Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Can't Separate Vatican Culture From Legionaire Culture

I don't know that members of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi will ever get any illumination for the questions they have about Maciel and his supporters.

The following is a long excerpt from an article published on the Sandro Magister's Italian website Chiesa.espresso.  (Thanks to Bill Lynsey of Bilgrimage for pointing this article out.) The part I have excerpted is written by Fr. Robert Gill, an ex Legionairie priest with 29 years in the Legion.  Fr. Gill is now incardinated in the Archdiocese of New York.  His take on reforming the Legion is excellent. However, I think his analysis needs to be extended to the Vatican culture--especially the Franco/Spanish and Spanish/Mexican part-- which first spawned and then maintained Maciel as some sort of living charismatic saint.  When I first read his six points of reform, I kept replacing the word Legion with the word Vatican.  The truth is the corruption in the Legion and life of Maciel are part and parcel of the culture of the Vatican.  You can't separate the two and come to any truth.  Now to Fr Gill:

1. The Legion as a “work of God”

In his letter to Legionaries October 19, 2010 which marked the beginning his (Cardinal De Paolis, the Vatican delegate to temporarily run the Legion) concerted work, he called the Legion a “work of God”. He did not explain in what sense it was a work of God, nor how God uses such a man as Maciel. It seemed a point he took for granted. One major difficulty with that concession is that for loyal “macielistas”, it is a phrase pregnant with meaning. Because for Maciel himself, who called the Legion a “work of God” incessantly, it meant that every detail of the Constitutions and Norms were inspired by the Holy Spirit and could not be called into question. Such a premature concession of language was a serious mistake, making it harder for Legionaries to understand there are things that are gravely defective in the structure and the spirituality Maciel left behind as his legacy. (This is precisely the type of brain washing Catholics are expected to extend to the hierarchy, so of course, Paolis would not explain in what sense the Legion was the work of God.)

Such language also sidesteps what is a serious issue at the core of the scandal: in what sense there is a valid “charism” to the Legion of Christ. Simply asserting it is from God does not make it so, even it is said by the Papal Delegate. What is needed is an explanation of how a valid, approved charism in the Legion can exist despite Fr. Maciel.

What is also needed is a clarification of precisely what that charism consists in. During the lifetime of Fr. Maciel there were various versions at various points in time, due to shifting expressions given by Maciel himself: such as “formation of leaders”, “most effective action”, “Gospel charity”. It was always rather embarrassing that Legionaries could never really agree on what their charism was, much less explain it to others. To put it gently, the Legion needs to admit it has lived with great ambiguity on this question.
(This is true for Catholicism itself.  It's mission is lived with great ambiguity failing to see there can be unity in diversity.)
Hopefully this issue will be the subject of long prayer and open, honest discussion and discernment on the part of the Legionaries. Experts in Church history, theology, and canon law need to be consulted widely.

 2. Investigation into the origins and history of the scandal

A second difficulty occasioned by Cardinal De Paolis was the apparent decision to put aside calls for a fuller investigation into the whole Maciel scandal than what was accomplished by the Apostolic Visitators in 2009-10. Their investigation consisted largely in interviews with current Legionaries and was focused on identifying irregularities in the lifestyle of the Legion. It did not directly address the facts surrounding Fr. Maciel, or his history of abuse of minors or his maintenance of at least two mistresses and three children, nor the financial irregularities his lifestyle created. The Cardinal has made it clear on more than one occasion his task is that of overseeing reform efforts rather than in further forensic work. (This is an intentional error. A forensic investigation would have to implicate the Vatican itself.)

The broader issue is the need for the truth to be brought to light about the history of the Legion and Maciel. Neither the Legion nor the Vatican has done a thorough investigation that provides answers to questions such as:

How is it possible that Fr. Maciel was re-instated as Superior General in 1959, after having been suspended for 2½ years during a Vatican investigation into his conduct? The accusations against him back then have all turned out to be true. He was allowed to return and carried on with more abuse and further immoral lifestyle, even fathering children as he continued as Superior General until 2005.

How did he manage to obtain a Decree of Praise for the congregation from Pope Paul VI in 1965?

What is behind the practical disappearance of Maciel from the Congregation for nearly a year in the late 1970’s? Why did other leading Legionaries do nothing? As it turns out, during that period, one of his children was born. Maciel would regularly disappear for weeks or a month with no one raising any questions.

How could he have carried on a double life, fathering at least three children from two mistresses over decades with no one noticing or colluding with him? (I suspect he lived more than a double life. I tend to believe the diagnosis of Disassociative Identity Disorder.)

While it was commonly known among Legion superiors that he rarely said Mass or the Breviary, or went on retreats, why did no one notice these red flags? Why did no one see this as indicative of a weak spiritual life as they would for anyone else? (Maybe because Maciel's spiritual life was never an issue for this secretive group of leaders.)

How was it that the Constitutions of the Legion, which now are recognized to have serious flaws and conflicts with Canon Law and are under revision, were approved in 1983 under Card. Pironio, former Prefect of the Congregation for Religious?

How could such a man have gained access to Pope John Paul II and mislead him over the course the years as well? (Maybe JPII was never under any illusions, or at least his gate keepers weren't, as they liked the bribes Maciel brought with him.)

How can one explain the consistent defense of Maciel by Cardinal. Angelo Sodano, former Vatican Secretary of State, and Cardinal Franc Rode, former Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, and their encouragement of the Legionaries to hold him in esteem, even after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had censured him with the approval of the Holy Father in in 2006? ($$$$)

What does it say about the internal culture of the Vatican that while Maciel was being praised at his 60th anniversary in 2004 by Cardinal. Sodano, he was being investigated by Cardinal. Josef Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? ($$$$)

How is it that the Superiors of the Legion could promulgate among members a different version of the Statutes of Regnum Christi than the one approved in 2004 by Cardinal Rode? (Rode didn't care. $$$$)

Unless the mystery of Fr. Maciel, what he did and how, is adequately clarified, many will question the adequacy of any reforms. There will remain the questions of how the Legionaries and officials of the Holy See were so taken with this man, and why did no one within the congregation ever raised objections, and if they did, why were they ignored. What was it about the Legion’s internal culture that made it possible for otherwise very intelligent men to be so deceived? And it is also hard to see how the Vatican will be able to learn the necessary lessons from the Maciel debacle in order to make its own internal reforms and avoid a repeat of this sort of tragedy in the future.  (This is as close as Fr Gill ever gets to pointing out the Vatican was part and parcel of the Legion's corruption.)
3. The Question of Accountability

A third weakness in the current approach is the apparent lack of concern for holding individuals accountable for their role in keeping secret from Church authorities what they knew of Maciel’s behavior, or if they even collaborated with Maciel by formal cooperation in those crimes. This is certainly a complex area, given the psychological and spiritual power Maciel exercised over so many people. The May 1 Vatican communiqué states that the great majority of Legionaries were unaware of the double life of Maciel, as it was well hidden. But some Legionaries who were members since the 1940’s and 1950’s have admitted knowing of Maciel’s abuses or his drug addiction and yet they promoted the cult of the founder to younger Legionaries who took their stories of the heroism of Maciel as Gospel truth. Now we know those stories were largely inventions of Maciel and others. There is a pressing need for the true history of the Legion to come to light, and to hold accountable those who distorted the truth and misled generations of younger Legionaries, not to mention the Holy Father and the whole the Church.

There is an additional group of private secretaries and personal aides who, over the years, traveled with Maciel, organizing his trips and providing him funds for his activities. This group must certainly share in some of the responsibility for hiding the perverse life of Maciel from the rest of the Legionaries and Church authorities. One should not rush to assign blame, but it is perfectly reasonable to have a full investigation and hold people personally accountable.  (This group of secretaries and personal aides are probably in need of some serious psychological help.  Maciel had to maintain a very coercive hold of some sort on these individuals.)
4. Need for new leadership

Cardinal De Paolis, now more than eight months into his tenure as Papal Delegate, has yet to dismiss a single major superior from office. For the most part, the same group of superiors who were appointed by Maciel and who presided over the attempts to cover for him in the aftermath of his condemnation by the Holy See in 2006 are still at the helm. Naturally, the culpability of each one is different and one must not generalize too much about them.

Yet as long as that group remains in power, few members of the hierarchy will place much confidence in the Legion. A common sense objection to keeping them in power is simply that some had to know, or should have known, of Fr. Maciel’s lifestyle. If they are guilty of the former, they should be removed for fraud. If the latter, they should be removed at least for incompetence. (Again, one has to extend this to the Vatican itself--especially the fraud part.)

Dismissals will be needed to restore some measure of confidence in the Legion. The same can be said for restoring the confidence of those Legionaries who remain and hope for reform. For most who have abandoned the congregation, loss of trust in the leadership has been the primary reason.
5. The Limitations on Real Dialogue

Cardinal De Paolis has called for sincere and frank discussions among Legionaries of the issues before them. There are signs that such dialogues are beginning, and a spokesman for the Legion recently said they would begin in earnest during February and March on the local and territorial levels. (This analysis was written in January.)

However, old cultures die hard, and it is common knowledge within the Legion that strongly dissenting voices are still regularly marginalized. Some members of the Congregation have been transferred to remote outposts, others threatened. Superiors are still concerned to keep dissidents from organizing themselves.
One of the more controversial practices of the Legion has been the extensive review by superiors of all written correspondence, both mail and electronic. The Legion recently began to install in all computers very aggressive industrial spyware to monitor all email and internet traffic of the membership.

It is not clear to what extent the Cardinal is aware of these practices, but on more than one occasion he has intervened to stop the superiors from certain unjustly transferring members who raise objections. However, in his recent letter it was clear he did not want to get caught up with supervising every move of the current leadership, and instructed the religious with complaints to take them up with the Legion superiors rather than with him. But without easier access to Cardinal or to his four assistants, many Legionaries will feel helpless before possible abuses of power and inhibited in speaking out. (This is so typical of arrogant and scared organizations--refer disgruntled employees back to the source of their complaints. The idea is to prove to the employee they are indeed powerless in the system.)

Another consideration would be to bring into the dialogue in those who have left the Legion due to the scandals. Their perspective from being long time loyal members who felt compelled to leave in past years could add objectivity and free the Legion from a too narrow approach to the issues. (Don't hold your breath waiting for this to happen.)
6. The difficult question of culture

Finally there is a serious question understood by most Legionaries not from Latin-American countries. That is the extent to which, for lack of a better term, a “Latino mentality” pervades the Legion. That mentality manifests points of tension with European and Anglo-Saxon approaches to living the Catholic Faith. Most international congregations allow a good deal of diversity in expression and customs. Yet with Maciel’s obsession with uniformity and unity throughout the world and one set of rules for all, the national and cultural differences were played down. The tension was never seriously confronted, or even acknowledged.

However, the tragic blunders and deception in dealing with the scandal expose the fact that the largely Mexican leadership was much less concerned with getting to the facts, exposing them to the light, letting the truth be known plainly and dealing with the consequences. Culturally, Latinos tend to be more tolerant of misconduct, corruption, and dishonesty. And it is now clear they did not feel the members of the congregation actually had a right to know the truth about the founder’s lifestyle and kept it hidden. While Maciel was in power, it was considered simply a byproduct of a strictly hierarchical order, but now it rubs many as a gross form of paternalism. (I've always found it most interesting that JPII couldn't approve of enough of these Spanish/Mexican based 'new apostolates' and wondered if their tendency to overlook corruption wasn't as important to their success with the Vatican as their penchant to operate as forms of religious fascism.)

It is no accident that the Legionaries most outraged by the leadership tend to be the Americans and Spaniards, the two largest nationalities after the Mexicans. Vocations have plummeted in both countries, as they have in the rest of Europe. In terms of defections to the diocesan priesthood, the great majority have been Americans and Spaniards. The Legion which once prided itself on its internationality, faces the very real possibility of being reduced to a mainly Mexican order. (The more modern secular Spain is a far cry from the Spain of the late forties and early fifties that served to incubate Maciel's Legion.  It's not surprising vocations are dropping in Spain.

It is time to face up to the fact that much of what Maciel proposed as “inspired by God” was more the baggage of his own culture’s limitations and defects.


I have no real expectation that the Legion will ever be adequately reformed unless those who really care about the truth of their vocations just split from the main body.  I can see that as feasible for many Regnum Christi members as well as the Legion priesthood.  Let me back track a bit.   That would be a feasible step if the enculturation of Legion members didn't include so much brain washing about the Papacy and the Vatican.  Cardinal De Paolis will most likely be able to keep most of the Legion and Regnum Christi dancing to his Vatican tune because the Vatican has been presented to them as the ultimate voice of God, right behind Maciel.  In the meantime the financial end of things will be streamlined and although the donations are down now, the idea is to keep things in place until memories fade.  

In my book the real charism of the Legion was to provide a pious front for a ton of corruption and abuse from Legion supporters, and that includes those in the Vatican.  JPII played his role perfectly, and it doesn't matter whether he was played by the Legion to play his role, or chose to play the role on his own.  He is as culpable as any secretary who gave Maciel wads of cash for unstated purposes.  

It it's true that God loves mankinds' honest curiosity and Satan loves mankinds' silent cowardice, than the Legions' charism did not come from God.  Ultimately that's the truth that Fr Gill seeks and the Vatican doesn't dare find.


  1. Brilliant blog, Colleen. You're perceptions and conclusions are so right on.

  2. The great pleasure and insight I gain from visiting your blog is due to Maciel and the Legion.

    On the issue of culture: Maciel, the Legion and the Vatican have been under the influence of fascist culture. Maciel and the others were shaped of Spanish, Mexican and Italian fascism of their youth.

    JP2's life was shaped by Nazism and Communism. His rejection of these ideologies can been seen throughout his life's work. The others? Well sadly they embraced the worst of the bad ideology. And their life's work has been shaped by their secrecy and opposition to democracy, support of class warfare, and authoritarian means.

    There is a new-fascism on the rise in the world, particularly in the Anglo countries so we shouldn't be too quick to condemn the Latins until looking in the mirror quite closely.

    The USCCB and the Vatican have been too close to the new fascism. It happened before, remember Father Coughlin?


  3. The more I read, the more I wonder if there is any hope for the Church. I find myself increasingly dismissing anythng tht comes from the Vatican
    or the USCCB. Clearly power is powerful, and has become the god of too many in leadership.

  4. Anon I take a strange kind of hope from much of what is happening at this time. First, whether the powers like it or not, transparency is becoming paramount for governance, and second, I take all the screaming and protestation as a direct indicator of the fear they must have about the whole system imploding. Because it surely is imploding in direct proportion to the level of forced transparency.

    The cobbled together center will not hold. Not in Catholicism and not in politics.

  5. If this isn't the pot calling the kettle black I don't know what is:
    Most international congregations allow a good deal of diversity in expression and customs. Yet with Maciel’s obsession with uniformity and unity throughout the world and one set of rules for all, the national and cultural differences were played down. The tension was never seriously confronted, or even acknowledged.

    The Vatican too is only concerned in uniformity, one size fits all, no dissent allowed, etc. etc.

    Why can't the hierarchy follow Christ's teaching that humans were not made for simply to be robotic followers of the law?