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The superiors of the Legion of Christ are opposing change – why not sack the lot?

They are supposed to believe in obedience to the pope: then let them obey

By on Friday, 5 November 2010

Legionaries of Christ seminarians lead the recessional during a Mass in Rome (Photo: CNS)

Legionaries of Christ seminarians lead the recessional during a Mass in Rome (Photo: CNS)

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.

  • Ted

    What we have here is a cult within a Cult…..an enigma inside a paradox.

  • A Tusculum Friend

    I suggest you reread the original “Vatican” documents and the actual letters of De Paolis, instead of giving undue importance to Sandro Magister's unsustainable ramblings. Italian journalists have never been known for their objectivity and now is no different. It's a pity how so many publications simply repeat his nonsense (in many other fields as well) and do no serious research of their own. The Vatican and De Paolis have repeatedly stated publicly that they wish the superiors to stay and that the Legion is a “work of God”, independent of its flawed founder. So where's the “disobedience”? Wouldn't it be more honest to say that perhaps the Pope, the Vatican and De Paolis didn't chose the option that Magister and some others might have preferred? Think about it.

  • Jack B

    One explanation: Cash counts

  • Lionel

    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.

    Because the Vatican knows that they still will collect money from the Legion and there are still lots of people stupid enough to give.

  • hrh

    “I just can’t get a handle on it: perhaps my readers can explain to me what the great secret is.”


  • GLORYBE1929

    When you put your trust in MAN and not GOD that is where the trouble lies. These people need to get a good translation of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well and start from the beginning.

    The Roman Catholic Church has always based it's teachings on what the Popes(who are just men) say and not on the Scriptures.Scriptures they use for their own use, as the say they Represent Jesus Christ here on earth so they'd better have some semblance of Christ there. GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED. THIS IS TRUE. THAT'S WHY IT'S ALL COMING OUT!

    I find the Protestants take their meaningful teachings from Holy scripture.

    hrh = his royal highness, puts it properly to many. It's a life style for men that is totally based on “self” and that takes $'s. He's right in that aspect.

  • Brencel

    Well said! It is sometimes good to point out what should be obvious. A support network could be set up for the members; to counsel them and find them new orders to enter or direct them to dioceses that would welcome new blood.

  • Glorybe1929

    Where are the fruits of the Spirit in this organization? How can it be of God, when their whole group was started by a man who had absolutely NO SELF CONTROL. The first of the “fruits” of the spirit are self control. You don't build a house on sand and expect it to endure. Thank God our God is bigger than the Catholic Church. It should be shut down , money or no money. Give what's left to the “real poor”.

  • GFFM

    I couldn't agree more with William Oddie. The Legion and Regnum Christi need to be suppressed. I have met Fr. Fichter and was present at a long and in-depth meeting he held with Church officials and families who were trying to cut ties with the Legion because of the harm done to the children. I'll never forget it. Fr. Fichter's story is compelling and disturbing and he has been damaged by the order; he is open about this to those who will listen. The socialization and the formation of its priests is not changing. The profoundly warped view of the internal forum and external forum with regard to formation, spiritual direction, confession is not changing. And finally, the Legion's nefarious financial machinations are not changing. I realize closing the thing down would be a painful; much deprogramming and confusion would ensue, but it needs to happen.

  • Maggie

    The simple answer is as ever,”Follow The Money”. When you begin to trace who the benefactors are and their interests and holdings the picture begins to come into focus. Run a trace on Integer and the families of the upper echelon of the LC and the RC. What proportion of these do they control ( GM Foods and seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, oil, natural gas and international banking (monetary funds) if any? Is there any connection with the seedier side ( human trafficking, pornography including child, arms deals and sadly war of words (attempts to control the flow of information) like investments in the NY Times. We know Zenit and The National Catholic Register. Does any of this check out?

  • Glorybe1929

    Maggie you really hit the nail on the head! I'ts the blind leading the blind! (Spiritually speaking) But they really see very well.!

  • RJ

    It is still just possible that a legitimate order can be founded through a man who is corrupt. It is not beyond the power of God.

    No one is 'worthy' to found an order in any case and God works even through (or despite) unworthy men, even corrupt popes.

    Orders can have troubled beginnings: the third vicar of the Capuchins became a Calvinist.

    I'm not sure why it is the business of journalists to tell the Pope to close it down. I would think the Pope is concerned for the welfare of the members.

  • Adrian

    There are very many genuine people in the Legion of Christ and in Regnum Christi that must be considered. What is to happen to them if the organisation is closed ? They have no means of support, no careers, no homes (in many cases , apart from being a burden ontheir families) and know no other lifestyle. This is what the want to be and what they want to do, . Unfortunately they are cuaght in a conundrum, their motives are pure but there leaders are corrupt……not unlike many (normal human) organisations . Are they not also victims ?

    It's ok if they're in their 20's, or ven 30's, but what of those who have , sincerely, dedicated their lives to their priesthood for 30, 40 or 50 years ?

    Of course there's the money as well. to dismantle any operation of the size of the Legion will take a long time, look at the mess we see in Western economies with the rotten banks. None of the were instantly dismanteled even though the long term outcome is inevitable .

    Thje Vatican moves at a very slow pace, watch and see. This Pope has moved only with long term solutions, even where the immediate impact has been disastrous, like the paedofile clergy.

  • Fr. Emmett Coyne

    “The gentle pastoral syle of Pope Benedict!” What a croc! B16 was the Grand Inquisitor who heartlessly sacked people who thought differently than he. In former times, he would have sent them “gently” to the flames! As Hans Kung warned us upon his election, he is “sweet but dangerous.”

    He wants the status quo of the Legion as they are more orthodoxy to his line of thinking!

    Suddenly, B16 & clones want to be “gentle,” not top heavy in issuing executive edicts!

    Toward a select, wealthy few!!


    Fr. Emmett Coyne, Exeter, NH/USA

  • Pax106

    These guys control all the wealth. Rome can't control the outcome. These guys can walk away with an unbelievable amount of wealth.They are no fools.

  • Jflare29

    Protestants, by their very nature, cannot offer the whole of revealed Truth. Such is only present in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, usually recognized as the Roman Catholic Church.
    Don't forget, the Pope has always been considered infallible when teaching as Pope, to the world, on matters of faith and morals. Vatican I finally declared it dogmatically.
    Also, the Scriptures came from the Church, not the other way 'round. I believe it the Church took two whole Councils to finally define the canon of Bible.

  • Paul

    First, Mr. Oddie, you should read De Paolis' actual letter and not rely on faulty reporting before writing a column like this. What was reported is not what De Paolis wrote. Second, considering the state of Fallen Man, there are very few organizations that could survive if they were dismantled because of the sins of their founders. Hospitals would have to shut down, charitable efforts would have to cease, educational institutions would have to go away. Is that what you have in mind? The great work of the Legion priests and the Regnum Christi members on a national, parish and personal level is astounding, if often invisible. The spiritual disciplines, the call to prayer and holiness, the loyalty to the Magisterium, and the exploration of using one's gifts in the Church, are all perfect reasons to keep the movement alive. It is tragic that the founder himself didn't apply these principles to his own life. Still, those principles came not from him but from Scripture and many great minds within the Church. He simply accumulated them and applied them to the movement. So the practices and the legitimate work of the movement remains even now. That's what Benedict understands and why he cares to invest the Vatican's time and resources to see the movement through this terrible period. The blind cynicism of those who simply can't get beyond their conspiracy theories or personal issues with the Church at large has distorted this entire discussion.

  • W Oddie

    A Hans Jung fan, huh? Well, we know where YOU're coming from. And it's not the Catholic tradition, FATHER.

  • Koo Lade

    The upper echelon has kept it going for 3 reasons only – to get more money, to get more power and to impress the hierarchy and rich powerful Catholics. They have an army of brainwashed slaves who work for nothing, pretending to be nuns but who have surrendered all their human rights having been manipulated into thinking they are serving God as an elite group. They have friends in high places in the Vatican. Why would the leaders want to change anything? They have over $30 billion already and more is pouring in.

  • Danielle

    It's all about the money. The LC's should be disbanded. That this order is allowed to be a part of the “Holy” Church is a scandal and a source of great pain for many Catholics. Jesus weeps!

  • Michael_Burnett

    At the end of the day, it is a matter of faith. We Catholics express our Christian faith through the Church. As a third party looking in, my observation is that LC and RC are comprised of many good people who want to do good in the world. However, it is also my observation that people in LC and RC have lost perspective; they have abandoned communion with the Catholic religion in favor of a man and the comfort he offered as a god-like figure that gave them order and structure through fervent “conservative” Catholicism. In the meantime, they got lost along the way. Isn't that exactly what cult leaders do? There are many pat answers given by LC and RC when they are confronted by the problems of their orders. But this is the problem. They default to such responses as defenses-they are more committed to the order than their faith, they are more committed to defense of their orders than their faith. The true test of faith for these people will come when they are forced to find a way to integrate into the communion of faith of the Catholic Church, unencumbered by the restraints of the secretive and reactionary orders. The true test of faith will come when they are asked to abandon the ideology of “conservatism” in favor of the Catholic Church. The issue is not whether the people of LC and RC have done much good in the world–they have. In that respect, they are no different than all people of good faith in the Catholic Church who are not members of LC and RC, and no different from people of good faith from all true faith traditions throughout history. The issue is whether these people can find solace in their Catholic faith without the bonds of LC and RC. These groups should not be brought down because of the sinfulness of its founder–although that certainly plays an important part in it. Rather, the group should be brought down because it is an impediment to a true expression of Catholic faith. It is astonishing that Fr. Fichter is not called out for his complicity in the financial wrongdoing in LC. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He had no illusion about that. His explanation that he was blinded by his devotion to Maciel is exactly the point. He and the other “leaders” of LC had reached a point where they worshiped Maciel…that is cult-like behavior. Missives about their devotion to Christ and the pope are just that. They have not lived their faith–they have been devoted to a man who I believe they knew–in their hearts–was guilty of spectacular wrongdoing. Spokesmen of LC and RC who now admit that they always knew there was something not right about the orders' canned responses to allegations should have known better. It is time for these people to put aside the allure of sentimentality (to a time when all “good Catholics went through majestic rituals that gave them a sense of togetherness apart from the rest of the world, a more exalted identity). That sentimentality that cause LC and RC to yearn for the “good old days” when Catholics were more part of a pilgrim church is a false faith. It is time for these people to put aside their devotion to a political-like “conservatism.” We are a people of faith called to follow the teachings of Christ–not Maciel, and not a particular political point of view. These people strike me as the modern-day Pharisees, who became so myopic in their imposition of Jewish laws and rituals that they lost sight of God. Then, when God was in their midst, they had not eyes to see nor ears to hear God's call to faith. If these people feel they cannot live and worship as faithful Catholics outside of LC and RC, their faith is truly lacking. I beckon all of you to return to the Catholic faith.

  • Michael_Burnett

    More comments: It is startling that so many in LC and RC are so supportive of the type of formation that produced LC priests. The isolation, control and indoctrination imposed upon seminarians (many far too young and immature to make well-informed, experienced and spiritually meaningful commitments to priestly life) is indicative of something far removed from faithful formation. Christ invited the apostles to follow him. He did not drill “dogma” into their heads. They learned from the power of his words and example. He did not encourage them to wear the same hair style he did. He did not isolate them and indoctrinate them. They were sent out into the world to bring the kingdom of God to the rest of the world. That is, by definition, the opposite of control and isolation. God did not encourage the apostles in their fearful gathering in the upstairs room. Rather, through the Holy Spirit, he sent them out into the world. LC's highly controlled indoctrination of priests and consecrated virgins speaks to a need for their superiors to control their formation. That is indicative of–at some level–of a lack of faith. To form good priests, we must expose them to all that is different from priestly formation. They must question their faith, the teachings of the Church, etc. We do not need more religious and lay people who are so at a loss to respond intelligently and lovingly and faithfully to questions of Church teachings that they default to “dogma” and the magesterium. I implore these people to engage in their faith, not to resort to a fear-based need to be part of an exclusive club to feel superior to the rest of the faith world and to other Catholics who do not share their interpretation of our rich faith. Remember, when Jesus walked the earth, he was tested by the Jewish elders who were constantly trying to trick him, discredit him, and accused him of being in conflict with what was the then-dogma. As Christians, we know that he fulfilled God's kingdom on earth precisely through his rejection of “dogma” that had grown sour in the Jewish faith tradition. He did not circle the wagons, isolate his apostles and followers, subject his followers to strict and controlling rituals or demand that they do what he said. It was through the clarity of their faith that they were able to see the truth.

  • RJ

    Not sure who you are referring to: Charles Curran perhaps. I read the correspondence between them: Cardinal Ratzinger was always courteous, not so his interlocutor. If I remember rightly, he merely pointed out the incompatibility between Curran's views and his holding a licence to teach Catholic theology.

  • RJ

    We don't put our trust in man. We put our trust in Christ, including his promises to guide his Church through the ages. He entrusted a teaching ministry to the apostles, despite their human frailties.

    Mere personal interpretation of the Bible really doesn't 'cut it'. In fact, that seems to me to amount to little more than naivety or trusting in oneself – which amounts to trusting in man.

  • Glorybe1929

    And who told you that it is “The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church???? Man told you that! There is nothing in the Old or new Testament that tells you that. You have been lied to by the best. that is the Devil himself.

    If you cannot be “heartbroken ,as God is heartbroken” over the evil that the RCC has done over millenium(s), then how can you call your self what ever it is you call your self?

  • Glorybe1929

    There are many good people in all kinds of orders, that have been unable to continue in them because they have “truths from God” that have been violated by these people and they no longer want to be part of the problem of “spiritually murdering” the handicapped, the marginalized and the innocent children. , groomed by clergy, My cousin was a Notre Dame, Holy Cross brother, that was involved at “Boysville” in Michigan. He had to leave, as he knew what was going on in the Dorms every night by priests and brothers , with the boys and also with him, that this was evil. .

    My sister in law, a Dominican nun, wanted to leave but died in stead of a broken heart at age 70 of cancer.The same with my cousin who left but died of a broken heart also of cancer at the age of 50. I am 81 and we left the church in 2001 on our 50th wedding anniv. When all this hit the fan ,we then knew that all they had told us was true. We would not believe them. I'm sure that broke their hearts as well.

    Think of your Lord and Savior and know that what breaks HIS Heart, should also break yours. If it doesn't what would you call it? Just one of those things people do?


  • Glorybe1929

    What is ; “by their very nature mean? PROTESTANT!….a protestor is a good thing ,when you are confronted by evil in the form of supposed “good” God gave us a mind to conform or to use to the best of our ability. Use yours.

    Have you ever heard of generational brainwashing? You can get some good books on it .. Many are what the Muslims did and still do to their people. You know if it could happen to them, why not also to you?

  • Paul

    You know, I've met probably over 50 Legionary priests, and I have a great deal of respect for the vast majority of them and for the way they live out their priesthood. I think that what many people saw in the Legionaries was an antidote to the Traditionalist urges in the Church after the heyday of the '60s and '70s. As the Church seemed to be coming unglued in front of our very eyes, the Legionaries represented a modern, post-Vatican II mentality that yet held fast to tradition and the truths of the faith. Their deportment was consistent with their calling – a refreshing change having enduring so many priests who sought to erase the distinctions between priests and laymen. These guys were smart, crisp, joyful, demanding, modern, and reverent. That was an enticing combination for those who had had their fill of the pablum served up to us by the “We are Church” types yet who knew that Marcel Lefebre was on the wrong path. Too bad their founder was a louse. I hope they can save the good that is there. (Is there something about names that sound like Marcel, Marcial, Maciel that we should beware of?)

  • RJ

    Yes it is shocking. But does that invalidate all the good that was done within the Church?

    Also: do you think that there is no child abuse in Protestant denominations? Do you then say that everything that is taught within those is wrong? If not, why not?

    You feel betrayed. Those men did betray their calling. So did Judas. What did the Apostles then do? Did they say: well we might as well pack up. No. They replaced him with someone more trustworthy.

  • Ben62

    Regain. A support network that has been treated dreadfully by the official Church and by LC/RC et. al.

  • Brencel

    Thanks, Ben62, I was not aware of ReGain.org. In what way have they been badly treated, is there a link re this?

  • Thomas M.P. from India

    I don't remember having ever heard of LC or RC or its founder, but from this article as well as the comments by readers I understand that the founder made some drastic mistakes and some leaders continue to be obstinate in false teachings and practices within the organisation. Instead of dismantling the Organisation, my suggestion would be revitalisation and renewal. For this purpose, Diocesan priests, or Religious Priests of other Congregations who are well versed in Catholic teachings and who are really holy and God-fearing should be appointed in each institution run by LC and RC. They should be given proper authority and responsibility. In the same way Nuns from other Congregations should be appointed in the female institutions. Moreover, seminarians who are aspiring to be priests or religious and girls who are aspiring to be nuns in LC and RC should not complete all of their studies in institutions run by LC and RC, but they should be sent to institutions run by Dioceses or other Congregations to study Philosophy, Theology etc. This would prevent the aspirants from being brainwashed by wrong beliefs and thoughts. Besides, we should not forget that there are a lot of good people in LC and RC and should not go for a blanket labeling of all of them as bad people.

  • Philsevilla

    Let's remember the Borgia popes!!! There is clear evidence in the history of the Catholic Church that her Founder meant what He said in Matthew 16:18! Inspite of sinful men at the helm, the Church will survive till the end of the world. Thanks be to God.

    Let's pray for Fr. Maciel's soul, the Legion and Regnum Christi.

  • Anonymous

    re:”I would like someone to explain”. In Mexico, we say “No hay que ponerse con el burro a las patadas” (“don't play kick-me with donkeys”, loose translation). The Vatican is trying to pry power away from the Legionaries. That's like playing kick-me with a donkey!

  • Anonymous

    Many members of the LC truly bought into the Maciel-myth. Maciel knew how to garner his image using cult-like strategies that covered any blemishes and magnified only the goodness in the sight of his followers. LCs were taught to poverty – total financial accountability, use of non-descript articles of clothing, etc. Maciel wore Lacoste and other designer-wear items, ate exquisitely, etc. LCs bought into the “saint” needing his special care to continue God's work… Unlike the current cadre of superiors of the LC, Fichter left long before any of this scandal went as public as it has. Unless you are personally aware of complicity he had with Maciel's dark side, I don't know how you can say that. As the LC's CFO, he was basically rubber stamping the “saint's” demands blinded by the cult to the Founder (capitalized in LC-speak) he had grown up with in the LC. I think Garza and co. are showing how complicit they were/are in allowing the cult of Maciel. Garza's refusal to step aside, methinks, belies his fear of having to respond a la Nuremberg for his part in the cover up. He was effectively the #2 man in the LC before Corcuera took Maciel's place at the helm. The big three in the LC – Garza, the vicar, Corcuera, the general, and Sada, the gen'l secy – are far more complicit in the cover up. Giving these 3 the benefit of the doubt, tho, all 3 were groomed by Maciel from their teens when they attended LC schools in Mexico – there is reason to suspect their allegiance to Maciel, in part, may be the result of them being sexually abused by Maciel as teens (and/or beyond as faithful LC subjects).

  • GabrielAustin

    I hesitate to bring up a cognate subject but what of the Society of Jesus? Is there not something about unquestioning obedience to the Holy Father? The Society is in disarray. Their schools are said to be in the Jesuit tradition. Little mention is made of the Catholic tradition.

  • Anonimato

    There seems to be reason to believe that the “big 3″ current leaders of the LC (director & secy general and vicar) were entangled with MM as youths… therein lies their own coming to terms with MM's fall from grace…

  • Anonimato

    Oddie, you're a “bigote” (do a google translation)

  • Tipicojavier

    What draws Christians to be part of a religious order or to support it with donations is the belief that that order represents the ideal of Christian organizations; otherwise one would simply support a diocesan group or parish. Successful orders rely on the impeccable roots and trajectory of their founders and their principles, they inspire admiration, and that’s why they work.
    There is no way you can get very enthusiastic about a religious order that is struggling to justify itself, or that is barely acceptable to the community. It just doesn’t work, it has to be exemplary, ethical, respected or it simply won’t grow.
    The Legion will shrink slowly and painfully. It is better to dissolve it now, and try to rescue the good that there still is.