Ex-seminarian, authors clash over priest

Ex-seminarian, authors clash over priest
Matt C. Abbott Matt C. Abbott
April 20, 2005
I received the following e-mail from Joe Stong, a former seminarian with the Legionaries of Christ and current member of Regnum Christi, regarding the assertions of authors Jason Berry and Gerald Renner in their 2004 book Vows of Silence:

I met [Jason Berry and Gerald Renner] in Dallas in June, 2002 at a reunion of former Legionary seminarians. They claimed they’d been invited, whereas the anti-LC, former LC priest who ran the show claimed they ‘just showed up.’

So someone wasn’t telling the truth.

I discussed the Legion and Fr. Maciel with them at length — as an eyewitness — during which they repeated many charges which even on face value they had no proof for, other than the accuser’s word for it. No circumstantial, physical, or character logical proof of Fr. Maciel being bad. No reference was ever made to his actual words, works, or achievements. It became evident that they had no independent understanding of what a religious congregation of Pontifical rite is supposed to be, much less what the Legion is per se, but were basing everything on what the accusers claimed was so.

Noteworthy is the fact that all the major accusers left the congregation decades ago and thus simply don’t know what the Legion is like today. It’s as though a person was accusing the U.S. Army of using B-17s in Afghanistan because those were the bombers his grandpa flew back in the days of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

No mention is made of the fact that a group in time of foundation has special privileges or graces, or still needs much organic growth simply because it doesn’t have enough men to fill all positions. Instead, the authors confuse such changes as ‘schemes’ to fool the unwary when, in reality, the Legion simply is growing and moving into new apostolates all the time.

They confuse recruiting with sinister conspiratorial ambitions and fundraising with money grubbing. They repeatedly asked me why the LC needed fundraising at all ‘since they have all those big buildings.’ In other words, these ‘distinguished journalists’ don’t understand the concept of mortgages and liability. They confuse property with money machines.

And their mistakes just kept growing, snowballing. The more claims or rhetorical questions they proffered the deeper their confusion and mistakes became.

They confused their own affirmations for conclusions. Innuendo and hyperbole were taken later as prima facie evidence. Like a snowball, the tale against Fr. Maciel and the Legion grew with each telling. The accusers, like the two dirty old men in the story about Susanna in the Bible, went long on lewd details about supposed sex abuse. But they were short on any specific points of fact of time, place, people, and circumstance which their peers, dozens and dozens of whom are still alive, could corroborate and prove either way.

Again and again they confused the private vows as gag rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, those vows commit Legionaries to report abuses, not hide them! And what are we to say about supposedly highly trained and good young seminarians in pre-Vatican II Catholicism when masturbation was very well understood as a mortal sin. Thinking that anyone could ‘have permission from the pope’ for it? That whopper, especially in a seminary setting where such sins would be commonly preached against in public and private, is just too fantastic to believe.

The accusers are hoping the rest of the world is too stupid to think critically and hope to cash in on today’s instant endowment of infallibility and impeccability we bestow on anyone who claims to be a victim.

And Berry and Renner, if they were truly ‘investigative’ reporters would know better than to just take every word of the accusers at face value. Especially since they never went to Fr. Maciel’s home town, to Rome or any other place he’s lived to interview character witnesses — like neighbors. Nor did the authors ask for or take the literally hundreds of testimonies available from many of us former Legionaries who knew the accusers, know Fr. Maciel, and know the Legion. It’s as if they had a pre-conceived notion of what their ‘investigation’ would reveal, and only looked as far as they needed to sketch the barest outline of a book.

If you read ‘Vows of Silence’ (which is a misnomer because Legionaries don’t vow anywhere to be silent about sin or abuses), you notice that only about a third of the book is actually about the Legion and Fr. Maciel. This means that after ‘years’ of investigation, they didn’t have enough material to fill a slim book. That’s investigative journalism’?

I was a Legionary for 11 years. A lot, if not all, of what these ‘authors’ have penned is simply unbelievable and wrong on many crucial points. And the supposedly iron-clad accusers’ testimony is likewise full of holes. I found it highly interesting at the time in Dallas that they didn’t feel capable of talking to a fellow former Legionary who doubted their tale. They claimed it would be too devastating for their weak psychologies. And so, on threat of having the police called, I was told to leave the ‘reunion’ which had been published as ‘open to the public.’

Yeah, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked by some investigative reporter, but they haven’t been asked. Maybe someone will take up the trail and see where it leads.

Jason Berry responded to Stong’s e-mail as follows:

Three Legionaries of Christ people arrived uninvited at the first Regain conference and were thrown out because the hosts considered them spies. Renner and I interviewed the three about 45 minutes before they left; they were transparent apologists for Maciel and his movement. That they tried to sneak in says something, does it not?

The Legionaries specialize in disinformation — about Maciel, the internal dynamics of the order, and the enemies they must create in order to continue raising money when honest people question or expose things about the man and his movement. I stand by what I have written on these matters and speak for my colleague Gerald Renner in saying so. ‘Vows of Silence’ is the product of many years’ careful research. No one of repute in history or journalism has disproved what we have written. The Legionaries’ attack on us is one prong in their disinformation campaign which informs us on what kind of people they are.

Gerald Renner then e-mailed me and had this to say:

I’m with Jason on this. All I want to add is to ask Stong why the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis and the Diocese of Columbus have outright banned the Legion and Regnum Christi and why the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has severely restricted their activities. Archbishop Flynn damns them with his words that they are deceptively trying to set up ‘a parallel church.’ Nuff said.

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com

© Copyright 2005 by Matt C. Abbott

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