Thursday, February 12, 2009
Deception is a dreadful thing. The realization that what we had been led to believe is not true, or worse, has been purposely distorted is always crushing and the consequences, disastrous.

Last week it was revealed that the founder of The Legion of Christ, an order which boasts 800 priests and 70,000 affiliated lay members, fathered a child. In May of 2006, following accusations of sexual abuse brought against him, Father Marcial Maciel was sidelined by Pope Benedict and made to live out the rest of his life in prayer and penitence. This was the merciful alternative to subjecting him to a Church trial at 87 years of age. Father Maciel nonetheless insisted on his innocence and the Legion came to his defense. In an effort to clear the name of the founder who remains central to their spirituality, the Legion initiated an internal investigation of Father Maciels personal behavior. Bits of what they found became public last week.

The priest apparently fathered a (now grown) child and for years had misused funds for this familys welfare. A number of people within the order tell me that some of the charges that Maciel sexually abused boys and seminarians over a series of decades have also been substantiated.

The Legion and members of Regnum Christi are now trying to salvage their spiritual lives from the wreckage of deceit left by their founder. The news is beyond terrible. Father Maciels actions were not only immoral, but possibly criminal. He not only committed the heinous acts, but then lied to those around him and to the entire order about his actions. It is a double woundand for many a deeply spiritual betrayal. Of the many things I have read addressing this crisis, the most practical and sensible comes from Father Thomas Berg, a Legionary priest stationed in New York. He writes:

I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel. Demand that Fr. Alvaro (the new leader of the Legion) seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the Holy See) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel. Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion.

Now some say that the Legion should forget all of this and press forward: continue meditating on Father Maciels writings, enjoy the good he did and forgive the rest. But this misses the point. Continuing to build upon a foundation of deceit will not permit growth in the order. In light of the recent revelations, it seems Father Berg has it right. There is no way to mouth quaint pieties and expect that everything will be better in the morning. To attract new recruits to the order and for the health and welfare of those good clergy already in its ranks, the Legion must clean house, taking the time to reform its operations and to rediscover its true charism. Only by facing the ugly truth, reaching out to the wounded victims, and relying on the Holy See for guidance can the Legion be returned to strength and credibility. Adversity is sometimes Gods way of bringing cleansing and lasting change. May it be so for the good people within the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi.

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