What is the point, after everything that has happened, of the continued existence of the Legion of Christ? I just can’t get a handle on it: perhaps my readers can explain to me what the great secret is.
The Legion has been supported wholeheartedly by nearly every pope back to Pius XII (though I can’t find evidence of support from John XXIII), and especially by Pope John Paul II. According to Wikipedia, the first paragraph of whose extensive article on the Legion (as far as I can see, objectively written, but what do I know?) sums up the problem, here is an enormously successful, and formerly thriving, institution within the Catholic Church which is now in crisis, for quite astonishing reasons:
“The Legion of Christ is a Roman Catholic congregation established in 1941 within the Catholic Church in Mexico and directed until 2004 by disgraced Fr Marcial Maciel. It enjoyed the favour of Pope John Paul II. It has priests working in 22 countries, and had 800 priests and over 2,500 seminarians as members by 2010… Its lay movement Regnum Christi has approximately 70,000 members. It operates centers of education (minor seminaries, seminaries, schools and/or universities) in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Ireland, France, Germany, Canada, the United States, and the Philippines. In 2009, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order’s late founder, Fr Marcial Maciel.”
The trouble is first that the entire spirituality of the Legion is based to a quite extreme extent on the supposed heroic sanctity of its founder. According to a former Legionary priest, Fr Stephen Fichter: “Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers. When you become a Legionary, you have to read every letter Fr Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”
And what a double life. Sex abuse of minors. Six illegitimate children. Mistresses housed in luxury apartments bought with the Legion’s money. The list goes on.
Fr Fichter, once the chief financial officer for the order, said he informed the Vatican three years ago that every time Fr Maciel left Rome, “I always had to give him $10,000 in cash – $5,000 in American dollars and $5,000 in the currency of wherever he was going”. Fr Fichter added: “As Legionaries, we were taught a very strict poverty; if I went out of town and bought a Bic pen and a chocolate bar, I would have to turn in the receipts. And yet for Fr Maciel there was never any accounting. It was always cash, never any paper trail. And because he was this incredible hero to us, we never even questioned it for a second.”
Pope Benedict first ordered an Apostolic Visitation of the congregation, and then appointed Cardinal-designate Velasio De Paolis to set about reforming it. You would think, would you not, that this troubled body would want to co-operate with him, and get everything sorted out: but no. Cardinal De Paolis has come to the conclusion that there has to be major change, and that this has to begin at the top. The trouble is, according to the leading Vaticanologist, Sandro Magister, “the superiors of the congregation, the most powerful of which is vicar general Luís Garza Medina, are by no means giving up on the idea of remaining in their positions of command, now and always.
“In mid-September, De Paolis asked Garza to give up the main offices that he holds, at least those of territorial director for Italy, supervisor of consecrated virgins of the movement Regnum Christi, general prefect of studies and head of the financial holding company Integer [the legion is immensely wealthy]. But Garza said no.”
Why not simply sack the lot, and start again? The reason probably has a great deal to do with the gentle pastoral style of Pope Benedict. As Cardinal De Paolis has made clear, “for now, neither he nor the Vatican authorities intend to remove the superiors of the Legion by executive fiat”. The reason, he explains, is that “if we get caught up in the desire to prevail, and to impose our own ideas on the others, disaster is certain”.
Very admirable, no doubt. But the disaster, surely, has already happened. The Pope has to prevail. Here is an institution which vaunts itself on its obedience to papal authority: then let its superiors obey. Then the big clean up can really begin.
The problem for me, though, is still this: why not, after everything that has happened, simply close the whole thing down? That’s a genuine question: I would like someone to explain.