How To Bring About Change In The Legion Of Christ
ReGAINâ€™s J. Paul Lennon, M.A., was invited by the organizers1 to take part in a panel discussion on the topic: How to bring about change in Controversial Groups?
He shared the panel with Anuttama Dasa, an active member and leader in the Hari Krishna Movement. During the morning session Mr. Lennon presented a review of positive changes that continue to take place in the Legionaries of Christ Roman Catholic priestly religious congregation and its Regnum Christi movement. In the evening Mr. Lennon took part in an open discussion on this same subject which was attended by religious leaders, psychologists, sociologists and professionals, and by former members of High Demand Groups, their friends, and relatives. Mr. Lennon was impressed by the openness of fellow presenter, Mr. Dasa, in taking part in a public discussion at an organization which has been critical of some Hari Krishna practices, and by his courage in facing an audience which included several former Hari Krishna members.
Paul Lennon postulated, based on a lifetime of experience, study, and observation – including fifteen yearsâ€™ involvement as a Legionary priest – that although the Vatican had the power to â€œpressureâ€� the Legion to change, it failed to do so for decades. The Legion of Christ leadership, with a self-sufficient and siege-like mentality, totally rejected any doubts or criticism, and was incapable of self-analysis or reform. Extraordinary forces working from within and outside the Legion finally brought about the positive changes that are happening.
Certainly, Pope Benedict XVI, who has a greater awareness of clergy sexual abuse, deserves credit for demonstrating a sense of justice and the need to repair the damage to those victimized by the Founder and the Organization. But the recent Vatican interventions were greatly influenced by a long process of internal and external pressures including those from former members, in particular victims of sexual abuse by
the founder, concerned Catholics, investigative reporters, and the media.
CHANGES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
- â€¢ The founder, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado has been exposed as a seriously flawed priest and the Vatican has publicly acknowledged that the life and structure of the Legion, an orthodox Catholic religious order had been adversely affected by the founderâ€™s serious and objectively immoral behavior so as to require a process of in-depth revision.
- â€¢ Following investigations regarding the founder and the Legion the Church has recognized the need to change the groupâ€™s methodology and training to improve transparency and provide a â€œhealthierâ€� and freer environment for members and more access to family members.
- â€¢ In the short term, a number of members have voluntarily left the Legion.
- â€¢ Group members are allowed to have improved choice in choosing spiritual directors and confessors.
- â€¢ The Legion has been shown to be in need of deep reform.
- â€¢ The Church recognized the need to appoint a Church representative to carry out the needed reforms (A Commissioner with sweeping powers has been appointed by the Church and a separate investigation is underway for Regnum Christi).
- â€¢ The leadership has publicly apologized to some victims (in the past there had been denial of any wrongdoing and a failure to acknowledge any need for reform).
- â€¢ As a result of membersâ€™ complaints in the mid 1950â€™s regarding his despotic leadership, questionable relationship with seminarians, and misuse of money Vatican authorities temporarily removed the founder. He did not abide by his â€œexileâ€� was able to return triumphantly; he then imposed a secret vow to never criticize any superior and to report anyone who did.
- â€¢ Victims of sexual abuse registered complaints regarding the founder to superiors and other authorities. They were met with blanket denial, ridicule, punishment, demotion and exile by Legion superiors. Members of the Church hierarchy suggested they â€œoffer up their sufferings to Godâ€�. Reports submitted to Rome were either lost or ignored.
- â€¢ In Mexico a number of former Legion seminarians discovered their common abuse, bonded together, and demanded accountability. Their efforts within the church were rebuffed until they went public through the Hartford Courant in 1997. There were repercussions especially from the American public and in Mexico, with ripple effects in Spain, Italy, and other Catholic countries.
- â€¢ Some English speaking former members who were seeking healing communicated and eventually created a forum to outreach other affected ex members, families and friends. The ReGAIN website3 was initiated and a discussion board http://www.exlegionaries.com was established to share experiences and question the system.
- â€¢ ReGAIN and the Mexican former members joined forces to share common objectives.
- â€¢ In Spain, a former Legionary, Patricio Cerda, launched his own crusade in favor of the victims.
- â€¢ The latter redoubled their efforts and brought their case before the Vatican tribunal during the reign of John Paul II. However, the Legion founder had infiltrated and influenced the Vatican in his favor, successfully quashing a church investigation.
- â€¢ The ICSA Cultic Studies Association showed interest in the testimonies of victims of sexual and psychological abuse from exposure to the Legion, inviting them to participate in regional and international conferences.
- â€¢ TV coverage began locally and nationwide, including ABCâ€™s Brian Ross
- â€¢ One survivor, Alejandro Espinosa, published his memoir â€œEl Legionarioâ€� in Spanish in 2001
- â€¢ ReGAIN built alliances with S.N.A.P., O.D.A.N., and other groups demanding accountability and advocating changes in the way the Catholic Hierarchy monitors suspicious groups inside its gates.
- â€¢ ReGAIN accessed healing resources such as re-FOCUS for ex-members.
- â€¢ A book and later a documentary entitled â€œVows of Silenceâ€� exposing details about the founder and his groups appeared in the USA, where the Legion had its strongest hold.
- â€¢ Without ever having acknowledged his crimes, Fr. Maciel died in January 2008. As in life, there were strange rumors of the circumstances when he died; including stories that he had an ongoing sexual relationship with at least one woman.
- â€¢ â€œUnpublished Testimonies and Documentsâ€� by Fernando Gonzalez was released in 2008, presenting an historical analysis of documents from the 1956-59 Vatican investigation of Fr. Maciel.
- â€¢ Early in 2009, the Media and the Legion released a statement acknowledging that Fr. Maciel had indeed fathered a daughter with a Mexican woman and that mother and daughter had been living in a luxury apartment paid by him. A deluge of scandalous information continued to pour in and the Legion publicly admitted that their founder was not the saintly defender of Catholic Orthodoxy that they had promoted.
- â€¢ Around 2004 amid rumors of a new investigation into his life, Fr. Maciel stepped down as Superior General (but remained as a powerful figure) after having been reelected by the General Chapter.
- â€¢ In 2005 the Vatican dispatched its prosecutor to NYC and to Mexico to interview victims and other witnesses in the USA, Mexico and Rome amid Legion denial and media confusion.
- â€¢ In 2006, the Vatican censured Fr. Maciel, separating him from his priestly functions and ordering him to retire to a life of penance and prayer.
- â€¢ The Vatican privately abolished the private vow to never criticize any superior to inform on whoever does so and the abusive practice of restricting membersâ€™ freedom of conscience by forcing them to confess to superiors.
- â€¢ In early 2009 the Vatican announced the â€œVisitation of the Legionâ€� after the Legion publicly acknowledged that their founder had fathered a daughter, used funds for his own needs and lived an otherwise disreputable life.
- â€¢ Following the visitation, the Vatican released their â€œCommuniquÃ©â€�, describing Fr. Maciel as being â€œdevoid of
- â€¢ scruples and of genuine religious sentimentâ€� and questioning elements of the Legionâ€™s structure and methodology.
- â€¢ The Vatican later appointed an Apostolic Delegate with broad powers to overhaul and reform the Legion, including rewriting the constitutions and redeveloping a charism.
- â€¢ The Vatican has also agreed to conduct a similar visitation process for Regnum Christi, which had the same founder and similar practices.
At the moment positive changes are contemplated. However, it is important to be aware of the powerful dark forces that have allowed such a controversial (and in many ways cult-like) group to be established and approved by the Catholic Church and even to be praised by senior members of the hierarchy including more than one Pope.
Although a few recent battles have been won, the war is not over. ReGAIN feels the need to continue its mission to inform, and educate; to discourage further deceptions, manipulation, overly aggressive recruiting tactics, abuse of funds intended for specific purposes; to facilitate communication with and between former members, providing networking, guidance, and support; and to exert pressure to bring about permanent reforms and justice.
- 1. Executive Director, Michael Langone, PhD, in a very thoughtful article, Reflections on the Legion of Christ, questioned the Legionâ€™s Modus Operandi in 2006, http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_articles/langone_michael_legion_en0502.htm
- More aggressive â€œcult-watchâ€� organizations, such as Steven Hassan, http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/groups/l/legion/, and Rick Ross, http://www.rickross.com/groups/loc.html, had already noticed the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi and placed them on their lists.
- They have been approached by parents wanting desperately to â€œexitâ€� their children from these groups.
- 2. Aware that no English language testimony existed Lennon published his 2008 Our Father Maciel who art in bed, a NaÃ¯ve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ; more recently he published his brief discussion with the founder of First Things, R.J. Neuhaus, Duped by the Legion of Christ; Lennon has also published two spiritual booklets in Spanish from his time
- as an active Legionary: Un Cura Lucha con Dios -meditations, and Viaje hacia la Pascua â€“radio talks.
- 3 http://www.regainnetowork.org was sued in 2007 by the Legion of Christ and took down its discussion board as part of the settlement.