Regnum Christi, A Dissonant Note In Church Symphony?

Where the Laity Flourish, the Remarkable Appeal of Lay Movements leaps across the cover of the August 14-21, 2006, edition of America magazine. This number features two leading articles, one by Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., the other by Vincent Gragnani.

Eager to find some coverage of the Regnum Christi Movement I avidly read the first article, Where the Laity Flourish, with the caption Parishes cannot provide all the tools needed for evangelization. The caption summarizes a rather benign view of New Catholic Movements. The author, or editor, facilitates a short list and brief description of Catholic lay ecclesial movements: Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Christian Life Communities, Communion and Liberation, Cursillo Movement, Focolare, Marriage Encounter, Neocatechumenal Way, and Opus Dei. No mention of the Legion in this three page article. Another slight of the Jesuits towards Fr. Maciel and his Work of God?

Vincent Gragnani is managing editor for Worrall Community Newspapers, Union, N.J. I have no idea what these credentials mean, living as I do in Narnia regarding the spectrum of Catholic left, right and center. His essay, called A Symphony of Church Life, The surprising growth of contemporary lay movements, is the heftier of the two articles. The author begins citing a speech by then Cardinal Ratzinger at the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements in 1998, in which the present pope masterfully summarizes the history of ministries and missions in six successive waves. When the author segues into Modern-Day Movements he names Focolare, Communion and Liberation, Regnum Christi and Cursillo. The author also reveals a certain predilection for the Santa Egidio Community, founded in Rome in 1968, best known for negotiating a peace deal for the African nation of Mozambique.
When Gragnani moves to Concerns Raised by Bishops, the American bishops? reactions to the Regnum Christi appear as a mixed bag:

Some bishops have banned the Legionaries of Christ and their lay association, Regnum Christi, from parishes in their dioceses. (The Vatican?s recent disciplining of the Legionaries? founder, the Rev. Marcel Maciel, stemming from charges of sexual abuse, have not helped either the Legionaries or Regnum Christi.)

The debate boils down to the issue of communion: Some bishops, priests and lay people see the lay movements as operating outside of parish and diocesan structures, and, in many cases, they do.

Even New York?s Santa Egidio members attend weekly Mass, not at their home parishes as bishops and pastors might recommend, but at the Cabrini nursing home, along with the elderly residents there. But their members report a warm relationship with the Archdiocese of New York, quite different from what members of Regnum Christi in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis can report.

In October 2004 Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis sent a letter to the Legionaries of Christ and to all parishioners informing them that the Legionaries and Regnum Christi were not to use parish or diocesan property, or use diocesan channels to promote events. I feel very strongly that any group of religious who minister within this local church needs to do so in a way which promotes unity and cooperation, Archbishop Flynn? s letter stated. Rather than experiencing such a spirit, our pastors continue to sense that a ‘parallel church? is being encouraged, one that separates persons from the local parish and archdiocese, and creates competing structures.

The diocese of Columbus, Ohio, enacted a similar policy in 2002. And in 2004 the Diocese of Baton Rouge sent a letter home with students warning parents that the Legionaries operate outside the structures of the Catholic Church and often recruit children and teens to join their programs. The letter referred parents to two Web sites, a site run by former Legionaries and Regnum Christi members that includes negative information about the groups, and, a site sponsored by the respective communities to refute negative accusations.
Stories like these prompted Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary, Ind., to call several of his pastors when he learned that Regnum Christi had established a presence in his diocese. My experience, and the experience of the pastors in my diocese, is that they are among the most active parishioners in the parishes, says Bishop Melczek, who headed the U.S. bishops? Committee on the Laity from 2002 to 2005. They really take the faith seriously in terms of their commitment to prayer and living by the teachings of the church. I am happy to permit it as long as we? re functioning in communion with one another and not in competition with one another, he said.

It must be stated in the Regnum Christi? s defense that other bishops also welcome it into their dioceses. Many other American bishops tacitly approve, or at least acquiesce to the Movement?s presence and activities in the parishes under their jurisdiction.

Gragnani advocates striking a balance between group membership and parish involvement.

Lay movements always bring challenge to the church in at least two ways, said H. Richard McCord, executive director of the U.S. bishops? Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth. They represent a certain amount of new energy, new insight, a pushing out of the edges of mission. That?s a challenge probably in a good sense. But they also bring a challenge in that they need to be tied to the larger community of the church, which is institutional and hierarchical. Most of the movements he encounters meet that challenge, he said. None try to claim you body and soul, McCord said. They keep releasing you back to your parish for service.


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