The troubled Legion of Christ religious congregation began its much anticipated General Chapter in Rome this morning. This meeting, comprised of 61 Legionary priest delegates, will elect new leaders for the first time since Marcial Maciel its founder was revealed to have been a pedophile, a one-time drug addict, and a con-artist. The meeting will also formulate new Constitutions which the Congregation must present to Pope Francis for approval. And the Congregation must define its "charism" within the Church.
This process will technically put an end to the Vatican's oversight of the Congregation, a process that has been underway for the past three years. It remains to be seen whether the Chapter will mark a credible new beginning, or whether it becomes a sickening and demoralizing exercise in public relations to cover up the inability of the “old guard” to change.
Just before Christmas, Fr. Felix Alarcon, a Spanish priest, resident in Madrid, gave an interview to “Religion Digital.” For those who understand Spanish, the testimony of this intelligent, humble man is intensely moving, and entirely credible.
Felix was abused by Maciel, witnessed his drug abuse, and was “exiled” to New York after confronting the founder of the Legionaries. After his ordination to the priesthood he left the Legion and found refuge in the diocese of Rockville Center New York. While there he suffered in silence for some 15 years, profoundly affected by the abuse. Following his meeting with another, former Legionary priest, he became aware that he was only one of several young men abused by Maciel. That realization combined with hearing Pope John Paul refer to Maciel as a useful model for young people, helped him decide that he should go public with his testimony. He allowed himself to be interviewed by reporters Jerry Renner and Jason Berry. He co-signed a formal letter to the Vatican sent by his former Legionary brothers who were also abused.
His testimony has been discreet, humble and clearly not attention seeking. He has long since forgiven Maciel and seems to have ‘reconciled” some elements of his past with the Legion following a visit from Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, Superior General, who visited him in Madrid in order to beg forgiveness. It is amazing to me that Felix was never interviewed by anyone from the Vatican. No doubt someone influential did not want the testimony of a priest on the record. I am less surprised that he was shunned and calumniated by the Legion. That is standard operating procedure for all Legionaries formed in the Maciel system of power.
The interview Fr. Felix gave to Religion Digital ought to be mandatory communal viewing for the delegates to the Legion’s General Chapter. His story is disturbing and yet, all things considered, almost hopeful. He knows there are still some good men in the Legion who have had nothing to do with Maciel. They face a difficult dilemma and Felix wishes them well. He is a staunch supporter of Pope Francis whom he hopes will steer the Legion in the right direction.
I’ve always suggested there would be no major, discernible change in the Legion – including a renewal of the leadership – until the General Chapter. Now, it’s crunch time. The results will depend on the collective wisdom of the Chapter Delegates, their willingness to change, and, most importantly, their credibility with Pope Francis. Sustainable change probably will not occur in this generation. It will take many years to overcome the dysfunctional culture inherent since the foundation. Maybe, the Holy Spirit will provide some support.
As an experienced management consultant, and as a former Legionary, there are many suggestions I would like to offer the Chapter Delegates – if they were interested. Therein, I think, is their greatest challenge: Legionary culture is closed in on itself, in a never ending loop, devoid of critical thinking. They never seem to want outside advice - especially from former LC. The structure of power needs major rethinking. Personal conscience needs to be respected in the spirit of Vatican II and Pope Francis. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience need to be reinterpreted and aligned with the “best practices” of the Catholic Church.
If I were to see the Legionaries make a sincere and sustained effort to ask for forgiveness (not just collectively, but as individuals) to all former Legionaries, and to Regnum Christi members, I might believe that genuine change is possible for them. Many of us, who in good faith joined the Congregation giving of our blood, sweat, and tears, during many years because we believed in the Church, and the Legion, and later discerned our true vocations according to our individual consciences, were shunned, abandoned, calumniated, and left entirely to our own devices. This happened to most, even after many years of dedicated service. This shunning is the essence of dysfunctional behavior and symptomatic of so many flaws in the Legion’s foundational culture. A functional family would wish to be reconciled with all of their brothers and sisters.
I am not entirely optimistic, but I am willing to await the results of the General Chapter. Meanwhile, I hope that the interview with Fr. Felix gets the exposure that it deserves among Legionaries, former Legionaries, Regnum Christi members, and sympathizers of the organization. His message, I think, provides a sense of “closure” on the sick past while providing a glimmer of hope for a healthier future.