Having been a member of the Regnum Christi Movement associated with the Legionaries of Christ, I can attest to the emphasis that the group put on “Gospel charity.” It was presented as the paramount virtue, essential to the smooth operation of the mission of the Legion, and deeply imbedded in our way of life through spiritual direction, confession, and apostolic dialogue. Gospel charity was so important that the priests took a private vow (and consecrated members made a “promise” before God) in addition to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Thus were they bound to its practice in a two-fold way: they promised never to criticize the Legion, and to report to their superiors anyone who did.
Even the rank-and-file members enthusiastically embraced this aspect of the “charism,” making sure not only that fellow RC members were entirely positive in their relationship to the Legion, but also pointing out to their directors Catholics friends outside the group who may not have “appreciated” the gift that the Movement offered the Church. Knowing how back-biting and idle gossip wounded Our Lord, we complied readily – for any criticism of a work of God (approved by the Church, we were always reminded) bordered on blasphemy. “Building the Kingdom” meant flushing out its enemies, who could be recognized by their words and attitudes.
Bullying Critics in Order Safeguard Love
Having explained Gospel charity as interpreted by this group, we come to an extraordinary application of it, in that the Legionaries of Christ have just sued a group called ReGAIN, offering a $1.5million bond for access to its data. ReGAIN – a loose association composed of former Legionaries and RC members as well as concerned family members and friends – offers assistance to anyone negatively impacted by this Movement, is being accused of undermining the Legion’s mission by means of discussing the rules and methodology of the group.
The action doesn’t come in a vacuum, of course, since the Vatican has in recent years taken much time to deliberate over the accusations against the Founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel. After taking scores of depositions concerning his alleged sexual abuse of minors, his manipulative way of guiding souls, and his duplicitous way of “building the Kingdom,” the Church acted in May of 2006, issuing from the Holy See Press Office a Communiqué that eschewed a trial of Maciel, because of his advanced age, but retired him to a life of prayer and penance.
A key phrase in that Communiqué which both sides seized upon was the following: "Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association 'Regnum Christi' is gratefully recognized." Legion supporters insisted it was a blanket endorsement of the Movement consistent with the support it had always enjoyed in the past. Others put more emphasis on the word “independent,” surmising that the support would now be contingent on the Legion’s effort to separate its mission from the personality of the Founder.
The Legion very quickly indicated what “independent of the person of the Founder” entailed. The response of members world-wide ran in sadly predictable streams. His devotees gathered about him in solidarity, comparing him to any number of saints and even Jesus Christ Himself, subject to another Passion – this time at the hands of Benedict XVI. The Register added to Maciel’s hagiography, noting, “He has always reacted the same way: seeing the cross as coming from God, refusing to defend himself, bearing malice toward none.”
Another stream of support launched a strong offense on his behalf, decrying any who could possibly think that the Legion’s methods were troublesome or that the Founder was capable of pederasty. Having been coached in Gospel charity for years, members of the Movement knew that defense of the Church often required a convoluted attack to undermine critics of its most esteemed congregation.
What Does the Legion Want from ReGAIN?
The Legion accuses ReGAIN members of “stealing’ various documents, such as letters from Maciel to his followers (many of which outline his intentions to prioritize recruiting and fundraising through established schools and apostolates), the Legion’s constitutions, and documents listing their “norms” of behavior (such as etiquette, mandates and prohibitions) – which the Legion of Christ insists must remain private. The complaint filed in an Alexandria, VA court states:
To carry out this mission, like any organization, the Legion creates and relies on proprietary materials, including letters and other documents compiled by Legion members intended only for internal dissemination and discussion. Certain of those private and proprietary materials have been stolen from the Legion, and portions of those stolen materials, including internal principles, norms, and private letters of the Legion’s founder are known to be in the defendant’s possession. In fact defendants, along with other co-conspirators, have intentionally taken out of context excerpts from many of the stolen materials and posted them on the internet as part of a concerted effort to wage a malicious disinformation campaign against the Legion.
The Legion lawyers seem to have sidestepped arguing a copyright violation for two reasons: because there is no doubt that the use of the material for discussion entails a fair use of the documents, and because they would not want to be grilled on who actually wrote the material, which is highly debatable. To keep the case in state court, the Legion must prove that the letters were stolen, which is highly problematic, given that they were written at the time for the very members who now comprise ReGAIN’s board, that they’ve been widely circulated for years as a part of the “patrimony” of the Church, and that they’ve often been packaged and sold or given freely as gifts to certain members of the Church in past decades.
The constitutions pose a unique problem, in that the Legion hides them even from its own members as much as possible. While countless other congregations make their constitutions available to the public (even posting them online), men who join the Legion are not given access for years into their formation, although they are specifically charged with sharing the “spirituality” of the group. Later they are allowed to see portions of them – after already taking vows in the group (or making promises, in the case of the Consecrated).
Bishops in the dioceses where the Movement exercises ministries have a right to see the constitution, and withholding them from the local bishop is legitimate grounds for expelling the Legion from a diocese (an option that various bishops have had to exercise in the past). Personal anecdotes of Legionaries have confirmed that doctored versions have been supplied to bishops and cardinals in individual cases, which points to the fact that revealing the actual contents could pose serious credibility problems for the Legion. It has been ReGAIN’s contention that the constitutions are arbitrarily applied within the group, that they were changed several times over the years without following proper canonical procedures, and may not be in fact the document that the Vatican actually approved initially.
“Whistle-blowers” Must be Revealed
But the Legion wants more. It demands that the court seize computers belonging to ReGAIN members and that the leadership reveal the names and addresses of all who have corresponded with Legionaries over the years. What this underscores is that the Fourth Vow described above is still in effect – despite its dubious canonical status and rumors that the Vatican has recently released all members of the Movement from its constraints.
This reveals that the true motive of the lawsuit is to find detractors. It has been made clear that there is no official tie between ReGAIN and the Ex-Legionary discussion board, only a link from one page to the other because of the obvious shared interest. Moreover, the anonymity of the contributors to the discussion board is an essential element so that they feel safe enough to speak freely and work through their experiences with the group, which many found traumatic. The lawsuit mandates that these anonymous contributors be exposed because their criticism runs contrary to Legionary norms. The Movement insists that such discussions be banned because of the deleterious effect on its recruitment and fundraising. To that end, the Legion says to the head of ReGAIN: “Please produce all correspondence between you and the Legion.” In that way, the Legion will know who in its ranks have broken the Fourth Vow and collaborated with “enemies of the Church.”
ReGAIN has addressed the troublesome nature of such a methodology in a previous press release:
After research and several consultations on the matter, we have found that no other religious group has ever threatened suit in this way against anyone who has published their “spiritual writings,” with the sole exception of Scientology, which is considered by many to be a cult. Indeed, no other Catholic institution has ever done so.
However, if the writings of the Legion of Christ and its Founder are reserved for a “members only club” or for those few who are sufficiently enlightened to truly understand them as they climb the ladder of membership (degrees of Regnum Christi, stages of formation in the Legion), the Legion of Christ is creating a Gnostic Cult within the Church.
Most importantly, the “Cease & Desist Letter” [and now the ensuing lawsuit] only proves the point that ReGAIN has been making for years now: The Legion of Christ has cult-like qualities and is obsessed with secrecy, not with the saving of souls in communion with the Catholic Church.
“Independent from the Person of the Founder” is Impossible
The year that has passed since the Communiqué was issued has shown that the Legion will not let go of Maciel. LegionaryFacts.com defends itself and the Founder through extended excerpts his writing to explain the mission of the Legion. The recent conferences and retreats offered by the Movement have all had his quotes in the margins of their invitations, his directives at their heart, and his person praised as their driving force. Even at the largest yearly event, the Youth and Family Encounter, which was held in Atlanta, GA this summer, witnessed a key reference to the directive of the Founder:
This prayer of Christ could yield long and rich reflections, but I will limit myself to stopping briefly on the petition that is your motto: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Fr Marcial Maciel always taught you that this had to be the strongest desire and purpose in your lives and apostolates as Regnum Christi members: Thy Kingdom come! (Cardinal Rode).
This lawsuit indicates as strongly as any other action that the Legion insists that to carry out their mission effectively, the Legion relies on keeping certain letters of Maciel out of the hands of outsiders, guarding the Constitution that contains within it a mechanism to protect him from “calumny,” and intimidating by means of cult-like tactics any who dare criticize the methodology.
The Legion of Christ, rather than detaching from their indicted Founder, reveals that its mission is unalterably tied to his corrupt and corrosive personality, which has caused psychological damage to so many. Stating their love of Christ, their Founders intention not to defend himself, and the importance of secrecy, the Legion of Christ offers a dubious methodology by which to build a curious Kingdom.
In conclusion, let’s review the salient points:
· The Legion states: “The Legion property is invaluable to its continued mission of service and ministry throughout the world. However for the purposes of this action, the Legion pleads that the property is worth at least $750,000;”
· The property in question has been in circulation in a variety of venues for decades, since the Letters have been published, the Constitutions have been shared and purportedly approved in one version or another;
· A federal lawsuit is deliberately avoided because “fair use of copyrighted material” has clearly not been breached; rather the members of ReGAIN are accused of theft and undermining the Legion mission;
· The inclusion of a demand for all emails and names of anonymous posters on a discussion board reveals that the Fourth Vow is still in operation and detractors from the Legion’s mission will be flushed out;
· The timing and nature of this lawsuit – in late August with a hurried demand to seize property of members of ReGAIN – reveals the Legion’s effort to harass ex-members with intimidating legal complaints;
· The success of the Legion’s mission by their own admission is contingent on secret communications, in-house policing of criticism and a recruiting plan that cannot be exposed without damage to the cause;
· The Founder’s personality permeates a methodology months after the Vatican directed the group to carry on its worthy apostolates without him.
The case calls to mind the disturbing story that Christ related about a wicked steward. He owed his master an exorbitant amount of money, which he could not pay. Pleading for mercy, he was relieved when the master graciously wiped away his debt; and yet he turned around and abused a fellow servant who owed him a mere fraction of that amount. One could imagine an application to the Legion, whose Founder was found to be credibly accused of grievous sins. Rather than suppressing the group or ending its work in toto, Benedict graciously allowed them to continue with the Church’s blessing – if they will simply separate themselves from their troubling Founder. Instead, the Legion touts the blessing, while continuing to use the Founders’ strongest weapon against his victims: the Fourth Vow.
No one may criticize the Legion, and those who do will be found out and punished. Poverty, chastity, and obedience are important – each in their own way, but one vow shall rule them, and it will not end as long as there is a Legion.