Saturday, August 29, 2009

Legionary professions at Cheshire

On Saturday, August 29 a group of young Legionaries took their religious vows. Here are notes of a friend’s impressions after the ceremonies:

Today at 11am was the day of religious professions for the Legion in Cheshire, Connecticut, at St. Bridget’s Church, which is downtown Cheshire a few miles or so from the seminary. It was chilly and a little wet. Aside from knowing one of the brothers I was anxious to see also how they would handle the whole thing given the circumstances.

There were 23 brothers making first religious vows, 6 renewing their vows, and 6 taking their final vows. They made these vows in these three groups in the middle of Mass.

Father Corcuera himself presided, and said Mass, and gave the homily. There was also a bishop there in attendance, though he wasn’t introduced at Mass and nobody I asked really knew who he was. Many Legionary priests were there, of course, including, I think, the territorial leaders.

They still sprinkle in little commentaries at various points in the Mass they way they used to do with passages from Father Maciel. I didn’t recognize any passages from him today. One talked about how the parents were bringing up the gifts to the altar, symbolizing the sacrifice the parents make to give their children to religious life. There were many fervent Regnum Christ families, women in veils, families kneeling on the marble floor. The church was packed.

I wanted to know how the scandal would be handled, so that’s what I will emphasize. It was not mentioned directly at all, of course, but a lot of what Father Alvaro was saying seemed to relate to it very closely. Here is what Father Alvaro said in his homily, I think pretty accurately as we brainstormed a little to see how much we remembered. We didn’t take notes, but some people were, hanging on his every word. He apologized for his English, but it wasn’t really necessary. He spoke pretty well in English, but some of it wasn’t necessarily perfectly clear.

He began the sermon by saying, thank you all for being here. What a note said to me at a Legionary house where I’m staying, I say also to you, thank you for being here. Thank you to the priests for making the Eucharist possible. Thank you families for being willing to be here. Thank you brothers who are professing, for your witness. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

He said, we are closer to God than ever, because everything works together for the good. We now have pains and difficulties and tears, but we trust in God. Jesus lost everything on the cross but gained everything. “Vale la pena!” The pain is worth it!

He said that he was reading about Saint Francis of Assisi last month. Francis once had a terrible temptation, he lost his happiness and thought God had abandoned him, but he learned that was when God was closest to him. A dark night of the soul, indeed. But the darkest night is when we know God loves us the most.

He talked about how on his recent visit to the Holy Land he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane in front of a 2000 year old olive tree that could have been there with Jesus. In his prayers that day he came to understand how much Jesus suffered. Jesus didn’t know how he could do it and he felt in that prayer that he didn’t know how he was going to get through all this. But suffering leads to the cross and to the resurrection.

He preached on the first reading, the one in which God calls Samuel and he says, “here am I Lord.” This is what the professing brothers have said to the Lord themselves. He joked, sometimes I wish I could go back to sleep until the Lord calls. But that’s not possible. This got a lot of laughter.

He said, I believe, we are sorry for not understanding the suffering of others. We accept our suffering and unite it to the suffering of others. We know that all suffering is united to the suffering of Christ on the cross. We are sorry for what we have done, past, present, and future, yes, even the future, because we know we are weak, and will always be in need of God’s mercy. We are always grateful to God for the Legion and for the Movement.

He ended by saying, and I think this is pretty much a direct quote, “Thank you all again. Thank you for being willing all to be in the same boat. In a storm, you love the boat even more.”

Of course the scandal was not mentioned directly, but Father Alvaro gave the impression in his words of being not so happy with the situation he was in – dark night of the soul, he wished he could just go to sleep, he doesn’t know how he’ll get through the Gethsemane -- and of being very, very grateful to those who are sticking with the Legion. He kept on saying, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. He does have such a beaming and smiling personality.

At the end of the Mass we said the “Prayer for the pope,” “…in your presence I renew my unconditional loyalty to your vicar on earth, the pope. In him you have chosen to show us the safe and sure path…”

Father Corcuera gave a conclusion more prepared than the homily. It was in Spanish and read in translation immediately also again in English by another Father. Again, paraphrasing I think pretty accurately, he said, again, thank you to everyone, from the bottom of our hearts. We ask pardon. And we begin asking forgiveness for ourselves by forgiving others. We love our superiors and thank them for their fidelity. We also forgive our superiors, even our general director. This got a big laugh.

He spoke again of the boat. One section of consecrated women have a model boat and keep thinking, you love the boat even more in a storm. We are safe as apostles in a storm with Christ in the boat. The devil is the enemy of the church and wants to destroy her. We read in the Apocalypse reading a couple weeks ago on the feast of Assumption that the devil swept the stars out of the sky. Let’s not let him sweep the stars out of the sky, but let’s let him sweep the stars all over the sky, so that they give more light to everyone.

He and the bishop walked out down the aisle. Father Alvaro spoke to almost everyone along the aisle, it took a while. One young girl a couple rows back, after meeting him, went, wow!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cardinals and coverups

Subtle Legionary theologians are working out the distinction between Father Maciel’s unedifying private life and Legionary “mystique,” their idiosyncratic word for religious “charism,” apparently less concerned with the damage their scandal more and more seriously is inflicting on the wider Church.

As exlcblog made us aware last week, Sanjuana Martínez reported in CIMAC that one of the babymommies alleges that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, is implicated in the payment of hush money. That would make for a stupendous scandal if the churchman organizing the apostolic visitation had been previously involved in silencing witnesses, especially after calling for “transparency” in the letter announcing the visitation.

I do not and will not believe that allegation without further evidence. But I wondered if either she or Martínez could have meant to name rather the emeritus Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, whom we know to have been at the service of the Legionaries in the past.

Now Dean of the College of Cardinals, Sodano in 1999 intervened against the group of Maciel’s victims who were seeking a canonical hearing, according to their lawyer. In May 2005 Sodano’s Secretariat of State issued an unsigned document denying that the CDF investigation begun by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was even underway, which the Legionaries then used to claim publicly that Maciel had been cleared, as in the May 29-June 4, 2005 story in the National Catholic Register, "Vatican Exonerates Legion's Founder."

In March 2006 Sodano was himself found sending a secret, misleading letter through a surrogate to make life difficult for Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, in the matter of the reappointment of Cardinal Camillo Ruini as Vicar of Rome.

Speaking of misleading leaks, the new reports of the massiveness of Father Maciel’s corruption make the shock professed by Legionary leadership in February seem insincere and their approach then seem just another in a long series of attempts at covering up: surface the one daughter, plausibly spin that it was a one-time indiscretion, and try to move on.

A source representing the thought of Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and foremost Vatican champion of the notion of the existence of a Legionary charism, took this tack with Catholic News Agency in an article on February 8. “An official from the Congregation who spoke with Catholic News Agency” said that the Legionary crisis did not warrant outside intervention.

Those looking for conflicts of interest in the Congregation’s oversight of the Legionaries have noted the presence of Legionary Father Clemens Gutberlet on Rodé’s staff.

Then on Monday, February 23, 2009, Catholic News Agency reported confirmation by “Vatican officials” that Legionary leadership would “release a major statement in response to the controversy surrounding the double life of its founder and the future of the order. The statement will be released on Tuesday ‘or Wednesday at the latest’… The source told CNA that it will be a foundational document that will be decisive in determining future action…”

That leak (was it also from Rodé’s Congregation?) had been coordinated with the showing in some Legionary seminaries that same day, February 23, of a video of Cardinal Rodé encouraging Legionaries.

The source proved incorrect. That statement never was made. But the leak seems part of an attempt to assist the Legionaries to wrap things up quickly and handle the scandal on their own terms. The attempt had involved Catholic News Agency, based in Denver, the archdiocese of current apostolic visitator Archbishop Chaput.

The scenario in which the Legionaries would keep their independence from Vatican oversight did not prevail. Instead, the Legionaries’ statement was deferred and on the next day, Tuesday, February 25, Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien in his archdiocesan Catholic Review made his famous call for a review of the “very basis of the Legion movement.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pope John Paul and this sorry chapter

What a trough of excrement to be tramping through! We read that a lawyer, whose child was molested in a Legionary school in Mexico City, is representing three of Father Maciel’s at least six children in a claim on his estate. Children have been paid vast amounts of money in exchange for their silence. A Vatican Secretary of State is reportedly implicated in the payoffs (though it doesn't seem to me the right one was named). Mothers were underage, one a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi. After statutory rape of the mother, Father Maciel in turn molested one of his own daughters.

I empathize with visitator Bilbao Bishop Blázquez Pérez, who cheerfully resents the ruination of his summer vacation by having to think about the horrible Legionaries of Christ.

The new revelations are good if the revulsion they occasion makes the abolition of the Legionaries that much more likely. There is no theological problem in recognizing that the Church’s official approval of the Legion was an error of judgment, farcical Legionary spokesman Jim Fair to the contrary, who trusts “we will be able to close this sorry chapter in the life of our Congregation, renew our service to the Church, and continue forward in our mission.”

The children’s lawyer, Jose Bonilla, said, “One must remember that the Legion surrounded and was at the disposal of the founder; practically speaking, everything was his.” Yes, that’s the point: sexual predators create an environment for themselves in which to operate and this is what the Legion most authentically was. Those who approved the Legion and fostered it up to now lacked the awareness to understand this. We trust the visitators and those who will dispose of the Legion do not.

The circus nevertheless threatens to distract from the issue more important than Father Maciel’s personal depravity, which, if not fully, we knew about already: accounting for the damage the Legionaries have done to the Church. What interests me is how the scandal now threatens to derail the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

Reportedly, John Paul gave Maciel’s daughter Norma Hilda Rivas her first Holy Communion at the Vatican. Bonilla claims that John Paul knew about the existence of Father Maciel’s children.

I will not believe that before I see evidence. Circumstantially I find it harder to believe that John Paul knew about Father Maciel’s children than that he was taken in by a randy trickster who would not have wished to destroy the illusion of his posture as a holy man. Father Maciel was endlessly introducing Regnum Christi members and others to John Paul.

The journalism of Jason Berry, from the ground-shaking 1997 Hartford Courant article (with Gerald Renner) through “Vows of Silence” in 2004 to his recent pieces in the GlobalPost, has been a crucial service that anyone interested in truth must thank him for. At the same time, he has used the scandal as a stick to beat John Paul over the head with.

What the Legionaries used to say in their vile and dishonest attempt to discredit Berry’s triumphantly vindicated journalism, that he is an enemy of the pope, was distortedly true insofar as Berry has expressed unsympathy for orthodox Catholic understanding in some matters. To have decoupled truth from Gospel witness in its members is one aspect of the disaster the Legionaries have inflicted on the Church. The National Catholic Register used the same voice both to proclaim pro-life and their loyalty to John Paul and to lie in defense of a serial child rapist.

Those of us who revere the writings of John Paul as prophetic for the new millennium must be willing to recognize his personal shortcomings as well as his holiness. We must appropriate, and not ignore and suppress, all negative Berry-esque material about the Legionaries and John Paul. We must live radically in the truth and nevermore cover anything up. It is simply a fact of history that John Paul the Great recommended to the Church a monstrous child abuser as “an efficacious guide to youth.” Shout it out and theologize it rather than let Jason Berry torment us with it.

John Paul himself acknowledged and apologized to many victims of injustice in the history of the Church. The Church may now acknowledge and apologize to the victims of John Paul’s credulity of Father Maciel and the Legionaries.

Let’s see these photographs that Jose Bonilla claims to have and know completely their circumstances, account for what John Paul was told and who said what to him and what he knew.

Let the cause for John Paul’s canonization get to the bottom of all of it before plans move forward for his beatification on the fifth anniversary of his death next April 2.

The Legion is not the only new religious movement that John Paul promoted. Let’s not shrink from the implications of discovering that John Paul’s approval of a movement did not of itself protect its members from becoming uncritical zombie followers of a narcissist.

Father Maciel is now clearly recognized for the monster he was. The discovery of any more children, victims, or imposture will change little. The Legion can be abolished and its priests dispersed to some more beneficial work. What is now at stake is the prophetic legacy of Pope John Paul, who in mistaken friendship gave his support to such a monster.

Is John Paul's temporal administration of the Church, which included his championing of the Legionaries, immune from a John Pauline purification of memory? It would be unworthy of John Paul's courageous legacy to say so.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Piece in the Colorado Independent

“Denver Archbishop Chaput welcomed discontented Legionaries” has appeared on

See also the longer article about visitator Archbishop Chaput below.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tom Hoopes’ move

I am aware that the departures from their posts this month of Tom Hoopes, Brendan McCaffery, and Fathers Jonathan Morris, Timothy Mulcahey, and Antonio Rodriguez, did not all necessarily occur in concert and for the same reason, to make them less available to the apostolic visitation.

In any event any suspicion about reasons can only be circumstantial.

I was aware from Tom Hoopes’ email that his move is in fact a “career change… talk[ed] about for years.”

The point I intended below is that, however meant, these sorts of movements inescapably make more difficult the work of the apostolic visitation.

The visitation is limited in its time, money, and investigative resources and will have to be selective in hearing from former Legionaries and former employees if it chooses to hear them at all.

I hope the visitation will manage to hear Tom Hoopes on how he worked for “repentance and change” at the Register, in the words of Father Raymond de Souza, before moving on in his career.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Legionary Movements

[Moved to the top and updated July 22: Father Antonio Rodriguez, for ages academic dean at the Legionary seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut, has removed to Switzerland. How will he now be able to testify to the apostolic visitation about the seminary?

Tom Hoopes, National Catholic Register editor, resigned this week. Together with Brendan McCaffery, Chief Operation Officer for Circle Media, let go last week, these represent decades and decades of experience at the highest level of Legionary operations in Connecticut. Will the visitation seek them out in Kansas or Les Avants-sur-Montreux or wherever or lose forever their testimony?]

[Updated] Life-after-rc the other day reported that there is evidence that the Legionaries have been moving members around possibly to make them less available for the apostolic visitation to interview.

History may be repeating itself: that’s certainly what the Legionaries did in the late summer of 1956 in the face of the first apostolic visitation. Legionary Brother José Domínguez, who had recently helped Father Maciel draft the fourth vow, was moved for the duration to Massa Lubrense on the southern extremity of the Bay of Naples. Brother Saúl Barrales spent nine months of 1957 in the Canary Islands. (See González “Testimonios y documentos inéditos” 278 and Berry and Renner “Vows of Silence” 182.)

In light of that, interesting:

Father Jonathan Morris, formerly vice rector of the Legionary seminary in Rome, is now on sabbatical for six months or more at Old St. Patrick’s in Manhattan. (exlcblog links to the Old St. Patrick’s bulletin with this information.)

Yesterday, July 16, the National Catholic Register’s accountant was let go. This may have been another cost-cutting move – in the downturn the Register became a bi-weekly -- though cost-cutting was not the purpose of the acquisition of Southern Catholic College announced yesterday as well.

Such movements would provoke an important procedural question for the apostolic visitation: will the visitators interview only Legionaries and employees currently in place or will they also seek out former Legionaries, those on sabbatical, and those no longer employed? It’s not as if Father Morris can hide in lower Manhattan, but how can Bishop Versaldi, whose responsibility includes Italy, interview him if he is not in Rome? How will Archbishop Chaput, whose responsibility includes the US, interview him if he is on sabbatical from a Legionary assignment?

Life-after-rc wrote, “surely the AV would recognise such an obvious tactic [as removing witnesses from the visitation’s path].” However, Sandro Magister says that the visitation is to report in the fall. That is discouraging if true, unless what is meant is some sort of preliminary report or first impression. Four or five months would not likely be enough time to sort through well planned Legionary survival strategies, however transparent they be.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chilean visitator says apostolic visitation expresses “the affection of the Holy Father for the Legionaries of Christ”

Concepción, Chile Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, the most recently named of the five bishops who are conducting an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, has expressed in Spanish language interviews his opinions on some of the issues that face the investigation.

Archbishop Ezzati traveled to Rome on June 22 to be appointed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarciso Bertone to serve on the visitation, first announced publicly on March 31 and scheduled to have gotten under way on July 15.

In an interview with Chile’s national El Mercurio, published July 4, Ezzati spoke about his role:

"I accept [the appointment as apostolic visitator] as a service that the Holy See has entrusted to me, with much responsibility, humility and as a gesture that expresses the affection of the Holy Father for the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. I assume it with humility, because the charisms of consecrated life are a gift of the Spirit to his Church before which only amazement and welcome are fitting, and with responsibility, because the Church wishes to respond properly to the charisms conveyed for the spiritual good of so many persons."

The purpose of the apostolic visitation, he said, is “to express, through encounter and dialogue, the fatherly closeness and esteem of the Holy Father, who only wishes the spiritual good of the Legionaries of Christ and the fruitfulness of their service to the Church and the world. I believe that the desire of the Holy See is that this visitation offer all those indications and assist them that they serve the fruitful development of that charism."

In fulfilling his mission as apostolic visitator, Ezzati said that "more than in my personal abilities, I trust in the grace of God and the assistance of the Virgin May."

In echoing remarks, published July 9, Legionary spokesman for Chile, Father Alfredo Márquez, welcomed Ezzati’s appointment. He said that the visitation will be “without any doubt a further step, from the hand of the Pope, in continuing our mission in service to the Church. We continue with our apostolic work with much serenity and with a renewed dream to spend our lives for souls." The appointment, he said, is “very important, because [Ezzati] knows the work of the Legion in this country and we know him and we know that he is a great man of the Church."

With his words Archbishop Ezzati interpreted the visitation as a confirmation of the pope’s good feeling, rather than an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing. The word “charism” has been often used by Legionaries to express their belief that they cannot be reformed, because their foundation has been irreformably recognized by the Church, regardless of shortcomings in the personal life of founder Father Marcial Maciel. There has long been a commonly held view in Catholic theology that approval of religious orders by the Church is an infallible judgment, though it has in recent decades been called into question by some theologians.

Ezzati’s interpretation will disappoint those who have called for radical reassessment, even abolition and refoundation, of the Legionaries. These have included Archbishops Collins of Toronto and O’Brien of Baltimore, theologian George Weigel, and former Legionary Father Thomas Berg.

In another interview, three years ago, Ezzati, then an auxiliary bishop in Santiago, adopted publicly a Legionary interpretation when explaining the meaning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Communiqué of May 19, 2006. The Communiqué suspended Maciel from public ministry, but its wording was so gentle that it was susceptible to alternative readings by pro-Legionaries as not in fact being a discipline.

In May 2006 Ezzati told El Mercurio that he thought reasonable the eight years that had elapsed between the canonical suit brought before the CDF in 1998 by a group of former Legionaries who accused Maciel of sexual abuse and abuse of the confessional and the day the charges were finally dealt with in 2006:
“The Holy See analyzes carefully the things put under its judgment. Through experience it knows that many accusations are true and that others are not. The respect for the rights of the person requires it to be very responsible, to use the greatest care in dealing with situations to reach conclusions that respect the truth and legal rights.”

Asked how the discipline would affect the Legionaries, he answered:
“Two considerations: one, what the Holy See’s Communiqué states: ‘the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association “Regnum Christi” is gratefully recognized’; and second, what the Legionary declaration [in response to the Communiqué] states: ‘We renew our commitment to work with great intensity to live our charism of charity and extend the Kingdom of Christ serving the Church.’ I hope that the two considerations offer the Legionaries the stimulus necessary to look on with serenity and to commit themselves more and more to the task of making present the person and the message of Jesus in the world today, especially among young people.”


“The declaration …emphasizes three things: the fact of the denunciations, the affirmation of innocence by Father Maciel, and their compliance with the decision of the Holy See. It is a logical reaction and one of faith: there is the pain of the accusations made against their father founder, their conviction about his innocence, and their welcoming in the spirit of faith the decision of the Holy See.”


Asked what the discipline meant and whether Father Maciel was still entitled to a presumption of innocence, Ezzati answered:
“In the Church there are penal laws and medicinal laws. In this case, ‘bearing in mind Father Maciel's advanced age and his delicate health,’ [the Church] has chosen to invite Father Maciel on the way of ‘a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.’ It is good to remember that the fruitfulness of Christian life is not shown only in the great deeds and gestures that catch public attention. The sanctity that flourishes in enclosed monasteries, in the circumscribed lives of so many elderly, the pain of so many of those who suffer-- their contribution has a incalculable worth for society and for the Church.”

In speaking this way, he used the language characteristic of many pro-Legionaries at the time who interpreted the discipline minimally. These included Mexico City Archbishop Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera and the late American Father Richard John Neuhaus who said of the CDF discipline, “it should be noted that ‘penitence’ in this connection does not connote punishment for wrongdoing.”

The Legionary interpretation of the CDF discipline was agnostic as to whether the CDF had judged Maciel guilty; characteristically omitted the words “independently of the person of the Founder” when quoting the Communiqué’s sentence, "Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association 'Regnum Christi' is gratefully recognized."; and claimed that the discipline was no discipline, but only an invitation to the same prayer and penitence all Christians are called to.

A pro-Legionary stance would make Archbishop Ezzati the new Polidoro van Vlierberghe, the Belgian Franciscan missionary to Chile and future apostolic administrator and territorial prelate of Illapel, Chile. As apostolic visitator in the first visitation of the Legionaries from 1956-8, Polidoro became the advocate for Father Maciel’s versions of events and Legionary savior when the first visitator, whom he succeeded, had wanted radically to reform the Legionaries.

Another Chilean connection: longtime Legionary supporter and troubleshooter Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary Emeritus of State and Dean of the College of Cardinals, forged his first links with Father Maciel and the Legionaries (as he did as well with Chilean President of the Republic Augusto Pinochet) during his years as apostolic nuncio to Chile, 1977-88. In those years Ezzati was in Santiago directing the Salesian seminary, serving as Salesian superior, and teaching at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello is 67, was born in Campiglia dei Berici, a town of Vicenza in the Veneto in northern Italy, educated by the Salesians in Italy and Chile, where he moved when he was 17, and ordained a priest of the Salesians at 28 in 1970. He has long taken an interest in and served on committees regarding education, catechetics, and religious life. He was appointed in 1996 bishop of Valdivia, Chile, in 2001 auxiliary bishop of Santiago, and in 2006 archbishop of Concepción. He was made a Chilean national by special act of Chilean Congress in 2006.

Archbishop Ezzati plans in the event to begin work as apostolic visitator the week of July 27, delayed by pastoral commitments, though he has already met in preliminary way with Legionary superiors in Chile.