True and False Reform in the Legion of Christ

A very interesting article recently appeared in the Catholic press focusing on how deceased theologian, Dominican Fr. Yves Congar, may still be important for Church reform. The author refers to the fact that Pope John XXII apparently had read True and False Reform in the Church by Fr. Congar and hand wrote many comments in the margins. The author’s contention being that Fr. Congar influenced the Pope’s decision to convoke the Vatican II Ecumenical Council and offered guidance on how such reform was to be conducted.


It struck the writer that some of the cautions described by Congar and apparently assimilated by Pope John– could be applied, servatis servandis, to the reform of the Legion of Christ. This writer respectfully dedicates the essay to all those who have or are still trying to truly reform the Legion of Christ. In particular, the writer admires all those who stayed in the Legion as long as possible in an effort to bring about real reform, and expresses his solidarity with those who have been expelled or ostracized because of their conscientious objection? to what they consider cosmetic changes. This short essay takes the liberty of paraphrasing some of the key points of the cited article which lavishly quotes from True and False Reform in the Church and applying them to the case of the Legion of Christ. He invites the reader to analyze recent efforts by the Apostolic Delegate to carry out reforms ordered by Pope Benedict in the light of the following reflections. One wonders about the quality of the fruits produced by the cardinal’s close collaboration with the suspect Legion leadership.


Danger of Phariseeism:


There is a risk that the structural apparatus [of the Legion] might overshadow the action of the Spirit and of grace in people’s lives. This, he says is the temptation of Pharisaism, a deep attachment to habitual forms of religious expression than to the spirit of life they aim to express. Inside the system of the Pharisees there was a quest for legal purity, going from one subtlety to another and ending in the narrow legalism that our Lord fought against.
The author points to the excessive importance given to the drafting of new constitutions for the Legion of Christ and new statutes for the Regnum Christi Movement. It is clear to anyone who has studied the history of the Legion that one of the leitmotifs of Fr. Maciel’s administration was to publish more and more rules whenever dissent arose among the more mature and intelligent members of the Legion. This happened when Fr. Maciel was readmitted to the Legion in 1959 and again around the time of Vatican II when senior Legionaries questioned Fr. Maciel’s autocratic leadership.


2- Stifling Prophetic Expressions:


If there is sin on the part of the reform movement in refusing or misunderstanding the demand for church unity, there is parallel sin for the institution to misconstrue or stifle prophetic impulses. Besides, since real vital impulses are irrepressible, if they cannot find a sufficient outlet, won’t they have to create an alternative expression elsewhere? The obligation of the periphery is to seek ecclesiastical status, he says. The obligation of the center is to attend to the periphery when the sap is bubbling in a tree having growing pains.
The above can clearly be applied to actions by current Legion superiors to suppress dissentduring this time of discussion and reform! – and the expulsion and exile of those who dare to question the narrow, rigid and habitual party line.


3- Danger of Phariseeism:


Continuing to paraphrase the recently appeared article and applying it to the case of Legion reform:


If [Legion leadership] personnel are chosen only from men of a certain type, generally conservative and safe, reinforcing only the static dimensions in the notions of fidelity and tradition — that is choosing people who don’t cause problems, are not the sources of surprises, and don’t take any risks — then evidently the institution ends up placing a barrier of isolation between the periphery and the center, making the center a kind of ‘party<‘. Such an agency would meet some of the needs of an institution, such as security and moderation, but it would fail to respond to other needs … of a body always anxious to adapt and to make progress in the world.


The parallels created by paraphrasing Fr. Congar’s words are striking. Let he who has eyes read and see.


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