Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Sandro Magister

3/16/2010 (4 years ago)

Chiesa (chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it)

Will a commissioner appointed by the Vatican take command of the Legionaries of Christ? This is the likely outcome of eight months of investigation.

Rebuilding from the ground up a congregation still deeply influenced by its disgraced founder will be an arduous enterprise.

Rebuilding from the ground up a congregation still deeply influenced by its disgraced founder will be an arduous enterprise.

Highlights

By Sandro Magister

Chiesa (chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it)

3/16/2010 (4 years ago)

Published in Europe


ROME, (Chiesa)  - In the thick of the storm rocking the Catholic Church on account of the sexual abuse committed against minors by priests, an end has come to the apostolic visit ordered by the Holy See among the Legionaries of Christ, the congregation founded by Marcial Maciel.

The Maciel case is extreme in every way. It pushes the contrast between image and reality to exaggerated limits. Between the beatified image of the priest founder of an ultra-orthodox, ascetical, devout religious congregation, flourishing with vocations, some of them exemplary, and the reality of a dissolute second life, made up of incessant violations not only of the vows but of the commandments, of continual sinful affairs with women, men, and minors of every age and condition, with children and lovers all over the world, their number still unknown.

A second life, that even at the moment of death appeared to sink deeper into the sulfurous fumes. Morbid stories have leaked out about Maciel's last days in Houston, at the end of January 2008, before his burial in Cotija, his birthplace, in Mexico.

The apostolic visit began on July 15, 2009. And the five bishop visitors  fulfilled their mandate halfway through this month of March, with the delivery of their report to the Vatican authorities. They were Ricardo Watti Urquidi, bishop of Tepic in Mexico; Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Denver; Giuseppe Versaldi, bishop of Alessandria; Ricardo Ezzato Andrello, archbishop of Concepción in Chile; and Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, archbishop of Valladolid.

It will be the Vatican authorities who decide what to do. The three cardinals charged with the case are Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state, William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, and Franc Rodé, prefect of the congregation for institutes of consecrated life.

But the last word will belong to Benedict XVI, the most prescient of all. Even before he was elected pope and when Maciel still had very powerful protectors in the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger ordered an extensive investigation of the accusations against the founder of the Legionaries. And as pope, on May 19, 2006, he sentenced him to "a retired life of prayer and penance."

After this sentence, the congregation of the Legionaries bowed to the papal command. But it continued to show veneration to its founding "father," as an "innocent victim" of false accusations.

It was only after his death and the revelation of other scandals that the directors of the congregation acknowledged some of their founder's sins, but without denying the goodness of his work.

Still today, after the eight-month apostolic visit, Maciel's successor as director general of the congregation, Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, and vicar general Luis Garza Medina - who were also for decades, especially the latter of them, very close collaborators of the founder - show no intention of leaving their command. And neither do any of the other high and mid-level directors, central or peripheral.

Their defense is that they were always unaware of Maciel's second life, and that their fidelity to the Church and to the pope, in addition to their leadership experience, are the best guarantees for the congregation's continuity.

Last February 5, in "L'Osservatore Romano," Fr. Luis Garza Medina, unruffled, published an article describing the "virtuous life" of the ideal priest. He who more than anyone else lived side by side with Maciel, knowing all his secrets and managing his money, and who always held him up as a model.

But that the current leaders of the Legionaries should be left at the head of the congregation is entirely unlikely. The more probable decision is that the Holy See will appoint a fully empowered commissioner of its own, and will set the guidelines for a thorough reform, including the replacement of the current leaders.

But rebuilding from the ground up a congregation still deeply influenced by its disgraced founder will be an arduous enterprise.

Priests and seminarians who until very recently were steeped in the writings attributed to Maciel will have difficulty finding new sources of inspiration, not generic but specific to their order. The current leaders of the congregation aren't helping, either. On the contrary. One of Maciel's former personal secretaries, Fr. Felipe Castro, together with other priests of the Legion, has worked in recent months to select from among the founder's many letters a group of letters to be "saved" for the future, to keep a positive image of Maciel alive.

The dependence of the Legionaries on Maciel was - and for many still is - absolute. There wasn't a shred of daily life that escaped the rules he dictated. Absurdly exacting rules. Which prescribed, for example, how to sit at the table, how to use a napkin, how to swallow, how to eat chicken without using one's hands, how to debone a fish.

But this was nothing compared to the control exercised over consciences. The handbook for the examination of conscience at the end of the day was 332 pages long, with thousands of questions.

And then there were - and are - the statutes properly speaking. Much more extensive and detailed than those provided to the bishops of the dioceses in which the Legionaries have their houses. The five visitors went through a lot of trouble to obtain the statutes in their entirety.

From the statutes one gathers that in addition to the three classical vows of religious orders, of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Legionaries were bound by two other vows - plus a third called "of fidelity and charity" for the select members of the congregation - which prohibited any kind of criticism and at the same time required telling the superiors about confreres seen violating the ban.

These extra vows were supposed to have been removed by order of the Holy See, in 2007. But the rank and file of the Legionaries do not seem to have been notified of this revocation.

The boundary between the spirit of obedience and the spirit of subjection is not always clear in the congregation founded by Maciel.

Among the Legionaries, the competition encouraged by the rules is to see who can make the most proselytes. And the novice immediately enters a collective machine that completely absorbs his individuality. Everything is meticulously overseen and regulated, in a thicket of limitations. From personal mail to reading material, from visits to travel.

Over the eight months of the apostolic visit, this control was relaxed only in part. Some priests told the visitors about the things they believed were wrong. Others have left the congregation and been incardinated into the diocesan clergy. Others have continued to defend Maciel's legacy. Others feel lost. Still others, finally, have faith in the rebuilding on new foundations of a religious congregation that is part of their lives and that they continue to love.



 

---

Chiesa is a wonderful source on all things Catholic in Europe. It is skillfully edited by Sandro Magister. SANDRO MAGISTER was born on the feast of the Guardian Angels in 1943, in the town of Busto Arsizio in the archdiocese of Milan. The following day he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His wife’s name is Anna, and he has two daughters, Sara and Marta. He lives in Rome.



Comments


More Europe

Evangelical, Missionary Pope Francis Calls Europe to Return to Jesus Christ and Christian Roots Watch

Image of The European Parliament building

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

I believe that Europe has many resources for going forward. It's like a sickness that Europe has today. A wound. And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots! And this is ... continue reading


Father William Nolan appointed by Pope Francis as Bishop of Galloway Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has appointed Father William Nolan, vicar general of Motherwell, as Bishop of Galloway. Father Nolan says he is "over-awed" by the appointment. He has served in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, East Kilbride, for 20 years. Nolan will replace ... continue reading


Rome's Colosseum to host cultural events again Watch

Image of Occasional concerts are held inside the Colosseum but the rebuilding of the arena's wooden flooring would allow more frequent events.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It once hosted bloody sports galore, with gladiators fighting to the death as well as Christians being thrown to the lions. Now, Rome, Colosseum will begin hosting less blood-soaked events. Italy's culture minister has given the green light for special events ... continue reading


Pope Francis appoints Robert Sarah to head the Vatican's congregation of liturgical practices Watch

Image of Robert Sarah, the 46-year-old president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, has been named by Pope Francis to head a congregation on liturgical practices.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea has been appointed the new head for the Vatican congregation that oversees and determines the liturgical practices of the Catholic Church world wide. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis made the appointment on November ... continue reading


SCARY VIDEO! What the heck blew up in Russia's sky? Was it a meteor or something stranger?! Watch

Image of A still taken from footage of the phenomena that took place in Russia on November 14.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What was the mysterious phenomena that occurred in Russia and was witnessed and captured on camera by dozens of motorists? It appears that nobody knows for sure, and even experts are left scratching their heads while they struggle to find reasonable explanations. ... continue reading


Who really was Jack the Ripper? New evidence points to one man Watch

Image of A criminologist from England may have new evidence that points towards the real identity of Jack the Ripper.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A new theory about the identity of infamous 19th century London serial killer Jack the Ripper may explain why the murderer was able to elude contemporary and modern authorities for so long and escape justice. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dr. Gareth Norris, a ... continue reading


Which countries drink the most beer? Our list may surprise you! Watch

Image of Beer is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Who still drinks beer?  Beer is one of the most widely consumed beverages, behind water and tea.  Beer is also a Catholic tradition, alongside wine-making, and has been widely practiced in monasteries, especially in Europe. Now, a list has emerged detailing ... continue reading


To raise money for the poor, Pope Francis to raffle gifts Watch

Image of The tickets are only a modest €10, but this includes a new Fiat Panda 4x4, with all optional extras.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Talking the talk, walking the walk: Pope Francis has done it again. The pontiff is raffling gifts that have been given to him in order to raise money for the poor. Posters announcing the raffle have gone up all over Vatican City. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


Russia could destabilize Eastern Europe if Ukraine left unchecked, Merkel warns Watch

Image of It's exceedingly tough talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She says that Russia's annexation of Crimea and subsequent destabilization of eastern Ukraine

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's exceedingly tough talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She says that Russia's annexation of Crimea and subsequent destabilization of eastern Ukraine "called the whole of the European peaceful order into question." Adding to the gloomy outlook was a ... continue reading


The Pope Who Builds Showers for the Poor under St Peters Rattles our Comfort Zones Watch

Image of Pope Francis embracing Jesus in the face of the poor

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are an instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. We have such a man in this Pope named Francis. He recognizes that poverty is more than a lack of ... continue reading


All Europe News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
1 After this, I saw another angel come down from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
2 serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 27th, 2014 Image

St. James Intercisus
November 27: James was a favorite of King Yezdigerd I of Persia and a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter