Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Legion is a dysfunctional family

The pattern of dysfunction within the Legion of Christ continues to emerge with this sad news:

A high-profile American priest in the Legionaries of Christ has acknowledged having had a sexual relationship with a woman and fathering her child, adding another chapter to the growing scandals surrounding the controversial religious order.

Fr. Thomas Williams, known for his work as a TV commentator and popular spiritual writer and speaker, issued a statement today confirming he had fathered a child with a woman “a number of years ago,” and said that he and the superiors of the order have decided that he will take a year off without any public ministry “to reflect on my commitments as a priest.”

“I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation,” Williams said in the statement.

Out of what he described as “respect for the privacy of the woman and her child,” Williams declined to identify the woman or provide other details. He confirmed, however, that the relationship had occurred while he was already a priest and a member of the Legionaries.

Williams told NCR the woman has declined economic assistance, and that she was neither his student nor someone to whom he had offered spiritual direction. [...]

Fr. Luis Garza, the top official for the Legion in North America, sent a letter to members today informing them that Williams will undergo “a period of reflection, prayer and atonement.”

“In the wake of all that we have been through as a movement in the past several years, it won’t surprise me if you are disappointed, angry or feel your trust shaken once again,” Garza wrote, saying that any further information “is at the discretion of those involved.”

Because Williams’ relationship did not involve a minor or accusations of abuse, it is not subject to the Vatican’s anti-abuse procedures. Traditionally, the Vatican has left discipline for transgressions involving a consensual relationship to the priest’s superiors, in this case the leaders of the Legion and the papal delegate appointed by Benedict XVI to oversee the order, Italian Cardinal Velasio de Paolis.

In the wake of this, there are a couple of things I want to get out of the way right away.

First, it is not the sin of detraction to engage in thoughtful discussion of these sorts of incidents when the incidents have already become public knowledge. It is not uncharitable, either. It is human nature to be stunned by sin and to ask, "How did this happen?" as well as to remain mindful of one's own sinfulness and beg God for mercy for all of us sinners.

Second, it is not necessary for most of us to say much about the specifics of this situation except that we will pray for Fr. Williams, for the woman, and for the innocent child who is the true victim here--not in the terrible sense that other children have been victims, but in the injustice inherent in the consequences of his parents' sinful behavior.

Third, and this is the important one: it is neither uncharitable nor unjust speculation about the specifics to raise the question as to whether or not this is yet another proof that the Legion is fatally flawed, whether the sins of Maciel are continuing in the members of the order he founded (considering that one category of his sins was to father children out of wedlock in violation of his priestly vows), and whether it's even possible, at this point, for true reform to occur?

Consider the example of a large Catholic family. They go to Mass every Sunday and sometimes to daily Mass as well, they pray together, they encourage frequent confession, they do their best to raise and educate their children in the faith--and yet one of the children falls into serious sexual sin, involving out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Can we say that there is anything definitely wrong here--or must we just consider the mystery of sin's powerful attraction to us all?

But suppose there's another large Catholic family that on the surface looks as good or better than the first family: Mass, confession, prayer, raising and educating their children in the faith. Behind the scenes, though, as their neighbors learn to their horror, something terrible was happening. Their father was accused, not just once, but repeatedly, of molesting children. Somehow, no charges were ever filed (but the local D.A. is a close friend and relies on this family's money for his election campaigns), and the family spoke sorrowfully of how uncharitable all these "false" accusations were. But then the father dies, and the community learns of his second family, the one he fathered with a mistress (and there may be more than one "extra" family). If, after this, child after child in that family falls into serious sexual sin, is "Gosh, sin is mysterious and powerful..." really the only conclusion we can draw? Or is the family's dysfunction directly related to the father's example, his way of teaching his children, and his own inability to give good spiritual advice in matters related to the Sixth Commandment?

If we think of the Legion as a dysfunctional Catholic family, their tendency to keep insisting that everything is fine and that these matters have nothing whatsoever to do with the Legion itself starts making a terrible kind of sense--the same kind that we recognize when a dysfunctional family closes ranks and pretends to the outside world that nothing is wrong. But if we think of the Legion as a dysfunctional family, it becomes harder to understand why some powerful members of that family are still calling so many of the shots.


Anonymous said...

It is most, I say MOST, unfortunate that the father's care of the child is called 'fathered a child', like did he or did he NOT actually provide any care for the child?

That's the upshot. He 'fathered' a child as just so much flotsam and jetsom in a sea of other debris and detritus. Like J. Edwards and his offspring with the staff videographer.


Steve said...

I do not agree that the sins of MM have had a an effect on LC members directly. (Due to his actions they could have but read below) As far as I am aware not one LC who was molested by MM went on to molest others, Only maybe 2 0r 3 people knew of MM's sins and they left the LC early on, therefore truly no LC's knew the truth behind MM till 2008ish and I do not think there has been any accusatons of any kind after 2008. Fr. TW had a kid 10 years ago. 10 years ago TW thought MM was a saint not a molester.

Do I agree with your general statement that if a Dad molests his kids they be absolutley messed up, on drugs and turn into molester -- 100% I agree!! But in this case no one truly knew MM was a molester and those that did know were already out of the LC.


paul ford said...

Red Cardigan raises valid questions. I know very little of the scandals of Fr. Maciel, but that appeared to be a case of continual hypocrisy, or schizophrenia (if that is not over-psychologizing and excusing partly his behavior). The case with Father Williams is different in that it is isolated. Is it? St. Joseph Cafasso wrote that the dangers (to the priest)of the confessional are many. Many priests have fallen, (lacking sufficient spirituality, or prudence, or personal maturity (desiring to be loved first)), due to improper relationships with abused or abandoned women, or women who wrongly imagine themselves victims of their husbands. I realize that it is stated that she was not a penitent; or that some priests are quite capable of having a purely sexual relationship with a woman. However, most priests, I believe, fall after having their compassion stirred by single or divorced women with real problems, and then deceiving themselves that they can help solve this woman's problems by more personal involvement.

How many priests are in the Legionnaires of Christ? And how many of them are guilty of sexual scandals? If you have a very low percentage of offenders, I do not see that the religious congregation, assuming it teaches Christian moral and spiritual doctrines, and mandates and encourages time-tested spiritual exercises, can be held responsible. We live in revolutionary times; men are naturally very affected by the visual; and since 1930 or so, men have never been bombarded visually (and in other ways) with so many temptations. I do not expect perfection in our Catholic priests; but I do expect them to be good, upholding Christ's teaching publicly, and striving mightily to avoid sexual relationships with women. What to make of the priest who fails once in this regard, with or without scandal, in his vocation? I think he can repent, and go on to be a good priest.

Laurettas said...

Steve, a young man from Ireland has mentioned on other blogs about the Legion that he was molested by a Legionary priest, who had been molested by a Legionary priest, etc. back to a priest who had been molested by Maciel. There are several instances of Legionary priests sexually abusing others and I am sure more will come out in the future.

AMSOL Pioneer said...

Well-said, Red. There are always going to be individual cases of weakness. But when there's just so much darn smoke, it's hard to escape the conclusion that there's a fire somewhere.

More to the point, if the whole order's charism was built upon MM and his writings/teachings, the whole damn thing should at least be put under heightened scrutiny, and not defended by its members who are simply too close and too personally invested to be objective about it.

Anonymous said...

Nice try! Thanks for clarifying what you are NOT doing. We are all sinners and yet we love to call out the ones who are somehow in the news.

Pete M.

Love in the Ruins said...

Well said. I was a member of the lay movement affiliated with the Legion for a number of years, and a number of friends I love very much are still members. I do not doubt the authenticity of their vocations or their love for Christ and the Church, but I worry that certain aspects of the founder's pathology are deeply, if sometimes subtly, embedded in the formation and spirituality. I would add though that my experience of LC/RC has led me to feel deep, deep sympathy for Fr. Williams. I think we are more inclined to hold him highly responsible because he was a prestigious and public member of the order, but it is important to bear in mind that RC/LC methodology often (or always) encouraged premature commitments to vocations from persons lacking maturity and good judgment. Once a commitment was made, a person was burdened with the belief that to leave was to violate God's plan and break a serious and binding commitment (something with the moral gravity of a mortal sin) even if they only were in the early stages of seminary. That is a terrible psychological burden for any person. Perhaps Fr. Williams recognized his weakness and even tried to use ordinary channels to leave, but was denied the opportunity or given poor direction. His case becomes tragic if we view it in that way.

Anonymous said...

I have a son studying with the Legion right now and he has never felt that he couldn't go home tomorrow if he so chose. I cannot speak for others, only my son.