Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Convert’s Surprise: Part I: Overview

March 9th, 2017, Promulgated by Administrator
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Convert's Surprise

I am delighted to introduce my very close friend, Rhonda Jones, and her testimony to the Cleansing Fire readers.  Rhonda is a convert to Catholicism from Judaism.  In a five-part series she will describe three significant events post-conversion which would surely have shaken the foundations of many people’s faith, convert or not.

Converts can have an even more painful experience than “Cradle Catholics” when events seem to strike at the very core of their trust, because in so many cases they have distanced themselves from the support network of prior friends (and even family) by making the choice to embrace Christ and Catholicism. 

In posting Rhonda’s testimony, I am shutting off the comments out of hospitality to a guest writer, but if you have a message you would like to get to Rhonda, please send it to me, at Diane@CleansingFire.org (or you can click on the staff link) and I will forward it as appropriate. 

Meeting Jesus

It was in the late 1990s when Jesus spoke to me through the Gospel story about Zacchaeus. I listened to the speaker and I listened to Christ. For this Jewish woman, nothing was the same again. I was in my late-40s and a decade into my new marriage, to which my Catholic husband Larry and I each had brought a son and a daughter. Our youngest child was still in high school. I had never given any previous thought to becoming Catholic. Then I heard Zacchaeus’ story and I was changed.  

Was it easy to suddenly become Christian? Yes and No! The truth about Jesus became absolutely clear to me in a moment’s time. That was the easy part. But with my two children being raised Jewish (Larry and his children were Catholic) and with my being the first in our extended family to convert, it was also painful. My Jewish-Jewish first marriage was annulled. Larry’s first wife was Catholic and died leaving two young children.

In a flash, I KNEW Jesus was the Messiah. There were no ifs, ands, or buts. No confusion. Just clarity. My life as a Jew had been transformed forever! Yet, Jesus teaches that following Him isn’t easy. In one sense, that was certainly true. On the other hand, having opened my heart to Him, I would never choose any other path!  What had been suddenly revealed to me about Him ( i.e. Truth) has never left me for a moment. I was shown the Truth, and the Truth has never changed. Moreover, He has never betrayed me. I have learned that my life should remain Christ-centered. No other shepherd is Christ!  So Larry and I have lived a process of trying to attach ourselves to Christ and put our trust only in Him.  

Surprise!

I hadn’t expected  to encounter schism, scandal, cult of personality, and confusion about established dogma. These have been tough challenges! What I had sought was Jesus: His Word and His Teachings. Unexpectedly and painfully, I found some other things among some leaders in the Church.

These experiences have sensitized us to certain traits in some shepherds. Our antennae go up when we encounter one whose sinfulness causes great harm to souls.  We are wary about priests who tend to draw more attention to their ways than to Christ’s Way. Disobedience and lying shows up in neon lights.  And we are especially sensitive to priests who ignore, change or water down Christ’s teachings. In a way it was like having our roof fixed. We have been “trained” like patrol dogs to notice certain scents to which others seem oblivious.

My disappointment in some priests has reminded me of a lesson I learned upon starting graduate work for clinical psychology. I quickly realized that not all psychologists (i.e. the faculty members) were warm, compassionate human beings. So it is no surprise that not all priests and prelates are what I expected or had hoped for. But God works good out of all suffering and pain, and He provided special blessings to us from these unpleasant experiences. Thankfully, Larry and I have never despaired over the True Church. My very holy, recently-deceased, Redemptorist Spiritual Director, Father Paul Miller, always taught me “to be aware but never to worry!”

I will present in chronological order three situations since my conversion that have caused not only great scandal in the Church but pain to us personally as well.  It is our own story and not a declaration of others’ experiences or views. But we feel that ours is worth telling, as it offers real examples of how situations and decisions of religious authorities affect real people.

Support!

Before that, however, I wish to turn to the help the Holy Spirit offers us at difficult or confusing moments. I have learned to turn to Him for understanding and guidance, such as in reading Scripture and in wanting to grow in holiness. Likewise, the Holy Spirit brings clarity and direction at times of confusion and hurt. Here is one of the best-known prayers to the Holy Spirit:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

I present this because I have prayed it for years and only now, in preparing this presentation, have the words come alive to me! We are asking the Holy Spirit to instruct us in Truth (i.e. Christ Himself). And since Truth is not always easy to accept or naturally intuitive, I have come to understand from the prayer that the Holy Spirit provides us the gift of consolation for accepting and living by Truth. Through this process we help the Holy Spirit (and thus God) to “Renew the Face of the Earth,” in love!  This a living example of the contemporary term, “New Evangelization!”

Not only is this prayer powerful, but it is clear. Clarity is vital. Recall when Jesus met Nathaniel (aka Bartholomew). Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him.” Clear. Similarly clear is the “Prayer to the Holy Spirit.” There is no confusion. There are no exceptions.  And this writer will never again call upon the Holy Spirit without remembering that Truth is being sought. Then Truth is given by the Holy Spirit along with any needed consolation. Through this dynamic relationship we not only assist in building the Kingdom of Christ and saving souls, but we also grow in holiness.

Three Painful Challenges During My Walk With Christ

In the next three segments I will share the story of how we personally experienced the schism at the church we attended in Rochester, NY; the public fall of the founder of a movement in the Catholic Church; and the unresolved confusion over Pope Francis’ position on a key aspect of dogma. I will describe how these have affected us and other members of the laity (and, in some cases, priests) we know. I will look for commonalities and offer perspectives and conclusions.

Next Entry: Convert’s Surprise: Part II: Schism

Convert’s Surprise: Part II: Schism

March 14th, 2017, Promulgated by Administrator
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Convert's Surprise

This is the continuing story of the disturbing post-conversion surprises of Rhonda Jones, convert from Judaism to Catholicism. For the sake of hospitality, comments have been shut off, but emails to Diane@CleansingFire.org will be forward to Rhonda as appropriate.

Convert’s Surprise: Part II: Schism

I entered the Roman Catholic Church in April 1998 at Corpus Christi Church, Diocese of Rochester (DOR), with a class of over 20 RCIA candidates. Four months later, on a Sunday morning before Mass, Larry’s mother brought to our attention the headlines in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. I was stunned. The priest was in Schism with the Diocese and Church. Whatever that meant, it was serious. His staff (another priest and several women hoping to become priests someday and others) sided with him. In fact, almost all of the parishioners in this large city church, drawing people from the inner city and far away, were siding with him as he suddenly prepared to leave the Roman Catholic Church to form another church he labeled, “Catholic.”

It suddenly came to me that the priest might have been looking for an opportunity to “seize the day” and make Catholic history – and Catholic “reform”. Had he been considering this when he baptized and confirmed me a few months earlier? The thought made me shudder as the timing between April and August was so brief.

Larry and I were eager to get to church to find out what was happening. Though the wave of support for the priest throughout the pews was palpable, I remember that what struck me most strongly that day was not this atmosphere of support nor was it the homily. I observed the priest bend down on one knee late in the Mass.  I was seeing something new, but obviously important. So I asked either my husband or mother-in-law what the action meant and they explained “genuflecting” to me. Why was the priest suddenly doing this now? Was this sign of piety a show? Was a star born? Was the priest trying to manipulate the parishioners to see him as holier than before to coalesce his followers’ support?

Looking back I perceive that Mass as demonstrating more to me about “opportunity” than about Christ. I remember thinking distinctly that I would have respected the priest’s manner if he had gone to the Bishop and explained “cordially” that he had leave the Catholic priesthood to found a new church fitting his intentions. This would have commenced an honorable process of withdrawing from the Roman Catholic Church priesthood. However, his was not the initiation of a calm, measured process.

A Community Torn Apart

Quickly, things became almost militant. An enormous sign hung by wire blocked much of our view of the sanctuary. The sign read, “Can’t Hold Back The Spring.” This was August. But it was a “pseudo springtime renewal” in this parish and it was the priest and staff bringing it about rather than Christmaking all things new” with Truth and out of love.  It was more like a “new Protestant reformation,” spiked with antipathy.

The atmosphere filled with tension as the throngs became excited. Soon it was unquestionable that the great majority sided with the defiant priest. For Larry and me, who were not happy about this, it was awkward at best, but often painful and, at times, even intimidating or frightening.  Larry (with a background in international diplomacy studies) attempted to be a peace-maker. He offered a special proposal to bring some unity between the two sides.  His idea was quashed as fast as it was proposed, including by several religious sisters who sympathized with the priest.

Tough memories from this time! One enduring symbol for me of this painful splitting was a song, sung on Sundays as RCIA participants left Mass to study together: “I Have Loved You with an Everlasting Love,” by Michael Joncas.  For years afterward I had a sickening feeling inside whenever I heard it. I’m a singer but I wouldn’t sing it. Why? When it was sung to us by the Congregation, I felt as though the parishioners were expressing their filial love for us. After the schism, I felt that their having sung it was a sick joke – that we hadn’t mattered to them and that this hymn was merely very well-positioned or staged in the Mass. Where had the love gone when we hadn’t sided with them?

Most parishioners left the Church to follow the priest, though some went to other parishes. Among those moving on to the “Springtime” church were most of my RCIA peers and many of their sponsors. (There had been religious Sisters of St. Joseph at the parish. My own sponsor was one. I do not know which of them went to the new church or which sought another Roman Catholic parish.) What I do know is that we lost many friends in a flash!

Christ and Faithfulness were not on the Ballot

Almost immediately the priest and staff presented everyone with a long mission statement upon which they called for a vote at the weekend Masses – vote to be by show of hands and, thus viewable. This biased format probably intimidated some as it made me very uncomfortable.

Sitting “Center Stage” in three chairs in front of the Altar, presiding over the vote, were the priest plus the other priest and the first woman to be “ordained a priest” from this group. The statement was read and put to a vote: For, Against or Abstention.  Along with a few others, I chose to abstain. However, I am really proud of Larry because his was an unmistakable “NO!” vote, with his own “exclamation point:”  Larry walked up to the center-front  and, standing just below the three in chairs, cast his fully raised arm to vote, “NO!” Years later we encountered a friend from Corpus Christi at a Notre Dame Retreat House Day of Reflection. She told us that this had been a defining moment for her – that Larry’s action taught her to always speak truth even when it required great courage. What a consolation that was for both of us!

What were the defining schismatic issues? They were calls for: 1) Communion for everyone, 2) Gay and Lesbian Church weddings, and 3) the ordination of women to the priesthood. These were no longer wishes — they had become causes and even demands! When Larry and I looked back to consider earlier hints of this unfolding and of other related forms of disobedience, we noted serious omissions during the Mass (e.g. the Creed, the name of the Pope during the Prayers of the Faithful). Likewise, I became acutely aware of the lack of Catholic fundamentals in my RCIA “formation.” (Where were Blessed Mary and the Saints? What did “Magisterium,” “Adoration,” and “Catechism” mean? What does Dogma suggest? What is an “Early Church Father?”)  Larry and I had already perceived a definite silence there about saving pre-borns.

There was a morning that fall when a group of the schismatic folk formed a protest circle in front of Bishop Clark’s office. (The Bishop had actually just been taken to the hospital with chest pain that morning.) Larry drove out to the Diocesan Center. All he had in his car were several paper plates upon which he wrote: “For the Bishop!” “For the Pope!” He marched alone in his own “supporting” circle.

Priestly Betrayals?

We began to realize that a substantial number of DOR priests supported the schismatic priest, sympathizing with his causes. And during travels we learned of the widespread reputation of the Diocese as unusually liberal, with indications of clergy disobedience against Rome. We concluded that if many DOR priests were in sympathy with the one from Corpus Christi, the Bishop probably was aware and might have even allowed this to happen and to continue over many years. My guess is that those sympathizing priests likely felt they were acting of good intentions. However, good intentions do not always lead to good results. And these good intentions were not in sync with Christ’s Sacramental teachings.

Perhaps these priests wanted the DOR to become more welcoming to more people. Some may have wanted the Church to become more “relevant,”  in other words, to change with the times. But the changes about which they spoke out, were not about minor details, such as needed with new technologies. They pertained to dogma! They had new new human ideas to try to improve upon Jesus’ ways. (Whether pride or vanity were at play for some of them, I wouldn’t know.) As a Catholic Convert, I have often heard, “God doesn’t think as we think,” or “His ways are not our ways.”  Additionally, Satan attempts to trick each one of us into thinking that new ways are improvements over God or Tradition (the latter striking some as very negative!) Satan loves human pride and vanity! And that’s what he pounced on in the Garden of Eden?

With many leaving, the two of us were part of a tiny percentage that remained. There were only about 20 – 30 of us. After trying to help stabilize the parish, it was time to move on. The following June we left for another Roman Catholic Church. By that time, we’d “had it” with reporters and their cameras interrupting our attempts to worship.

The Fruit of Schism

What were some of the “fruits” of this break-up? As the schism struck, the climate at Corpus Christi turned from appearing welcoming and “loving” to tense, noisy, and disrespectful. Good fruit? No. At one point, the schismatic priest arrived to revisit the church, many stood on the pews wildly cheering for him. It wasn’t his homecoming – he was visiting Christ’s home. At times we felt we were experiencing the fruits of “Cult of Personality.” Christ had been made a supporting character.

Other fruit? Eventually the Diocese sent two women to be interim administrators. This drew a “protest boycott from service for the Mass” against the Diocese (including by religious sisters!).  This was a boycott from any ministerial service or administrative assistance for the Mass.  Larry and I were horrified, especially when we found out that a family had brought their baby for Baptism and no one was prepared to receive them. We had to hunt for their name, for the sacramentals, etc.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mass got worse from there. Communion was interrupted by insults toward and intimidation of those of us filling in for boycotting ministers. Another example of rather nasty fruit occurred many Sundays during mass. Week after week a woman dressed very informally just stood through the Mass by the Altar, with her arms crossed defiantly. Not an uplifting sight. I

The next example affected us specifically. A new priest finally was assigned and the small group of remaining parishioners agreed to a clean-up day to assist him. It may be hard to believe this, but the banner was still up! No one had dared to remove it. Larry asked the new priest if he wanted it down, correctly perceiving that the new priest felt anxious about removing it himself. Receiving an affirmative answer, Larry climbed a ladder and cut the wires. Down it came, much to the relief of all of us there. Next thing we knew, the priest had fled the scene and we couldn’t find or reach him. Later that day Larry was informed that he could be arrested for taking “wire” that belonged to someone and was claimed to be valuable to them! Furthermore, it us took numerous calls to find a Diocesan priest to take the banner.

Are these good fruit? I don’t think so. Did this scandal bring many closer to Christ? Hard to know – but certainly not to the Sacraments. What about growth in virtue or holiness? Didn’t see that either. There was, however, some good fruit. Larry and I became easily aware of attempts to vary immutable Church practice, to focus upon individual leaders over Christ, and to disobedience and oppositional behavior.  And we were strengthened through a very tough time by God’s Grace, to better appreciate the importance of Courage in Truth.

Why had we first gone to Corpus Christi Church and why had we stayed for a few years? Couldn’t we have seen some of the signs earlier on? My first visit to this church was prior to my inner conversion when I attended a special mass for people of any faith with a spontaneous pregnancy loss, such as miscarriage or stillbirth. I had experienced that loss  years earlier and worked extensively with other such people in my psychology practice.

Following my sudden conversion Larry and I agreed that I would follow Catholicism so we could worship together. I knew little about the Faith but I had witnessed the love of Catholicism and faithfulness to it through my husband, his mother, and the relatives of Larry’s deceased wife Lucy, from Cuba. Larry always attended weekly mass. The others were daily communicants.

Over the years, Larry had introduced me to some wonderful priests as well as some great religious sisters. I asked him if we could attend Corpus Christi where I had really “liked” the mass, felt welcomed, and was attentive. Larry was glad to accommodate my wishes, though I have to admit that he occasionally expressed some concerns about being there. As I was so new to the faith, even I had experiences that raised my eyebrows — such as when I excitedly told the priest about a program I had viewed on EWTN and was surprised when he quizzically asked why I would want to watch THAT channel!

Those concerns were quickly brushed away as we acquired a broad, new set of welcoming friends and as we saw what the parish was doing for the dying, the poor, those not able to afford medical care, those released from prison. So, we settled in, but that “settling” was short-lived as the schism caught us off-guard.


Next Entry: Convert’s Surprise: Part III: Scandal

 

Convert’s Surprise: Part III: Peace before the Scandal!

March 27th, 2017, Promulgated by Administrator
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Convert's Surprise

Regnum Christi Enters Our Lives

Leaving the broken Corpus Christi Parish we went church-shopping, finding a new home at another Rochester inner-city church, Immaculate Conception. There, in a mainly “Black” Roman Catholic Church, we both were treated lovingly; we had new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Five years later we relocated to the beautiful Finger Lakes township of Canandaigua, NY — near Rochester. We knew Canandaigua Lake very well, including the gorgeous views around it, such as from the Redemptorist Notre Dame Retreat House on Foster Road. So when our realtor took us to our future home on Foster Road, I almost cried. We both felt that God chose that home for us, but we didn’t think about WHY. Not until ….

Here They Come!

One summer, a few years later, we saw young Catholic women dressed alike in navy skirts and matching polo shirts and athletic socks, and sneakers, walking in small groups up and down our street, laughing and singing. Whoever they were, they were JOYFUL!  And likely Catholic. Ultimately we stopped five of them passing our driveway. They hailed from five different countries and were “Consecrated Women” — lay missionaries (from the U.S. and beyond) with Regnum Christi (RC), a Lay Movement of the Church. The name means “Christ’s Kingdom.” Having completed their formation, this group worked in Apostolates in the US and Canada.  We learned that they were Contemplative and Apostolic. “Consecrated?” “Movement?” “Apostolic?” “Regnum Christi?” Where was the Catholic glossary? Soon we began to understand all this, but even sooner the Consecrated reached our hearts.

Larry recognized in them both a love for God and a love for the Church. Because of what we had endured at Corpus Christi Church after I had converted, he was very eager for me to be around Catholic people who were joyful about God and the Faith. That is what he had grown up with and wanted me to experience. He saw the Consecrated Women as being able to demonstrate this to me. So it was very important to him that we get together with them. We invited them to visit and it took a lot of juggling on our part to accommodate their schedule as they were concluding their vacation shortly. He told me that whatever I had to do to have them over, he wanted me to do it. And so I did.

The same women plus one more visited. They were incredibly kind and uplifting to be with. They answered our questions and shared some of the music recorded by the Consecrated and written by them. It was terrific! It was all over but the clapping. We wanted “more.” As they were departing and 70 more were arriving shortly, it was arranged for us to meet the next group. They were coming from their Rhode Island College where they were in academic studies and spiritual formation. Accompanying and supervising them were other RC Consecrated who taught at and led the school.

Larry and I were invited to attend their morning Mass at Notre Dame. We began to attend daily (new for us!). Their traditional Masses came alive with their love of Christ, singing, respectful dress, and kindness.

Every morning when we approached the retreat house driveway, we encountered a living vision of “70 versions of Mary.” As they prepared for Mass, they meditated in silence while traversing the grounds with the sunrise, lake, and hills just beyond. For the celebration of the Eucharist each woman was dressed beautifully and uniquely. Entering the Chapel, we were greeted warmly. Before the Processional, we listened to their recitation of their fervent and lively prayers, asking God to inflame their hearts. Thus began our introduction to their extensive prayer life.

Getting to know the Consecrated, their Legionary Priest and RC Members

A few days later, they asked us to remain after Mass to meet the Celebrant, a Legionary (Legion of Christ – LC) priest who accompanied them for their sacramental needs. Larry and I speculated that he had viewed us as intruders, as he was so serious, formal, and focused. Were we wrong! Father came to our home that night for dinner and promptly became our first spiritual director.

We spent much time with the Consecrated over their 2½ -week vacation. Friends (Mary Lou and Tom) provided their beach for the women’s modesty and need for privacy. Their vans pulled in and 70 women emerged. Mary Lou’s eyes “sprung open” and her mouth gaped. She remarked, “I thought you said 12!”  Within seconds she was all smiles, asking the women to see their stunning waterfall on their property while visiting. She and her husband, non-Catholics, were totally won over by the Consecrated when, following swimming, the women gave them a private concert on the lawn. A visiting Polish friend of theirs was delighted that one of the Consecrated was from Poland! And as we left, one Consecrated said to Larry and me, “Now you have 70 new daughters.”

We asked the Consecrated and priest many questions about the Movement. I asked more about Catholicism. God knew how poor my RCIA experience was. I believe that He led us to Regnum Christi for many reasons, including the outstanding Catechesis I would receive from those who were living it! It really seemed like a calling. (So now we understood better why we were “guided” to live on Foster Road.)

Our learning continued through the local RC members to whom we were introduced. The members held weekly men’s and women’s meetings. These started with a Catholic “Study Circle” in which we studied a document or writing on Catholicism, followed by our “Encounter with Christ,” during which we reflected on the Gospels and discussed a case study on Virtues. They also introduced us to the wide array of great RC Apostolates (e.g. Pure Fashion, e-Priest with its Homily Packs and Best Practices, Pilgrim Queen, the newsfeed: Zenit from the Vatican, Mano Amiga Schools, National Catholic Register, Youth Missions ….)

Joining

The Charism of the Movement, as described to us, was building Christ’s Kingdom and saving souls by treating others with love. That Charism was obvious!  We soon completed introductory steps and joined the Movement at a special Mass for us at their Rhode Island College on our anniversary, during which our Spiritual Director not only celebrated and conducted the ceremony for joining but also renewed our vows. And this was surprisingly followed by a beautiful luncheon, and a private concert.

We were very happy as RC members. We became much closer to the U.S. Consecrated as well as to many LC priests. I was introduced to Catholic Virtues (an extension of what I had learned about virtues as a Jewish child), new prayers, Adoration, aspects of the Mass, Scripture, Catholic Apologetics, Saints, Feast Days, Sacramentals and much more. I learned that Charity meant more than money or gifts for those in need. I thirsted for knowledge and transformation. Those affiliated with the Movement and Legion were always ready to help, whether by phone or email or with materials.

Blessings Expanded

Within a few years, LC seminarians (i.e. Legionaries) began coming annually to our region for month-long study-vacations. We got to know many of them and the LC priests who accompanied them.  Before long, more and more neighbors opened up beaches to the Consecrated and Seminarians. We were frequently asked, at the beginning of summertime, about when the men or when the women would be visiting that year. Larry and I concluded that our special calling was providing Hospitality for the Consecrated and LCs. We knew, however, that we could never give as much as we were receiving!

Gifts Received

In contrast to our experience with Corpus Christi  deep, enduring relationships characterized by genuine caring were offered to us, many of which have continued through the years.  Now, many years after joining, we can contact Legionaries, Consecrated, and members (whom we know or have never met) around the world, knowing we will be treated in a personal way with respect and kindness. These are beautiful consolations.

Through the Regnum Christi (RC) movement I became very interested in Catholic Virtues. As a result, I approached the local Canandaigua Paper (The Daily Messenger) and was blessed with writing a biweekly column for three years on virtues, with help from my husband.  In Virtue Reality, the virtuous acts of local residents were showcased. It was a sign to me of God’s blessing and guidance.

Of great joy is my new-found relationship with our Blessed Mother. On my first Silent Regnum Christi Retreat, I prayed to get to know her. Having been Jewish most of my life, what I had known about her was from Christmas Cards and Carols.  Upon praying I was suddenly shown all the “Marys” who had been important throughout my whole life, even as a little Jewish girl.

I was further drawn to our Blessed Mother when at an RC Morning of Reflection, I heard the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLOG). For years afterwards I yearned to visit her at her Mexico City Shrine, but it never worked out. Then as a birthday present Larry gave me an open round-trip ticket to Mexico City. I invited Karen Stein, a close Regnum Christi friend from Cazenovia, N.Y., to accompany me. The year before, she had attended a meeting in Rome (sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and Our Lady’s Shrine in Mexico City) concerning OLOG and New Evangelization. Pope Benedict XVI had attended. Karen was invited because of her work on the dignity of women. When she returned, she told me all about the meeting.

I made the travel arrangements, or so I thought. It turned out that Our Lady of Guadalupe had “orchestrated the whole thing.”  A few weeks before we went, we learned that we would be there at the exact time as a 2nd New Evangelization meeting, this time at the Shrine. Our Lady of Guadalupe arranges more than roses! Karen called the meeting planners and soon an invitation was extended to us to be guest participants! (All lay participants were “guests.”) In sum, it was 249 Prelates and important Catholic laity — and me!

So our blessings and joy from being part of the Regnum Christi Movement have been abundant! But several years after joining, we and the world learned that there was a huge SCANDAL regarding the founder which he had carefully hidden and which was about to take center stage.

Convert’s Surprise: Part IV: Scandal!

April 6th, 2017, Promulgated by Administrator
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Convert's Surprise

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.

Wise Insight

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.

Final Comment

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.catholicnewsagency.com/news/legionaries_of_christ_acknowledge_founders_inappropriate_behavior/  (2009)

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

Convert’s Surprise: Part V: Confusion

April 20th, 2017, Promulgated by Administrator
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Convert's Surprise

Part V:  Convert’s Surprise – Confusion

Having converted to Catholicism in my late 40s (Part I), then finding my husband Larry and myself in the middle of a schism at our parish (Part II), subsequently receiving blessings and feeling joy from a Movement in the Church (Part III) which transformed into pain and sadness because of the Founder’s Scandal (Part IV), things were calmer until the current crisis: “Confusion.” So I have been initiated again into the Sufferings of our Lord!

A Very Grave Crisis

The crisis, of which you are likely aware, concerns criteria for proper disposition / preparation for receipt of the Holy Eucharist and is directly related to the Papacy of Pope Francis. More specifically, should those who are divorced and remarried without annulment now be permitted to “receive Communion”? What seemed initially as an impossibility in the practical sense (according to Doctrine and Dogma) was publicly raised as a possibility by prelates during and since recent Synods. I was so relieved when this unbelievable change was put down very quickly by respected Catholics as being truly impossible. Catholic Teaching is rock-solid. My Spiritual Director explained that the Sacraments were taught directly to the Church by Christ and, as such, are NOT amendable!

New Possibilities Were NOT Completely DIsmissed

Oh, but wait — the initial dismissal of new possibilities wasn’t the end of the story. More prelates joined the “change” bandwagon and Pope Francis introduced his Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” which left everyone hanging because he neither declared clear support for the changes nor took a clear stand against them.

The downside of this situation is big as it has bearing on the whole Church.  It has caused turmoil among prelates, priests, and spiritual directors and has allowed for new, incorrect expectations through the Church. And it pertains to proposed CHANGES to UNCHANGEABLE Dogma. These modifications were allegedly proposed for the Church to become more responsive to the “times.” Does someone think that  Christ Himself neglected to take this into account?

Already, changes in practice (criteria to “Receive Communion”) have been instituted and expectations of change are growing. A lot of Catholics are confused, many assuming from headlines that the Church is going through a wonderful reform. There are those who insist that nothing has changed (i.e. that nothing CAN change). But as various prelates instituted changes in practice for receiving Communion, there is no denying that CHANGE HAS OCCURRED! And many prelates claim that their direction is FROM THE POPE.

My respect for the judgment of Pope Francis has diminished because of this stream of events and his resistance to clarify. I don’t like having less respect for my Pope. But I clearly understand that his behavior is separate from his soul — that I can love him while not liking certain behaviors of his. So, yes, I love the Pope, know he is a child of God, and want his salvation! However, I see these behaviors as risky to souls, such as in Argentina.

Leaked Letter

The Pope sent a letter to the Bishops in Argentina about this issue. When it was subsequently leaked, the Pope acknowledged that he had truly sent it and that it had indicated that “Amoris Laetitia” offered the possibility of relaxed standards for receiving Holy Communion. The Pope gave an admission of sorts, but not an official, public clarification.

It seems to me that his restraint has allowed confusion to fester and now division is growing among prelates, between bishop and priest, between the ordained and the laity, and also among the laity. There are divisions within families and between parishioners or friends.

Hearsay or Heresy? Enter the “Dubia”

Four Cardinals, including Cardinal Burke, privately presented to the Pope five relevant, written questions requiring simple yes / no answers. I believe that it was done out of charity and gave him an opportunity to resolve the crisis. When sufficient time had passed, without a response from the Pope, they brought public what they had done privately. Months have passed since then, with no answers to the Dubia.

Some have said that the Pope CANNOT answer these questions. But to me this comment suggests that the Pope MAY NOT WANT to answer them, as he could be officially in heresy or, contrariwise, be seen as betraying his supporters who want the changes.

Truth and its Eternal Nature

Shouldn’t we be searching for Truth? Truth is unchangeable — Truth IS Christ. It cannot be the case that BOTH the Immutability of the Sacraments AND changeability of the Sacraments are correct. God is not divided against Himself.  Furthermore, aren’t Christ’s teachings eternal? Or is He blind, deaf, short-sighted or dead to some persons? If Christ wanted His teachings to be updated with societal changes, He would have told us. To Larry and me, there’s a familiar ring of disobedience. I’m no theologian but my own take is that “bucking authority” (the authority being Church Dogma and Doctrine) was allowed to happen. Even without the Pope officially ADVOCATING these revisions, his resistance to “nipping them in the bud” allows disobedience to persist. Jesus is being ignored!

Some prelates and priests are leading the flock astray – in their own way. But Jesus proclaimed, “Woe” to those who mislead the flock. (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2)  Christ warned us against conforming to the world — we are to bring the Light (Him) TO the world! (John 17:15)  In my view, this tendency has crept into the Church – to please the world, rather than Christ!

I have found that people tend to be very hesitant to talk about this crisis. I have seen it in myself and in others. What’s happened to us? Have our virtues been declining so greatly that we lack courage to speak honestly about Christ’s teachings?  Have many “declared Catholics” become pagans? In 1958, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this as “the new pagans!”

Even “Katherine the Shrew” Chooses Obedience in the End

This reminds me of Shakespeare’s play, “The Taming of the Shrew.” As a teenager I was cast into the role of Katherine.  She underwent a conversion to “my Lord, my King, My Governor …” (her husband, but analogously: Christ!) and proclaims brilliantly, and clearly her obedience to her husband in her final, dramatic, virtuous speech: “Fie, Fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow….” She tells women how to respect, love, and stand up for their husbands. Well, Christ is Our Lord, Our King, and our Savior! Why aren’t we standing up for Him? Indifference, poor formation, or hearts of disobedience have inhibited dialogue. So have the following familiar statements (related to this crisis):

  • The Pope stated, “Who am I to judge?”, setting the stage for our keeping quiet.
  • “The Pope needs to refrain from spontaneous and unprepared comments.”
  • “The press distorts his intentions.
  • “That reporter doesn’t record interviews”
  • “Translations are poor” / “The translations don’t agree”
  • “He is from “Argentina” – the culture there is different”
  • “He is a pastoral Pope rather than a theologian”

Let’s Remember Who is King

If we are not Christ-centered, what are we? If our Ordained are not Christ-centered, what are they? If the Pope is not centered on Christ’s teachings, where is he leading us? Consider our Blessed Mother; who is more Christ-centered than she? Therefore, we can go to her as well!

Prayer is an indescribable Gift from God. Relevant is this statement from the “Novena to Divine Mercy – Day 2”: “For the love of the Heart of Your Son, in which they (souls of priests and religious) are enfolded, impart to them Your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen.” EWTN Devotionals

New or “Same Old?

A timely article by Deacon Jim Russell of the Archdiocese of St. Louis appeared online in “Crisis Magazine” on April 18, 2017. In “Does History Repeat With Amoris Laetitia Confusion?”, he writes that attempts at Doctrinal and Dogmatic change are not new. But what’s new is that “this time our Holy Father did not publish an official magisterial decision to resolve the issue at hand.”  Similarly, the Pope thus far has not answered the Dubia. Yet he is the only one who can put a conclusive halt to the corrupt changes in expectations and practice. We pray to God for the Pope to reform these errors and restore the Church as God intended it to be.

Reflection

This confusion is really the workings of the father of lies. He is trying to confuse us and thereby run (or ruin) our Church.  The evil one’s seeds are being sown at all levels of the Church. We’ve been allowing ourselves to be confused.  But should we really be confused?  No. Our Bible gives us the definitive answers. No amount of articles written by others (including me) can answer for the Pope.

  • Christ gives His clear declaration about marriage and its indissolubility. Luke 16:18
  • We are warned gravely about taking the Body and Blood of our Lord when not properly disposed. 1Corinthians 11:27. (Moreover, it is our responsibility as Catholics to know what the Church teaches.  Anyone of authority who leads others incorrectly incurs guilt on their shoulders)
  • To whom should we listen  – God or Man? To whom should we turn for the Way to Salvation?  Whom should we obey? Over 2000 years ago God made it clear that He is the answer!  Acts 4:19

Your Holiness Pope Francis, how can and why would you entertain any way other than what Christ has taught us? Why would you allow confusion about this to continue? It is God we have to obey and, therefore, there should be no confusion — no debate. And yet there is URGENCY for the Pope to definitively proclaim his complete support for Church Teaching, because of risk to souls!

In Closing:

This has been one person’s voyage through Faith, accompanied by my husband. God called me. I chose and I choose to follow Him — my Alpha and Omega.

This is the last in a 5-part series by guest writer, Rhonda Jones, convert from Judaism to Catholicism and retired Clinical Psychologist, recounting her experiences. We hope you have found this guest series to be of interest, helpful and relevant to current concerns in the Church.