In response to a comment of mine on another blog, I mentioned that I’ve already stated what I think may be the result of the Apostolic Visitation which has just come to a close on the Legionaries of Christ. However, I don't think I've stated those view here and I would like to rectify that omission with this post. The Legion and the Church is still reeling from the revelations about the now disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.
First, let me state categorically that I have absolutely no “inside knowledge.” What I think may happen is purely my own conjecture based on what I experienced as a Legionary and my conversations with friends who follow the latest goings on more assiduously than I.
Once the Vatican digests the exhaustive findings of the Apostolic Visitors I would not be surprised if the Pope’s recommendations to the Legion include the following:
1. Current senior Legionary leadership will be asked to step down
2. New leadership will be appointed from outside the Congregation
3. An extraordinary general chapter will be convened
4. The rules and constitutions of the congregations will be revised and adjusted
5. The understanding of the vow of obedience will be revised
6. The canonical status of the congregation my be modified (it may no longer be classified as a “religious congregation”)
7. Systems will be put in place – if more are needed – to guarantee transparency in all operations
If some or all of the above happens, the question becomes “will the Legionaries accept the mandated changes?” My guess is that they will. Loyalty to the Vicar of Christ is in the Legionary D.N.A. and supersedes all other loyalties. Nothing that any senior Legionary has said (that I am aware of) gives me any reason to think otherwise. Indeed, I’ve been told Fr. Alvaro Corcuera has unequivocally stated that they will do whatever the Pope says.
Have I any particular suggestions for what else should happen? No. That’s above my pay-grade as they say. Legionaries would be smart - and charitable! - to set up a new process and structure to help members who leave the Legion. An alumni association of former Legionaries (at least going forward) is also way overdue. There are excellent models for this in other congregations where former members and their families can meet and mingle with the current priests and seminarians.
For twenty years the Legion was my family. The problem is, as my perception has been painfully confirmed, it was a dysfunctional family. I know I don’t have to be a victim of my upbringing. Although a dysfunctional family can crush self-esteem, create personal confusion, and wreck relationships, the distortion of natural instincts can be reversed.
The problems with the Legion have clearly and painfully brought to light what is not good in this religious congregation of priests. In ways that we are not perhaps totally aware of, the Legion debacle reflects some underlying problems within the Catholic Church.
With the right new structures, goodwill and support in place, the knowledge of what ails the Legion can inspire the congregation and its members to set themselves free to become the holy and enthusiastic priests they want to be thereby creating a life they can love. The good men who left all for Christ deserve this chance. It most certainly will not be easy. That is why they need prayers and support. In many ways, I suggest the same is true for the greater Catholic Church.
The Church is teetering on a precipice at least in the English speaking world. The Holy Father and the Vatican bureaucracy would do well to learn from the good the Legion has done and learn even more from what went wrong. The Legion, like so many male clerical institutions, operated in many ways like a tribe. The tribe seeks to protect itself from outsiders. The tribal approach has to be changed, radically. That is particularly obvious in the case of the Legion. It has not been so obvious, until recently, about the workings of the Vatican. To my mind, the Vatican and the hierarchy traditionally have upheld a tribal mentality that is not entirely dissimilar – we wash our own dirty laundry, we know what is best, we will do everything possible to avoid scandal, we are above secular authorities.
The Church in the United States has learned, painfully, how to deal with clergy abuse. New structures are in place and upheld. Ireland is still learning. Awareness is spreading in Europe. God only knows what remains to be revealed in other parts of the world including Africa and Latin America. The case of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ is an almost perfect case-study for the pressing need to make deep and significant changes. The Vatican would do well to emulate the US approach to abusive clergy and would do even better to revisit in a very serious way what Pope John XXIII called “aggiornamento.” He urged the Church to adapt to contemporary challenges. The symbol for “aggiornamento” became the opened window of his papal apartment, and the blast of fresh air rushing in. I think it's time for the Vatican and the Bishops of the world to open the windows and let in a blast of fresh Spring air.