Parsing Orthodoxy: What are the Priorities of the Legionaries of Christ?
Fr. Jonathan Morris, LC helps us to understand.
Many have followed closely a very public exchange  among three Catholics on Fox News. Sean Hannity has his reservations about some Church teachings, especially in the realm of sexual matters, and invited a well-known priest, Fr Tom Euteneuer in for a chat. Host duties among television’s “talking heads” are surely very different from those in the home, and the guest was battered, buffaloed, and bruised – after which the priest maintained that as guardian of the Sacraments, he would indeed withhold the Eucharist from Mr Hannity for his public obstinacy. His rational is explained here:
Just for the record, Sean Hannity really is a dissenting Catholic and a public scandal to the Faith. He should be rebuked by his pastor or bishop, not by me, but since that has not been forthcoming in his decade or so of public dissent on radio and TV, somebody in authority had to say something. Hannity, as we know, is shameless on birth control, and judging from the interview, he hasn’t even the vocabulary to rationally defend his position in the face of his Church’s clear teaching .
Now it should be noted that Fr Euteneuer is the head of a widely honoured (or vilified) organization, Human Life International , which works tirelessly to fight against abortion, the sex slave trade, and promiscuity around the world. Its track record is highly visible and consistent, supporting Church teaching as well as the dignity of women and children, and constantly on guard against government programs which undermine the family.
While conservative Catholics were peeved at the rough handling of this clergyman – by one who was himself a former seminarian and member of the Church, they were stunned when Fox analyst Fr Jonathan Morris, LC piled on, defending Mr Hannity from what he called the “shockingly poor judgment” of his guest. He continued, noting:
The unfortunate event reminded me of the bigger question of the fast-eroding credibility among religious leaders in our nation and its causes .
That comment alone beggars belief, coming as it does from an ardent follower of Marcial Maciel, LC, founder of his religious congregation who on that very day was under subpoena in Mexico. Maciel and the present head of the Legion, Alvaro Corcuera were both solicited to answer 38 questions about troubling trends of sexual conduct still associated with the Legionaries of Christ, culminating specifically with the recent alleged abuse of a four year old boy. This is the same founder, previously hailed as a “model for youth,” who is now stripped of the ability to act as priest in public for credible accusations of child molestation himself. This is the same order that led to roughly one hundred testimonies to be given to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning sexual improprieties, spiritual manipulation, and possible illegal drug use.
And yet, in Fr Morris’ sunny world, it is not the publicly censured Maciel who has contributed to the erosion of credibility of religious leaders – rather it is the inappropriate and ill-considered words of priests such as Fr Euteneuer who are the problem. This was truly a baffling display of hypocrisy.
A particular dimension of this heated exchange involves the important element of fraternal correction and how it is properly administered. Specifically, Fr Morris attacked Fr Euteneuer for not admonishing Hannity in private, resulting in an explanation from Fr Euteneuer that he indeed had made an effort to do so . But that allowed Fr Euteneuer to bring up an important point:
May I also point out that you did not employ with me the same standard of “fraternal correction” that you expected me to employ with Mr. Hannity. I at least made the attempt to speak to him about this issue in private without success; you, in contrast, went immediately to the internet to take me to task. I do not intend to understand your motives; I can only evaluate what I see in your actions .
Fr Morris responded quickly that he had indeed made such a private attempt, which Fr Euteneuer firmly denied. Thus we have one priest saying, “Yes I did,” while the other maintains, “No you didn’t” and we must fall back on the question of the established credibility of both men.
There is no reason for Fr Euteneuer to lie – and he has been known for his integrity for years. On the other hand, Fr Morris has a checkered past in this area, most notably with a public censure from angry Muslims.
Representatives of an east London mosque used by several of the terror suspects reacted angrily yesterday to what they called a "sick stunt" by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel. Mohammed Shoyaib, the imam of the Musjid-e-Umer mosque in Walthamstow, complained that he and other elders were tricked by a representative from the cable channel, a priest who said he was working for the Vatican and wanted to talk peace.
"He introduced himself as priest working in Rome," said Mr Shoyaib. "Then he said he was working for peace in the world, that all faiths should work together for peace, that he needs a united message of peace for the American people. Only later he said he was from 'a sister network of Sky News', but never mentioned Fox."
The man spent several minutes conversing on camera with the imam and elders, but they reacted furiously when they learned he was Father Jonathan Morris, a religious pundit for Fox News… Mr Morris denied he had misled the local community but, in the face of criticism, he hastily left the scene .
First of all, being the vice-rector of a Catholic seminary (which Fr Morris is) can in no way be confused with “working for the Vatican.” We could allow for the fact that non-Christians could assume that the city of Rome and Vatican City are interchangeable, but the misrepresentation was more than his Church credentials – it involved his employer’s identity as well. Fr Morris disputes the details, maintaining that he was more forthright, but eventually agrees that he hadn’t mentioned his Fox affiliation at the outset. [Additionally, it is interesting that his vocation is to “work for peace in the world,” rather than to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It may have been a mental reservation for the sake of ecumenism, but perhaps his mission is different than that of most Catholic priests.]
A subsequent response of Fr Morris included the following admonition to Fr Euteneuer, reminding him of how difficult it is for all religious leaders to be taken seriously.
When we hear television evangelists wonder out loud whether Ariel Sharon's stroke might be God's judgment on him for making territorial concessions to the Palestinians, we lose trust. When, year after year, we listen to self-proclaimed prophets predict the day and the hour of the “end-times,” we lose trust. When we turn on the television and hear preachers promise heaven on earth if we give, give, give to the Church — their church — we lose trust. When we hear mainline Protestant pastors and their associations throw Biblical tradition to the wind and make wishy-washy statements about faith and morality, we lose trust.
The non-Christian religions are in even worse shape regarding leadership credibility. Is there a single Muslim imam who stands out today for his national leadership toward peace? What Muslim scholar can we trust to speak with scholarly proficiency and universal authority about the alleged peaceful nature of Islam?
The Jewish community in America is so splintered and disjointed on themes of dogma and religious tradition, it is difficult to find anyone who speaks for the majority, or even for the masses .
And yet, after such statements attacking the religious leaders outside the Catholic Church, Fr Morris claims to be swamped with support from the very people he criticized:
Particularly interesting were the hundreds of messages I have received yesterday from non-Catholics, including many pastors, and non-Christians. In these notes you expressed your commitment to collaborate with both of us as we strive together to build a civilization of truth and love 
The “civilization of truth and love” is a nearly trademarked statement of John Paul II, whom Fr Euteneuer loyally follows on every topic. Why would non-Catholics and even non-Christians side with Fr Morris to pursue John Paul II’s dream – against one of the most orthodox of priests who promotes solely the Catholic view of human sexuality. It is a complete non sequitur and makes no logical sense. I don’t believe that Fr Morris got those emails – not ten, and certainly not hundreds. Not for the sake of the “civilization of truth and love.”
The sordid drama continues with a public back-and-forth on the internet, between the two priests and among the lay faithful who are bewildered by the surprisingly unorthodox position of a priest from such an “orthodox” congregation. Men and women are having difficulty explaining the compromised action of such a loyal member of the clergy, and thus this is where it is important to remind them of some important “unorthodox” decisions by the Legionaries of Christ.
Shrewdly Advancing the “Kingdom”
Politically, the Legion has always been very astute discerning who the power brokers are in a given time and place and ingratiating themselves with them. In Chile, Augusto Pinochet was a highly controversial figure tied to repression not only of the poor in his country, but also of the Church. He was clearly tied to the assassination of at least six Catholic priests and the torture of many more priest, nuns, and lay faithful.
While the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, rebuffed efforts of the persecuted Church to give testimony to John Paul II, the Legion of Christ also turned a blind eye to the military dictator, choosing rather to seek vocations among Chile’s wealthy Catholic families who may have been loyal to Pinochet. The Legion’s access was dependent on Cardinal Sodano, who was Apostolic Nuncio to Chile during Pinochet’s regime, and with whom Maciel had a close relationship.
The people know of [Sodano’s] "reports" to Rome and of his excessive attachment to the military regime. Also well known are his biased criteria in recommending the appointment of new bishops. In the offices of the nuncio "black lists" operate, there are rewards for services rendered, people seeking promotion, people falling in and out of favour .
I personally heard testimony of the tremendous success of recruiters in Chile years ago – a success that would have been impossible without the favour necessary from the compromised Apostolic Nuncio. While one might say that the Legion was simply being “wise as serpents” to use such access to “build the Kingdom” under the nose of repression, the overall result was intense scandal by those Catholics who were sorely persecuted by their lack of favour within the halls of power.
Moving to Mexico, the Legion had the ear of Marta Sahagun, the wife of Vicente Fox, who is a member of the Regnum Christi Movement. This was impressive to many ardent RC members, who saw such a highly visible citizen in their ranks and committed to the same apostolic works on which they worked so diligently. Unfortunately, although her first marriage has subsequently been annulled (in 2005), Fox’s first marriage was not, and neither Vicente nor Marta were free to marry when they wed privately in 2001. Her irregular situation didn’t seem a problem to the Legion in view of her tremendous visiblity – which must have added its own scandal to the loyal Catholics struggling to emphasise the importance of Church teaching on marriage to their own children and grandchildren .
Another highly visible ally of the Legión will be visiting Atlanta this summer for the Youth and Family Encounter, Eduardo Verástegui (born José Eduardo Verástegui Córdoba).
Say his name in Mexico, and everyone will know who you are talking about. Now he's making his breakthrough in the States. His name is Eduardo Verastegui. He has tons of fan clubs and thank goodness Google translates pages since the majority are in Spanish .
Besides his steamy soap operas and modeling career (which even included posing nude), he has recently had the chance to work with Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo) which delighted him. He is a man of contrasts – wearing a rosary and insisting the he prays regularly, dancing with seductive women in sensual videos, and hoping for marriage in which he will fulfill his dream of having exactly three children (not exactly a Catholic view of collaborating with God to unfold His plan) . But the Legion now has access to a hot and rising star who can combine devotion to the Blessed Mother with participating in the very troublesome industry that causes Our Lady so many tears.
Of course, the Legion cannot be held accountable for all the private decisions of its members, but in the case of Marta Sahagún de Fox and Eduardo Verastegui there is no explanation of limited support, of separating the virtuous actions from the questionable actions, or even acknowlegment of moral challenges to their elevated vocations. They are exploited in sum for their visibility and used as fodder for Legionary recruiting.
Another troublesome ally of the Legion is Mel Gibson, an ardent Catholic although out of communion with the Holy See. Legionary priests hovered about the set of The Passion of the Christ, running errands and ingratiating themselves to the cast. This familiarity never led to offering Mass, because of course Gibson never participates in the Novus Ordo liturgy to which the Legion must dedicate itself. Nevertheless, the Legion used this proximity to offer “inside” information on the meaning of the crucifixion of Christ (for those who may not know about the basic tenets of the faith), to be included in the closing credits, and ultimately to set up an office at Icon Productions back in Los Angeles.
Again, while Mel Gibson offers an extraordinary example of using faith in the arts and standing up for unwelcome message in Hollywood, the Legion never offered an explanation of why they would collaborate with a schismatic Catholic, or when such collaboration is allowable. They allowed the celebrity of the vehicle to bring them into contact with other power brokers despite confusion and scandal over the method.
Orthodoxy Presumes Basic Integrity
The Methodology of the Movement is its greatest strength, according to its members, and it emphasises the growth of its own ranks at any cost because, to the Legion, the end justifies the means. There are consistent, well-documented cases of the following methods used regularly by members:
• Misleading guests about the sponsorship of various events (LC/RC is so misunderstood, we couldn’t let it get in the way!)
• Lying to others in order to get journalistic access to their true motives (hey, everyone in the business does it!)
• Bait and switch tactics in order to recruit potential members (once they’re in the door, we’ll reveal why we really invited them!)
• Using in-house school directories for promoting RC apostolic activities (when these girls encounter Jesus, they won’t care how we got their phone numbers!)
• Using fabricated stories to solicit funds from benefactors (God will reward them for their generosity, despite how we use the money!)
All of these have been cited numerous times by those who have had associations with the Movement. Rather than saying that small lies are justified for the sake of the greater good, one should rather ponder the words of Jesus, Who said, "For if you are not faithful in that which is little, how shall any one give you that which is great?" (Luke 16:11).
Additionally, the Movement is dedicated to targeting particular souls for the good of the Kingdom, and thus the ulterior motives of the recruiters allow for a utilitarian view of friendships, which undermines authentic charity. From the Constitutions of the Legion, we find their modus operandi:
(quotes removed by Court Order)
This five segment approach – called captation – was part of every section, and members are accountable monthly to show a list of recruits, indicating the stage where each person was. Recruits were carefully selected for their wealth, status, or other gifts that would benefit the Legion, and then “won over” – ostensibly to Christ, but always through the Movement. It is hard to imagine complete sincerity when an ulterior plan governs relationships in such a discreet, utilitarian way.
Of course a friendship is not normal when one side has an end-game and the other is in the dark. To assume to know what the vocation of another person is requires more than self-assurance – it requires holy omniscience, smacking of pride.
The Legion also exercises pride when it pays lip-service to an action of the Holy Father, while “knowing better” than he about what is true. This has been the response of the Movement from the top down after the May 2006 communiqué suggesting that, due to outstanding and credible charges of molestation, the founder would be best served by a life of penance rather than undergoing a trial. All members have been instructed in how this is a misunderstanding of a holy man, is redolent of the Church’s persecution of Padre Pio, and which places them – if not materially, then spiritually – at odds with the finding of the Bishop of Rome. The outward obedience shot through with their spiritually obtuse attitude must surely disappoint the Vatican officials who made the judgement .
Thus, this “orthodox” congregation has consistently exemplified dishonesty, pride, manipulation, and rampant duplicity – for the sake of building the Kingdom. It has chosen fidelity to the founder over sincere loyalty to Rome, high-pressure apostolates at the expense of family unity, and relationships with celebrities and power brokers over defending Church teaching. What is baffling is how outside observers consistently assume – because their outward acts of piety conform to traditional practices – that everything about them must be straight arrow. It has been the effort of many over the years to try to explain that the window dressing lacks substance.
Ultimately, the only thing surprising about the words of Fr Jonathan Morris, LC is that he displayed his hand so forthrightly. There is no doubt that the Legion approved all his columns and positions beforehand (it’s standard procedure for all public statements or papers) and now they must be reeling at the negative response. So be it. Despite their next move, kindly ponder this one, and consider whether it reveals a pattern of shallowness and intrigue rather than the action of a true friend of the Church.
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