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The Legionaries of Christ are being rebranded: but Fr Maciel is still to be their private ideal

If the Legion is to continue its existence, it needs to change, root and branch

By on Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fr Marcial Maciel in an undated picture provided by the Legionaries of Christ (Photo: CNS)

Fr Marcial Maciel in an undated picture provided by the Legionaries of Christ (Photo: CNS)

An update on the reform of the Legionaries of Christ has now been issued by Zenit, and it poses a number of questions.
My readers may remember that some weeks ago I asked the question: what, after everything that has happened, is the point of the continued existence of the Legion? I suppose a better question would be, not what is the point of its existence (after all, I think we can accept the good the Legionaries themselves have done and continue to do), but what is the possibility of its continued existence?
If the whole charism of a body is based on a particular individual’s supposed sanctity, how – without going through a process of very radical change – does it continue after that individual is shown to be not holy at all but a very bad man indeed? Suppose St Francis were shown beyond peradventure to have been corrupt and vicious; how would you carry on being a Franciscan? It’s a real question.
Well, according to Zenit:

“The Legionaries of Christ and its lay movement Regnum Christi will no longer refer to their founder as ‘Nuestro Padre’, celebrate his birthday, or hang photos of him in their centres… However, the norms do allow Legionaries and consecrated members of Regnum Christi to keep a photograph among their personal belongings, and to read Fr Maciel’s writings or listen to his talks in private. Additionally, the writings of Fr Maciel may be used when giving talks and sermons, but without citing the author.”

In other words, there is to be a public rebranding of the organisation, but the cult of Fr Maciel is to be allowed to continue to flourish underground. His thought will still be the basis of the Legion’s spirituality: his image will still be venerated, but behind closed doors. “Photographs of the founder alone or with the Holy Father cannot be placed in Legionary or Regnum Christi centres,” reports Zenit, and Fr Maciel’s “personal writings and talks will not be for sale in the congregation’s publishing houses, centres, and works of apostolate”. But somehow they will be available to members of the order: there will be a black market in such things, and they will be passed around like samizdat. Retreat centres “will continue offering the same services, but a place for prayer, reparation, and expiation will be created there”.
Oh yeah? And what kind of expiation will that be? Reparation for what? For Fr Maciel’s child abuse and womanising and corruption? Maybe; retreats conducted at these centres, however, will doubtless continue to feature addresses based on Fr Maciel’s writings but “without citing the author”. The Zenit report put it into my mind to look up the word “hypocrisy” in Roget’s Thesaurus. It gives the following synonyms: “quackery, casuistry, pharisaism, sanctimoniousness, affectation, pietism, false guise, bad faith, hollowness, display, charlatanry, lip service, bigotry, dissimulation, sham, fraud, pretence of virtue, false goodness, lip homage, formalism, false piety, assumed piety, empty ceremony, tartuffism, solemn mockery, tartuffery, lip reverence, sanctimony, false profession, cant, bunkum”.
That just about does it; what do you think?

  • Joel Pinheiro

    To allow using his writings in sermons WITHOUT citing is very strange indeed. If it is good enough for use in a sermon or lecture, why not state the author? That is basic honesty.

    I'm no expert in ecclesiastical affairs and have no opinion on the future of the movement. I know lay people linked to Regnum Christi for whom it has been a blessing and who have no doubt that it is a holy institution despite the founder's shortcomings. That would be something new in the history of the Church, but who am I to say it's impossible?

    I understand stopping once and for all every kind of public cult of him; why not forbid private cult as well, and encourage prayers for his soul instead? As for his writings, surely their worth can be assessed impartially by theologians and knowledgeable Catholics. If they are good, let them be used (and openly cited, why not?); if bad, toss them away. Surely, even a great sinner might have had some good spiritual insights during his life? Perhaps God did call him for something great of which he fell terribly short, but His graces were not completely lost?

  • Toby

    Fr Marciel was clearly very tainted by sin, but he also had great qualities and an ability to lead people to Christ. For those led to Christ by him, the revelations about him must be very painful, however, despite this the fact that they continue to want to follow Christ shows a strong faith that must have some substantial grounding.

    I can read some of what you write and use it positively, other aspects I may find less helpful. It is only Christ that we are called to follow entirely. The charism of the Legion and Regnum Christi is not voided by the flaws of the man who espoused it first. We believe that all saints bar Mary have sinned.

    It is a very difficult situation but I think sincere and prayerful discernment of what is good and what should be discarded is appropriate and appears to be happening. There was clearly much that was attractive in Fr Marciel and to make him totally contraband would be foolish and unenforceable and reinforce any cult that exists or did exist. The proposals seems sensible to me.

    I pray for all involved.

  • Christopher

    You ask what I think. My answer is that I agree with you COMPLETELY.

  • Maggie

    Rome has spoken,”A False Prophet can be an 'efficacious guide to youth' “. That stands in direct contradiction to the word of The Word Made Flesh, “A bad tree can not bear good fruit.”. In answer to what do you think, the whole thing throws into question the discernment of those who discern our saints.

  • Jack

    All saints except mary may have sinned – please don't insinuate that Marcial was a saint or that the sins and repentance of other saints are similar to MArcials. You are brainwashed by the Legion and you don't even realize it.

  • Mtburnett

    LC and RC should be disbanded. That is not to say that there are not many good people in LC and RC–there surely are. However, it comes down to a matter of integrity and faith. Maciel was corrupt, and it was known by many in LC–and some in RC–for many years. Those in power at LC today were aware of it. They refused to acknowledge it until he was dead. That is, in and of itself, corruption that infected LC and RC beyond Maciel himself. Even were it not the case that Maciel was found out to be a fraud, there are grave problems with this cult-like movement. There is extreme, un-Christlike control and secrecy in the formation process for seminarians and consecrated women. The test of faith for these people will be whether they can practice their Catholic faith outside the bubble of LC and RC. Just as Christ calls us to leave home and family and worldly pursuits to follow Him, now LC and RC should be asked to forego the security and comfort of their movement that has been so discredited. My suspicion is that many cannot. This is because many of them have reached a point that they can only envision, make sense of and express their faith through the prism of LC and RC–quite a fractured prism. When any purportedly “faith-based” movement focuses on someone other than Christ, and instead focuses on “conservatism” and “orthodoxy” as a barometer of legitimacy, it has fallen into discredit. LC and RC are decidedly and calculatingly not being urged to move beyond Maciel and the cult of personality. The splitting-hair rules of when it is now going to be considered acceptable to revere Maciel is evidence of that. If LC and RC are to be retained–mistakenly, I believe–then at least members must be ordered in the most comprehensive and complete manner to repudiate Maciel in both public and private, to acknowledge his corruption and deceit. Instead, these guidelines have given members a roadmap for how to persist in their reverence of him, but in private now. We are all sinners and hypocrites, but when these qualities infect a whole movement–as they have with LC and RC–it is time to call the members to a life of true faith and worship.

  • Lee Gilbert

    We need this order suppressed and now, all liquid donations returned to the donors, the founder's books condemned and his body consigned to an unmarked grave in an obscure cemetery, faculties removed from its priests until they profess vows in another order…for starters.

  • Alex

    I was in the Legion for 10 years. The whole Maciel saga is a terrible shadow. What I can't understand is why they keep taking about him… Why do they call him even “Father”, after all he abused before he became a priest, so does he even deserve that title? In ireland the victims of a peodofile priest had the word “father” removed from his tomb.

  • Stan

    I'm reminded of Dale Fushek and the Life Teen movement he founded as a worldwide Catholic Teen Apostolate. They continue on and he has fallen completely out of the picture. I agree with the rebrand. It seems very odd to hear tho that there will be an “underground” or “black market” appreciation of his spiritual works when it was in the shadows where he was his worst.

  • Anne

    I was un deer the impression that much of his writing was plagerized. Why not use writings that can be referenced to the original writers and site them. as for anything else find other sources. There are so many other great contributors to our faith. My brief experience with Rc was that they were ignorant of so many great teachings beyond the” movement”.

  • J Delve

    The difference as I see it, Stan, is that, when Dale Fushek went astray from the Church, the folks in the Life Teen movement did not circle the wagons around him in a cultish fashion, but rather submitted to the authority of the Church with great humility.

  • metanoia

    For me, LC and RC will need to re-align their way of life to some saint or cause, the above article lacks vindication to the life of the founder which was proven as “questionable” to the mainstream.

    How can listeners enjoy a talk or seminar when the quoted person was living a life of a lie?

    On the other hand, we need to understand the sentiments of those inside LC and RC, but they need to move this great order and continue their ministry unless they want to separate their ways to the Catholic Church…

    God bless us all…

  • Mark H

    They should be suppressed forthwith. Anything else is a compromise with evil.

  • Stevebrock

    so, if St. Francis had been bad, then we shouldn't have an order that practices the virtue of poverty? so, since Marcial was bad, we shouldn't have an order that practices faithfulness to the Pope and a zeal for spreading Christ's Kingdom in the world?

  • Stevebrock

    also, regarding his writings, unlike you, I interpret it that they are no longer to be a required reading by the Legionaries. If someone wanted to read them, they would be able to, but they would no longer be something they had to read. That, along with no longer offering them for sale, seems to be a big step in the direction of making them irrelevant. I do not get the impression that the intent is to continue using them with the intensity that they had before, but hiding the fact that they are being used.

  • juanita

    In the Old Testament story of the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah (sp?) the family of Lot, Abraham´s nephew , were told not to look back as they were escaping. Lot´s wife looked back and was turned into a pilar of salt. The situation of the Legion is somewhat the same. Continuing with their veneration of Maciel is looking back, and those who do will be turned into a pilar of salt (figuratively speaking of course) , When one is escaping one needs to get up and go and leave everything behind, if they don´t they are taking the evil with them and will lnot be liberated, but will be chained to an evil man.

  • Psiena2010

    However it is not that clear what the Holy See via the Delegate is asking them to do regarding the founder. The very fact the Church opted for a “renewal” instead of a total refoundation (which means new foundation and no more reference to the previous founder) implies this unhealthy solution of honor the work of the man but not the man would emerge. This might be OK for certain type of organizations- like life teen or Covenant House in NY, but not so for a religious institute that must build a unified and credible witness of holiness from the life, spirit and witness of a founder. At the end of the day will the message the Church is sending here be- OK future founders- live as you wish- you will be successful as long as your rules are orthodox- your personal life is irrelevant to the transmission of the grace of a foundation? This is the anti-thesis of the incarnational understanding of grace, and of the grand ideal of what an institute of religious perfection is for the Church.

  • Ned

    Here's my two-cents. LC and RC must be saved – they're too good to toss aside. I agree Maciel image and all should be done away with, I guess. Obviously he was corrupt, but he tried to do SOMETHING good. Anyone who's read any LC priests' writings would agree, I think, that these are good men. Read “Spiritual Progress” by Father Williams and tell me it isn't brilliant. Likewise “The Better Part.” Make the LC Dominican or something, but keep the men and the seminarians. We need orthodox Catholics more than ever. I'll tell you one thing – men joined the LC because they were true believers of the True Faith, willing to sacrifice all for the kingdom. I totally agree the cult of Maciel needs to go, but my gosh, we're accepting whole Anglican parishes into the Church with only what some written assurance that they're now Catholic? They can even keep elements of their Anglican liturgy, for goodness sake. But I will love them like a brother and sister. I think we can keep the LC and RC so long as they make obvious adjustments. But to throw out the baby with the bathwater – yeah, satan would love that.

  • Toby

    Jack, I'm certainly not brainwashed by the Legion. I have never met a priest from the Legion and have met one person for about 10mins who was in Regnum Christi. I am not saying that Fr Marciel was a saint or indeed that his sins were not very grave. I am just saying that if there is something good to be taken, something positive that can be used, then this should not be ruled out as a matter of principle.

    I have not read many, if any, writings from the Legion, but I just do not believe that the whole thing is rotten to the core.

  • Robert Wheelock

    I honestly do not know how a person can be the ideal,as he was a total fraud. Is this a solemn declaration by the Church that fraud really is not a vice. I am a survivor and I despise anyone who would say a pedophile really should be my ideal–no matter how secretly. Talk about a cover up—this tops them all

  • Anthony

    I still think that Micel still has way too much influence and that his name deserves nothing more than than a mention of him as their disgraced founder in their community history. Having experienced priests and seminarians of the Legion, getting “Maciel” out of the Legionary can only happen by grace. Its an inbreed thing. Just my opinion!

  • Anthonytoc

    This is a further opportunity for the evil one to work!

  • Anthony

    This is not a logical comparison it seems to me. To be an authentic Catholic, one must be totally faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium. No exceptions! Virtue is virtue and stands on its own. Poverty is an evangelical vow professed by religious and not just Franciscans. St Francis lived out his call and members of his Order experience the call to embrace holy poverty and live it according to his example.

  • Anthony

    The old saying…One bad apple can spoil the basket. It is not an individual Legion member being written off as being bad. It is about THE most influential member, Marciel, that is corrupt. Any recall of him in the affirmative keeps his influence ever present. Praying for the repose of his soul is our best recource and act of charity.

  • Anonimato

    Why not even study the writings of the Fathers & Doctors of the Church – in the LC under MM, these were sidelined in favor of the writings of the so-called “Our Father”…

  • John

    Wait a minute! Anyone intelligent enough can figure out that the foundation of all Catholic Orders is Christ and not their founder! Yes, unfortunately there are, and will continue to be, bad leaders who live a life of personal hypocrisy BUT IT DOES NOT in the least means that the organization is itself false! Christ says concerning the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, “do what they say but not what they do”. I would expect all Christians to be charitable to the members of the organization comforting them and helping them in their suffering (i.e. believe me most all members especially priest and consecrated have been painfully hurt) to get back on their feet after such a tremendous blow! It means they need to continue being an example of faith and holiness, the complete opposite the nightmare of their founder. They will have to accept the facts, walk through the fire, and be able to decipher what is Christ based and what came from the man Maciel himself. Not an easy task! But continue they will, even though their enemies will continue to defame them innocent thought they are… To continue in such an organization and be holy is not shameful but rather heroic!

  • Shelton

    LC/RC has lost all credibility, period. Any good they have done has been undone–undermined by Fr. Maciel's sins. Hearing about them makes my stomach ache. Sadly, LC/RC should deep six themselves into oblivion.

  • Mother of a Legionary

    I have a son who is a Legionary priest and so I think your assessment is totally unfair and untrue. Just because some Legionaries and Regnum Christi members may want to keep a picture of Father Maciel and still read some of his writings is NOT the same as you broadcasting that Fr. Maciel is “still to be their private ideal”. Have you ever read any of Fr. Maciel's writings? If you had, you would understand the complete shock and unbelief that the Legion has had to deal with. There is such a huge rift between what Fr. Maciel wrote and taught and what he practiced. It boggles the mind to think that one and the same person could be responsible for both. Archbishop DiPaolis is the papal delegate for reforming the Legion. Steps are being taken and will continue to be taken to look at every aspect of Legionary life. For people to write what they do with no compassion for the many good and holy priests within the Legion and Regnum Christi members is a sad commentary on Christian forgiveness. Legionaries have had to come to terms with Fr. Maciel's duplicity and forgive him. Fr. Maciel's sins do not negate the vocations of these men. They follow Christ. Their spirituality is Christ centered with great devotion to the Mother of God. The pope has given his love and fatherly guidance to the Legion with the appointment of his papal delegate who is over-seeing the reform and renewal within the Legion. Let's not try to be more Catholic than our Holy Father. Let us pray for the renewal and reform that the Lord's will be done. Barbara

  • CL

    To those who say that the LC/RC should be disbanded because of the sins of Maciel. Please remember that the Catholic Church has members and leaders who have sinned even more grievously. Is that a reason to disband the Church? If we disband groups because of the sins of leaders, we would get nowhere.

    The LC/RC have done so much good in such a short time. Does the sins of one man overshadow all of that? Is he that important?

  • RJ

    I think you are reading into the passage quoted something that isn't necessarily there. What's the alternative? To forbid individual members of the organisation to have private photos, to read his works or to quote from them. How would that be policed? Daily inspections? Searches of rooms? That might be considered too restrictive, an overreaction. You state unequivocally that there will be a black market in the works and that they will be passed round as samizdat. Can we know that?
    I suppose a charism is given through a person or persons; it doesn't ultimately derive from that person, so one must be able to distinguish between the two. He failed to live the charism; perhaps others have not.
    I wonder if the figure of Judas would be instructive: He betrayed his office. What did the apostles do? They appointed another person to carry it out. So could the same perhaps be done in this case?

  • Jean

    Your nievity incenses me. I was a member of RC as a teenager in Dublin. I have to say after been a member from the age of 12-16, I never felt any real sense of spirituality there, but as a young teenager they had a grip on me. Are the legionnaires and the lay apostles bad? no their brainwashed. I remember the women who ran the youth clubs all lovely people in themselves very willing and hardworking. But they were never allowed to be alone they had no time to themselves. I doubt if they even had time to think. I often think they were very abused. Towards the end I couldnt put my finger on it but I knew something wasnt right. I felt a great emptiness around them it reminds me something of that film Stepford Wives. it was like they were all programmed. Frightening to think of the level of induction.

    Mr Marciel, dare I call this phony a priest, which he was not, lets face it Christ defrocked him a long time ago, was a devious peodophile the only reason for his glorious movement to exist was to exalt himself. I never heard anything about the love Christ it was all about Marciel. It was quite sickening really.

    Without a doubt this movement must be disbanded, it was founded on evil and many innocent sheep followed, including myself! What is left is frightened individuals who are unable to survive outside this dysfunctional and abusive setup.

    It was only when I left that I met real spirituality in my own local parish. I met real people who led normal lives no secrets. I got to know the love of Christ, trust me its different very different to the phoniness I met in with the Legionnaires.

    Throw out the boiling bathwater Ned! your living in cuckoo land if you think that evil sadistic man was in anyway inspired by God. Remenber even satan can appear as an angel of light.

    If the catholic church does not disband them I have no doubt as I firmly believe in the justice of Christ, that they will dismenber. It has to its a dangerous infection.

    Never ever believe the legionnaires when they say they will stop honouring him. His cult is still alive and they will worship him in private.

    Wake up people even satan had legions.

    A very angry ex member who feels seriously aggrieved for the wasted years in this paedophiles wasp nest.

  • Wade St. Onge

    There certainly won't be anyone in the Legionaries complaining it is “too restrictive” because “restriction” and “control” are “legion” in this order (pardon the pun). They're quite used to being in the fishbowl.

  • Wade St. Onge

    The problem is that this particular grievous sinner set up a religious order. Hence, the sin at root in the man no doubt drove some of the policies and structures. We already know two of them – including the “vow” forbidding anyone saying a word about Maciel's sins to another soul. The order is infected with a lot of subtle errors and outright sinister elements. That's the difference between some ordinary Catholic living a double life and the founder of a religious order, Mr. CL.

  • Wade St. Onge

    Please see my response to CL above.

  • Wade St. Onge

    That, indeed, is the model we must look towards. It is the most applicable.

  • Skitch

    The problem with your suggestions is this: the order was founded by a man who sodomized children. Nothing good can ever compensate for the horror he inflicted on his victims. A child molester by nature is very devious and manipulative. Therefore, his mindset has poisoned everything he touched.

  • Skitch

    Your time was not wasted. God needed you as a witness to the truth. The Holy spirit was always with you. That is why sensed something was off but you could not pinpoint it.

  • Skitch

    Your comments expose precisely why they should be disbanded. Your son will forever be tainted by a sodomizer as long as he remains an LC. He should speak for all victims with his feet, and leave.

  • Skitch

    Really what can be more grievous then sodomizing children amongst others? Then using the sacrament of reconciliation to silence the victims?

  • Pat

    unfortunately the LC is the bathwater and Maciel the baby… the stench originates from him. Your analogy is weak at best

  • sky_net

    It's the “Legionaries of Christ”, not the “Legionaries of Fr Maciel”. No rebranding needed.

  • sky_net

    Maybe, but not for sure. Ultimately spiritual realities reign: if Maciel thoroughly repented and did adequate penance then much of his evil will have been undone. Who knows, he may even be a saint by now (yes I know, highly unlikely; but hypothetically possible).