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Katie van Schaijik

Legion of Christ taken to task

May. 3, 2010, at 9:22am

Sandro Magister has a good analysis of Friday’s Vatican statement on the initial findings of the Visitation of the Legion. I was glad and grateful to see that the statement made a point of not limiting its indictment to Maciel’s gravely immoral, even criminal double life, but extended it to system he created to enable that life.

The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.

This aspect of its call for reform is particularly interesting from a personalist perspective:

the need to review the exercise of authority, which must be joined to the truth, to respect the conscience, and develop itself in the light of the Gospel as authentic ecclesial service.

In practice, the Legion emphasis on authority was detached from truth and replaced all individual, conscientious discernment with formal obedience.

Magister adds this observation:

With this statement, the Holy See has overturned the dominant model of recent reporting on pedophilia. Instead of letting its agenda be dictated by the newspapers, instead of responding case by case to the deluge of accusations, this time the Holy See has taken the initiative.


notsofastplease • May 10, 2010 - 3:06 pm

As a former LC who has argued for its dissolution in fora that matter, I must note that your statement “In practice, the Legion emphasis on authority was detached from truth and replaced all individual, conscientious discernment with formal obedience” is not entirely on target. In fact, it’s not really even that close.

In some ways, actually, its a cheap shot. Those of us who were there were not idiots, and we would not have stayed around for any length of time were things as stark as you describe them.

For the most part, Legionary superiors and rank-and-file did make a very sincere effort to discern the truth and to follow it at all costs. My experience was that Pope John Paul II, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Newman, Max Scheler, and other personalist or Catholic thinkers were enthusiastically studied in the LC academic formation process, and they were not “spun” to fit an LC template.

The Legionaries I have known have tended to be fans of projects like your personalist project, and not because they want to take them over or anything like that. This fact would not fit, however, with your facile conclusion.

What did take place was that there was a relatively small cabal holding the reins of power. This group, mostly Mexicans, made the real decisions. My own decision to leave was occasioned by my realization that this was the case. I never had cause to suspect the founder of sexual abuse, but I did learn that he and those around him practiced a shocking abuse of their authority. And once I saw that that was the structure, I left, although I hoped that future generations might straighten things out after the death of the founder.

For the average Legionary, however, none of this sort of realization usually entered the picture. The vows against gossipping (which is what they were, not quite the repressive silencing that they appear to have been from what is in the press) did prevent some authentic reflection, but only to the extent that one lived them inauthentically, in a conformist fashion. Those vows also afforded Legionaries a free opportunity to correct their superiors face-to-face. Where they effected conformity, it was accidental to the way the vows were practiced, not necessary or essential to the practice of the specific vows in themselves, as authorized by the Holy See. When combined with the abuse of power practiced by the founder, the vows proved to be an impediment to the reform that is needed now. The point, however, is that honest Legionaries could have been in the dark about what was really going on, at least until they were promoted to a certain level.

Like the Masons, I suppose, one has to rise to a certain level to see things as they are.

Just don’t exaggerate your position to make a point. Those of us who were there know two things: (1) it was and is a bit more complicated than it now appears; and (2) the reality in the inner circle may actually turn out to be more nefarious, in the end, than many of us realize, even today. Still, most LCs, who are very decent people, never got close enough even remotely to suspect that. What kept us from getting close was the mirage of papal approval, by the way.

Those who have stayed over the years have either not come to see the full picture, or else have seen it, and have come to terms with it to some degree. Sorting people out, however, is not that easy. It’s more a matter of promoting individual examinations of conscience and reconciliation than of a need to purge the ranks, except in and around the inner circles.

There was something evil at work in the actions of Marcial Maciel, whether or not he was culpable of it. One need not pretend that everything was evil in order to note the truth about the situation. (As evil can only act through the good (only the good can act), your arguments about the evil will be more credible to the extent that you spell out the good that was coopted by the evildoer).

What is interesting from a personalist perspective is the question of a possible via of solution. Why not write about that? You might actually make a positive contribution to the question. A certain prominent commentator who has recently issued a prescription for action unfortunately derives most of his knowledge of the Legion from a few well-connected Legionaries or former Legionaries who rose to positions of influence within the congregation—positions that one could only attain while drinking the kool-aid to some extent. No one got to be a public face of the Legion without being trusted by the inner circle, and that trust was not based on virtue alone. His comments are predictably off-target to that extent. He, like his interlocutors, has failed to grasp essential elements of the problem. A fresh set of personalist ideas might work wonders in helping those who are in the Legion to figure out where to go from here.

What they need are principles of authentic human action that will help them to begin to reverse the dynamics of their intersubjective relationships, not recriminations over the past.

So please don’t shoot from the hip about things that you don’t really know that well (at most, probably through hearsay). Blogging requires a responsibility to the whole truth even as it affords opportunities to speak out about many different topics. Sometimes it’s better not to have a public opinion about a hot topic than to publish an opinion that obscures the whole truth.

Katie van Schaijik • May 10, 2010 - 8:32 pm

Dear notsofastplease,
Of course you are right that I brushed with strokes that are far too broad to comprehend each Legionaire’s experience.  But I think that the general point I made is supported by the findings of the Visitation, taken together with scads of anecdotal evidence.  Nor is it so facile as you think.  I have read dozens of articles and pages and pages of testimony from former LCers.  I have many friends who have either been involved or have avoided involvement because of what they saw and felt in the Legion.  I’ve been avidly reading and participating for well over a year in a blog dedicated to helping people get out and get free.  And what I find there closely mirrors what I found earlier with the dynamic in Covenant Communities, though the evil of Maciel surpasses their evil by orders of magnitude.

I certainly don’t hold that everything in the Legion was evil! I know many good, sincere, deeply faithful Catholics were ensnared.  I know, too, that because it involved the true faith, much true good was also done in and through it.

I very much agree with you that personalism has an important role to play in the solution.  We would like to help, and are at work on it, even now, behind the scenes.

Stay informed

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