Friday, February 12, 2010

Legionaries of Christ: An Inside Look

I am using this blog to remember and reflect on some of my personal experiences with the Legion of Christ. You may have have stumbled on to this page and know little or nothing about the Legion of Christ. Check this link so see a short news report that will give you a quick overview: in my opinion it is a "fair and balanced report" (even though its not from Fox News!)

Twenty eight years after leaving the congregation, I've decided to publish my memoirs. My memoirs - in other words, I'll tell my stories, share my experiences and emotions and maybe give some insight into why guys like me joined the youngest founder in the history of the Church to "establish the Kingdom of Christ." Actually, deciding to join a religious congregation was the easy part. Staying the course and eventually deciding to leave was the hard part. The Legion becomes the "family" of the Legionaries - they do not make it easy to leave. For those of us who did move on to a new life and career, I think it is fair to say that "leaving" is a harrowing and gut wrenching experience.

The now disgraced founder, Marcial Maciel was a masterful manipulator of people. Charismatic and narcissistic. A deadly, powerful combination. The web is replete with blogs mostly criticizing him and the congregation he founded. Knowing what we now know about Maciel he is indefensible. Those who did not personally experience his charisma must struggle mightily to understand those of us who did. How could we possibly not have had some glimpse of the double life he led? How can we possibly hope that there is still some good in the congregation he founded? How can we wonder if the Church can  "afford" to simply disband one of the most vibrant forces it has produced in recent years?

My experience with Maciel began in 1962, when he was 42 years old. He was still relatively unknown at the beginning of his journey. When he sent me to Mexico in 1965, there were no more than 20 Legionaries in Mexico.  By the time I left the congregation, the Legion had gained the enthusiastic support of Popes, politicians, business people, world leaders, entertainers, and tens of thousands of committed Christians who joined Regnum Christi the world-wide lay movement which is part of the Legion. I want to contribute what I believe is an "untold story" in those early years - the personal story of an Irish Legionary who was close to Maciel trying to relate personal experiences of what it was like before the awful revelations about Maciel.

The priests and seminarians who continue in the Legion must be heart-broken, furious, disappointed, bewildered, sad and totally disoriented. I am sure the same goes for the tens of thousands in the Regnum Christi.  Even though they (the Legionaries) turned their backs on those of us who left the congregation my heart goes out to the good guys who remain. The rank and file mostly have limited and controlled access to the media and the internet. They have trained themselves to be impervious to 'outside" opinion. Despite considerable pressure from advisers, the media and public opinion they have not reacted pro-actively to the scandals. Thus they compound the notion that they are robotic, brain-washed people. I still believe that they are much better than the image they project.

They will do what the Pope tells them to do after the Apostolic Visitation. Of this I feel very sure. Therein lies a different story - the Vatican ultimately pulls the strings and I have no doubt the Vatican is advising the Legionary brass. There is a sad case to be made that the Vatican is coming across as out of touch with common Christians. The hierarchical structures of the Church made it easy to conceal scandals. Religious arrogance and paranoia persuaded the powers that be that scandals should be concealed. This does not justify the attitude of current Legionary leadership - but they are so imbued with loyalty to the establishment it is easy to see how they struggle to react.

Maybe we have reached a moment in history when we need to reexamine our notion of "ministry." I've always supported the notion of celibate priesthood. Today, I'm not so sure. The model, from where I sit, no longer seems to be working. I don't pretend to know the solution. But I do know it's time to wake up, smell the coffee and do something meaningful. Marcial Maciel could not have done the good he did without the Vatican. How was the Vatican so royally duped and, more importantly, what if anything has it learned?


Exlcblogger said...

I enjoyed this post. May I use it on my blog, with a link?
Landon Cody

Fr. James Farfaglia said...

Regarding your initial thoughts about priestly celibacy, I have given a lot of throught to this topic simply because of what I see happening in the Church at large. The present situation as we know it is not working. I don't pretend to know all of the answers. Celibacy for the Kingdom of God is a charism and it is not easy to live in the world that we live in. Therefore, the Church should at least give consideration to the following:
1. The general practice of most diocesan priests living alone is certainly not conducive to the living out of the charism of celibacy. I would encourage the establishment of small communities for those who desire to take part in them.
2. Bishops, Seminary Formators, Vocation Directors and Religious Superiors need to consider the distinction between the charism of celibacy as a gift for the Church and the vocation to the priesthood. As you know, in the Legion, we never heard of such a distinction.
3. Propper tools of discernment are necessary for a young men to discern if he actually has the charism to celibacy. In the case of the Legionaries, no such actual discernment is provided. If you show up to the door of the novitiate you have a vocation until we tell you that you don't. Where is the freedom in all of this. Regarding the apostolics (minor seminarians) how can a 14 year old properly discern the charism to celibacy?
4. Going deeper, is the refusal on the part of Church authorities even to examine the possibility of a married clergy within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church a control mechanism or even worse, is it a control mechanism of a homosexual clergy culture within the Church that goes very deep into the recesses of the Catholic Church? In other words, would a married clergy flush out the corruption and allow the charism of celibacy to really flourish freely?
I know that some of these ideas sound quite progressive and a departure from what I used to think no too long ago, but we need to be honest, objective and sincere. Is the Holy Spirit shaking up the Church in order to free the charism which belongs to him in the first place?

Fr. James Farfaglia
Pastor and former member of the Legionaries of Christ

Woody said...

Further to Fr. James's points, in the various places where I have found myself, I have kind of observed things and have also come to the same conclusion, that life in community is practically a must for clerical celibacy to be successful. I found it interesting to note that the fathers of the SSPX, for instance, always live in priories of at least two priests, and I presume other congregations follow the same rule. I think the Legion tries to do this as well, but am not sure whether it is always able to be done.

Of course, even then community life is not always a guarantee. Some years ago one of the local SSPX priests here in Houston suddenly ran off with a parishioner. I asked the elderly lady who ran their bookstore that I was visiting (I do not go to their chapel any more) what the gender of the other party was, and she said "female", to which I replied, as I suppose many of us would: "Well, it could have been worse".

In my own case, when I left the SSPX chapel (where I still had good friends), I came to the Anglican Usage church here, thinking that the liturgy would be almost as good and that I would tolerate the pastor being married. The funny thing is, after about 6 months, I got to know and really like the pastor and his wife and children, and came to admire the way they lived a difficult life with joy and serenity. It was tremendously edifying for me, and the priest and others in the family provided a kind of closer role model for me, in a way, than could a celibate clergyman.

I also have to add, although I know this is a point that provokes earnest responses, that I perceived in confession and spiritual direction that the pastor understood my own struggles as a married man, in a way that the other, very good, very holy, priests that I have gone to, could not.

Like Fr. James, I do not purport to know the answer to this knotty problem. I am, however, trusting that as we AU folk transition over to the ordinariate to be established under "Anglicanorum coetibus", we will be positioned to appreciate the faithful married state, as well as the faithful celibate state, of the various clergy we will have.

In any case, I join my prayers to those of all others for all priests and for their perseverance in their vocations. Yes, that includes the 60 newly-ordained Legionaries as well.

Anonymous said...

Frank, Here is a link to a speech Cardinal Rode gave to Regnum Christi at a US Conference in July 2007 (after the 2006 Communique). Many of us in RC took this that the Vatican approves us as he was the spokesperson for the Vatican at the Conference. There are many references to Marciel- even telling us to read and study his writings. This led many of us to believe in Marciel's innocence. Why would we be asked to study his writings if he wasn't legit? I can't read this speech without my stomach turning now.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the question of how the Vatican could be duped I think it is interesting to remember that Pope Pius XII had already deposed Maciel.
There is a passage in the Murphy report (the Irish sex abuse report) that says that after Vatican II the use of Canon Law fell almost completely out of practice.

I don't think these two instances are a coincidence. The problems were already there before Vatican II, however, after Vatican II, things like "investigations" and "punishment" were seen as "pre-conciliar" and "not how we do things anymore".

If Pius XII would have lived a few years longer, possibly all of this would not have happened.

Anonymous said...

Please may I repond to this. The
Vatican was not duped.

Anonymous said...

The Vatican was not duped.

totustuusmaria said...

A slightly different perspective.

I am a mid-twenties male who pray the Lord to have a vocation to the priesthood. Unlike the difficult and heart-wrenching experiences you relate (and I have been reading many entries of your blog), I have never come into personal contact with any abuses of celibacy. I have been blessed to be surrounded, and even live along side, priests who really exemplify the priesthood.

As such, celibacy is just a non-issue. My friend, a Byzantine Catholic whose father is a priest, tells me all the "horror stories" of a married priesthood, and I find myself grateful for the beautiful tradition of the west -- a tradition that certainly brings out the full sign-value of the sacrament of marriage.

People who have encountered either homosexuality or societies/societal structures enabled by celibacy understandably have a different perspective. I'm sorry that these experiences bring about this perspective.

Of course mandatory celibacy can be (although I don't believe it SHOULD be) done away with. This won't change the situation you're talking about, though. There will still be voluntary celibacy and celibate religious orders. The Bishops will still be celibate in accordance with the universal tradition of the East and the West. Even if the Bishops aren't celibate, there will still be a hierarchy. The hierarchy comes from Jesus. It can only be changed within strict limitations without doing grievous damage to faith. There will still be a Pope with universal and immediate pastoral authority of all Christian souls.

In short, the drawback to hierarchy that you noticed, namely that it is easier to cover up scandal, will still exist.

Once again, coming from an extremely positive experience of celibacy, it seems to be that accepting the council of the Lord to be celibate for the Kingdom as a prerequisite for ordination in the west can work and, to a great extent, does work.

What is needed is conversion to Jesus and perseverance in holiness. Of course humans are weak (I am one of the weakest), and -- as you pointed out -- living the Christian vocation, and especially the celibate life, is extremely hard in this world. St. Paul gave sound practical advice when he said that it is better to marry than to burn. If someone finds after awhile that he cannot engage in priestly ministry for whatever reason, the Church needs to have alternative paths where he can save his soul and not fall into the pit.

Of course these means can't exclude dispensation from priestly vows, but I would like to see a lot more emphasis on places where men can live quiet lives of prayer and penance. If I were ordained and discovered too late that I was not fit for ministry, I would like nothing more than to be able to have a life that is accommodated to my weakness, at least until Jesus would make me strong. I would not like it is I had to leave the clerical state just because the world was too much for me.

Sorry. I've started rambling. I guess I can sum all my thoughts up by saying that the Church, as Jesus made it, *works* when its motor is charity. Charity bears with the weaknesses of the brethren. So when we support each other in love, it works. When we leave each other high and dry, it turns into a dead skeleton that supports rats better than flesh.