Guest Columnist Ecclesial communities with a disgraced founder may learn from the Legionaries’ experience of restoration

The burgeoning of new religious movements in the Church of our moment once seemed an unambiguous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Ambiguity has lately been introduced: a number of the founders of those movements lived unholy lives in secret that have, when discovered, brought scandal and disgrace to these founders and innocent community members alike. The Vatican Congregation that oversees Societies of Apostolic Life currently faces at least twelve such cases of communities with disgraced founders, the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae being the most recently publicized. An ethics commission reported two weeks ago that the Sodalits' founder, Luis Fernando Figari, had fostered a culture of physical abuse in the society. An Apostolic Visitation is underway.         

The foundation of a graced ecclesial community by an unworthy founder has unfortunately now become simply a recognizable pastoral problem, a phenomenon characteristic of our time. But it's puzzling: in traditional Catholic understanding of the founding of religious life, the founder was important. Individual founders, committed authentically to integrity and holiness of life, were at a moment of time inspired to found a community and provided it personally with a model to be imitated in their particular way of following Christ and living out the Gospel. How is it that now in our time hypocritical or conflicted founders could so frequently have gathered honest congregations?

The Legionaries of Christ are the most notorious example of this phenomenon. Their founder, Father Marcial Maciel was an unscrupulous predator who by the congregation's own admission infected its life and history for half a century and stained the reputation of the Popes, particularly John Paul II, who had supported them. Even so, eighteen months ago, in October 2014, the Vatican officially brought the Legionaries back from scandal to life by approving their new constitutions. Not all were pleased and some remain puzzled. Critics from early on in the Legionary scandal had called for their dissolution on the traditionalist grounds that an unholy founder could not have conveyed a valid charism to the Church.    

Church authority has based the restoration of the Legionaries on a new, post-traditional theological view of the founding of religious life in the Church and has thereby implicitly asked opponents of their survival to acknowledge it. This newer view, that religious institutes are not necessarily founded at a single moment in the mind of an individual and that "charism" can emerge over time in the lived experience of the membership, and that the founder therefore in some respects can be unnecessary and discardable, is important to reckon with. It underlies the Legionary restoration. It also represents new canonical territory to explore for other ecclesial communities betrayed by a sinful founder.    

This article is about aspects of the recent canonical restoration of the Legionaries: where they are now and how they got there. But the current epidemic of unworthy founders suggests that the process of recovery after scandal and the issues associated with it. In the Legionaries' case: the revision of their previous constitutions; distinctions drawn between their founder's sins and members' innocence while acknowledging the corrupting influence of their reverence for him; their reconfiguration within a wider movement; the theology underlying a congregation's moving on without a founder; conservative objections to their survival on those terms; what has been legislated and what has been left to be legislated in future; what vigilance is still in place. These urgently concern many other smaller ecclesial communities as well. For other communities with disgraced founders the Legionaries' experience of restoration suggests hope in the aftermath of scandal: in current authoritative Catholic understanding, even without a founder, they can survive and be reformed without being dissolved or refounded.

The new Legionary constitutions

Restored to life, the Legionaries again pursue their activities as avidly as ever: vocational recruiting; "Test your call" retreats; Conquest, Challenge, and other youth and family ministries; schools from elementary to graduate level. With Pope Francis' blessing, they observe a 75th anniversary Jubilee year of their founding by Father Maciel. In March, North American laypersons of Regnum Christi, going through the same process of reexamination and revision of their statutes as the Legionaries already have, completed a territorial convention in Mundelein, Illinois, preparatory to an international convention in Rome this May.

From February 2009, the Legionaries had lived through almost six years in which they ended their coverup of their founder's double life, endured Apostolic Visitation and supervision under Apostolic Delegation, and completed a chapter meeting to elect new leadership and vote on new constitutions. The new Legionary Constitutions were approved in a letter from Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, O.F.M., secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, to Legionary General Director Father Eduardo Robles-Gil, dated October 16, 2014, the 36th anniversary of the election of John Paul II and the memorial of visionary of the Sacred Heart, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

The highlights of the new constitutions were known since they were submitted for approval by the Legionary chapter meeting in February 2014. The Legionaries claim a redefined charism and mission, by way of "integral formation," to "form apostles," that is, Christian leaders, who aspire to transform the personal, family, professional, and social life of all, ministering principally in the areas of preaching the faith; education; evangelization of the family, culture, and media; youth groups; formation of priests; promotion of social justice; and charity to the most needy. The spirituality is Christocentric (n4).

(In this article I will refer to the new Constitutions by number from Constituciones de la Congregacíon de los Legionarios de Cristo 2014 (indicated by (n)), online here) and to those previously in force from Constituciones de la Legión de Cristo, 1983 (revised 1994), 1998 (indicated by (p)).) 

The Constitutions intend that religious Legionary priests share this charism with the laity of the Regnum Christi movement, a shared Christian vocation consequent to the sacrament of baptism. This location of the Legionaries within the larger Regnum Christi movement, this new "canonical configuration," has been approved only tentatively, pending the definitive canonical configuration of Regnum Christi, as indicated by footnotes in four places (n1.2, 16, 112, 130.2).

Because the Legionaries emerge from a scandal that was most sensationally (though not entirely) sexual, the Legionary legislation about sexuality has drawn the most attention: they demand from their members chastity, maturity, and respect for women. They will be friendly with children, without inappropriate familiarity. "Particular friendships," banned traditionally in religious orders as a brake to homosexual relationships and a call to love everyone equally as Jesus did, is dealt with sensitively and in a positive way. The constitutions call for universal and fraternal charity. (n29-30)

The new Legionary will have a right of conscience and aspire to develop the strengths to assure a "complete man" ("hombre cabal") by cultivating an "integral and harmonious" formation (n58). The new Legionary charism is not for those small in ambition. It is all-encompassing: of priests and laity, of contemplation and action, of scholarship and social service.

The new constitutions are the sixth version approved since 1948, when the Legionaries were first established canonically in the diocese of Cuernavaca. Two Vatican approvals, decreta laudis, one preliminary and one final, the usual canonical course, came in 1965 and 1983 (with some post-Conciliar changes in 1970 and in 1994). The 1983 decretum was granted months before the new, revised 1983 Code of Canon Law took effect. What the new Constitutions mean for the reformed Legionaries, and how they may challenge them, is best illuminated by close comparison with those previously in force.

In some respects the new Constitutions are in continuity with the old. The patrons of the congregation (the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Sorrows, Sts. John and Paul, Joseph and Michael) remain those that Maciel chose (p12, n7). The Legionaries, once contemplative and conquering ("contemplativo y conquistador," p222 and 228), intended to form "select groups of leaders, trained in capillary action [i.e., subtle insinuation, as seeping water] in the various branches of society, above all, workers, intellectuals, industrialists…" (p1.1). They are now contemplative and evangelizing ("contemplativo y evangelizador," n12) and intend to form "Christian leaders in the service of the Church (n4)." Their motto remains Maciel's, "Thy kingdom come!", which still conveys to Legionaries Maciel's emphasis on penetrating and transforming culture, on building the Kingdom on earth urgently, time being short (n11), rather than gradually like yeast in dough or a mustard tree growing.

In many other respects, content from the previous Constitutions has in a different spirit been omitted or changed in the new, particularly the constitutions that encouraged cultishness and exceptionalism. The previous Constitutions mandated discretion in various ways: outsiders were not to see them; those who left the Legion were to turn in their copy (p409.2-3). The new Constitutions are online.

Some unrealistically general previous constitutions have been omitted: the total banishment from the congregation of mediocrity and spare time (p71.1, 150) and the cultivating of a "growing love for their vocation to the Legion in that they embrace equally its spirit, its mystique, its discipline, its methodology" so as to achieve a total "spiritual, criteriological, psychological, affective, and real identification and integration…" with it (p237).

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The new Constitutions omit the emphasis on control that the old Legionaries were known for: the review of all letters a Legionary received by a superior (a traditional religious discipline), who reported its contents if greater good required (p375.1, 377); the requirement to speak only of virtues, never of faults, of other Legionaries (p260); the sending of all manuscripts and documents of deceased religious to the General Director without examination (p195.2).

The new Constitutions omit the extensive concern with practicalities characteristic of those previously in force. The new Constitutions do not address such matters of discipline as the censoring of newspaper reading (p392.1) or the forbidding of the reading of novels or writing of essays on controversial topics (p392-3), the locking of one's room or desk (p403), the seeing of more than six movies a year (p386.1), the watching on television of theater or opera or ballet or zarzuela (p386.2.4) or of more than five sporting events (or six if it were the World Cup or the Olympics) (p386.2.5). Disciplinary matters such as these will be legislated in future secondary legislation.

Also omitted from the previous version in the new version are such things as: novices' doing a month of agricultural work (p51.2), an investigation to be done into each novice candidate's family and personal background (p22-3), and the requirement that Legionary novices all have above-average intelligence (p23.1).

The new omit the previous Constitutions' emphasis (at least five or six times times within the first 270 numbers) on forbidding "conspiracy" ("intriga"), "defamation" ("calumnia"), "backbiting" ("murmuración"), and "keeping secrets" ("confidencias") within the congregation.  Slander ("maledicencia") was the negation of Christianity (p227), the worst of evils, a deadly cancer that, together with conspiracy, superiors must amputate with swift stroke any member infected by (p 268.3). A Legionary involved in conspiracy, defamation, or backbiting was dismissible on a par with one becoming a labor activist or liberal (p210).

On the day of professing the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the old Legionaries additionally, privately, undertook two "private" vows: first, "never to desire, nor seek, for oneself or for another, nor conspire, to win or keep responsibilities or positions in the Congregation, and to inform the General Director if he learns that another religious has done so" (p314.1); second, misleadingly known as the "vow of charity," "never to criticize externally in words, writings, or in any other way, an act of government or the person of any director or superior of the Congregation" and to "advise the immediate superior of the subject who criticized or, in the case that he was the one criticized, the immediate superior of the criticized superior, if he is satisfied with certainty that the religious has broken this commitment (p314.2)."

Both private vows were reportedly suspended by Pope Benedict in 2006 in conjunction with the disciplinary suspension of Maciel for the double life that the private vows had done their part to enable. The vow never to criticize a superior and to report those who do was instituted by Maciel in September 1956 as he worked to obstruct the first Apostolic Visitation of the Legion, which had then just begun.

The new constitutions formally discontinue the second private vow, but carry forward the first (n37.1), which is no longer called a "private" ("privado") vow, but "their own vow" ("voto proprio"). It is formulated as the last part of the words of the public vow-taking and now goes: "In addition, I promise and vow to Almighty God, not to work to gain or keep, for myself or for others, posts of governance or responsibilities in the Congregation. (n95)

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(The Constitutions of 1983 had also legislated special vows of charity and fidelity to be taken at the privileged invitation of the General Director, who was to receive the vows personally (1983: 318-325). These special vows were not carried forward in the revision of 1994, published in 1998.)

"Renunciation of one's own judgment and will through obedience" was one of the "principal virtues" of the old Legion (p31.2). "Total trust in superiors" was required (p17.10). Novices were trained with trials to break their judgement and will (p50), though, even so, at the same time Legionaries were expected to do nothing "out of coercion, fear, or pressure from the environment (p101)." The Legionary vow of obedience, one of the evangelical counsels committed to traditionally by all religious, required "the total surrender of their judgement and will as a sacrifice and holocaust of themselves in love (p297.1)," so as never "to examine the nature of the order, even if it is difficult or disagreeable, so that they will truly practice internal renunciation of their own judgement and will (p300.2)," and ever to be in their apostolic and priestly work "conscious of the need for total dependence on the will of the superior (p307)."

The new Constitutions by contrast emphasize right exercise of freedom (n29) and authentic interior freedom for novices and those in discernment (n61, 75). Obedience to superiors is required even in difficult or disagreeable matters, though principled resistance or refusal is now envisaged as possible (n34-5). Superiors are to exercise authority with respect for rights and charity (n36)

The new Constitutions emphasize the new Legionary commitment to guarantee the same respect for privacy and freedom in confession, spiritual direction, vocational discernment, and the internal forum that Code of Canon Law 630 requires. The previous constitutions were ostensibly in conformity with Canon Law, requiring, for example, the regular availability of outside confessors (p54.4), but the tone of former Legionary life was determined more by such a constitution as: "Our religious should sincerely thank God if their errors or defects are reported to superiors by another person who has learned of them outside of confession, personal dialogue, or a consultation. (p355)" In the Chapter documents of February 2014 the Legionaries admitted to "not having ordinarily distinguished between superiors and spiritual directors" in their houses of formation ("Communiqués of the General Chapter" 126). Under the new Constitutions, superiors will recognize the liberty of members in confession (n50.2) and are forbidden, as Canon Law requires, from coercing (inducir) a manifestation of conscience from subjects (n60.2)

A new view of religious foundation

The canonical restoration of the Legionaries and the solution to the embarrassment of their foundation by Father Maciel (and potentially also the solution to similar embarrassment in other ecclesial movements) depends on an interpretation given them by their former Pontifical Delegate, Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, and their General Councilor by papal appointment and adviser on canon law, Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, formidable canonists both. Legionaries explain it to people this way:

The 1983 Code of Canon Law on the matter of religious congregations speaks no longer of "charism" but of "spiritual patrimony." Canon law requires congregations to adhere to their "spiritual patrimony," but patrimony arises not simply from a foundational gift granted a founder at one moment in time, but comes from many sources, emerging and developing in history to be eventually discovered and validated by Church authority. To have been founded by a disreputable founder is therefore not disqualifying, and, in any event, the Legionaries are not in this respect unique in history. Father Maciel, at least at the beginning, had a legitimate and good intention in his act of foundation and that fulfills 1983 Canon 578, which requires the intention of the founder as a component of the spiritual patrimony. Nor was the need to revise the Legionary constitutions unusual; every congregation's constitutions needed revision in the aftermath of the Vatican Council.

Several canonists I spoke with explained to me that this theory is not an ad hoc invention with which Church authorities solved the founder problem in order to preserve a congregation they wished to preserve for other reasons. (Reasons such as: the Legionaries have extensive infrastructure on the ground in Mexico; they have been effective in combatting evangelical Protestantism; there are too many institutes founded by problematic founders to deal with severely and to do so would reflect badly John Paul II, who championed movements.) If conservative critics wanted the Legion to disappear after the scandal on the grounds that a fraudulent founder could never have conveyed a valid charism, that was too simple and old-fashioned a view.

This new, post-traditional understanding - that foundation of religious institutes does not occur in a single moment of time or in the mind of a single particular person, that "charism" is a process, emerging over time in the lived experience of the members of an institute - was an original perspective of Paul VI, according to Rev. Francis G. Morrisey, O.M.I., professor of canon law at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. It was expressed first in the 1971 apostolic exhortation "Evangelica Testificatio; On the renewal of the religious life according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council."

There Pope Paul wrote, "the Council rightly insists on the obligation of religious to be faithful to the spirit of their founders, to their evangelical intentions, and to the example of their sanctity," but that "in reality, the charism of the religious life, far from being an impulse born of flesh and blood, or one derived from a mentality which conforms itself to the modern world, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (11)." Accordingly, "many exterior elements, recommended by founders of orders or religious congregations, are seen today to be outmoded. Various encumbrances or rigid forms accumulated over the centuries need to be curtailed. Adaptations must be made. New forms can even be sought and instituted with the approval of the Church. (5)"

Although speaking repeatedly of "fidelity to the founding charism," John Paul II in "Vita Consecrata" (1996) spoke also of some institutes' need to reassess their apostolate and update their way of life. "Thus it is necessary to distinguish the historical destiny of a specific Institute or form of consecrated life from the ecclesial mission of the consecrated life as such. The former is affected by changing circumstances; the latter is destined to perdure. (63)"

This new approach is a beautiful development in the Church's understanding of religious life, Morrisey told me. He is happy that it saved a congregation as numerous as the Legionaries and gave them a second chance to realize their vocation and fulfill the mission they have in the church.

Dr. Eileen Jaramillo, professor of canon law at Siena Heights University and Detroit Mercy Law, author of "Evolving Into a Vibrant Religious Institute: When Charism Harmonizes With the Catholic Church" (2014), speaks similarly. She told me the charism of consecrated life is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit given to individuals for the sake of others and "signifies communion as arising from the relationship among the persons of the Trinity." When the Code speaks of "spiritual patrimony" or the "wholesome traditions of an institute" it means just this, "the life-giving breath of charism." "Since the world is constantly undergoing many changes, the charism or gift is also being received in a new way. Hence, charism is never a static gift but a lived reality."

Code of Canon Law 578 (drawn from the Conciliar Perfectae caritatis 2b (1965)) says: "The intention of the founders (fundatorum mens) and their determination (proposita) concerning the nature, purpose, spirit, and character of the institute that have been ratified by competent ecclesiastical authority, as well as its wholesome traditions (sanae traditiones), all of which constitute the patrimony (patrimonium) of the institute itself, are to be observed faithfully by all." Therefore, Jaramillo said, "It asks that institutes know their legitimate history. This includes the founder or foundress as well as the graced developments since the time of the foundation. It also includes the legitimate historical changes as distinguished from historical accretions. Tradition in the Catholic Church has included handing on not only the content of the faith but also time proven ways for living out the faith. Within a religious institute, the same can be said regarding the searching out of wholesome or authentic traditions."

Jaramillo said that "in emphasizing the return to the original charism of the founder or foundress, some institutes discovered that there was no particular original charism, but rather a response to a particular need at the time of the foundation," offering for example an institute founded in a particular place in the United States to serve immigrants there. "Research into the intentions of the founder or foundress and their plans needs to include putting these dynamics within the proper context of ecclesiastical, historical and cultural needs." This is what the Code means by referring to "wholesome traditions" in canon 578 rather than charism. "The intention to respond to the particular needs may remain similar, while carrying them out may entail the establishment of a different apostolate."

Altogether, then, according to this view, the Legionary charism can be recognized by the Church in whatever was wholesome or authentic in the lived experience of the membership over the decades, entirely apart from (though still in a way inspired by) the person of Father Maciel. The double life of the founder and cultishness in the lived experience of the members, now apologized for, can be construed as encumbrance outmoded for decades; the congregation's dubious historical destiny can be distinguished carefully from its valid ecclesial mission. If the particular ecclesial needs to be served at the time of foundation were those in Mexico in the 1940s, adaptations have been made. The constitutions are renewed to enable a new charism, born of the Holy Spirit, who availed himself of a surprisingly corrupt instrument, to achieve a different apostolate, a more universal evangelizing purpose, conducted now in greater freedom and with more ecclesial responsibility.

God can write straight with crooked lines, or so Legionary defenders love to repeat, and the Church does embrace both saints and sinners, but even so, the Legionary position on their restoration has not satisfied everyone, though those respectful of Church authority keep their questions to themselves. It isn't simply, some feel, that all congregations' constitutions needed revision after the Council; the Legionaries had already revised theirs twice before, in 1970 and 1994.

It isn't that their traditions had become encrusted and deadened over the centuries, but only in the very years in which they were winning approval with the decreta laudis of 1965 and 1983 from the Congregation for Religious. Can the intentions of Paul VI and John Paul II on the reform of congregations with long histories be accurately applied to a congregation with a problematic founder founded only in the last few decades?

And the "fundatorum mens" remains for all that an element of Canon 578. Jaramillo says that the founder's intention "is a gift to the founder or foundress as well as their own way of understanding and making concrete the following of Christ. It is a gift which the members must embrace if it is to become a communal reality and not just the mission of one person." Legionaries claim that Father Maciel had legitimate intention at least at the time of foundation, however badly he behaved subsequently, and who can know otherwise?

In assessing its founder's intention, it will be necessary work for any institute with a problematic founder to distinguish carefully, and accurately with historical evidence, between founders with human flaws (as even sainted ones must be), founders with goodness and right intention who later lapsed, and (potentially) founders who from the start were never any good.

It should not then remain a tacit, unexamined historical assumption that the Legionary founder whose life the Apostolic Visitation found "devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning" had possessed upright intention on January 3, 1941, and then lost it as time went on. Maciel, then aged 20, had already been dismissed twice from seminary, once by his uncle, Bishop Saint Rafael Guízar y Valencia (1878-1938), whose angry bout of screaming at his 18 year old nephew may have contributed to a fatal heart attack the next day, June 6, 1938. Jason Berry and Gerald Renner in "Vows of Silence" (2004) give reason to suspect as constructed fiction Legionary stories of Maciel's heroism during those years, including accounts of the special call from God that had him founding and instructing members of a congregation before completing seminary studies of his own. In 1949 he was a man capable of wearing a hat with a bullet hole, as if nearly shot to death by communists, as a prop to impress seminarians and potential donors.

And is it true that there are other examples in history of spiritual frauds whom the Holy Spirit chose to grace the Church? Previously as archbishop of Brasília, as he said in 2011, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz was not a Legionary supporter, suspicious of "the lack of trust in the freedom of the people I saw in it. Authoritarianism that sought to dominate everything with discipline. I had already removed the seminarians of Brasília from their seminaries…" But, when coming into office as prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and therefore Curial supervisor of the Legionary restoration, he also said, "Certainly it's painful when you see the expansion of an institution that presents itself as charismatic, and then the unworthiness of its initiator emerges. How it is possible remains a mystery. The Legionaries are not the only case." He had in mind the Franciscan Fraternity Toca de Assis, founded by the Brazilian priest José Roberto Lettieri.

Legionaries mention the continuing good work of Life Teen, a Catholic youth apostolate, founded by a former priest who was discovered as an abuser, laicized, and excommunicated, or that of Food for the Poor, the scandal of whose founder did not negate the good purposes of the charity. But these are clubs and programs, not religious congregations.

Mentioned too are sainted founders, who through ecclesiastical miscomprehension lost connection with the congregations they founded, which then went on without them: St. Joseph Calasanz, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Blessed Mother Marie-Anne Blondin (1809-1890), Venerable Mother Elisabeth Bergeron (1851-1936). Yet it is mortifying to invoke the same pattern of persecuted founders that the Legionaries invoked in the old days when defending Father Maciel from calumnies that proved to be true. Legionary Father Patrick Langan, co-formulator of the new Legionary charism with Legionary Father Owen Kearns (see Kearns and Langan, "The Quest for the Core of the Regnum Christi Charism" (Legion of Christ, 2014)), edited "Founders; Cross and Resurrection in the Life of Some Founders" (Circle Press, May 1997) as part of the Legionary response to the first revelations about Father Maciel in the Hartford Courant in February 1997. I have not yet been made aware of an adequate analogue from history to the foundation of a congregation of pontifical right with a universal mission in the Church by an unscrupulous founder.

Toward the future

The new Legionary Constitutions have removed excessive detail from the old, but this means that many detailed guidelines for Legionary lifestyle are still to be legislated in future, destined perhaps to receive less public scrutiny. The well-known Legionary rules governing, say, the eating of fresh fruit (grapes and cherries excepted) with a knife and fork, or of pasta, bread, and fish, were in the "Norms of Urbanity" (262, 179-265), not the previous Constitutions. The new constitutions will be implemented by "secondary legislation" (n232) -  a "Ratio institutionis" (the overall formational program implementing the charism of the congregation), a "Ratio studiorum" (the educational plan), and practical norms of conduct - that all will be bound to observe. The 2014 Chapter meeting envisaged three years for the completion of the formational program with the educational plan taken up after that.

(On sexual abuse policies and procedures, in place since at least 2011 has been a "Code of Conduct And Other Directives Pertaining to Safe Environment Issues in North America for the Legionaries of Christ" (December 2013, online here). The adoption of this code is part of the Legionaries' compliance with safe environment policies, accredited and audited periodically by Praesidium, Inc., a consulting, public relations, and management firm on matters of sexual abuse. But the "Code of Conduct" is not a document of ecclesiastical governance.)

The most fundamental issue still pending is, as mentioned, a new "canonical configuration" for Regnum Christi: how will canon law accommodate the religious Legionaries with laity in the larger movement? John Paul II's "Vita consecrata" acknowledged such new forms of consecrated life: "The originality of the new communities often consists in the fact that they are composed of mixed groups of men and women, of clerics and lay persons, of married couples and celibates, all of whom pursue a particular style of life. (62)"

The Legionaries were a congregation whose recruitment rhetoric could include the thought that marriage implies a compromised lack of generosity with God. Some Legionaries will still paraphrase "Vita consecrata" to the effect that only celibate religious are fully committed to an unblocked union with God. The Legionaries, if in fact they will privilege the baptismal as the common vocation of laity and religious, have the opportunity to vindicate a crucial Conciliar perspective.

In the monastic tradition of "contempt for the world," the new Constitutions legislate a suspicion of its dangers when going outside their religious house (n43) or of getting involved in temporal affairs when visiting family (n45). Indiscriminate use of media can be a serious obstacle to fidelity (n46.2), echoes of the past when internet browsing was prohibited to Legionaries lest they discover uncensored coverage of their founder. Yet this is the same world that Regnum Christ laypersons must inhabit without undue suspicion. Should a Conciliar emphasis on the common baptismal vocation also imply an attitude of less hostility to the world?

Also pending is Legionary "intellectual formation." The previous Constitutions had much more specifically to say about education than the new. They required internal undergraduate studies, but of such a quality as to enable getting valid diplomas and certificates and study at civil universities (p88, 104). Humanities were to convey a "broad knowledge and deep assimilation" of the values of Greek and Latin authors (Epicureanism? The imperialism of Roman Legionaries?) (p106.1). Higher philosophy and theology in Legionary centers were to follow Aquinas and be taught and studied (somewhat optimistically?) in the Latin language (p111.1-2), though, at the same time, "taking into account the most recent research and latest advances of science (p112.1)." Study of theology was to avoid a "false intellectualism (p126)."

The new constitutions give only the broadest indications for the still to be written "Ratio Studiorum." Intellectual preparation is meant to be "solid, deep, and select," involve humanities and sciences, philosophy and theology, in an intense academic atmosphere, at the level of university degrees, a professional training to defend church teaching. (n96-7)

Legionary education will still be practical: "All the formation of a Legionary must have an apostolic focus, oriented to communicate Christ and his message. (n100)" This does echo John Paul's "Pastores Dabo Vobis" (1992), which asked for a priestly education in service to "the challenge of the new evangelization (51)." But it remains to be seen, when the new "Ratio studiorum" appears, how open Legionaries will aspire to be in academic dialogue and the discovery of partial truth in modern thought and culture, a personal strength of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and, in different ways, also of Pope Francis. Legionary contemplativeness does not by constitution include the study of truth and beauty for their own sake, an activity not so foreign to John Paul's understanding of the new evangelization.

The Legionaries are by constitution bound to leave behind all preoccupation with temporal things (n20.2), but some temporal considerations have proven necessary to Legionary survival. Things like holiday gift giving to supporters, marketing techniques for fundraising and development, or consulting firms to manage and accredit compliance with child and youth protection policy. Or like lawyers, which the Legionaries made use of to defend themselves in two cases in Rhode Island, civil suits alleging coercive and deceitful fundraising tactics applied to elderly donors. They settled one in December 2014, on terms they then did not disclose, and won dismissal of another in January 2015 on a legal technicality. Or like canny public relations management, as when the Legionaries' public admission that a novice instructor from 1982 to 1994 at their seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut had abused at least one novice, was timed to coincide, the same day, December 5, 2013, with the even more arresting public announcement of the wedding of a prominent former Legionary.

Reports on the new Legionary constitutions have emphasized the legislation against abuse as if it were a response to the scandal, but those sorts of things were already forbidden in the 1983/1994 constitutions. It wasn't only Father Maciel who transgressed the Constitutions previously in force; in many areas, it was the whole congregation. The Legionary Chapter documents of February 2014 (details in previous article) acknowledged deficiencies that the previous Constitutions had not prevented even when explicitly forbidding.

So we are reminded that Constitutions are law, an idealized vision, and do not of themselves guarantee good behavior. If the scandal did not destroy the Legionaries and they have survived on the theory that a charism, a reason for existence, can emerge and develop over time, by the same token, the approval of new Constitutions does not definitively reconstitute them. Indeed, Father Morrisey told me that even while it is a great thing for religious communities to be able to recover or reestablish a charism, years are still needed to see if that recovery is good or not. If valid new charisms can emerge over time, the Legionaries will still have to prove themselves, live up to the new Constitutions, and vindicate their own new charism.

What "Vita consecrata" asks of bishops and new forms of religious life emerging in their dioceses - "wisely evaluate possible weaknesses, watching patiently for the sign of results ('From their fruits you will know them.' (Matthew 7:16 )), so that they may acknowledge the authenticity of the charism (62)" - applies to the new Legionaries and their new charism. Vigilance is still called for.

Though Pope Francis has been mostly silent about the Legionaries, he has recently sounded both supportive and vigilant. The Curial champions of the old Legion are potentially among those suffering from the spiritual illnesses he diagnosed in his Christmas greeting to the Curia in 2014.

In October 2015, Francis granted the Legionaries and Regnum Christi a jubilee year, with the possibility of a plenary indulgence for members, to observe the 75th anniversary of their founding. The timing of the jubilee, still influenced by traditional understanding, presupposes that the foundation occurred at a moment in time in the mind of a particular person, the date the Legionaries keep of their foundation by Father Maciel, January 3, 1941. But the indulgence is no more than what is offered to every Catholic in the Jubilee year of Mercy or, indeed, at any time.

As he spoke to reporters on the plane returning from Mexico, February 18, 2016, Pope Francis also emphasized that old accounts are still being reviewed and that supervision is still in place over the Legionaries in the persons of a vicar and two councilors. He said: "…an intervention took place and today the government of the congregation is not yet fully autonomous ("el gobierno de la congregación está semi-intervenido," [i.e., the process is ongoing, not yet completed]). That is, the superior general is elected by the [Legionary] council, by the [Legionary] general chapter, but the vicar is chosen by the Pope. Two general councilors are elected by the council, the general chapter, and the two others are elected by the Pope. In this way we are helping to review the old accounts."

(As I write, on the page of the Regnum Christi website identifying the five members of the Legionary General Council, only one, Gianfranco Ghirlanda, is identified as "at the choice of the Holy See." The vicar general and first Councilor is among the five, Legionary Juan José Arrieta.)

Institutes recovering from scandal will face the challenge of distinguishing the wholesome from the corrupt in their history. As the Legionaries recover from theirs, they have been both comforted by continuity and challenged by reform. The senior Legionaries who must administer the congregation with a new spirit under new constitutions were formed under the old constitutions. Legionary Father Owen Kearns, defender of Father Maciel in the pages of National Catholic Register, has gone on to become the co-deviser of the new, approved Legionary charism, recently expounding it to the delegates of the Regnum Christi renewal convention at Mundelein and preaching them a retreat.

There are other ironies. The Legionaries, whose previous constitutions expressed hostility to labor unions, in part owe their survival to a "liberal" interpretation of charism advanced by Paul VI, who supported labor unions in "Octogesima adveniens" (1971).

And after such well-known public loyalty to Pope John Paul, the Legionaries' reliance on their emerging charism has worked to annul the John Pauline theme of unity of life. To John Paul writing in "Christifideles Laici," "Holiness must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church. (17)" the Legionaries have provided a counterexample in the person of their founder. The proponents of an "integral" formation must continue to claim as part of their spiritual patrimony Father Maciel's disintegrated life.

The Legionary scandal has furthermore provided material, in the end ambiguous, with which to take up the absorbing theological question as to whether the Church's approval of a religious order is irreformable. So also will the developing stories of other ecclesial communities with disgraced founders that had been granted approval. That such approval is irreformable has been theological norm from the 17th century, though one that has been questioned by more recent theologians examining the scope of infallibility as it applies to matters beyond revelation itself, the "secondary object of infallibility." The Legionaries were sustained immediately in surviving the scandal by the traditional view - their decreta laudis were granted them infallibly and so it was impossible for Church authority to dissolve them - even as they now owe their continuing life to the newer theology of an "emerging charism."

Legionaries would do well to answer the privately expressed criticisms of their restoration by adding two things to their self-explanation: a thorough, public airing and application of the theological and canonical theory on which their restoration is based and an answer to the question of whether Father Maciel is unparalleled in Catholic history or paralleled only in recent history within the epidemic of problematic founders. This would assist both critics to feel reconciled with a Church administrative decision they find difficult to understand and members of smaller communities with founder problems who may not command the same high-powered canonical legal advice as the Legionaries, experienced as they are in the arts of survival. It would benefit all if the rationale for the Legionary restoration were more than a theological and canonical technicality devised in private by professionals.

It would also benefit all if the vexing question as to how it is that (in Father Maciel's case) a man devoid of religion conveyed a good gift to the Church were to be faced more plainly and receive an explanation fuller than that of Cardinal Braz de Aviz, "How it is possible remains a mystery." Or fuller even than that of Pope Benedict in "Light of the World" (2010), "To me Marcial Maciel remains a mysterious figure. There is, on the one hand, a life that, as we know, was out of moral bounds-an adventurous, wasted, twisted life. On the other hand, we see the dynamism and strength with which he built up the congregation… That is the remarkable thing, the paradox, that a false prophet, so to speak, could still have a positive effect."

To refute accusations against their founder the old Legionaries used to allude to Scripture: a bad tree could not have borne good fruit. Now to restore themselves and strive again for new life, the new Legionaries effectively rewrite Scripture, as will other communities with a founder problem, as will the whole Church if it accepts that bad founders can make good foundations. Bad trees, however paradoxically, may indeed bear good fruit.

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