level of the Church’s leadership, a deep shadow has been cast over their founder. In view of his age and the way the decision was made, it is almost certain that the shadow will not be lifted in his lifetime, if ever. In the historical experience of religious orders, the founder and the charism-meaning the distinctive spirituality by which the community is formed–cannot be easily separated. The Legion has been particularly intense in its devotion to its founder, who has been revered as a living saint. It is understandable that Legionaries who have known Fr. Maciel for many years simply cannot bring themselves to believe that he is guilty of the charges that have been brought against him. Whether misplaced or not, such devotion is not untouched by honor and faithfulness to a father and friend. But, in the future of the Legion and Regnum Christi, belief in the innocence of Fr. Maciel cannot be made an article of faith.
Nor is it helpful to speak of the Holy See’s decision as yet another cross imposed on Fr. Maciel and the Legion. A “cross” may mean any burden to be borne, but, in this context, “bearing the cross” clearly suggests a wrong or injustice. The cross imposed on Christ was unjustly imposed. To continue to speak of the censure as a cross imposed could have the effect of putting the Legion on a collision course with the papacy. At the heart of the congregation’s charism is wholehearted adherence to the ministry of Peter among us. The leadership of the Legion has unambiguously reaffirmed that adherence in a private audience with the pope following the censure of Fr. Maciel.
The future of the Legion and Regnum Christi cannot depend on the innocence or guilt of Fr. Maciel. Founder and charism may not be entirely separable, but they can be clearly distinguished.

In short, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 invitation to separate themselves from the life of their founder was a test of the Legion’s charism. Had they trusted the Holy See and done so, in spirit and in law, their charism would have emerged after much needed internal reform. However, Legion superiors continued to yoke the movement to Fr. Maciel, despite the Holy See’s recommendation they do otherwise. My apologies for the mixed metaphor, but that yoke has now become a giant millstone around their necks. The only way to stop sinking is to remove this millstone