George Weigel suggests papal investigator for Legionaries

Fr. Marcial Maciel / George Weigel
Fr. Marcial Maciel / George Weigel


Catholic intellectual George Weigel is suggesting in an article published on the website of First Things that the solution to the crisis in the Legionaries of Christ is for the Pope to appoint a papal legate to investigate the corporate culture that allowed its founder to lead a double life.

Calling to mind the Holy See’s disciplinary action against Fr. Marcial Maciel in 2006, Weigel relates that one senior Vatican official told him the "action was intended to ‘save the Legion and Regnum Christi’."

"Assuming, as we can and must, that this remains the Holy See’s intention, it must now move without delay to address the accelerating train-wreck-heading-toward-the-cliff that the Legion and Regnum Christi have become over the past ten days, as credible reports appeared in the blogosphere that Fr. Maciel had lived a life of sexual and financial scandal, probably for decades," Weigel writes.

Weigel’s call for immediate action does not stem from ill will towards the Legionaries as he explained to CNA. "I have had and continue to have a very high opinion of the Legion priests I have worked with," he said.

Yet, the Catholic teacher and writer sensed something was amiss. "Some aspects of Legion and Regnum Christi culture, including the veneration of the founder, always struck me as excessive, but I was prepared to attribute them to forms of piety with which I was unfamiliar and personally uncomfortable. It now turns out that my instincts in that regard were correct," he commented.

Looking at the response to the scandal surrounding Fr. Maciel fathering a child, Weigel writes in his First Things article that the reactions from the top leaders of the Legion have been inadequate.

"There has been no full disclosure of what is known about Fr. Maciel’s corruptions. There has been no disclosure as to the nature and extent of the web of deceit he must have spun within the Legion of Christ, and beyond. And there has been no public recognition of what faithful, orthodox, morally upright Legionary priests believe have been grave corruptions of the institutional culture of their community."

The only way to save the Legion is through a "full, public disclosure of Fr. Maciel’s perfidies" and a "root-and-branch examination of possible complicity in those perfidies within the Legion of Christ," Weigel says.

"That examination must be combined with a brutally frank analysis of the institutional culture in which those perfidies and that complicity unfolded. Only after that kind of moral and institutional audit has been conducted, and has been seen publicly to be a clean audit, can the Legion of Christ, and the broader Church, face the questions of the Legion’s future…"

This internal audit, Weigel asserts, cannot be conducted by the Legion leadership, "as the flailings and failures of the past ten days have made clear."

Because of the numerous pressure most likely besetting the leadership of the Legion, the papal biographer of Pope John Paul II argues that any potential investigation "must be mandated by the pope, and it must be conducted by someone responsible to the pope alone—not responsible to the relevant parts of the Vatican bureaucracy, not responsible to the cardinal secretary of state, but responsible to the pope alone."

"There is simply no other way open to an accounting that will be both scrupulously honest and publicly credible."

Weigel believes that the Church could draw upon a concept found in corporate law called "receivership." This would involve a personal delegate, appointed by the pope, "empowered to take over the governance of the Legion of Christ and to conduct the moral and institutional audit required."

Although such an investigation would normally be channeled through the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, Weigel thinks that this would be unwise given the fact that the congregation showed a predisposition towards an ineffective solution, namely, allowing the Legionaries to internally reform themselves after the 2006 sexual abuse allegations involving Fr. Maciel.

Adding to its demonstrated hesitancy to investigate is the Curia’s recent bungling of the rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied that Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust. This incompetence shows "just how dysfunctional the curia remains in terms of both crisis analysis and crisis management," Weigel claims.

"A curia in which no one in authority had the sense to Google "Richard Williamson," and no subordinate had the nerve or capacity to compel the superiors to pay attention to a potential landmine, is not a curia capable of getting to the roots of the Maciel betrayal. Nor, candidly, is it a curia capable of conducting an investigation that can command public credibility. It is regrettable that this is the case, for there are many honorable people working in the Roman curia."

George Weigel told CNA that he "would hope that, in the wake of the Williamson fiasco, the Holy See is paying much more attention to the Catholic cyber-world. There are multiple, interesting proposals out there for dealing with the Legion crisis, including suggestions by such unimpeachably orthodox scholars as Ed Peters and Germain Grisez, and they ought to be taken under advisement by the Holy Father, in my view."

The solution to the crisis, Weigel suggests, is for Pope Benedict to appoint a priest who is a vowed religious, who knows the dynamics of religious life, to take over governance of the Legionaries of Christ.

Weigel paints a detailed picture of the qualifications this papal legate should have: "experience in dealing with financial and sexual scandal in a forthright, courageous, and effective manner; ideally, he would have been involved in the reform of a religious house, seminary, or community that had suffered a fall from its professed ideals. He must have good Spanish, for much of the paper trail here will be in that language; he should also have good Italian and English, so that he can conduct his investigations and interviews in the principal languages of Legion life. He must know something of canon law, and he must know competent canon lawyers."

"Men with these qualifications exist," George Weigel says in closing. "One of them must be given this difficult, onerous, but essential task—and soon—if the good that remains among faithful Legionary priests and among the members of Regnum Christi is to find a path toward the future, for the sake of the entire Catholic Church."

The original story can be found here:


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