Ethics & Public Policy Center

Next Acts in the Legionary Drama

Published in First Things -- On the Square on May 5, 2010



Over the past year, members and friends of the Legionaries of Christ and its affiliated lay movement, Regnum Christi, have worked hard in trying to “save what can be saved” from the wreckage created by revelations that the founder of these communities, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, lived a vicious and duplicitous life of moral turpitude for decades, during which he fathered several children; sexually abused seminarians; violated the canons respecting the Sacrament of Reconciliation; deceived popes, curial officials, bishops, his brother Legionaries, and the lay members of Regnum Christi; and funded all of this by the misdirection of contributions given to support the religious work of the communities that called him Nuestro Padre or Nuestro Padre Fundador.

On April 30, the five apostolic visitators whom Pope Benedict XVI had charged with investigating the Legion met at the Vatican with senior officials of the Holy See, in a daylong session that Pope Benedict joined for ninety minutes.

On May 1, the Holy See released a statement on the Legion case and the initial steps being taken to save what can be saved. The statement bluntly acknowledged that Maciel had engaged in “extremely serious and objectively immoral behavior,” some of which involved “real crimes,” and all of which, taken together, led to the conclusion that Maciel’s was “a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment.”

The statement further deplored the structures of deceit and self-deception within the Legion that had facilitated Maciel’s double life, including an “ostracism of those who doubted his upright behavior.” The impact of that structure of deceit continues to be felt, the statement continued, in the “surprise, distress, and profound sadness [felt] among members of the Legion” when their superiors finally told them something of the truth about Maciel. Indeed, the statement acknowledges that the sordid facts of the Maciel affair “could bring into question the vocation and central charism that belongs to the Legionaries of Christ and is proper to them.”

As for immediate next steps, the Holy See will appoint a commissioner or delegate to run the Legion of Christ for the foreseeable future. The May 1 statement suggests, and Vatican sources confirm, that this delegate will have plenipotentiary powers, including making recommendations to the pope about the future of the Legion of Christ-about which, it seems, all options remain on the table. The delegate presumably will address several of the major concerns identified by the apostolic visitators: the “need to redefine the charism of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ”; the “need to review the exercise of authority” within the Legion, “which must be joined to the truth, in order to respect conscience”; and the “need to preserve the enthusiasm of the faith of young people [in the Legion or in its institutions] . . . by means of an adequate formation.”

A Vatican commission will carefully examine the Legion’s constitutions; that examination will have to consider how the present constitutions facilitated the problems of deceit, misuse of authority, and malformation within the Legion. Finally, an apostolic visitation of Regnum Christi will be undertaken, with an apostolic visitator to be appointed shortly.

If, indeed, everything about the future of the Legion (and, by extension, Regnum Christi) remains on the table, so that an open discussion of options is possible, the following notes may be of some use to those involved in resolving this drama in ways that serve the universal Church while saving what can be saved of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi.

1. The prime imperative for the immediate future is to dismantle the “grand narrative” of Legion history within both the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi-the carefully crafted, nurtured, and inculcated story of noble works being achieved after humble and often persecuted beginnings. Some of this dismantling has begun, in recent admissions by Legionary authorities that Maciel committed sins and crimes. But the temptation to hang onto an annotated grand narrative, in which Maciel appears as a flawed man who nonetheless accomplished great things, remains; prior to the most recent concession, by Legionary leadership, of Maciel’s perfidies, some within both the Legion and Regnum Christi were comparing Nuestro Padreto St. Augustine. All of this must stop, and the grand narrative must be destroyed, root and branch.

To that end, the delegate governing the Legion ought to request that the Holy See prepare and publish an account of Maciel’s double life, with his specific crimes described individually. Such an account would then be given to every member of the Legionaries of Christ and every member of Regnum Christi, who would be asked to sign an affidavit stating that “I certify that I have personally read and understood the account of the crimes of Father Maciel that has been provided by the Holy See.” Such a process would make it difficult, if not impossible, for any form of the grand narrative to be reconstructed. Putting the full details of the wreckage on the public record now would also . . .

You can read the full article at First Things, HERE.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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