Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing
The Founder of the Regnum Christi Movement (RC) and the Legionaries of Christ (LCs), Priest Marcial Maciel, died at age 87 on January 30, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida, a few years after his exile. Grieving over his death was interrupted about a year later by story after story unfolding in headline news; i.e. that he had been living with a woman (in his free time) and supporting her in an expensive apartment in Spain. They had a daughter! But then there was more news, this time from Mexico where he apparently lived with another woman who thought of herself as his wife. Reportedly, he led her to believe he was a widower. (It is my understanding that he didn’t marry these women.) He had two children with her and he supported her and the children along with a third child who was hers before they met. Maciel allegedly adopted him and provided all of them with a very nice residence in Mexico. Two women, a daughter, sons, and aliases! But to make matters tremendously worse, he was accused of sexually abusing one or more of his children. Lawsuits emerged which represented children seeking portions of his estate and of anything in his own name!
So “Papa” Maciel apparently wasn’t known to his “families” by his real name or priestly vocation, was unfaithful to the Church, to the Movement, to the Congregation of LCs, and to at least 2 women with whom he had been in long-standing sexually-scandalous relationships. He allegedly preyed sexually on his own offspring. But there was more: Maciel reportedly took large sums of money when he traveled (and not just to support the families!) He schmoozed in high circles at the Vatican. It apparently wasn’t questioned what he was taking the money for, because he was also building seminaries and programs for the Church.
The Produce Section: The Fruit of Maciel’s Behavior
It is hard to write this in a way that gives a true picture of the impact. I can’t and won’t even begin to speculate the personal damage to his “wives” and children. We pray for their healing. Maciel’s choices certainly impacted the Church, the Legion and the Movement. We understand that when any part of the Body of Christ is damaged, the whole Body of Christ is damaged. For the Church, this added to the sexual abuse wounds which had already been uncovered.
To learn that Maciel was not who he had led so many to believe was of utmost pain to the Legionaries, Consecrated Women, and many long-term members of the Movement. One can begin to grasp their pain with a little more understanding when one realizes that he had been referred to, ironically, as “Nuestro Padre” (our father). To those, the betrayal and the wounds have been indescribably deep!
The Consecrated and LCs depended on donations for everything. So you can imagine how they felt when they learned that “Papa” took money earmarked for the Movement and the Congregation of priests. Donations took a dive. Seminaries and the Rhode Island College were closed. Properties were sold. Some Apostolates had to be let go because of their expense. An example is the National Catholic Register, now part of EWTN.
This multifaceted scandal rocked the Catholic hierarchy at the highest levels. The Legion, Movement, and Consecrated bled from loss of precious vocations and necessary donations. Everyone was changed. Momentum fell. All were downhearted. I had loved the evangelical aspect of the Movement – spreading the Faith not only to non-Catholics but also to many who claimed to be of the faith, but could use greater Catechesis. But how do you attract someone to jump onto a ship that is sinking? How do you invite people to the Apostolic activities at a time like this? How do you ask Diocesan approval to bring in LCs or Consecrated for spiritual direction or retreats? Confidence dropped like a broken elevator.
I struggled periodically with second thoughts and embarrassment. But each time I then recalled the people we knew and respected so much. I remembered that Larry and I had felt a true calling. The questioning always passed quickly. Whatever we experienced, however, was a tiny fraction of what the LCs, Consecrated, and long-term members were going through.
One week, a small group of Consecrated women was with us a lot on their vacation when a new aspect of the scandal broke. As they had no access to the news, we reluctantly were the ones to break it to them. We saw firsthand how a new punch affected them. Everyone went through this in his or her own way and timing. But we were all united by the tough, eternal lesson in “Abandonment to God Alone.”
Larry and I were on the periphery. We NEVER grieved the Founder. Our concern was for the Consecrated, LCs and long-standing members — those who had been seriously betrayed. To understand this fallout better, one merely needs to know that a number of priests had worked very closely with Maciel and had no prior hunch about this scandalous behavior. Others had known him for decades and decades. And there were those who had publicly and sincerely “gone to bat” for him over the earlier accusations, only to be hit with the truth. Imagine being one of those priests!
Moreover we understood that there was a disagreement about whether all details should be shared (and how quickly they would be shared) or whether overviews of the established crimes and betrayals would be sufficient, and whether a gradual presentation of such an overview was the best way to bring forth any official acknowledgement. All of that was a source of great suffering as it was divisive among those who, in offering their whole life to Christ, chose as their vehicle the Movement or Congregation Maciel had initiated.
There was more difficult fallout. All wondered about whether the priestly LC Congregation and the RC Movement would be disbanded. Some considered that it should be disbanded. And, too, I’d like to ask you to take just a moment to imagine how you’d feel if you were a parent of one of the Consecrated or Legionaries! Hearts were broken; dreams were shattered. We saw plenty of this.
Less Fruit: The Yield Was Dropping
It wasn’t merely what Maciel had done that affected people. News of the scandal had further implications. Legionaries, Consecrated and members began leaving. These decisions produced more grief. Some left gracefully, some angrily and vociferously. It was especially sad for many when key and highly-respected LCs or Consecrated departed, such as Bioethicist and Author Father Thomas Berg (Hurting In The Church: A Way Forward For Wounded Catholics), Father Thomas Berg, 2016, (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division; Huntington, Indiana), Vice-Rector of the Rome Seminary/Author Father Jonathan Morris, and Spiritual Director with Mental Health Expertise Father Richard Gil. A group of experienced Consecrated left to start a whole new organization. We kept wondering who was leaving next. Then one day it was an LC priest who was one of the closest to Larry and me who left. We hadn’t known he considered leaving. We experienced this again with several Consecrated Women with whom we had been especially close. For all who have left, we pray for them in the new paths upon which they have embarked.
Good Fruit Emerged Too
God works all things (good or bad) for the good. Good fruit has come from this disastrous situation. Penitential acts were taken. One was the recommended frequent praying of the “Litany of Humility.” Most of those acts are known unto God alone.(https://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/humility.htm)
As we were relatively removed, never having known Maciel, we invited LC Seminarians and Consecrated to contact us if they wished, as we could remind them of how much the Movement had done for us. We hoped to provide true appreciation and inspiration. That, plus our prayers, was all we could offer.
Healing Started When Pope Benedict XVI Reached Out
Pope Benedict XVI was compassionate and wise. Aware of the goodness in the people and the apostolates, he reached out his hand to the Legion and Movement. Thanks be to God and to Pope Benedict XVI, healing began. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith assigned five Bishops (Including Archbishop Chaput) as “Visitators.” By means of a very extensive interview process and examination, the visitators assisted the Movement and Legion in their renewals. Statutes were amended. There were changes in LC leadership positions. Maciel’s writings and pictures were discarded. The Legionaries, Consecrated, and the Movement have worked very hard and prayerfully to institute major organizational revisions following tremendous discernment and the expert guidance they had received.
As the renewal process has continued on, Priestly vocations have been very strong and plentiful. Many men are ordained to the priesthood each year. And there is a new group of Consecrated Men! Wonderful new Programs, Schools, and Apostolates have blossomed around the world and many additional people have been trained as excellent, faithful Catholic leaders. The depth and dedication we perceive and read about among the LCs, Consecrated, Members, and affiliated teens is tremendous.
My long-term Spiritual Director, recently deceased Redemptorist Father Paul Miller at the Notre Dame Retreat House, had great insight. He was a very wise and learned Religious priest. He had met Consecrated and LCs and liked them very much. One day while discussing the scandal, he said that he never knew of a great Ecclesial Movement, Congregation, or Order which did not have to go through its “Dark Night” along the way to becoming very fruitful to God. His insight has helped us and others as well.
We remembered how we felt as we were getting to know the Regnum Christi Movement when we were told that we now had 70 more daughters (see Part III). And now, with the Scandal, some of our “spiritual daughters” were leaving. The joy we had been experiencing was turned upside down. Many good sentiments had been stripped away. This was an additional challenge to me, a convert, as I was just beginning to learn about how “Dark Nights of the Soul” could prepare us for depending on God alone. This was the next big lesson on abandonment to God alone.
We do, however, continue to be grateful for the blessings we have received as members of the Movement, and we know we are to thank and praise God in all things – even those that challenge in the extreme. Nothing happens without God’s allowing it, so there is much to ponder. We understand that everyone hurt by Maciel was given a taste of the cruelty Jesus endured for us, and the opportunity to personally experience His Passion. Thanks especially to Mother Angelica of EWTN, I have learned that it is truly a blessing to share in His suffering and to offer our pain to Him.
Additional reading related to the above scandal:
http://www.regnumchristi.org/en/history/ To learn about the renewals and the current activities of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, visit: www.regnumchristi.org or contact their spokesman, Jim Fair.
Next Part: Convert’s Surprise – Part V: Confusion