Letter to Pope Francis regarding Reform of the Legion of Christ
By Xavier Leger
Lyon, Sunday March 31, 2013
Solemnity of the Resurrection of Christ
Most Holy Father,
It is now two weeks since the College of Cardinals chose you to be the new bishop of Rome. Your benevolent pastoral concern for the most unfortunate, for the most fragile and the poorest has caused many of us to entertain new hopes. That is why I decided to write you on behalf of my old companions from the Legion of Christ who, like me, have seen their lives deeply affected, if not shattered, by this congregation and whose sufferings have not been to this day understood or taken care of by the competent church authorities.
We hoped that on discovering the endless list of Fr. Maciel’s crimes, your predecessor would have launched an investigation into the heart of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi to discover the effects of the founder’s vices on the life, customs, actions and thoughts of his disciples. However, it has been our painful experience that Fr. Maciel’s faults were facilitated by his entourage of the time who to this day go unpunished. Even more, the twisted spirit of the founder has sown in the hearts of his followers ambiguous and anti- Gospel behaviors hidden under a veneer of apparent holiness. Real discernment was needed, together with strong and appropriate measures, in order to bring an end to so much psychological and spiritual damage done to myriad souls.
Today, all the signs lead us to believe that the Apostolic Visitation was not intended to really search for truth and justice but to save the Legion and prevent Legionaries from jumping ship.
The least that should have been done was to put a halt to recruitment and priestly ordinations, at least for the duration of the investigation and spiritual reform. Was it reasonable to allow young people to join the Legion while it was still evident the congregation was affected by seriously devious sect- like dysfunction? Is it logical to continue to ordain young men to the priesthood knowing that they have not freely chosen their path?
The conclusions of the investigation seem to have been reached prematurely and haphazardly. Of the five Visitators only one met with Maciel’s victims: Mons Watty Urquidi. He was ill at the time and according to the victims, listened to them in an absent- minded way, without taking notes. The other Visitators interviewed Legionaries of Christ exclusively. So they only wanted to believe the infatuated members of a controversial organization, without having any knowledge of what a sect- like organization looks like. The Visitators should have started with those who had experienced the founder’s crimes and who had been able to step back and take a critical look at the situation.
Unfortunately, none of the latter was ever consulted. Worse still: in France, a dozen individuals and families explicitly asked to meet with the Visitators but they were never listened to.
Holy Father, the same mistake that had exonerated Fr. Maciel in 1958, at the end of the first Apostolic Visitation, was made again in 2010. In fact, in 1956, the superiors at the Congregation for Religious, alerted by several accusatory letters (from superiors and professors at the Jesuit University of Comillas, Spain, from some bishops and from two important members of the order) had sent Fr. Anastasio Ballestrero of the Holy Rosary, superior general of the Carmelites to carry out an investigation. Fr. Anastasio was not taken in by Maciel’s and Legion superiors’astuteness and his report dated February 11, 1957 is devastating. Later, in an effort to save the Legion, the Congregation for Religious sent more investigators, less perceptive than the first, who put together a new dossier from scratch, adopting the erroneous version defended by Maciel and the superiors appointed by him, despite the evidence at their disposition. The Legionary members, all of whom were under Maciel’s influence, lied so as to protect the Legion and the Founder. And that is how, after having white- washed Fr. Maciel in 1958, and continuing to let him prey on his seminarians and other vulnerable people, once again in 2010 the Vatican has white- washed an organization which continues to attack the integrity of the people who fall into its clutches. When will the nightmare end?
Most Holy Father, do not trust appearances. Blackmail, lies, manipulation, self- deception, guilt, ideology, moral harassment? all these techniques, working together, produce a devastating and deceptive effect which specialists call cult infatuation and which lies behind the prima facie success of the Legion of Christ. The true fruits of the Legion of Christ are not the hordes of seminarians who invade St. Peter’s Square to declare their love for you, but rather the thousands of human lives which are scorched by the infernal flames of this system and who no longer possess the strength to raise their voices. There are also innumerable collateral damages: specifically, broken families, as well as a number of people Fr. Maciel manipulated to get at their inheritance. And even more, although the damage is not quantifiable, there are the sins of omission: such as everything the Legion of Christ has not done and prevented from happening, such as the fight against poverty, against social injustice and corruption, particularly in Latin American countries. By systematically aligning with the rich and powerful has not the Legion of Christ ultimately aided and abetted iniquity? Is it enough for this religious congregation to produce a few charitable works, which are rarely effective in the long run, to erase that dreadful reality?
Most Holy Father, there are two ways to disobey you: the first, simple and direct, is to reject your authority and to walk out slamming the door behind. This way has at least one advantage: it is explicit and clear. The second way, Fr. Maciel’s and his disciples? way, is more perverse: it consists of playing the seduction card, going up front and telling how much they love you, promising you unconditional loyalty and so forth with the sole intention of influencing your judgment and selling you miracle solutions to all the Church’s problems; miracles which are no more than smoke screens. For the love of God do not make the same mistake your predecessors made! The fruits of this order may appear to be beautiful and attractive but behind the appearances they are ineffective, counter- productive, and even deadly.
The situation is dire because the Legion of Christ has had immense responsibilities entrusted to it during the past decades. For example, it ran a month- long summer course in Italy to train future leaders of diocesan seminaries. What a tremendous responsibility for the Church’s future! How not to be concerned when we realize that the instructors are almost all Legionaries of Christ, who live isolated in their own community without hardly any pastoral experience! To train a priest you need more than doctrinal knowledge because faith is not an ideology. What is most important for a priest is to know how faith takes on life in a parish, that is, to become a humble servant as you have reminded us last Thursday by washing the feet of the youth at a Roman prison!
Most Holy Father, all this is shocking, but it is only the beginning of the nasty surprises. Although the coercive system of the Legion conditions the religious to convince themselves that they are happy, the reality is that they suffer a martyrdom that has gone on for too long. I beseech you to start the investigation of the Legion all over again, radically changing the investigative method; we have to begin by spelling out very clearly the real story of Maciel and the congregation and this involves using independent outside experts, as well as psychologists well versed in the cult phenomenon. It entails doing justice to all the victims of the Legion and Regnum Christi, seeking their true well- being and not the institution’s material interests.
After I began to discharge my grave duty of conscience denouncing the sectarian aspects of the Legion, I was contacted by a number of former members of other Catholic religious communities, for the most part new, who have had similar experiences to mine in the Legion of Christ and so I realized that the Maciel debacle is not an exception or an isolated case; there are other, maybe worse, scenarios. Just as with the Maciel affair, their letters of denunciation sent to the Vatican were not heeded. All controversial Catholic religious communities should be investigated. As for those Vatican prelates who did not take the accusations seriously, they should be demoted for grave negligence and abuse of power.
Though grave, the situation can be overcome. Antidotes exist. I would like to inform you that for some time the International Cultic Studies Association, ICSA, a prestigious world- wide psychological and sociological organization, has been looking closely at cultic tendencies within the Catholic Church, in collaboration with competent priests and religious.
The explosion of studies targeting the cult phenomenon has created a marvelous opportunity for humanity and for the Catholic Church in particular. This research, the result of a multidisciplinary approach, offers us precise knowledge about the psycho- social processes at work in sectarian groups, and thus to grasp and identify the elements involved. The Church has a lot to gain by embracing these studies; they also provide her with an excellent examination of conscience with which to analyze her own practices with a critical eye. I truly believe that the Church could play a saving role in society, as Mother of Mercy, if she were to support and encourage combating and preventing sectarian groups.
I thank you for your attention and I hope you realize that this letter, just like all the other efforts I have made over the past few years, is nothing more than the exercise of my prophetic mission as a baptized Christian, following the dictates of my conscience. Be assured that I am willing to go to the Vatican, if you so desired, to answer all your questions in person.
Your humble servant in the Lord,
ReGAIN feels that Xavier Leger has accurately expressed in his letter to Pope Francis in a respectful manner the key issues that have been on the hearts and minds of many of us former members and family members of Legionary and Regnum Christi consecrated members. We sincerely hope that those who are still concerned about the failed reform process will take similar actions to express their concerns to Church officials.
There are a number of recommendations stated or implied in the letter including the following:
- Stop recruitment until the reform process has been completed.
- Stop ordinations (and consecrations) until the reform process has been completed.
- Consult with those who have been victimized by Fr. Maciel and by his organizations and take action to provide justice.
- Review the information from previous investigations.
- Consult with qualified psychologists as well as knowledgeable cult and mind control experts.
- Review especially the coercive methodology and use of manipulation and deceit.
- Make further investigations into other controversial cultic groups within the Catholic Church and take action to bring effective reform (or suppression) as needed.