Catholics scrutinize enigmatic Opus Dei

Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2003
By Ron Grossman, Tribune staff reporter

Depending on the eye of the beholder, the teaching kitchens of Lexington College, bedecked with pots and pans, mark either a place where young people learn an employable skill in a Christian setting, or a clandestine battlefield in an intense struggle for the soul of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lexington College, a school on Chicago’s Near West Side that specializes in food-service management, is run by Opus Dei, a tiny religious movement brought to public attention by the best seller “The Da Vinci Code,” a kind of ecclesiastical mystery novel featuring a Machiavellian Opus Dei operative who takes orders from a sinister, off-stage presence called “The Teacher.”
Earlier, the group briefly made headlines when it was learned that Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent turned Russian spy, sent his children to a Washington-area private school run by Opus Dei–Latin for the “Work of God.” Recently, the group opened a new multistory headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, a sign of its abundant financial resources. All of this has shone a spotlight on a group that has been something of a mystery, even to other U.S. Catholics. Yet it has tentacles of influence stretching all the way to the Holy See, where the pope’s spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member.

Hanssen’s story set off a brief but intense frenzy of speculation about who else in the nation’s capital might be associated with the group that, in other countries, has been politically cozy with the far right. Speculation has it that its members have risen to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Supreme Court and the FBI.

Opus Dei’s policy is to not disclose who is or isn’t a member. But officials say that if public figures belonged to the group, surely that would have been known in a culture where the lives of the famous are open secrets.

The movement’s critics–and some of the most vocal are Catholics–don’t buy that argument. They claim a pledge of secrecy is written into the rules of the group, which some see as an underground conspiracy aimed at capturing power in the church by stealthily boring from within.

“What possible activity could any Catholic group be engaged in that justifies secrecy?” wrote Catharine Henningsen, in SALT, a liberal Catholic journal of which she is the editor.

Opus Dei members respond that they aren’t secretive but simply value privacy. “We just built a 17-story headquarters in New York,” said spokesman Brian Finnerty. “How can you operate a secret society from a skyscraper at 34th and Lexington?”

Indeed, Opus Dei, whose first U.S. outpost was in Chicago, consistently produces diametrically opposite responses–depending on whether a question is being answered from inside or outside the group.

Liberal Catholics say it is theologically antediluvian and decry it for pandering to ultraconservatives unreconciled to more recent changes in the church. Opus Dei supporters claim their founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was on to the need for updating Catholicism three decades before the reformist Vatican II Council of the 1960s.

Former members claim it is a cult that pressures psychologically vulnerable college students into joining. Group members say Opus Dei has provided a meaning to their lives that they lacked in a secular and materialistic society.

Critics are put off because, as part of their devotional regimen, some Opus Dei members inflict pain on themselves that seems to border on masochism. Supporters respond that mortification of the flesh is an ancient and honorable Christian practice that puts them spiritually in touch with the great saints of the past.

Opus Dei members are furious about the unflattering portrayal in Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” where their religious regimen seems to inspire not piety but evildoing. They also point to the novel’s historical inaccuracies.

Some critics alleged that Escriva’s character faults made him ineligible for sainthood. An English priest, and former member, claimed that Opus Dei’s founder told him Adolf Hitler had been “badly treated” because “he could never have killed 6 million Jews. It only could have been 4 million at most.” Supporters say Escriva would not have said such a thing, and they note that a third of all Catholic bishops supported his candidacy for sainthood, which was proclaimed in 2002.

Numbers small

Critics and supporters agree on one thing: The group has stirred up a fuss way beyond its numbers. Of the estimated 1 billion or more Catholics in the world, only about 85,000 belong to Opus Dei.

There are about 3,000 members in the U.S., divided as in other countries into two principal categories: “supernumeraries” (about 70 percent), who live in the secular world and may marry, and “numeraries” (about 30 percent), who live communally in Opus Dei residences, called Centers, and are pledged to celibacy. Revolving around them is a support group, the “cooperators,” who aid the movement with prayers and financial contributions.

Despite the monasticlike existence of the numeraries, Opus Dei members are not, for the most part, clergy. Only about 2 percent are priests and some were lay members for years before being ordained. That makes the movement unusual in the Catholic Church, a hierarchical organization.

It was precisely that top-down approach to religion that inspired leaders of the Protestant Reformation to leave the Catholic Church. Indeed, when Opus Dei members stress their movement’s emphasis on ordinary believers, they sound more like Martin Luther or John Calvin than like the ultraconservative Catholics their critics say they are.

`Era of the laity’

“This is the era of the laity,” said Sharon Hefferan, who runs Metro Achievement Center, an Opus Dei tutoring program for Chicago public school students housed in the same building as Lexington College.

It is a busy place. Young professional women come from their Loop offices to the Center to volunteer, helping girls from Chicago’s less fortunate neighborhoods with homework. Lexington College, named after the West Side street where it began, has been training women for the hotel and restaurant industry since 1977.

“The clergy have a role, and that’s fine,” said Hefferan, who joined the movement in 1988. “But ultimately the church is about lay people.”

Still, if there is a modernist side to Opus Dei, other aspects make its critics say that it seems a throwback to the fire-and-brimstone preachers of the Middle Ages.

Sharon Clasen, who lives in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, was introduced to the group as a Boston College freshman. The dormitories were full, so a friend recommended Bayridge, an off-campus women’s residence hall run by Opus Dei. She moved in, was attracted by the warm and supportive atmosphere and eventually became a member.

“After I joined, they gave me a barbed-wire chain to wear on my leg for two hours a day and a whip to hit my buttocks with,” said Clasen, who has since left the group.

Privation and pain

Rev. Marty Miller, chaplain at Lexington College, said Opus Dei’s use of privation and pain reflects a sinner’s need for physical penance. Because everyone falls into that category, members are expected to sleep on the floor or a board one night a week. The whip, he said, is called a “discipline,” the leg binding is a “cilice.”

“It hurts a bit, but I don’t tighten it too much,” Miller said. “It’s said that our founder would draw it so tight, he drew blood.”

Opus Dei’s founder–and members always capitalize the title and speak of him with reverence–was a Spaniard who entered the priesthood on the eve of his homeland’s civil war of the 1930s. Because the church was identified with the ruling class, many priests were killed, a fate Escriva narrowly escaped by going into hiding. When Gen. Francisco Franco won the war, Escriva allied his movement with Franco’s authoritarian regime, with several Opus Dei members occupying key positions in his government. Opus Dei officials, however, currently downplay Escriva’s actively supporting Franco.

During the subsequent Cold War, Opus Dei expanded to other parts of Western Europe and the Americas, attracting support by projecting itself as a bulwark against the advance of communism. Along the way, it drew to its ranks some financial whiz kids who reportedly made the movement fabulously wealthy. In his book “Their Kingdom Come,” critic Robert Hutchison says Opus Dei has even bailed out a hard-pressed papacy.

Escriva’s insight was to recognize that the task of maintaining a viable Christian presence in an increasingly secular world was too big for the clergy alone.

Elite corps

Opus Dei is based on the idea that lay people can spread the Gospel by going out from their Centers to regular jobs and making workplace contact with others. By Escriva’s design, Opus Dei was to be the shock troops, or the elite corps ready and able to take on church problems wherever they may be–a position traditionally occupied by religious orders, such as the Jesuits.

Pope John Paul II gave the movement a unique status in the church, making it a “personal prelature.” That exempts the group from the jurisdiction of local bishops, a move Opus Dei had long campaigned for and which previous popes resisted. Some observers think the pope, a conservative, saw the movement as a useful ally in the church’s version of the culture wars–the struggles between progressives and traditionalists ongoing since Vatican II.

On the other hand, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a noted liberal, gave Opus Dei priests control of a Chicago parish, St. Mary of the Angels, on the Near Northwest Side, a privilege the movement enjoys in few other places.

The movement’s success has provoked resentment in other quarters of the church, said James Hitchcock, a history professor at St. Louis University, a Jesuit school.

“In some cases, it’s produced almost a paranoia,” Hitchcock said. “There are Jesuits who hear you express conservative religious views and say: `Are you a covert member of Opus Dei?'”

Recruiting among students

Escriva sought recruits at Spain’s universities, judging that there was a critical mass of alienated students put off by the secular atmosphere of modern education. His movement still follows that approach, proselytizing on college campuses and operating high schools, including two in the Chicago area. Opus Dei also runs charitable programs locally and nationally.

“They appeal to the idealism of youth,” said William Dinges, a professor at Washington’s Catholic University.

Kristina Bucholz first made contact with Opus Dei through an after-school program the movement ran in Puerto Rico. She joined and was sent to a Center near Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“You’re told you are the elite guard of God,” said Bucholz, who says she quit out of resentment for having her life tightly controlled. Ex-members report that they were isolated from their families and their reading was censored. Opus Dei officials deny using coercive methods.

Tammy DiNicola was introduced to the group when a member she met at Boston College brought her to functions at the Opus Dei house. She remembers being idealistic and looking for a way to serve God.

“What I didn’t realize was that I was a target for recruitment,” DiNicola said. “But when I joined, they said you should have 10 to 15 friends that you’re working on. You had to fill out forms each month and have meetings to develop strategies to get them to join.”

Bucholz and DiNicola are bitter when they look back at their experiences, but officials of Opus Dei say others have decided that the life is not for them but remain supporters.

Peg Bruer was a numerary for almost 18 years.

“I stopped being a member when I realized my vocation in life was being married,” said Bruer, who lives in the Los Angeles area.

Notable departure

Still, there have been notable defections from the higher ranks.

Maria del Carmen Tapia was Escriva’s personal secretary and a regional director of Opus Dei in South America. In a memoir, “Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei,” she recalls an Escriva far different from the movement’s reverential portrait. The “Founder,” by her experience, was dictatorial and threw temper tantrums.

“I gradually realized that by isolating its members Opus Dei makes them overly dependent, even childish,” Tapia wrote. “Similarly, its lack of ecumenical spirit makes its members inflexible in human relations.”

Yet for former members, no less than loyal members, the experience of Opus Dei has shaped their lives for years afterward. DiNicola and her mother run a support group, the Opus Dei Awareness Network, or ODAN, that helps former members make contact and counsels current members wrestling with the issue of leaving, or their families.

Hefferan, who runs the Chicago tutoring program, said her commitment to Escriva’s principles is as real a presence in her life as it was when she joined 15 years ago. Working with needy kids in Metro Achievement Center and performing Opus Dei’s rituals are part of a seamless spiritual existence, she said.

“It’s a quiet apostolate,” she said. “Opus Dei is our humble effort to live a life in imitation of the life of Christ.”

– – –

Interest persists in Opus Dei

The 85,000-member Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928 to give Catholics a vocational path for daily life emphasizing prayer, sacrifice and fidelity to the pope. The first U.S. chapter opened in Chicago in 1949. Today, there are 3,000 members in the U.S.

ORGANIZATION AND ACTIVITIES

Opus Dei operates spiritual retreat centers, a college and several schools, including the Midtown Educational Foundation in Chicago. Members fall into two main categories:

NUMERARIES

About 30% of members

– Live in Opus Dei residences (men and women separately)

– Pledged to celibacy

– Attend daily mass and spiritual readings

– Men can work outside Opus Dei

– They wear a sharp band of wire around the thigh two hours daily and whip them-selves for minutes each week

SUPERNUMERARIES

About 70% of members

– Can be married

– Live with their families

– Volunteer in Opus Dei centers and schools

Supporters of Opus Dei who make financial contributions but are not members are called “cooperators.”

Sources: Prelature of Opus Dei in the U.S., staff reporting
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0312070395dec07,1,85937.story?coll=chi-news-hed

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Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Issue Date:  November 21, 2003

Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Perhaps in some arcane Vatican understanding of things lies the explanation for how Fr. Marcial Maciel cannot only remain a priest in good standing but be heralded by one of the highest authorities in the church for the “great work that you do.”

Maciel is founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order with U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. He received the praise and several embraces from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state ( see story), during a ceremony marking the opening of the academic year at Regina Apostolorum, the university operated by the Legionaries in Rome.

Maciel may be a papal favorite — he has traveled with the pope in the past and has shown up more recently at papal events in Rome — but he is also the target of accusations of sexual abuse by nine former members of the Legionaries of Christ.

We have argued on this page against the zero tolerance policy initially adopted by the bishops last year, and we believe that priests deserve due process and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, the law requires that accusations of sexual abuse be turned over to police, and it is certainly wise to remove from ministry priests who have been credibly accused.

In Maciel’s case, the nature of the allegations and the credibility of the alleged victims would make it an easy call almost anywhere except the Vatican. No U.S. priest superior facing detailed and public accusations by nine former members of an order would last 10 minutes in active ministry.

How bizarre, then, that a head of an international order remains in place even though he would immediately be removed from ministry and turned over to legal authorities if he were living under church norms effective in the United States.

The alleged victims, who first went public with their accusations in 1997, included a retired priest in good standing in Madrid; a psychology professor in New York; a professor at the U.S. Defense Languages School in Monterey, Calif.; and in Mexico, a Harvard-trained scholar of Latin American studies; a lawyer; a rancher; an engineer; a schoolteacher; and another former priest who was a university president and who left a statement of alleged abuse and gave accounts to several witnesses before his death in 1995.

They have repeatedly said they are not seeking money, but justice and the prevention of further abuse.

Their case has been championed by respected theologians and conservative Catholics, who took it to Rome, where it was received by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but never adjudicated.

In simplest terms, the accusers never got a hearing at the highest levels.

In the Maciel case, the church is sending disturbing mixed signals. What are officials saying, first of all, to victims everywhere who are pressing their own cases? What does it say to other priests who have been sidelined or dismissed from active ministry altogether for accusations far less severe than those made against Maciel? (Details of the accusations can be found in previous stories now available in our archives at www.NCRonline.org ‘keyword Maciel’). And what message is it sending the wider culture, which is deeply skeptical of the ability of church leaders, who remain above accountability, to correct their course?

Vatican officials ought to understand, at the very least, that their promises about combating sexual abuse by priests remain empty until Maciel’s accusers receive a thorough and objective hearing.

The kids are back at school and to hell with the consequences: Virgen del Bosque school outskirts Madrid, Spain

Madrid parents protest LC school takeover

 

By Giles Tremlett

 

The Guardian/September 20, 2003

 

Madrid — We have been freewheeling through the park on the bike again this week, one boy on the crossbar and the other in the kiddy seat, slaloming through parents, kids and dogs on our way to school.

It is the end of a hard slog of a summer. The holidays started on June 20 and ended on Monday. That is 12 weeks, or nigh on a quarter of the year. Try organising your life around that, especially when the Madrid oven is turned up to maximum and temperatures outside are going over 40C (104F) .

On Monday the kids may have looked a bit glum, but the parents were giving high fives. A Madrid child’s life, you might think, is golden. There are hours of freedom, of loving parental attention and family cosiness.

But there is a more worrying cost. Spanish children spend, at least in secondary education, 559 hours a year at school. The EU average is 678 hours. Doing the maths, I discover that my kids will have had a full year less of education by the time they reach 18 than the average European child. They will, according to one study, have had two years less than German, Belgian, Scottish or Dutch kids.

My kids are at a mega-school. Fourteen hundred pupils are spread over two buildings. Entry is at three and exit is at 18 (or later if, as Spanish kids sometimes do, you are made to repeat a year). They go in unable to wipe their own bums and come out, if those lounging on the benches along Paseo John Lennon are typical, as expert joint rollers.

It is also a concertado school, roughly equivalent to a grant-maintained grammar, owned by a progressive charity, funded by the state and topped up with cash from the parents. The majority of concertados are run by religious communities. Ours, however, is a radically secular school. Children at the religious schools have to say their prayers. Ours have obligatory anti-war demonstrations.

The concertado system is either a good way for the state to control private – especially religious – schools or a tax-funded cop-out for middle-class parents who do not trust the state system.

It is not without its risks, as the parents of the Virgen del Bosque school on the outskirts of Madrid discovered this week. Four days after the start of term they found they had a new headteacher who informed them the teachers’ cooperative which owned the school had sold out.

The buyers were the Legionaries of Christ, a radical, Mexico-based Catholic group that makes the fearsomely conservative Opus Dei, another accumulator of Madrid schools, look wet.

The liberal, secular charter is to be rewritten. “Hopefully the boys and girls who study with us will end up marrying because that would mean there would be fewer divorces and separations,” the head declared.

The parents are outraged. But have they started withdrawing their children? No. It is too late to start looking for a school place now. But, I suspect, another emotion is at play. By the time the holidays are over Madrid parents have gone slightly mad. They no longer care whether their headteacher is a self-proclaimed servant of God, or has a trident and horns.

 

Time for the Vatican to take a new stand on sexual abuse

By Ruth Bertels

It was an ordinary August morning, Thursday, the 7th, to be precise, not yet too hot, filled with promise of a completed column, at least by mid-afternoon, with the possibility of a long walk to follow.

Then, there came the news on CNN that orders for the cover up of abused children by priests came from the Vatican, and had been kept secret for 40 years, according to CBS News correspondent, Vince Gonzales.

The policy was written in 1962 and was stored in the secret archives of the Vatican by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who died on August 3, 1979. The document focused on crimes initiated as part of the confessional relationship and what it calls the ‘worst crime,’ sexual assault committed by a priest or attempted by him with youths of either sex…”

Bishops were instructed “to pursue these cases in the most secretive way …restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone (including the alleged victim) …is to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.”

That evening, John Allen, reporter for The National Catholic Reporter, explained on CNN that the letter referred to an older period in the Church and to only the treatment of clergy abuse as an internal matter. Another representative from the New York-based Catholic League echoed Allen’s statement and demanded a retraction by CNN.

Personally, like many Catholic writers, I find such news difficult to treat, so much so that this piece was put up on the site last week, then taken down. Of course, it was the wrong decision. A document hidden in the Vatican archives concerning the abuse of children cannot be ignored, no matter how distressful it might be to either the writer or reader, nor how long it has been buried..

Richard Sipe, a former priest, who has written at length on the subject of sexual abuse by priests in his book, Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, is quoted by CBS, in reference to the newly discovered document, as saying: “This is the code for how you must deal with sex by priests. You keep it secret at all costs. And that’s what’s happened. It’s happened in every diocese in this country.” He concludes his work with these thoughts on celibacy:

“What of real value will remain if we reject a celibate/sexual power structure based on categories of superiority, and in turn demand personal application of the gospel message – a universal call to love? Won’t the religious world fall apart? Won’t chaos reign? No. Celibacy will persist – celibate love – and the process of celibacy genuinely entered into and honestly pursued. Marital love equally will remain, integrated and enhanced. The value of sex and its responsible use will be enhanced. Life will be more greatly treasured.” (Italics, mine)

That last sentence: “Life will be more greatly treasured” contains the heartfelt prayer of every sincere Catholic on both sides of the ocean. Treasuring life implies the willingness on behalf of shepherds to protect their flocks from every harm, no matter the personal cost.

While such protection may include one’s fellow bishops, or others in authority, it must not be offered at the expense of the most vulnerable, the little people in the pews.

Rome fails to understand, or refuses to face the reality that, despite, Ottaviani’s efforts long ago, there is nowhere to hide sexual abuse secrets forever, certainly not when they involve such a public figure as the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Rev. Marciel Maciel Degollado.

When a reporter approached Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the subject, he was angrily brushed off. Apparently, abuse of boys doesn’t rank up there with fighting off the evils of inclusive language in the liturgy, a married priesthood, or the ordination of women.

However, one would think that a prelate, versed in both moral and dogmatic theology, would take time to consider the special kind of scandal Rome’s ignoring Maciel’s moral turpitude presents to the abused, now-grown men, their families, and the entire Catholic world, for the order ( more properly described as a cult) has become world-wide, and continues to grow more powerful after the pattern of Opus Dei.

Does not the praying, thinking Body of Christ see the Vatican’s position as indifference to God’s people, indifference that philosophers tell us is the opposite of love, for it judges certain people as of no-account, expendable sheep, lost and not worth the finding? Protect Maciel at all costs, no matter who gets hurt in the bargain.

What is the result of such indifference? We have no way of measuring. The other day, over a cup of coffee, a mother of a large family looked at her friend and asked, “Do you ever get the feeling we’ve been had?”

When the laity begin to feel that they are expected to follow laws not required of those in authority, it doesn’t take long for bitterness to settle in, followed by confusion and sadness over their personal, tarnished Holy Grails.

Most hurtful of all is a mother’s scalding tears over the lessons she has taught her children down the years, which now appear to be meaningless. Lately, I’ve been receiving e-mails from such mothers, wondering what they are to say to their children, who tried the Legionaires way of life, and are now living in a desert of disillusionment.

An excellent Web site on this sect is: www.regainnetwork.org. You will find there testimonials of those who have been abused, along with excellent professional advice on recovering from the brain-washing common to all cults.

We on this side of the pond will continue to hope that the Vatican will follow O’Malley’s example, defrock Maciel, strip him of his position as head of the Legion, and set Rome on a new path of openness and compassion for the members of the hierarchy, priests and laity, who hunger for real leadership from Peter’s Throne.

Maciel’s abuse of the boys in his care is scandalous, yet Rome’s refusal to acknowledge the scandal by keeping him in power is another kind of scandal, and one is hard put to decide which does the greater harm to God’s people.

What we find in O’Malley’s prompt actions since taking over the Boston Archdiocese is his determination to shepherd the wounded sheep in his care, which includes everyone. No one has escaped the heartache of the moral failure of sexual abuse. .

As far as the question goes: “Do you think we’ve been had?” I’ve been pondering it a bit and have decided that we probably have “been had.” That hurts our pride some, doesn’t it? Yet, perhaps, in the Gospel sense, we’ve ended up “being fools for Christ’s sake.” And that’s a different story altogether.

By Ruth Bertels
August 18, 2003

Catholic gathering gets mixed reaction Legion of Christ faces its critics

By Joshua S. Howes Tribune staff reporter Published July 17, 2003

Depending on one’s point of view, the Legion of Christ’s visit to Chicago this weekend is either cause for celebration and religious recommitment or an insult to the Roman Catholic community, especially survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy.

The Rome-based order of priests, whose founder has faced allegations of sexual abuse but is said to be a personal friend of Pope John Paul II, will hold a Youth and Family Encounter from Thursday afternoon through Sunday at Navy Pier.

——————————————————————————–
The agenda includes speeches, masses, apostolic training seminars and a keynote address by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Organizers say they intend to renew participants’ spiritual drive and commitment to the faith, particularly for teenagers who might be confused by “all the negative headlines recently” about the Catholic Church.

But controversy has followed the Legion to Chicago. On Saturday the group announced that its 83-year-old founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, will not attend the Navy Pier conference, which requires registration to attend, because of urgent business in Rome.

The Legion’s chorus of critics, led by former priests, say Maciel is ducking out to escape further scrutiny regarding allegations made in 1997 by nine former Legionaries that Maciel molested them when they were teenage seminarians in Italy and Spain in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Maciel also skipped last year’s conference in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the Legion, Jim Fair, dismissed the accusations against Maciel and the organization, saying the Vatican looked into the allegations and found no evidence of abuse.

Critics say the investigation was flawed and incomplete. They allege top Vatican officials protect Maciel because of his fundraising abilities, conservative politics and friendship with the pope.

To the group’s opponents, the Chicago conference is objectionable whether or not Maciel attends.

“To place Maciel, or his organization, as a model for the youth in Chicago or anywhere, my God, that is an aberration,” said Arturo Jurado of Monterey, Calif., a former priest who contends Maciel sexually molested him in 1957.

Others say the Legion’s leaders manipulate priests and seminarians into a cult-like devotion to Maciel. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Legionaries take a vow never to criticize or question the order.

Former seminarian Todd Carpunky, now a Chicago lawyer, said he worries that the conference’s unstated goal is to recruit teenagers. The archdiocese of Chicago, he says, should warn young Catholics about the Legion’s recruiting and control techniques.

Warning from ex-member

Carpunky said that after he joined a Legion seminary in Connecticut at age 16 in 1991, his superiors censored his mail and reading material, lied to him when other members left the seminary, encouraged him to flagellate himself and for months refused permission to see a doctor when he was suffering from a gall bladder infection that spread to his liver and almost killed him.

“The archdiocese and the church in general know what the Legion does,” he said. “We are their flock, and [the Legion] are the wolves preying on their flock, and they’re doing nothing about it.”

Legion supporters say such accusations are groundless and the product of disgruntled ex-Legionaries.

Fair, the group’s spokesman, said similar charges of abuse were brought against St. Francis of Assisi when he founded the Franciscans and many other founders of religious orders.

“With success and growth comes calumny and slander; it’s an almost consistent pattern across the board,” said Fair.

A spokesman for the Chicago archdiocese said the Legionaries are not within its jurisdiction. “The Catholic Church is a big tent,” said James Dwyer. “A wide variety of Catholic organizations meet in Chicago, and just because they do does not imply endorsement of what they do … nor condemnation.”

Cardinal not attending
Cardinal Francis George does not plan to attend the conference, Dwyer said.

Organizers of the event say more than 6,000 Chicago-area residents have registered to attend, many of them members of the Legion’s international lay movement, Regnum Christi, which they say has more than 60,000 members. The organizations also operate two K-through-12 schools and numerous outreach ministries in the Chicago area.

Scholars said the Legion’s evangelism and continued growth is consistent with the increase in the power and numbers of conservative Catholic organizations under Pope John Paul II.

“The [conservative movement] perceives itself to be under a threat that is growing, and is pushing back,” said Jay Demerath, a professor of sociology specializing in religion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I suspect [the Legion] is trying to send a message to American Catholics that traditions are important and need to be upheld … that all is not moving in a liberal direction.”

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

Religious Groups Awareness International Network

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