Today is a date that brings up mixed emotions in me.
Until the last year or so of my life in the Legion, the anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation was always celebrated as a highly significant feast day. We often heard stories of the events leading up to the foundation, and how the process of approval of the Congregation played out across the years. We lauded the way the founder, Marcial Maciel, had been faithful to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit to overcome obstacles of many kinds, including opposition within the Church, in order to make the Legion of Christ a reality. We celebrated the wonderful gift that the Legion was to the Church. One of the highlights of these celebrations that we often returned to was the ordination of a large group of priests by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 3, 1991, the 50th anniversary of the foundation. The texts of the speeches by the pope and by the founder were often referenced and used as a source of inspiration.
Then, in 2009, a year after the founder’s death, it was confirmed that he had lived something of a double life (to put it kindly) – that since before the foundation of the Legion, and until the end of his life, he had been involved in seriously immoral behavior. His deviations included sexual abuse of seminarians, misuse of funds, abuse of prescription opiates, starting families with at least two different women, plagiarism, etc. The man was a frighteningly good liar and manipulator, whom some have diagnosed post-mortem as a sociopath.
If you are wondering what I am talking about, there is no lack of sources on the internet to fill you in. Some of the accusations out there are almost certainly false, but enough of them are certainly true to make you wonder about the rest. In the words of a Vatican commission that investigated the situation, “The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. ” This casts the foundation – and the entire history – of the Legion in a new light, and makes the founder’s motivations right from the start dubious at best.
In no way do I wish to deny that many good things have been done by Legionaries, and that I have benefitted greatly in some ways by my time in the Legion (1991-2010; while still canonically a member today, I moved out of community in 2010 and am now working and living in the archdiocese of Boston). The vast majority of Legionaries I have known are honest, enthusiastic, talented, and truly seeking to be holy and serve God and the Church. But more and more, I discover how the the founder’s actions have “given rise to serious consequences in the life and structure of the Legion” (ibid.) that have caused serious scandal, and damage to the faith, psychology, and personal lives of many people. Many abuses of power and sordid misdeeds came to light within the congregation and within the Regnum Christi lay movement which grew out of the Legion. (Again, you can find details on many websites and in several books, which should be taken with a grain of salt, but in the light of known facts, should not be ignored.)
A process of reform is underway, and I have heard and seen encouraging things about changes in the culture, rules, etc. of the Legion. However, I also hear second-hand accounts from Legionaries about how some abuses of power etc. continue even now. Personally, I have been well treated by the Legion in my process of discernment and seeking a new home outside the Congregation, and I am thankful for that. I hope the process can continue amicably. However, I cannot help but be disturbed the reports of problems experienced by some others who are in the same process as I am.
And my own experience with the Legion has obviously not been uniformly positive. As the Vatican communiqué mentions, the discovery that the congregation was largely founded on lies – the holiness and inspiration of the founder, his public version of his own life and role in the history of the congregation, and more – was profoundly disconcerting and disillusioning. In addition there were some significant problems with the institutional culture, and the system of formation and the way spiritual direction were conducted had some serious deficiencies (I won’t even try to go into the details here). It should be no surprise that many of us are going through a long process of re-evaluating not just the Legion, but also our own identities and place in the Church, and even our whole world-view.
Perhaps I sound like a broken record; I have written on these subjects before, even fairly recently. But significant dates like today are painful reminders that for years I lived in an illusion. While I believed it, all I saw was the beauty of the ideals, and my eyes were closed to many truths about myself, about the Legion, about the Church, and about the the world, and I propagated those illusions as I was taught and trained to do.
When Fr. Maciel was first penalized by the Vatican, I prayed that the truth would come to light – believing beyond a doubt that Fr. Maciel was innocent. My prayer was answered; the truth came to light. I am glad that it did, although it was not what I expected. But it still hurts, especially on a day like today, when what I once celebrated is now the object of such mixed feelings: the pain of betrayal, nostalgia for the good things I lost when I left, gratitude for the good things I gained, the uncertainty of trying to resolve an existential crisis, and even a feeling of guilt for having an existencial crisis when I have been blessed in so many ways in the past three years by so many people’s support, kindness, love and respect.
I ask myself today, “has the foundation of the Legion of Christ done more good than harm?” That’s impossible to measure perfectly, and it has a lot to consider on both sides of the equation. The fact is, it was founded, and we – I – have to deal with the consequences, with trust in God’s providence and grace. “No use crying over split milk,” and all that.
So, why am I writing this on my blog? Not to garner pity or sympathy. OK, I won’t turn that away either, but that’s not my motivation. I guess there are really two reasons.
Mainly, it is a sort of update for those who know me personally. I don’t bring these things up often in conversation, but they are still very alive for me, albeit more at some times than others. I am still sorting things – and myself – out, more intensely than usual. Don’t be surprised if it shows from time to time, even in ways that might surprise you.
Also, I write this for more for incidental readers who came here because of the topic and not so much because they know me – people who want to know about the Legion. Some Legionaries will try to sell you an “everything’s fine and dandy” image; it’s not true. But other people will say that everything about the Legion was/is bad, and that’s not true either. There were good things that kept me there for 19 years, including many good men whom I love and respect, and there is a process of reform that might be able to save all those good aspects from all the bad aspects I have mentioned or hinted at above. So don’t blanket condemn everything and everyone associated with the Legion – but don’t beatify them either.
Above all, I guess I want to ask for prayers for the Legion and the Regnum Christi, and for all those who are or have been involved in them or touched by them, that God may bring good out of it all and heal any wounds and injustices. May God’s will be done in all things, and may the truth set us all free.