Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ubi Caritas?

Although no new revelations have followed the Legion of Christ's dissemination of the information that Fr. Maciel had engaged in a sinful relationship and had fathered at least one child, many Catholic writers and bloggers have continued to discuss the matter. Thomas Peters of American Papist has done the most thorough job, but there have been many thoughtful and thought-provoking articles and essays written thus far, and interest in the situation as it concerns the future of the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi movement continues.

I am one of those who believes that a true healing, a true moving forward for the Legion, simply cannot happen until enough information is known, whether this information is revealed through a Vatican investigation or from the Legion itself. Right now there is a lot of ambiguity about some rather important matters; this is not some quest for vulgar details, which are unedifying and which no one needs to know. However, the important, still unknown aspects of Fr. Maciel's behavior include the following:
  • Was there more than one woman with whom Fr. Maciel was (or was credibly believed) to be involved?
  • Is there more than child whose father is Fr. Maciel?
  • Was the mother of the child we so far know about an adult or a minor when she became pregnant with Fr. Maciel's child?
  • What, if any, impact do these revelations have on the previous accusations involving Fr. Maciel and the abuse of young men/seminarians?
  • To what extent was financial fraud (the misuse of Legion funds to supply Fr. Maciel with money to pay his mistress or provide for his child) committed? How many upper-level Legionary priests were aware at least of the financial irregularities, even if they were truly unaware of the use to which Fr. Maciel was putting this money?
  • How many (if any) high-ranking Legion priests knew that Fr. Maciel was living a double life? Are any of them still in high positions of authority in the Legion?
These are not points for gossip or vain speculation; these are the crux of the matter, and the truth must be disclosed before the Legion can begin to heal. To the extent that the Legion relies on the donations and support of the general Catholic public, the general Catholic public also has a certain claim to some of these facts (e.g., generous benefactors may wish to be assured that priests aware of the financial irregularities are no longer in positions of authority before they will be comfortable writing large donation checks again). Such prudence, it ought to be mentioned, is not proof that someone is inimical to the Legion or has been proven unworthy of the movement; it is simply an exercise of the virtue in its proper form.

And since we are speaking of virtue, it is, perhaps, worth discussing another one.

If you ask five people associated with the Legion (either LC or RC) what the Legion's charism is, I think you will get 4.5 different answers. I have noticed with puzzlement how difficult it seems to be for the members and associates of the Legion to say simply or clearly just what the order's charism is, especially since the imitation of Fr. Maciel is suddenly off the table as a legitimate charism.

But the one thing that seems to be said most often is something like this: the Legion's charism is to bring charity to the Church and the world, to focus on Christ's great commandment of Love, and to spread that love within the Church and in the world. I've even seen it stated this way: charity is the charism.

Strictly speaking, a theological virtue proper to all Christians can't really be said to be one religious order's charism. Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity also bring charity to the world--but their charism, unless I'm greatly mistaken, is to do so by meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the world's poorest people, living among them, sharing their poverty, treating them in their illnesses, suffering with them, and so on.

So, it would be proper to ask the Legion just how they are to bring charity to the world; the Holy Spirit, one might say, is in the details of the charism, not the vague generalities about it.

Further, if we look at Christ's great commandment (summarized briefly as the duty to love God with our whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves), it is difficult to see how the Legion actively lives this outside the Legion. That is, while the Legion points to such works and ministries as their various Legion-affiliated apostolates and programs and groups and clubs and so forth, the answer to the question "How do you spread the Gospel of Charity to the world?" seems to be "By getting as much of the world as possible into the Legion, through the Legion, Regnum Christi, or some other aspect of the Movement." There is no other religious order I can think of that works this way; Franciscans don't think you have to be Franciscan to be able to experience Christ's love, nor do Dominicans think you have to be Dominican, etc. For the Legion, however, the focus seems to be on getting people to join the Legion in some fashion or other; if you are not interested in being involved in Regnum Christi, in letting your sons enter a Legion seminary or your daughters become consecrated women, or in getting involved with Legion-run apostolates or ministries, then you are an outsider, before whom a constant positive impression of the Legion must at all times be maintained. That is, no criticism of the Legion can be allowed to be discussed with you, and if you, the outsider, has any negative impressions of the Legion, this is just proof that you are an enemy of the Legion, unworthy to join in the Movement, etc.

In fact, the duty of charity seems to disappear when those in the Legion are confronted with negative opinions of those outside; I have spent too much time reading comment boxes lately, but I can say that I've been surprised, unpleasantly so, to see people representing themselves not only as LC/RC but even as LC priests, who have compared critics to a mob, to enemies of Christ, to the Gerasene demoniac, etc. It is one thing to hear of this mentality within the Legion; it is another to encounter it, and to realize with pity and sorrow that many within the Legion really do still think that they are the victims here, that this "persecution" they are suffering is only proof of how pleased God is with the work of Fr. Maciel, and that they must therefore persevere, refuse to think ill of any aspect of the Legion regardless of how tainted it might have been by Fr. Maciel's sins (which may have been the result of a brain injury, or might have been the evil seduction of a woman in the power of the devil trying to destroy the Legion, etc.), and reject firmly any suggestion that they might need to reexamine their constitutions which in their mind have been given some sort of super-approval by the Holy See. I wish to state, here, in the strongest possible way that this is not the only attitude I've encountered, and that I'm truly heartened by those others in the Legion who have expressed honestly their disgust at Fr. Maciel's sins, their great sorrow for the victims, and their willingness to participate in a process of investigation and reformation whatever that might involve. Nevertheless, it is equally disheartening to realize how many are not saying these things, but are instead exhorting each other to persevere in the Movement and hold fast to the charism, without any willingness to examine how much of the Movement was designed to facilitate the double life of a man who may have been a predator, or whether the charism is even valid.

To return to that, though, one can then ask whether a charism of charity is valid if it is only practiced internally, within the order and its affiliates, so to speak. But then one must further ask if even that is true: is what is practiced within the Legion actually charity?

It may seem that a culture which restricts criticism, compels a positive attitude, and instructs its members always to appear satisfied with the vocation God has given them to the Legion (which seems always to be presented as a great gift in and of itself; that is, it is not the vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life per se which is celebrated, but the vocation to the Legion) is really only doing so to foster an atmosphere of good will and pleasantness, to avoid the backbiting or jealousy or complaining attitude which are not helpful in religious life. However, on closer examination one has to wonder; is it true charity which stifles every negative thought and insists on the appearance of happiness and goodwill? Is it charity, which presents the vocation to the Legion as so high and noble a calling that those who fail must be considered unworthy? Is it charity that makes some RC members ostracize former members who have decided to become, in Legion terminology, "inactive," on the grounds that such are akin to those who put their hands to the plow, but then turned back? Was it charity that is responsible for reports from within the Legion that some priests instructed seminarians to think very poorly of their own human fathers (because all men who marry are simply too "weak" for the call to the priesthood and to chastity) and instead to take Fr. Maciel as their "fatherly" role model?

A strange sort of charity, that forbids criticism of those inside the Movement, and all but commands criticism of those outside of it. If the Legion's charism really is "charity," then where is this charity? How does it resemble the love of Christ, who poured Himself out upon the Cross for the salvation of all men? How does it resemble His washing of His disciples' feet, His curing of the sick, His preaching and teaching--showing us examples of humble service, care for others, and the perfection of all charitable works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual?

It has been repeated often, in regard to the Legion, that by their fruits we shall know them. What are these fruits? Where are they? I have heard the statistics: 700 priests, about 1300 seminarians. But the priests' main duty is to minister to their own Legion and Regnum Christi members, and the priests have, according to many reports, an unusually high attrition rate--that is, Legion priests leave either the Legion or the priesthood itself at a higher rate than normal. To compare, with Mother Teresa's order the fruits in terms of care for the poor and forgotten are visible and well-known, as is the case with many other religious orders; but the "fruits" of the Legion are nearly as hard to pin down as the elusive "charism."

I think that there will be much further clarity on these and other questions as time goes by, but if I could wish for one thing, it would be for those inside the Legion to realize that those of us outside with serious questions about it are not being motivated by "lack of charity," as they like to frame debates like these. This is not an "us against them" moment. The sins of Fr. Maciel do carry with them some serious questions about the future of the Legion, and it is not at all uncharitable to believe that true healing, true consideration of the will of God in all of this, can't even begin to happen until more is known about the degree to which Fr. Maciel entangled the Legion with his own perversions. By casting themselves as "victims" and these recent events as a new "persecution" which the LC/RC members must heroically and in martyr-like fashion endure and through which they must persevere is to ignore the real victims, first of all, and to close their eyes to the frightening possibility that the Legion's charism might not be a valid one, after all. It would be better, and more heroic, to face this terrible possibility with courage and the determination to do whatever has to be done to salvage what can be salvaged, than to blame all of the negativity on "the media" or "bloggers" or other "outsiders," and to keep clinging to the idea that Fr. Maciel's sins (and aren't we all sinners?) couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Legion he founded and headed, even during the years when his child was growing up without her father.


opey124 said...

I have a friend in RC and she stated that the reason she and her husband joined was to learn more about their faith and grow in holiness.

And to be truthful, if we had not had EWTN and internet to do our own studying, that may have been appealing. Our catechesis here is horrible. Just horrible.

In the midst of all of this, she did admit that if they had ever been presented with something that remotely looked like they were giving honor to Maciel that is due God, she would have left in heart beat. She just never saw any of that.

I didn't realize that some diocese would not allow them in. That should say something right there.

Those are probably (teaching) some of the fruits our friend is most thankful for and also meeting other families who were serious about their faith.

There was one suggestion on AP that I liked, that they L/RC need to go to their local Bishops and ask how they can serve them.

Anonymous said...

It is truly amazing that the mainstream media didn't have a field day with this one. I get the feeling that the Legion is just trying to sweep this one under the rug as though nothing big happened and that we will all forget about it. I say this because my kids are in a school run by LC/RC and they are in ConQuest and Challenge. Not one person has EVER mentioned any of this! It is like business as usual. I think there are many in the school that don't even know about this. I know that because I brought it up to some to see what they thought about it.

But I do believe that at this level (the many RC members that help run the school), they are trying to bring people to Christ and I don't think they realize what a cult type organization this is. And they won't ever because the Legion is so skilled at hidding it under the gise of holiness. These people just want to be holy. We are not sure what to do with our kids. Do we change schools? They do try to recruit (it's even more obvious now) and they do a lot of retreats. But again at this level we see a longing for Christ and a good path to holiness.
It's a struggle for many people.

Anonymous said...

I am an active Legionary priest and I, along with unsuspected others in the Congregation, earnestly implore the Holy See to take bold and decisive action to reform and salvage what can still be redeemed in the Legion.

This action must necessarily exclude the participation of the present leadership of the LC. The men in power, fine priests though they may be, are where they are because Fr. Maciel put them there personally. They were groomed and trained, honed and educated in his very particular school of loyalty and seek only to maintain a version of the LC as close as possible to Fr. Maciel's as they can in these times of crisis.

They are entrenched in a defensive mentality. They are trying to protect the Founder's image for some later redemption and are therefore being elusive, vague, fleeting and intimidating as they 'divulge the truth' about Fr. Maciel to members and friends.

Does anyone associated with the Legion honestly think that even these halting bits and pieces of information would be given us if the leadership thought there was any way possible of hiding them from us?

They never told us about Fr. Maciel being removed from public ministry. We had to read it online. They only barely began to speak about the huge internal changes initiated by the Vatican after the deadline to do so had passed, and then, as if nothing at all had really happened.

How much have they already succeeded in shredding, erasing and covering up beyond retrieval? What wouldn't they lie to us about now? When have we ever been on anything but a need-to-know basis? ... as if our lifelong committment to the Legion and the dubious spirituality 'inspired' to Fr. Maciel didn't merit their unflinching submission to the truth.

When arrogance and distrust of your own people are portrayed as "our charism is charity"... it's clearly time to step aside and invite a fresh, unhindered, holy set of eyes and ears distinguish what is good from what is tainted and try to recreate a Legion that has failed and made fools of us all.

Red Cardigan said...

"Father anonymous" above, may God bless you! Your voice needs to be heard, and those of us who are praying for the good men and women in the Legion at this time of crisis (as well as the victims) are most sincerely praying for you.

I share with you the fervent hope that the Holy See will act soon to save what can and should be saved, before it is too late.

JennGM said...

I really enjoyed this post, and it echoes so many of my thoughts. I particularly enjoyed this analysis:

"How do you spread the Gospel of Charity to the world?" seems to be "By getting as much of the world as possible into the Legion, through the Legion, Regnum Christi, or some other aspect of the Movement." There is no other religious order I can think of that works this way;"

Really, what is their Charism? What is their apostolate? I have yet been able to find a concrete answer. Their spirituality besides amassing money and members seems to be a melting pot of so many other spiritualities.