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What's left for the Legionaries?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 07, 2014

What do you do with a religious order that has lost its mission?

In a revealing interview last week with the Catholic News Service, the new leader of the Legionaries of Christ spoke about how the order’s founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel, had covered up his criminal activities. The thoughts of the new LC leader are not reassuring.

“Father Maciel handled himself in a very intelligent way in order to be able to hide his things,” said Father Eduardo Robles Gil, the new general director. Indeed he did. Father Maciel realized that no one would expect a thief, serial womanizer, drug abuser, and child molester to be posing as the pious head of a highly disciplined religious order. The Legion of Christ was an elaborate cover for his criminal career.

Father Robles Gil was one of the many victims of the Maciel deceit. As an official in the LC order, he was an unwitting participant in the cover-up scheme. How did he feel, then, when he first heard reports that Maciel was a child-abuser? Father Robles Gil told CNS that he didn’t believe the reports, but he did wonder how we should respond if they proved true.

"I said, 'I am happy being a priest, it is where God wants me, and he called me to the Legion, so I would continue being a Legionary priest.”

Does that sound a bit too pat, a bit too easy? As it turns out, Maciel’s misdeeds went far beyond a few cases of abuse; he was eventually exposed as a master criminal, who lived a double life, using his outward piety to cloak a life of utter corruption. Father Robles Gil, like many other idealistic young men, had devoted his life to following this man’s spiritual guidance. Isn’t it problematical that so many young priests were modeling themselves after a fraud?

Father Robles Gil says that Legionaries are no longer encouraged to see Father Maciel as their “reference point.” But he acknowledged that at least some LCs are still devoted to the founder, and he told CNS that this was not a serious problem:

"Someone can have a father who committed sins, who abandoned his mother, and continue loving his father," he said. "Someone can read the books of Oscar Wilde and enjoy the books of Oscar Wilde without worrying whether he was a sinner or not."

Oscar Wilde was a sinner, like you and like me. But unlike Maciel, Wilde died a Catholic, sustained by the grace of the sacraments. And unlike Wilde, Maciel founded a religious order! The problem is not that some Legionary priests might “enjoy” Maciel’s writing, but that some still see him as their inspiration.

For that matter, if Maciel is no longer the inspiration for the Legionaries, what is? According to CNS, the new general director thinks that priests of the reformed Legionary order should “discover their charism in the Gospel, church teachings, and their own experience of spirituality.” But that could be said of any Catholic. What is the particular charism of the Legionaries? What is their distinctive spirituality? What holds the group together today, apart from a lingering sense of shock and betrayal?

[update]

 

At their recent chapter meeting, Legionary leaders addressed the question of charism, and approved a document concluding that the order has “a solid charismatic foundation, endorsed by the Church.”

 

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Mar. 12, 2014 11:04 PM ET USA

    They are alive and well in my area,subbing for our priests at Mass and running a school for children in the area! The amazing thing is that most parishioners are not in the least upset. I have to think that our pastor is caught between a rock and a hard place,since the Bishop hasn't thrown them out of the diocese.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Mar. 09, 2014 9:20 PM ET USA

    The legion needs to be dissolved and all these priests separated from each other and re-formed in authentic catholicism in suitable seminaries.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Mar. 08, 2014 8:18 PM ET USA

    Fr. Robles, if he really didn't know what the fiend Maciel was up to, indicts himself: someone that naive shouldn't be in charge of a Boy Scout patrol, forget about something like the Legion. This interview only confirms what many already knew, viz. that the Legion must be disbanded; it cannot be "reformed" any more than the mafia can be reformed. I am very disappointed to know the Vatican seems to have given its Good-Housekeeping-Seal-of-Approval to this reform nonsense. Not a good sign at all.

  • Posted by: k_picha7745 - Mar. 08, 2014 7:33 AM ET USA

    A house built on sand... I can empathize with the first men who tried to speak the truth and were slandered, blacklisted, maligned, etc. How demoralizing. When duplicity reigns, even in our own communities, you know satan is working hard. Now, at this point, the question still remains. What is the Legions charism? To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an order founded without a distinct charism.

  • Posted by: Baseballbuddy - Mar. 07, 2014 8:47 PM ET USA

    The charism? Money. Pope Benedict put an accountant, De Paolis, in charge to straighten it out; instead, he came down with the Stockholm Syndrome. No one could make this up.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 07, 2014 6:22 PM ET USA

    The charism of a religious order is rooted in the spirit of its founder. The founder transmits to the members of the order his spirit, which they in their turn transmit to the world for its conversion. E.g., an authentic Jesuit transmits the spirit of St Ignatius to the world; a Franciscan transmits the spirit of St Francis etc.. Alas, Maciel's spirit could never convert the world, because his spirit was immersed in the world. Fr Gil doesn't get it b/c he too is too attached to the world.

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