May 29, 2002
volume 13, no. 99

Power, Control, and the Legion of Christ - A Study

      Throughout history despots have been created because they usurped their powers for wrong reasons. Just because the Church founded by Christ is holy, doesn't mean its hierarchy or it organizations always are. As much as we would like them to be holy, this is sadly not the case today with the sex abuse scandals that extend not only to the dioceses, but orthodox organizations such as the Legion of Christ. Power and control for personal purposes are never of God. This can happen in the civic and religious state. The examples are legion.

    "We know for example that Pope Saint Pius X threw out the modernist teachers in the seminaries and Catholic universities at one point in his pontificate, because the problem of bad teaching, teaching of things not Catholic, had become significant. Indeed, if the king or bishop lets the things under his domain get out of hand, it is doing no one any favors except Satan himself; there must be order."

   The world is full of controls, which are meant to keep order. In democratic civilizations they are often in the form of laws, which when good, protect the people but do not infringe on certain basic human dignities. In the American Constitution it is stated that citizens have the right to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. Lately, some liberals would like to extend that right, for example, to animals. They feel that any unequal treatment of 'lower' animals when compared with humans is unfair and 'speciesism'. The more radical of these persons would perhaps feel that there should be the right to marry animals such as gerbils, hamsters, and kangaroos. We have not come this far yet in our American laws, but there are now American states that permit a kind of 'marriage' to members of the same sex. The radical feminists are hard pushing for this; however, for some reason they are against bigamist marriages (husband can have multiple wives). But to return to the crux of the matter: there is nothing in Church law that is against 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. We have been given free will by God; our fate is in our own hands. It is part of the basic human dignity to live, to be free, and to be happy, and no one in their right mind is against these things, though we hope and work that all might see the glory of God.

   The question arises though as to how much control is needed in Society to protect all of the people, and yet not infringe on the human dignity. Indeed, the basic sinful human nature is to control. Consider an ordinary experience such as driving on a one-lane highway. Does it not seem as though we are always either behind an intolerably slow driver, or we are in front of an intolerably fast driver? The former seems to be the pokiest guy in the world; the latter is off to the races. This may be no accident but rather the sinful human nature of wanting to control: people who forget God like to control others. The slow poke in front of you may really be slow, but then again he or she may more likely be exhibiting a form of control - that is, the power to prevent you from going faster. In support of this, consider what happens when you and the slow poke suddenly encounter a widening of the highway to double lanes. You pull out to the left lane to pass him, and suddenly his car accelerates! You step on it to 60 mph or more, and yet this guy won't let you pass. Is this just my imagination? Am I the only one this ever happens to? Then consider the speedster behind you on a one-lane road. If it opens up to double lanes, I keep to my speed and allow him to pass. So he often does, albeit slowly, and then frequently he pulls in front of me and slows down, as though suddenly the revelation hits him that there is actually a speed limit. It's often a form of control, albeit maybe unconsciously, maybe not.

   The same thing goes on in every aspect of our daily lives to a greater or lesser extent: power, control, authority. It is often a matter of he or she with the authority versus those who do not. Minority persons in the United States became acutely aware of this when the US was mostly dominated by peoples of European descent, and these same minorities have been winning some battles to get the 'power'. It is what the Civil Rights Movement is all about. Certainly, fair treatment for all is a cornerstone of Christ's teachings, and we should support Civil Rights to prevent the discrimination of any peoples, though not for power's sake, but for Christ's. This same quest for power, for control, even happens in the churches to some extent. When the parishioners of a city church change from Western European to Latino for example, most likely, out goes Our Lady of Lourdes and in comes Our Lady of Guadeloupe. And I suppose, the reverse would happen if a formerly Latino parish suddenly became filled with persons of European descent. And yet is this good? I think not, because we forget that the Lord Jesus is ultimately in charge; He, the divine, is the source of all power. But let us state an underlying question more succinctly: when is humanly power and control unacceptable and when is it acceptable in the context of Holy Mother Church?

   Now Jesus spoke of it, mentioning about how the administrators will lord it over their people, but that we are not to do the same. He also cautioned us with the parable about the servant who abused the workers. When the king returned, he threw that bad servant out of the kingdom, and I can assure you that Lord Jesus will do the same to us if we abuse our authority, without repentance. The Lord also said, concerning priests, that they sit in Moses' seat, therefore we must do everything they tell us. If we do, God will commend us and He will also commend the priests if they have led us to a greater level of sanctity. Therefore, let us not complain about the penances given us, and let us support our churches and pastors. And if someone is overbearing with us, we should know that at times God may put us in such a situation, which can actually be to our own spiritual benefit, if we see it as a chance for personal mortification and the ready and happy acceptance of the Cross of Christ when we do not have the power to change things. This goes for more mundane matters such as everyday driving, in which we can use troubling occasions of motoring to say a short silent prayer for the other drivers, as well as more serious matters, such as pertains to the relationship between husband and wife.

   However, no one likes a control freak, and few persons can actually thrive when under the power of someone who is overbearing. Therefore, the good Roman Catholic in a command position, whether of household or of a legion of men, should do just as Jesus said, and not lord it over the people under his or her authority. We should not lord it over our spouse if we are married, nor over our students if we are a teacher, nor over our workers if we are a boss, nor our citizens if we are a procurator or other government official. The wise king gives his subjects some room to breathe and some freedom to create, and live. I think the good king or queen (or director) allows his people autonomy to develop their own ways to complete the tasks assigned them, and only interferes when the reasonable tasks don't get done. He or she only 'lays down the law' when the public good is at stake, either that of the individual worker, or his or her coworkers, or the business as a whole, or all three.

   I believe the same is true at the ecclesial level. Although it has been said by a notable cardinal that a bishop is not like a CEO, it would seem he actually is, in the sense that the good bishop, the good shepherd, gives the people a little leeway to make their own way; his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is not a hard taskmaster, but rather only uses his power and control when it is unavoidable, that is, when the salvation of souls is in jeopardy. We know for example that Pope Saint Pius X threw out the modernist teachers in the seminaries and Catholic universities at one point in his pontificate, because the problem of bad teaching, teaching of things not Catholic, had become significant. Indeed, if the king or bishop lets the things under his domain get out of hand, it is doing no one any favors except Satan himself; there must be order. Most any parish pastor however would appreciate it when his bishop allows him the freedom to guide and guard his local flock as he thinks best, especially when good things come out of the parish in the way of vocations and devout people.

   To be sure, kings and bishops are there for guidance; they must give it when they feel it necessary, but we must also seek it when we are unsure. As a professor, I cannot go wrong when I am unsure what to do or what path to take, if I go to the laboratory director or the department chair for guidance. That is part of their job, and they will be happy to help you. And more often than not they will say that either path is fine; take whichever you think best. In this way I have respected authority before God and have headed off any troubles that could have arisen later because of my decision, because I have consulted with my superior. In the world of academia, we also have a concept known as 'academic freedom'. It means in part that the faculty member has the freedom to pursue the research that interests him or her, within certain bounds of the interest of the department. When the work of the faculty member is good, when good publications and grants come out of the laboratory, it makes the director and the chairman happy and they will commend you, or if the work perchance falters a bit, that faculty member might get a little nudge from the higher ups, but it is to help them. I am telling you about what I know but I think it well applies to any kind of work. The good boss gives the assembly line worker a little freedom to invent ways to enhance the production line, and doesn't interfere so long as the work gets done well and efficiently.

   Even in the ecclesial world we can see something of the same thing. What good bishop is going to constrain a priest that is known throughout the area for sanctity and holiness, that, say, leads many to salvation and brings many back to the faith? Yes, there are times when even holy priests may have to be reigned in, but more often than not the good bishop will let the cleric continue his good work without severe interruption. We have for example Padre Pio, a holy priest by any standard. Even in those times, about 1903, although there were some very strict rules, Padre Pio was even given the freedom during his early years to live at home with his mother due to a stomach ailment. His superiors saw an extraordinary odor of sanctity about him, and knew that this was an uncommon priest. They gave him a lot of leeway, but finally, these same superiors decided it best that Father Pio be forced to return to the monastery, even with his bad health, and under holy obedience the Padre obeyed. It was all to his good though he thought he would die; eventually he got over his stomach ailment and was able to settle in to monastic life. And the rest, as they say, is history. I am sure that many times today, a young man may believe he has a vocation to the priestly life, but is a little unsure. The good seminary director and bishop will know that psychological pressure is not an appropriate response to the young man during his period of questioning what God's will is for his life. The same goes for young women who are interested in entering the convent; they must be able to exercise free will; God is not about coercion.

   Which brings us to another of the main topics of this missive, and that is the rapidly expanding religious order known as the Legionaries of Christ, for which a little history is in order. Since its founding in 1941, the Legion of Christ has grown to an international congregation of some 500 priests and 2,500 seminarians, at work in more than 20 countries. Born in 1920, Father Marcial Maciel founded the Legion in 1941 after growing up amid the social and religious revolution in Mexico during the 1920s, during which time many priests were killed. While working toward his own ordination to the priesthood, which was received in 1944, Father Maciel also directed the formation of seminarians, who became the first Legionaries. Both the Legionaries and its associated lay movement also founded by Father Maciel, called Regnum Christi, seek to spread Christ’s message and his Kingdom on earth. The best way to live a Godly life, say the Legionaries of Christ, is to imitate Jesus. So, the congregation makes Christ the standard for an apostolic life. They have a passion to know Christ through the Gospel, in the Eucharist and on the cross. Because Christ was so selfless, priests in the Legion of Christ also use their passion to serve others.

   No one can have any argument with the Legion's stated goal of imitating Christ and serving the public selflessly. It is a highly commendable vision and one, when carried out, that can lead to much good in the Church and the world, most importantly for the salvation of souls. However, we have received many reports that the Legionaries strong drive for vocations to their order and to spread their message comes at the expense of individual dignity and freedom; in short it is apparent that this religious order exercises a high degree of control not only on its priests and seminarians, but also on its parishioners.

   With respect to the priests and seminarians, besides the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by other religious orders, Legionary priests have to take a fourth vow, and that is to swear never to speak ill of the Legion of Christ (LC) order, or its founder Fr. Marcel Maciel, who is now in his 80's. They also promise to inform on anyone who does speak ill of them. I think this has helped to lead to the substantial increase in vocations that LC has experienced, because it would make the LC seem especially flowery, but at the expense of a lack of freedom on the part of seminarians and priests. And when such clerics find the degree of control intolerable, as significant of their numbers do, then in the case of priests out on assignment, they simply leave the order. However in the case of seminarians, the idea of leaving the seminary, simple in concept, is apparently not always so easy in reality. A number of former seminarians have come forward to say they were held against their will in seminary, and that they had to 'escape' by fleeing as though they were consigned to a prison ward or jailhouse. It seems therefore, that as a seminarian and priest of the Legionaries of Christ, one either becomes a fanatic or one leaves the order. I myself have come in contact with tenacious, maybe what one could call fanatical LC seminarians, who have telephoned me on several occasions soliciting money. No other religious order whose clerics I do not know have actually telephoned me soliciting for money.

   But this habit of strong control by the Legionaires apparently does not stop at the seminary gates. There has been a phenomenon recently of the LC taking over schools and parishes across the country, which on the surface, would seem to be a good thing. And typically the parishioners are opened to this takeover when the older religious orders have lost their members and no longer have the personnel to staff the school or parish. However, in quite a few cases around the country there have been reports of rough handling of the parishioners and school children by the Legionaries. For example, as soon as the LC takes over, frequently some or all of the remainder of the old staff is fired with little or no notice. On at least one occasion (in Atlanta) the Legionaries even called in the police to enforce their will in such matters. In some cases also, there has been somewhat of an offence by these clerics against basic Christian sensibilities. For example, one LC priest began to ask his teenage penitents in the confessional questions that the parents thought were of an 'inappropriate sexual nature'. No further description was given, but we can probably imagine that these priests were asking directly about masturbation or virginity. Now as many of you know I have written several articles defending virginity. However, although I am no priest, it seems to me that the confessional is a fountain of grace. There are plenty of occasions at the pulpit and in other group meetings for the priest to discuss such topics and the occasions in which mortal sin presents itself. Many young people are modest and feel uncomfortable discussing such issues on a one-to-one personal level, even if they are chaste. It may hinder their seeking the grace of the Sacrament, which, God forbid, could lead to worse things.

   Concerning the Catholic schools which they are asked to administer, the Legionaries, following takeover of schools, have the curious habit of dropping any religious-sounding portion of the name of the school, ostensibly to attract people of other faiths. For example, Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan School in Georgia, opened in April 1996, and named for the late archbishop of Atlanta, was changed to 'The Donnellan School' when the LC took over. And there are many such examples across the US. Following the onset of LC administration, there have also been some disturbing changes to the personalities of the children themselves. Sometimes the Catholic school children come home with weird ideas after a takeover by LC priests. For example, one little eight year old at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, Georgia came home to tell her parents that "she wanted to commit suicide so she could see Jesus." Now we all know that young children sometimes misinterpret things, but I think the diligent teacher will be careful with the children so that these ideas do not pop into their heads.

   At the colleges where LC administers there can be problems as well. A couple tells of their daughter who was recruited into the 'movement' of the Legionaries of Christ. Initially she attended a 'retreat' for Catholic students with very friendly recruiters who encouraged them to join. They were given a 'spiritual director' who is a lay person (we have heard of this before in the Opus Dei movement). The couple speaks of their daughter as previously being 'very out going, friendly and the light of our family, but idealistic and vulnerable'. However, after becoming involved with the LC, she 'became secretive, non communicative, filled with negative self images and very driven toward religiosity'. She then had to see if she 'had a vocation' and spent three years with this 'spiritual direction' while at college and later two years of indoctrination with the group. Against all pleas the daughter eventually left the country to continue with the Legionaries and no longer visits home. Such incidents point to a heavy-handed control, which brings converts, but we must ask, to what are they converted to? Is the seminarian or woman entering the convent there to please God or to please the higher ups of the Legionaries of Christ? And does he or she fear God or the higher ups of the Legionaries of Christ? Such questions are very important; in fact they are vital to our salvation. We are not hear to please man but to please God; this is the crux of the matter.

   Finally dear friends, there are also lingering questions about the founder of the Legionaries of Christ himself in the news of late concerning sexual matters. This has led to a canonical lawsuit, which the Roman Cardinal Ratzinger has curiously shelved. And when Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was asked about such by an ABC news reporter in April of this year, His Eminence "became visibly upset and actually slapped the reporter's hand. The Cardinal then stated: 'Come to me when the moment is given, not yet'." Curious. One knows that good works are let to shine like a great lamp atop a hill, so that all people might see, and believe. And that we should accept all trials and inconveniences as Christ did, with reticence and good will to all. Therefore, let us pray that we indeed become more Christ-like, accepting the opportunities that the Lord gives us to love and help others, with care and diligence, rather than control and heavy-handedness, and accept the inconveniences that come our way for the love of Christ and His kingdom. Amen.

    Patiénta autem opus perféctum habet: ut sitis perfécti, et íntegri, in nullo deficiéntes:
    And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.

May 29, 2002
volume 13, no. 99