Zenit.org: Good News And Bad News


Zenit (www.zenit.org) is a Rome-based free Internet news provider and self-proclaimed instrument of evangelization. Each weekday Zenit sends out church news in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and German; a weekly news analysisappears each Saturday. The news focuses first and foremost on the pope's most recent pronouncements and activities, turning then to the Roman curia and to developments elsewhere in the church. Besides straight news stories (which inevitably present the church favorably), Zenit also features spiritual reflections, homilies, and interviews with well-spoken Catholics.

Like CASE, Zenit knows that modern people, especially young people, are to be found on the Internet. Its approach is ideally suited to the present pope, who, while lacking the telegenic charisma of his predecessor, does have a gift for writing clear and inspiring texts, statements that imaginatively free upkey phrases and symbols. As the pope showed in Deus caritas est, he is adept at taking words we all use, like loveand freedom,and revealing their extraordinary meaning in the light of the gospel. Not only does Zenit do Benedict the service of getting these messages into chanceries, parishes, newsrooms, and homes on a daily basis; it also effectively frames the messages, highlighting aspects of the text likely to speak to the average reader.

Like Sant'Egidio, Zenit has grown remarkably, recently boosting its daily reader count from three hundred fifty thousand to over four hundred thousand in an aggressive Christmas subscription campaign. Evangelizers take note: Zenit doesn't wait for people to visit; it goes to them. And who else can claim such rapid progress in reaching so many Catholics at so little cost?

But I do have one serious reservation. Zenit's Web site lists the agency's owner as Innovative Media Inc., a nonprofit organization of New York State,providing no further information. Innovative Media turns out to be a front for the Legionaries of Christ, which also owns the National Catholic Register. That the Legion-a religious group noted for its conservatism, secrecy, and success at recruiting priest and lay associates-should establish media outlets in connection with its mission is fully acceptable. But I am troubled by the lack of transparency. The Jesuits don't hide the fact that they publish America. Openness about the source of news reports enables readers to judge the objectivity of those reports. One searches in vain in Zenit's archive to find a report that reflects badly on the Legion. Take, for instance, the much-publicized accusations of sexual abuse leveled against the order's founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. These charges-well documented in Jason Berry and Gerald Renner's Vows of Silence and recently corroborated by the Vatican-go essentially unreported by Zenit. A January 28, 2005, Zenit report dismissed them as theories circulating in the media, including some that seem to be slanderous.More recently (May 19, 2006), Zenit ran its story about Maciel's removal from public ministry under the disingenuous title Holy See Halts Investigation of Legionary Founder - as though Pope Benedict's decision had vindicated Maciel and not served to validate the credibility of Maciel's accusers.

Working too hard to save appearances can create a host of new, even worse problems-this, if nothing else, should be a lesson from our recent church history. I still like Zenit's model and still appreciate the good news it provides. Sometimes, though, what we need most to confront, in order to purify our faith, is the bad news.

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 http://www.regainnetwork.org, a site run by former Legionaries and Regnum Christi members that includes negative information about the groups, and http://www.legionaryfacts.org, 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.


In Mexico, The Legion Of Christ Forms Elites

Vast sports fields, jets of water and solar energy panels characterize Anahuac North University. Founded in 1964, it is the flagship of an entire educational armada. Like its Jesuit rival, the Ibero-American University, it is known as one of the best private universities in Mexico and was built on the highest reaches of the country’s capital city – near luxurious homes and shopping temples favored by affluent youths.

A semester here costs the equivalent of $5,000. The Legionaries of Christ do not deny their true vocation: Our principal purpose is formation, specifically of society’s elites, according to spokesperson Roberto Sanchez Mejorada. Leaders of positive action are exalted on the campus. Of the Legion’s nine universities in Mexico, Anahuac North is the most comprehensive. It offers its six thousand students twenty-five degree programs. Nearly one in every five students receives financial aid. The belief is that an aid recipient today could be a company director tomorrow.

Notable among its fields of study are medicine and, especially, media. Anahuac has fully equipped studios for radio and television, making it unique among Latin American universities. Numerous well-known radio and television figures have passed through Anahuac, where posters encourage future media professionals to create programs which promote values.

Mexican law had long prohibited religious groups from owning media outlets, so the Legion formed ties to key figures in the fourth estate, notably Emilio Azcarraga, owner of Televisa (the largest producer of programs for the Hispanic world) and a graduate of Anahuac, who sponsors broadcasts of Telethon – a Legionary initiative. Anahuac extols personal involvement in its charitable endeavors – charity which transforms – thanks to the Altius Foundation, one of the pillars of the Legion. Its telemedicine service sends doctors and nurses to disadvantaged rural areas. Vehicles outfitted with satellite antennas allow them to attend to patients in marginalized indigenous communities and to carry out sonograms and other monitoring exams on pregnant women.

Thanks to a system of teleconferencing, the caregivers can in turn consult with experts at the Anahuac.

On one particular day, a young woman reports on the case of a forty-two year old patient who is in her twelfth pregnancy. The Legion likes to call attention to the high rate of childbirth-related mortality, but would be uncomfortable encouraging contraception. The Billings method (abstinence on fertile days) is the most effective for these often illiterate women, and the only one compatible with their faith, according to Dr. Pilar Calva, a genetician trained at the Necker Hospital in Paris. She is an unyielding opponent of abortion, which is punishable by imprisonment, at least for the doctors who perform it, in many states in Mexico.

It is, however, a far cry from the quasi Hitlerian period, when Legionary novices cried, ‘Heil Christus,’ while raising their right hands, says José Barba, a professor at the Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM). He joined the Legion as an adolescent, left in 1962 and has since 1997 been one of Fr. Marcial Maciel’s principal accusers. In spite of its ultra-conservative positions, the Legion has since its beginnings been differentiated, through its loyalty to the pope, from the most radical fringe of Mexico’s extreme Catholic right.

While setting up elitist establishments, the Legion at the same time has developed, through a system of aid and sponsorship, a network of some fifteen schools set aside for underprivileged students: the Mano Amiga academies. The schools’ detractors point out that the instruction steers students towards technical sectors, creating a qualified but docile intermediate level workforce which will be needed by the managers coming out of Anahuac. Nevertheless, parents from families of modest means sleep outside, waiting to enroll their children in our schools, says Laura Bautista, director of the first Mano Amiga School in Mexico. Other legionary strategies are evangelical missions, which take place one Saturday or Sunday a month, and the mega-missions, which take place during Holy Week, and which have the reputation of being extravagant successes. Their purpose is to simultaneously re-evangelize both the urban elites and the countryside, where Catholicism faces the expansion of other Christian sects. A recent census indicates that Mexico has more than 19,000 Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors in contrast to some 18,000 Catholic priests, while the number of declared agnostics has grown from 780,000 in 1970 to almost 3,000,000 in 2000. At the heart of their operations in the Monterrey region Legionaries also conduct courses on personal advancement for the wives of their staff members, who in turn invite the workers’ wives – a pyramidal structure typical of the way the Legion operates.

The Legionaries are pragmatic; they do not question labor exploitation, says Bernardo Barranco, commentator for Radio Red and the left-leaning newspaper, La Jornada. In Mexico they are to the right of Opus Dei on social issues, but in the moral realm they are extremely tolerant of the elite’s escapades. For Barranco this innovative movement has learned how to adapt the theology of prosperity-which grew out of certain Evangelical currents-to Catholicism, developing a system of aid to the poor while at the same time comforting the wealthy with the legitimacy of their privileges.

Legion Finally Admits to Its Cultish Practices

Recently, Catholic News Agency (CNA) http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2864 published an article about the Legionaries of Christ who have acknowledged deficiencies following their three years of reflection and the conclusion of their extraordinary General Chapter. Continue reading “Legion Finally Admits to Its Cultish Practices”

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