A commenter wrote something I wanted to respond to--but my response was longer than the comment box allows. Rather than chop it up, I thought I'd move it up here, so the conversation can continue.
The commenter wrote:
Criticizing a religious order for their spirituality,rule and method of maintaining discipline seems to me a bit out of our league. (Discerning is not the same as criticizing. One can discern that they do not 'fit' with a particular order, without feeling it necessary to tear it down.)I replied to this by creating a hypothetical example. Like all analogies, this one doesn't work perfectly, as there's a difference between the third order of an established religious order and a brand-new order with a recent founding. But aside from such imperfections, I think this highlights some of the differences between how defenders of the Legion see things, and how those of us who are more critical do.
Here's what I wrote:
This is not a good understanding of what is going on here, not at all. Discernment, properly speaking, is one's recognition of a call from God. Right judgment, on the other hand, something that even the laity may exercise, has to do with evaluating the goodness of something and making prudent decisions about it.As I said, the analogy isn't great. But the central idea is, I think, sound, and does illustrate some important differences between the pro-Legion side, and the side that is critical of the Legion.
Let's take a hypothetical example: I might or might not discern a call to become a lay third order member of a religious order, perhaps--but if my local chapter of third orders of a chapter is holding pagan religious ceremonies in which they declare Gaia a goddess, I'm as capable as any priest, or even the Pope himself, of exercising right judgment about the likely spiritual fruits of such a group. What I cannot do if I am not a priest, bishop, or Pope, is discipline the group formally or shut it down altogether. But I am perfectly within my rights as a layperson to collect stories from those who have experienced the pagan worship and left the group, and, having ascertained to the best of my ability that these stories are true, to warn other Catholics that at least my local chapter of this group has gone very wrong in its theology.
Now, let's extend the analogy. Suppose I go out to the Internet, and discover that many, many of the third-order chapters of this particular order have embraced Gaia worship, and that while one important and popular third-order priest has been removed for celebrating and encouraging this worship, many other priests he personally formed and trained serve as spiritual leaders and directors for the vast majority of the lay chapters of this order. Would I be exercising right judgment, or sinning, to think that the possibility that many chapters have been infected with Gaia-worship is a good one?
Further, let's say that there are two kinds of accounts from people all over the country who have been in or associated with this third order. One large group has left and been dispensed from their vows (if they had taken any) because they still see paganism taking place and not being properly addressed by the leaders. The other group, though, insists that no paganism is going on, and that things are fine. Why, Pope Benedict himself discusses environmental issues! Why should not the members of the group care deeply about the Earth and write prayers which reference it as an important part of God's creation, etc.?
Finally, after years of debate, Rome steps in with an Apostolic Visitation to find out what's going on with this third order, both religious and lay. The side of the debate which has warned of paganism continues to discuss the matter while waiting for Rome's verdict--but the other side now insists that as Rome is investigating, it's nobody's job to continue to make right judgments about the groups, and in particular all this talk of institution-wide paganism is just uncharitable and needs to stop.
That is (aside from the imperfections of the analogy) what is going on, here. The Legion has had an unhealthy and dangerous tendency to treat Maciel as a living saint and to hold both Maciel and the Legion itself up as guaranteed by God to be good. The phrase "God's great work, the Legion..." has been used endlessly, as have similar phrases.
Now, stripped of the possibility of honoring Maciel as a saint, facing the reality that he was instead a gifted and sexually deviant con man, the Legion has still not come to terms with the fact that this con man formed their order, gave them all their spirituality, wrote their rules, set up their disciplines, and is the only credible source of any "charism" they might have! That is the crux of this matter, and it is the one that many of us will continue to discuss as we wait, confidently, for Rome's pronouncements.
The pro-Legion side is insisting, over and over, with many different variations in the tune, that it simply does not matter that their order was founded by a sexually deviant con man. But no matter how hard they try, they can't remove Maciel from the founding of the Legion. Who wrote their prayers? Who created their rules? Who established their order? Who trained and directed their spiritual formation? Who set up the discipline? Who insisted that his mother's birthday be celebrated as a feast day, and pushed for her canonization? And, most importantly of all, from whom does their charism flow, if there is, indeed, a charism?
Those of us on the other side of the debate are saying (some of us placidly, some with the understandable frustration of having been involved in this battle for endless and mostly thankless years) that yes, it DOES matter. It matters hugely. Many religious orders were founded by saints. Others were founded by people who, while never canonized, were nonetheless known to have lived good, Christian, blameless lives. There is no religious order in existence whose founder was a sexually deviant con man, a fraud, a trickster/impostor who covered up the evil of his life until his death.
At this point, Legion supporters usually mumble about flawed vessels and baskets of good fruit. It is quite true that there are good people in the Legion, and that some of them have even managed, despite the fraudulent founder, to do good things. But no other order says, "In spite of our founder, we have managed to find a way to be good and to do good for the Church." This is not something which can merely be swept aside, ignored, or overlooked.
And it would be dishonest to talk about the baskets of good fruit while ignoring the grain silo full of rotten fruit, too. There are victims who were sexually abused. There are victims who were spiritually abused. There are Catholics who have received seriously flawed formation and questionable theological and moral training. There are men serving as Legion priests who were robbed of their real vocations to marriage and family life. There are men who left the Legion and remain in the lay state, who were robbed of priestly vocations in different orders or in dioceses (because the Legion tended to equate failure to become a Legion priest with proof that one was unworthy to serve God as a priest at all, and was quite possibly headed for damnation). There have been people whose hard work creating an apostolate was "stolen" when the Legion moved in and took over their publications or schools or other good works. There have been people wrongfully sued by the Legion to keep them quiet about these and other works of darkness.
Can a good-fruit-bearing tree grow in poisoned soil? Supporters of the Legion say it can. I disagree, and look forward to Rome's ruling, whenever it may come.