Following the recognition of the misdeeds of Legionaries of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, Fr. Thomas Berg, LC, has written a letter to Regnum Christi members acknowledging their the feelings of confusion and betrayal and lamenting the “disastrous response” to the crisis provided by the Legionaries’ leadership.
He also apologized directly to Maciel’s victims, appealed for help in reforming the Legion and demanded an independent third party investigation to discover any Legionaries who may have been “accomplices” to Fr. Maciel’s misconduct.
In 2006, following allegations that Fr. Maciel had sexually abused around 20 different teenage recruits to the Legion of Christ, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had invited the priest “to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.”
The Congregation had decided to forgo a hearing to the allegations on the grounds that Fr. Maciel was in advanced age and declining health. He died on January 30, 2008 at the age of 87.
Recently, reports surfaced that Fr. Maciel had kept a mistress, fathered a child, and lived a double life.
On Feb. 3, Legionaries spokesman Jim Fair confirmed to CNA that there were aspects of his life that “weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.” He did not verify any specific allegations of misconduct.
Fr. Berg, Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person and author of the CNA column “With Good Reason,” on Sunday addressed a letter to members of the Legion of Christ’s lay order Regnum Christi (RC).
He said that so many priests and section directors have met with RC groups to break the “horrible news.”
“Believe me, we have all been trying to do everything possible to reach out to all of you personally,” Fr. Berg wrote. “But my heart aches because our best efforts have not been enough.”
“I beg you, in the midst of such pain and hurt, please bear with your directors,” he continued.
Fr. Berg also begged forgiveness for “the disastrous response which this crisis has received from our upper LC leadership.”
“There is no other way to say it: in so many respects, Legionary superiors have failed, and failed miserably to respond adequately to this crisis, and not surprisingly, have engendered in many of you and understandable lack of confidence. Those are the facts and your reaction is natural and reasonable. With all my heart, on their behalf, I apologize. Our superiors are human instruments; I know in their hearts they have trying to do the right thing, under inhuman pressure. Please understand that.”
Though defending Legion spokesman Jim Fair, he said he would not make excuses for the “fumbled media responses,” the appearances of being “less than forthcoming”, the lack of information and the confusion of messaging.
Insisting that the situation is about more than “crisis management,” he added:
“The thing I am most pained about—I share this as a brother—is the near absence of but fleeting suggestions of sorrow, and of apologizing for the harm done, both to alleged victims of Maciel, and, frankly, to all of you. I am deeply, deeply sorry, and I personally apologize with my heart in my hand to each and every one of you.”
“I understand your feelings of betrayal,” he continued, noting his 23 years of service to the Legionaries and his own past attempts to defend Fr. Maciel.
“I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary.”
“You feel betrayed? You feel rage?” he asked his readers. “I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days… are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. My thoughts and my heart have been so often with them these days…”
He advised Regnum Christi members to understand they are going through mourning.
“Keep talking to your section directors,” he counseled. “Let them know how you feel. Let them know if you are satisfied with their response to you.”
Fr. Berg suggested they offer acts of reparation for those suffering the effects of clerical sexual abuse and asked they consider reaching out to those who have been hurt by their experiences with the Legion or RC.
To help their own spiritual needs, Fr. Berg advised Regnum Christi members to speak with anyone inside or outside the movement about their pain and their reactions to “this tragic news.”
He said their “spiritual experiences,” even when they came through the letters of Fr. Maciel, are “valid, and real.”
“God was working through those instruments. The sad revelations about Maciel do not change that.”
He noted that the charism of the Legionaries of Christ is “Pauline,” and told those who can no longer find Fr. Maciel’s letters helpful to put them aside and “nourish” their spirit on the letters of St. Paul.
“Try to thank God for the past, and sing his praises for the way [sic] he has done in your lives through RC,” Fr. Berg suggested. “Prayer of thankfulness will help you. Prayer of thanksgiving for this deliverance he has given us now, and for the purification which we are undergoing will also be very helpful.”
Regnum Christi members’ meditation should return to “the bedrock truths of your life” such as the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Redemption, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, their Baptism, and their call to “a more deeply committed Christian life.”
“Finally, I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel,” Fr. Berg stated.
“Demand that [Legionaries General Director] Fr. Alvaro seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the Holy See) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel.
“Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion,” he urged.
Fr. Berg’s letter closed with an exhortation to prayer, quoting Psalm 36 (37): “Entrust your life to the Lord, and He will act.”
Fr. Berg's full letter can be read at http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=788