A couple of weeks ago I met a former Franciscan who is quite overtly critical of the Legionaries of Christ and their founder Fr. Marcial Maciel. The Legion of Christ, founded by Maciel in 1941, now claims membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in its lay arm, Regnum Christi. After the death of Pope Paul II, Maciel was stripped of his authority and the Legion of Christ will be reformed by a Vatican appointed representative. Father Maciel was still a priest when he died in 2008.
My Franciscan friend was right all on all counts in his criticism of Legionary reactions. However, one of his comments related to my memoir “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind." He said “If you publish your book in Mexico the Legionaries will shut down the distribution system.” That is when we disagreed. He was amazed when I told him that several Legionaries have already written to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. He was further amazed when I informed him of one instance where the book was recommended to local Legionaries by their Territorial Director. Then I told him that a Regnum Christi team-leader read the book, bought copies for his friends at work and later purchased a copy for each member of his Regnum Christi team. He tells me they will use it as an “inspirational” case study.
The Legionaries who wrote to me about the book suggested they had some “historical” quibbles – it turns out they are not substantial disagreements but rather different memories of the same events. One said to me, “Jack, when you and I joined we were in the Church Triumphant. Now we are in a Church that has been brought to its knees. And, you know what? I am very comfortable in this new Church.” All of these former colleagues agree that an auto-biography is, by definition, subjective. They seem to agree that my experiences, as related in the book, are a fair reflection on what life in the Legion was like for those of us who had close contact with Maciel.
I believe my former colleagues when they tell me that there have been substantial changes made in the rules and regulations since my time. Evidently, the rules relating to family visits have been greatly relaxed. One Legionary told me “You won’t believe me if I tell you that I can visit my family literally as often as I want to.” That is a huge and important change to my mind. The Private Vows (never to criticize ones Superiors) have been abolished. Another said, “In my particular apostolate (in Europe) I and my team work with poor people in close collaboration with our Bishop. There is no longer any pressure on us to recruit new members.” He sounded genuinely content in his ministry. I remember him as an excellent priest – and I have read very favorable articles about his work in magazines published where he resides. I believe these statements from my former brothers.
A recently posted review on Amazon reads: “This book gave more than a glimpse into the heart of one of the orders making headlines today. While the situation regarding the order's leader, Maciel, is unimaginable in many ways, this book also shed light on the people that were involved in the order for the RIGHT reasons. I think it is easy for people to focus on all of the bad things going on, especially as you see it splashed on CNN every other day. This book was able to give the perspective of someone who hasn't denied any of the crimes that were committed or the cover-ups that were obviously made, but it gives a voice to those young men who joined simply because they wanted to do good work and be a part of something bigger than themselves. It was refreshing to read an honest story about the good things that the church, and even this particular order, has done.”
Maybe that review articulates why the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members seem to enjoy the book. As for my Franciscan friend, all he could say when I recounted these first impressions to him was “Well, I’ll be darned.”
If you read the book, I would be privileged it you would take a minute to leave a review on Amazon and if you would “vote” on the reviews that are already there.