Friday, September 23, 2011

Who is in charge of the Kingdom of Marcial Maciel?


I am way overdue with a review I promised Nelly Ramirez of her book: "El Reino de Marcial Maciel: la vida oculta de la Legion y el Regnum Christi." ("The Kingdom of Marical Maciel: the hidden life of the Legion and Regnum Christi")

For twelve years Nelly was a full-time consecrated member of the Regnum Christi Movement, the branch of the Legionaries of Christ for lay people. She left the Regnum Christi after learning the sordid details of Fr. Marcial Maciel's double life and because she disagreed with the apparent unwillingness of Legionary Superiors to transparently deal with the revelations.

This morning, I read a review of the book by my former colleague in the Legion, Fr. James Farfaglia which served to jolt me into action. Fr. James is now pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, located in Corpus Christi. We have stayed in touch "virtually."  He has written a couple of books and is a frequent contributor to

Nelly contacted me before she published her book and I've met with her in Mexico, subsequent to the publication. She is a charming young lady, quite shy and (at the time) still going through the difficult process of adjustment to lay life. I've seen her TV interviews and I've felt that she has been often quite "manipulated" by astute journalists in order to fuel harsh condemnations of her experience in Regnum Christi. I believe she published her book in order to promote honest reflection about the Legionary "phenomenon" with the commendable objective of "waking up" those Legionaries and Regnum Christi members who she believes remain in denial about the founder's life and works. This is an objective she clearly states in her Introduction.

Fr. James prefaces his review writing:
"Thousands of scandalized and disappointed former Legionaries of Christ, Regnum Christi members and generous benefactors are wondering what will happen to the shipwrecked religious order. In an explosive new book which has been rocking the news in Mexico, Nelly Ramírez Mota Velasco tells all in an objective and clear manner, free from any venom."
Contrary to his opinion, I submit that Nelly's book is not "explosive," it has not "rocked the news" in Mexico, and it is most certainly not "a fast read" as he says in his review.  Frankly, there is very little new information in the book. It has gained whatever traction it has among those who are aggressively opposed to the Legionaries of Christ and who do not support the Vatican's attempt to reform the congregation. I do agree that the author is not motivated by "venom," but when one reads the prologues which introduce her topic,  and the context of many reviews, it seems quite clear that the author and her intentions have been well "used" by those with mostly an anti-Vatican agenda.

Like Fr. James, I too was a Legionary of Christ for some 20 years. I knew him when he was a novice in Connecticut; I documented my experience of those times in an autobiography "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and almost lost his mind."

Unlike Fr.James and Nelly, I knew Maciel well. Indeed I also got to know the Garza family quite well at about the time Fr. Luis Garza Medina was considering becoming a Legionary priest. Based on my own experience and the reactions to the Maciel scandal,  my bias is that "El Reino de Marcial Maciel" contributes little - despite the author's state intentions - to understanding how Maciel managed to deceive and manipulate so many good people, including Fr. James and three Popes. In my opinion, this is the real issue with the scandal surrounding the Legion of Christ, especially for those of us who want to ensure that such deceit does not easily happen again.

"El Reino de Maciel" is not available in English. It is quite a "technical" read with detailed analysis of the Legion's approach to religious discipline and the practice of the evangelical counsels. It documents what I believe - as does Nelly - that the essential flaw in the Legion is a dysfunctional understanding of the virtue and vow of Obedience.

Granted the author was a consecrated member of "Regnum Christi" I hoped for a first hand description of the daily life and challenges experienced by consecrated women in the movement - an area that is shrouded in mystery even to most Legionary priests. Instead, Nelly focuses mostly on the Legionaries. She contributes very little information about her personal experiences and the feelings that must have plagued her as she went through the years of formation and subsequent apostolate. I have the abiding sensation that much of the Legion-related material was written by a Legionary "ghost writer."  It reads more like a bureaucratic report with names and places well documented although there is not much substantial new information.

An analysis of the Legionary constitutions by a canon lawyer contributes little to the discussion, probably because there are no "explosive" findings. The Legion's  essential structure was not so very different from similar congregations in the Catholic Church pre-Vatican Council. I suspect this fact is lost on many people not old enough to have known the religious priests, brothers and nuns who were such a part of the Catholic experience in the 1950s and 1960s. Like the Legionaries, their visits home were seriously restricted, their correspondence was monitored, they often could not stay overnight at their parent's homes, and their understanding of "poverty" (for instance) would be quite shocking to today's mindset. As a result of Vatican II they changed. The Legion did not, because, I think, Maciel realized that the "old" ways produced more vocations and presented the challenge young, idealistic people were seeking at the time. Worse yet, as his congregation expanded, the founding Legionaries understanding of the three religious vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience became "institutionally" distorted resulting in psychologically damaging behaviors and cult-like behavior.

Personally, I was most impacted and moved by some of the personal letters written by Maciel and presented in the Appendices of "El Reino de Maciel." Reading his prose again, in the light of what we now know, chilled my bones and rekindled unpleasant memories.  I imagine that former Legionaries will have the same experience and may well find those last appendices the most interesting part of Nelly's book

In general, I think it fair to say the book is a tedious read and of interest mostly to those who still have a somewhat obsessive interest in the Legionary rules and regulations. Only someone who has very little knowledge of the facts, or who is looking for incendiary information to fan the flames of scandal, would find the contents "explosive." Persons not deeply interested in the theme and who might have a somewhat unbiased perspective will probably not have the steadfastness to peruse all the details.

Nelly discusses "Grupo Integer" and, again, provides names and places. I don't think she makes a strong case to suggest Fr. Garza's involvement is more than that of an astute business administrator who sought to organize the Legion's tangled web of assets to bring some order to Maciel's chaotic foundational model. The Catholic Church, as Jason Berry the intrepid New Orleans reporter again points out in his new book, has hardly been a model of transparent finances. Group Integer is easily portrayed as a convenient red herring which plays nicely into the hands of conspiracy theorists. It's certainly a new model for the financial management of a religious congregation and it's clearly not a "transparent" endeavor. Time and further  investigation will tell if it is indeed an evil empire. There is not much in the author's expose to take us beyond anecdotal criticism of some of its operations.

Fr. James uses the title of his review to ask: "who is in really in charge of the Legionaries of Christ? I submit the answer to this very basic question is Pope Benedict.  After an exhaustive investigation, the Pope appointed an oversight commission and sent his Delegate to the Legionaries. He explicitly says that he wants the Legion of Christ to succeed and he actively supports their reform. The process is not yet completed. But we know who is in charge. Hence, I continue to believe that the "problem" presented by the Maciel and Legionary phenomenon cuts close to the heart of the Catholic Church. In some way, all Catholics are involved and connected to this scandal. As Benedict said to reporters on his plane en route to his visit to Germany, "I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims [of sex abuse], would say: 'This isn't my church anymore.' Then, in his homily at the Olympic Stadium he went on to say,
"To abide in Christ means ..., to abide in the Church as well. The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. They stand firm together against the storm and they offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, but we believe with the whole Church."
"Standing firm against the storm" and "offering one another protection" is not easily reconciled with the more rational reaction "This isn't my Church anymore." How we react to the Church's on-going intervention with the Legionaries of Christ is an interesting test of where we stand and a good gymnasium to flex our thinking.


Fr. James Farfaglia said...

Maybe we have a different idea of what "rocking the news" means. A simple Google Search will show that Nelly's book received signficant news converage in Mexico. Simply by the fact that popular news correspondents Valentina Alazraki and Paula Rosa jumped onto the story is signficant enough. I found the book easy to read. I discovered the book during an August trip to Mexico for a much needed break after a very intense summer of getting organized in a new parish assignment. I read the entire book in three hours during my flight back to Corpus Christi. I am not a fast reader, but the book captivated me. It is true that Although Nelly's book does contain some technical information regarding the life of the Legionaries of Christ, it is not all technical. In fact, most of it is not.

Regaring any new information, perhaps Jack knows or knew much more than I do or did, but I would have to disagree with him on this point. True the book contains a lot of information that some of us already know, but there is one bit of information that was new to me that I find quite shocking and it is this information that really caught my attention as I devoured the book.

Maciel's history of founding the Legionaries of Christ is a fascinating story, at least that is what we were told over and over again in seminary classes and conferences (even many of them given by Maciel himself on the history of the Legion of Christ). He told us and other LC superiors told us that he was expelled from the Montezuma Jesuit seminary once. We were never told that he actually returned to Montezuma, only to be expelled again. Moreover, Nelly's book cites evidence that Maciel was expelled twice because he was involved in homosexual activity amoung the seminarians. To me, personally, the fact that he returned only to be expelled again, and the fact that there is evidence that he already had a serious problem is quite shocking. I think another article just on this topic alone is worth it.

My own personal information about Grupo Integer, my information regarding Fr. Luis Garza and Fr. Evaristo Sada all indicate to me that the actual problem within the Legionaries of Christ is extremely delicate and quite dangerous. Jack seems to downplay the importance of Nelly's book, the importance of Garza and the importance of Grupo Integer. I respectivelly disagree.

As to my question as to who is really in charge, with all do respect and admiration for Pope Benedict XVI it would be quite naive to asseret that he is in charge of the Legionaries of Christ. When Alvaro Corcuerra, Luis Garza and Evaristo Sada have nothing to do with the running of any aspect of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, when these three men are doing simple priestly duties like working with the poor and the sick, or being a humble chaplain in a school, or running a parish in Chetumal, then and only then will I believe that the Pope is in control and that true reforms are taking place. In my estimation, the only true reform is for the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement to disappear and for someone to rise up and start something anew and fresh, free from money, ambition, power and sexual proclivities.

precious said...

Thank you Father James, your insights are bang on.

As for Jack, I feel sad for you that you could not let Nelly's book stand alone. I detect in you a need to rehabilitate the Legion somewhat, as the truth of how rotten it really was and is is simply too difficult to bear. I get that. It's wounding to you, you WERE a legionary.

But you toss a lot of mud at Nellie's book, and I think its unfair. The fact that critics of the Legion have latched onto her book does not diminish it's validity. You accuse the media unfairly. You label opponents of the Legion as "aggressive".

You have promoted your own book, along with Paul Lennon's book as "must reads". I believe the more books about this mess, the better. I don't care if none of it is "new" info, in your opinion. Your book didn't enlighten me too much, other than your own personal experiences, which mean about as little to me as, say, my personal suffering as a result of the LC/RC effects on my family means to you.

Nelly"s book has value to me because her experience of the movement is recent. She's a recent insider, you are not.

The more books like hers, the better. Because unfortunately, the Legion modus operandi is to shoot the messenger (or their credibility) - geez, kinda like you just did, in your review of her book! But if another book is written, and another, eventually, it will occur to some that maybe these aren't just folks with an axe to grind (as though people pull a gripe out of thin air and just make stuff up for the fun of it??)

Bring on the books. And Nelly, please, pay the Monk no mind. He hasn't gotten over feeling hurt whenever the Legion is shown for the sham is it - even though he left, even though he's not a Legionary any more. Sometimes he forgets, it's not a reflection on him, really! Poor Monk!!

The Monk said...

I want to write a coherent reply to your comment but I'm really not quite sure what you are trying to say.

Honestly, I don't believe my intention is to "rehabilitate" the Legion. All I advocate is giving them a chance at least as long as the Pope is willing to do so. Nor do I question the "validity" of Nelly's book - indeed I respect her willingness to lend her name and resources to an "expose" in order to help her former sisters and brothers in the LC/RC.

You say, "Your book didn't enlighten me too much, other than your own personal experiences, which mean about as little to me as, say, my personal suffering as a result of the LC/RC effects on my family means to you." Believe it or not, I do empathize with your suffering. All of us affected by Maciel share some form of bond; he basically formed us to behave as "islands," distancing ourselves from each other in the Movement and long after we cast off LC/RC bonds. Your attitude, expressed towards me, plays into the dysfunctional side of Maciel's methodology.

I wish Nelly had included some of her personal experiences and feelings somewhere in her book - the story of so many generous consecrated souls is as yet untold. If you have a story to tell I am more than happy for you to share your experience here. That's a sincere offer.

You say, "bring on the books" although you seem somewhat dismissive of the story of my personal experience in the Legion as I suspect you are of Paul Lennon's. Paul and I thought we knew Maciel well for a period of about 20 years. No one has accused us of being untruthful and I don't recall ever saying they are "must reads.' However, there are only two books in English, written by former Legionaries who among Maciel's first recruits in Ireland. So what are the books that need to be "brought on?" Fair and balanced accounts of the history, systems and spirituality of the Legionaries of Christ? Even-handed investigation into how Maciel managed to deceive so many, for so long? I'm with you! However, if all you want are books to fuel the flames of dissent (Nelly's doesn't) and further damage what's left of the Church's reputation, that's where we part company.

I'm sure Nelly will appreciate your exhortation to her. I'm equally sure she knows me far better than you do. She wrote her book with the best of intentions and does us all a service. My peeve is with those who choose to focus their self-righteous indignation on anything that will help them vilify the Church while they blithely ignore Pope Benedict's apparently sincere efforts to eradicate the scandals that plague her.

You are right that the situation the Legion and the Church are in hurts me. I choose to continue believing the "gates of hell will not prevail." Ultimately, my faith was never based on persons - whether saints or sinners. You are so right, it's not about me - although I readily admit that in some measure, the LC/RC are indeed a reflection on me and on all of us who- like Nelly and perhaps you - with the best of intentions, thought we were doing the Lord's work.

Now if you have a story to tell - and you intimate you have - bring it on.