Written by Steve Skojec on February 3, 2009 – 5:30 pm
I’m a little relieved today, but I’m even more angry.
Yesterday morning, I received an email from someone I trust, indicating that a big, damaging story about the Legionaries of Christ was about to break. Something that went beyond the scandals we’d already heard. Patrick Madrid hinted about it on his blog. So did Thomas Peters.
I started networking. Checking in with contacts who are closer to “the movement” than I am, since I parted ways with them 12 years ago this month.
The information began trickling in. In an unusual twist, it was percolating up and out of the movement itself. The culture of deceit, denial, and diversion was finding itself compelled to be honest with its own members. This alone was damning evidence. Why? Because that’s not how the Legion works. Let me back up a little bit.
I’ll never forget how two days after Thanksgiving in 1996, I was flown on less than 24 hours’ notice, along with every other full-time worker in the Regnum Christi and Legion apostolates, back to the seminary in Cheshire, CT (we had just left from a retreat) to be briefed on the revelation of the first public accusations of sexual abuse against Fr. Maciel. Only we weren’t told that. We really weren’t told anything. We were simply told that something was coming, that it was categorically untrue, and that we were to deny it if asked.
But the allegations didn’t go away. And after I had run the gauntlet of lies, manipulation, and calumny and come out the other side, a contemptible Catholic who eschewed his “vocation” and wasn’t “generous enough”, I ran into them again. And then again. And finally, in 2006, the Vatican did something about it. Entirely lacking in justice to either Maciel’s followers or his alleged victims, it should be noted, but something.
But the Legion continued as if it were nothing. In response to the removal of Fr. Maciel from public ministry, the Legion issued a statement, which struck those of us who knew better as hubris-riddled nonsense:
Communiqué from the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ
The Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement in response to the communiqué of the Holy See renew their commitment to serve the Church
In reference to the news regarding the conclusion of the investigation of the accusations made against Father Marcial Maciel, our beloved father founder, the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ offers the following statement:
1. Father Marcial Maciel has received during his life a great number of accusations. In the last few years, some of these were presented to the Holy See so that a canonical process would be opened.
2. Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way (*see footnote).
3. Considering his advanced age and his frail health, the Holy See has decided to forgo a canonical hearing and to “invite him to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry”.
4. Father Maciel, with the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him, has accepted this communiqué with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.
5. The Legionaries of Christ and the members of Regnum Christi, following the example of Father Maciel and united to him, accept and will always accept the directives of the Holy See with profound spirit of obedience and faith. We renew our commitment to work with great intensity to live our charism of charity and extend the Kingdom of Christ serving the Church.
*Note: Since 1997, the accusations against Father Maciel have been often published by the means of communication. Father Maciel, after affirming his innocence, chose not to engage on a public debate regarding these allegations.
These words depict Fr. Maciel as a white martyr, suffering innocently (with “complete serenity and tranquility of conscience”) these horrific accusations.
But that wasn’t the end of it. No, this week, the story finally surfaced that Fr. Maciel had done something else:
Today, Fr. Scott Reilly, LC, Territorial Director in Atlanta, Georgia, announced to all those who work in the Territorial Direction of the Legion of Christ, that Marcial Maciel had a mistress, fathered at least one child, and lived a double life. For this reason, the Legion is renouncing him as their spiritual founder.
That’s right. This man who the Legion describes as having “the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him” had “had a mistress, fathered at least one child, and lived a double life”, after he had already been accused by “more than 20 but less than 100″ of his own priests and seminarians of sexual abuse, and had been described in terms depicting a disordered addict by his own trusted LC priests as early as the 1950s.
I vaguely recall being told when I was with the Legion that Fr. Maciel made it clear that he had “…never said no to Christ.” Wish I could find that quote. Whether or not it was what he wrote, they certainly acted like it was true.
And now, with this bombshell dropped, are they owning up? Not in any official capacity:
Responding to unconfirmed revelations of misconduct by the Legionaries of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, the U.S. spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ has acknowledged unspecified actions that “weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.” However, he insisted that Fr. Maciel “was and always will be the father of the Legion.”
The blog “Exlcblog” claimed that Fr. Scott Reilly, the Legionaries of Christ Territorial Director in Atlanta, Georgia announced to those in the Territorial Direction that Fr. Maciel had a mistress, fathered a child, and lived a double life. The blog claimed that the Legionaries of Christ is therefore renouncing Father Maciel as their spiritual father.
CNA contacted Legionaries of Christ spokesman Jim Fair, but received no specific confirmation of any allegations.
“We’ve learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult to understand,” Fair told CNA on Tuesday.
“We can confirm that there are aspects of his life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.
“Obviously he had human feelings but it remains true that through him we received our charism, which has been approved by the Church.
“Our commitment remains and we‘re going to go forward and love Christ and serve the Church,” he remarked.
Asked to verify the specific allegations, Fair replied:
“Fr. Maciel died over a year ago and obviously whatever has happened is between him and God and God’s judgment and mercy, so we’re going to let him take care of that.”
I suppose a group so constitutionally unable to exhibit even the vaguest shred of honesty or integrity, woven as they are into their web of lovingly-programmed sophisms of conscience (they call it “formation”) would be incapable of admitting that their entire order, founded as it is on a spiritual charlatan and sexual pervert who has been protected for half a century by a program of rules and lies that kept him immune from criticism and shrouded in both secrecy and celebrity, has finally been revealed as a sham.
I am angry because I allowed myself to be sucked into this group, like so many of the good people I met there. They turned my love of God into an asset for their own purposes, and when they were done with me they stabbed me in the back. The damage this did to my faith persists even today. I made an act of the will to completely trust God through this charism, and I was betrayed. I was made to believe that the rest of the Church wasn’t good enough, and when I left, I found no solace in a faith devoid of my elite purpose, my sense of mission, my fellowship with those who were chosen.
Through the prayers of many, I retained my belief, and I strengthened my Catholicism with education and an appreciation of tradition. But I have been cynical since those years, harboring a secret anger even I was no longer aware of. I trusted no one. I refused to seek spiritual direction again after it had been used against me. I saw God as antagonistic, temperamental, unreliable – helping sometimes and hurting others as it pleased Him. I avoided committing myself to any subgroup of the Church. I was wary of any but the most common devotions. I became even more risk-averse than I had been by nature, and spent years feeling residual vocational anxiety and hurt.
It’s taken a lot for me to get to where I am now, and I find that the vestiges of these things are all still here. I never got closure, never received an apology, never got a response to my request for answers. And when I tried to warn people of the dangers inherent in this group, they often ignored me, or at least refused to believe me. New recruits who knew me were told that I hadn’t been (again) “generous enough” and that it was a case of “sour grapes” and that they should avoid me. I had given years of my life to these efforts, had put my heart and soul into it, and had only left because my struggles with vocational anxiety were choking me. It was only later that I learned the truth, and I was not going to lay down and take it while they suckered other people in only to hurt them in the same way.
With the news today, it would seem that an end should at last be at hand. That I can close this chapter in my life and walk away. But I’m finding that the old emotions are still there. I want accountability. I want the priests who covered this up, who used my friends and me (and used us to use others) to face the music. I want those who were not complicit to admit that it’s all based on a lie. I want all the innocent people in the movement who are reeling today from the news and in danger of losing their way to be put at ease, to be told the truth, and set free. But they won’t be. It seems clear that instead, the Legion will hide what they can, spin what they can’t, and do all in their power to mitigate the damage – to themselves..
It’s what they do. It’s what they’re best at. Self-preservation.
And if the Vatican doesn’t push this, they might get away with it for a while. But either way, the whole thing is coming down. It is, after all, a house of cards.
Update – 2/9/09: For those of you finding your way here via Andrew Sullivan, welcome. I have a response to his comments about my posts on this topic here.