Thursday, June 18, 2009

The visitation so far: the four Legionary visitators

I have been collating web gleanings and have posted sketches of the four reported Legionary visitators: Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Alessandria Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi, Tepic Bishop Ricardo Watty Urquidi, M.Sp.S., and Gregorian Rector Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S. J. Some observations:

While closing Gateway Academy High School in Missouri last month, Legionary Territorial Director Father Scott Reilly, according to exlcblog, said, “there are two kinds of visitation, one high and one low. We are under the low one.” Whatever this may have meant, the group of reportedly assembling Legionary apostolic visitators could hardly be more high-powered or well-chosen. On paper, spectacular. Three bishops and the Gregorian rector. Three religious, including Watty, himself a member of a Mexican order founded in the 20th century, and a diocesan. Accomplished scholars, senior canon lawyers. Expertise in psychology and education. Benedict may have a plan.

Those who hope for real investigation of the Legionaries, not a whitewash, and real consideration of reform or even re-foundation might well feel cheered by the appointment of such a substantial group. None of them has been close to the Legion. Chaput provided haven for three unhappy Legionaries leaving the congregation. Elements of the visitation form a bit of a mob, actually, with Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who stepped over Legionary supporter Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, to announce the visitation. Bertone made Versaldi his vicar general while bishop of Vercelli. Ghirlanda and Bertone have been colleagues on several Vatican congregations. Versaldi and Ghirlanda are Gregorian colleagues. The Denver group of former Legionaries has Gregorian degrees.

It is sometimes suggested that the Jesuit connection to the visitation itself spells trouble for the Legion, but those who evoke the evil Jesuit perpetuate an unfair stereotype of which twentieth century conservative movementarians have been overly fond. Father Maciel himself complained of scheming Jesuits, but this is not to be credited any more than anything else he might have said.

Yet the names of the visitators have still not been announced officially, though reportedly they have been confirmed journalistically by Vatican sources. To Mexican press, as reported June 6 by La Journada and El Universal, two Legionary spokesmen, Javier Bravo, Legionary communications director for Mexico, and Osvaldo Moreno, stated that they have received no official word about when the visitation will begin or who the visitators will be. Until we know for sure who the visitators are and what, if anything, they will be doing, the word “transparency” used by Bertone in his March 10 letter announcing the visitation seems only a cruel sop thrown to Americans whom European ecclesiastics consider addled by democratic innovations like open courts and sunshine laws. There has been plenty of unofficial word. On the other hand, any thorough investigation of a worldwide congregation with branches of religious men, women, and laypersons is a massive project that will require some preparation.

For all their qualifications in religious life and formation, canon law, psychology, and education, none of the prospective visitators is a forensic accountant. If the visitation is now underway in some sense without the named visitators, it may be that the finances of Father Maciel personally and the Legion generally are now being audited as a necessary preliminary. Vatican visitors were said to have arrived at Legionary headquarters in Rome in early March, around the date of Bertone’s letter.

Nor is any of the prospective visitators a woman. This needs to be corrected if it signals unconcern for the welfare of the consecrated women of Regnum Christi, whose issues, such as their canonical status, their formation, the allegations of inadequate education and woman on woman abuse among them, should not continue to be overshadowed.

A woman, Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is heading another current apostolic visitation, that of orders of American religious women. Her visitation has, by contrast, been transparent and briskly paced, though it is a project larger even than that of investigating the Legionaries and she is the sole leader. Mother Millea was officially appointed December 22, 2008 by Cardinal Rodé. The visitation was announced at a press conference in Washington, January 30, 2009 and its first phase by news release February 20. Millea’s May 19 letter gave information about timetable and procedure, which she expects to take a minimum of 2½ years. One can see documents and get news about that visitation on One can join an apostolic visitation facebook group. By contrast, the Legionary visitation was officially decided upon March 10 and announced March 31. More than three months later we have heard only officially unconfirmed press leaks of the visitators’ names.

It may be that the same Vatican forces that protected and enabled Father Maciel for decades and even now are hoping to obstruct the apostolic visitation of the Legionaries are causing delay more than any desire for care and thoroughness. For all their qualifications, will the putative visitators be brave and independent enough to explore the two investigative frontiers that stretch beyond the tedious specifics of Father Maciel’s private life? One, the distasteful rumors that the Legion all along has been the instrument of a group of wealthy Mexican families, and two, the distasteful rumors that some in the Vatican were complicit with the Legion and do not want themselves to be exposed by the visitation. Such rumors corrode the very human credibility of the Church, as has the response to the pedophilia scandal generally, and a creditable visitation must confront them for the good of the Church.

Those who fear a whitewash of the Legionaries rather than a real investigation do have reason:

=Though properly concerned with the canonical legal rights of abusive priests and the need for bishops to be pastors and not police, Bertone and Ghirlanda in May 2002 opposed the American bishops’ policy of disclosure, giving canonical reasons for keeping scandal private. Ghirlanda argued that parishes need not be informed when an abusive priest is moved there. The instance of Jeremiah Spillane, the Legionary priest transitioning into the diocese of Venice, Florida caught trying to seduce a 13-year-old boy in 1997, would provide the visitation with a case study of the matter.

=The language in Bertone’s March 10 letter (“I am pleased to remember that many people benefit from the works of education and apostolate which the Legionaries of Christ carry out…”) signaled Legionary survival from the start.

=Not even a churchman as senior as Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, when asked on April 3 by John Allen, could say he was confident that the Legionaries would cooperate fully with the visitation. “It depends on so many individuals being open, because it just takes a few to try to block it and to mislead,” he said.

=Though there has been some consolidation (in May both the closure of Gateway Academy High School in Missouri and a round of layoffs of media and development employees and benefits trimmings), there has also been some expansion (an agreement to acquire Southern Catholic College, the cornerstone blessing of the Magdala retreat center in Galilee). The Legionaries are certainly proceeding as if the visitation is no threat to their future.

Life-after-rc’s Visitation thread reports that members of Regnum Christi are being told to think the visitation is a sign of Benedict’s approval, that it means no serious consequences, that it will help them be more who they already are. Well, to be fair, the same euphemisms have also explained the women’s apostolic visitation: it is a “positive effort to support and promote congregations.” Relying on a traditional theological view that says the approval of a religious order by the Church is an infallibly rendered judgment, they are confident that they cannot be re-founded or reformed and Legionary formators are happy to repeat to their seminarians Cardinal Rodé’s infamous, “if you deviate from your charism, I’ll kill you.”

=Last month, on his trip to Israel, Pope Benedict held a meeting at the Pontifical Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, care of which John Paul gave the Legionaries in 2004 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Father Maciel’s ordination, and on May 11 blessed the cornerstone of a Legionary initiative, an extension of the center, the Magdala Center in Galilee. Legionary general director Father Alvaro Corcuera used a May 15 letter from Jerusalem to Regnum Christi members about his experience of the occasion to flatter Benedict and claim papal and curial support. Overall it documents the current Legionary tone of voice:
The first day of [Benedict’s] pilgrimage, with exemplary self-giving and dedication, here at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center he met with several Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. He gave a message of unity and humility. His words strengthened people’s hearts, showing them that God is not a God of division, but of union. God is a loving Father who loves his children tenderly.

On that occasion God gave us a special grace… The Pope was very friendly; he blessed the cornerstone and was kind enough to give the gift of a beautiful tabernacle to this center, which belongs to the Holy See… Here, in person, we were able to pledge him our prayers, fidelity, and closeness. I told him that we were praying in a very special way at this time of his trip.

…On Thursday night, we went to Gethsemane to celebrate Mass and do our Eucharistic Hour, offering them for the intentions of the Church, the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, so that we will be what God wants us to be, and to thank him for the gift of our vocation. At Mass we read the text of Scripture that says that by his wounds we are healed (cf. Is. 53:5). Christ took off his cloak to cover us. When times come in which we want to say that we are unable to go on and we ask him if it is possible to take away the cup, Christ answers with an embrace. He draws us to his heart and tells us he loves us. What problem cannot be overcome when he holds us in his arms? It is our calling to welcome everyone without distinctions, and to be apostles of the good, of Christ’s embrace. To be apostles of the good, of everything that fills the soul with peace. How right the apostle St James is when he says that the man who does not sin with his tongue is a perfect man! (cf. James 3:2). And the fact is, when we are with Christ only good things come from our heart and our lips, bringing Christ’s authentic peace to everyone, without envy, rancor, or words that rob people of the marvelous gift of peace.

As we finished our Eucharistic Hour a married couple came up. It was providential. A group of pilgrims had arrived and were beginning their prayer. They told me that they were from Mexico, they were in Regnum Christi and they loved every day more the vocation God gave them, because it had helped them to discover Christ’s love and follow him more closely. What most impressed me is that they were the parents of a girl, full of God, who suffered an accident that left her unable to walk. Instead of resentment, I found nothing but love, a spirit of faith, prayer, zeal for souls, charity, kindness and self-giving. They told me that their vocation was to preach Christ, that they loved the Movement because they had discovered the one thing that we men and women need. How thankful we must be for so much love from God! The doctors had told them that their daughter would never be able to walk, and yet they told me that it is Christ who gives health, grace, love. And the daughter is starting to walk, but what is most important is that she is racing toward holiness.

…..Today, Friday morning, God gave us the grace of celebrating the Eucharist with the cardinals, bishops, and the Papal entourage, here in the Notre Dame Center. The consecrated women were present, and filled our hearts with their fervor and songs. The Gospel of the day was the one that sets the course for this second chapter in our history: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). That is the center of our life and what God is asking of us! This is our vocation, and our mission is to carry out this stage, living these words of Christ.

…..Mary’s closeness fills us with peace and fortitude. Humanly, we are aware of our weaknesses; however, Mary shows us that God carries out his works and his marvels, such as those we experience every day, in humility. How grateful we are to God for the charism we have received, into which we have to penetrate more deeply every day: knowing, living, and sharing God’s merciful love! We have all experienced its fruitfulness in our lives and so we are deeply grateful to him for it. May he grant us the grace of keeping and transmitting it faithfully. This is a time to explore deeply the one thing that is important so as to fill ourselves with Christ, and live and help others to live his commandment of love: this is how people will tell who we are.

In their press conference Javier Bravo and Osvaldo Moreno further demonstrated Legionary under-visitation spin. Bravo claimed that post-scandal defections from the Legion are few; that, with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity, they are still the among the fastest growing congregations in the church; that “the charism of the Legionaries [the word they use to allude to their irreformable approval] comes from the model of the imitation of Christ. Father Maciel with his nature and his reality, with many successes, but also with his faults, was only an instrument. The congregation does not follow Father Maciel, but the model of Christ. The priests who are ordained do not seek to be like Father Maciel, they are following Christ.” The spokesmen echoed the language of Bertone’s March letter: “Even if he was the founder, the educational, social, and religious work goes beyond the figure of that priest.”

It is in a way comforting that when Legionary spokesmen mislead it is so easy to recognize. Bravo claims the Legionaries don’t need their founder as a model in the same breath he refers to Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity. But if they no longer take Maciel as a model, that is indeed authentic reform. The First Legionary General Chapter, for example, held in 1980 that “it has been ordained by God that the person and life or Our Father Founder cannot be separated from the life and spirituality of the Legion (469)” and that “the writings and conferences of Nuestro Padre should constitute, along with the Gospel of Christ, the principal source of inspiration… (184.1)”

The Legionaries act as if they can proceed without having to admit publicly or accept the consequences of anything. And they will get away with it if the visitation proves a whitewash. But it’s one thing for Benedict to send mixed signals, ordering a visitation one day and blessing a Legionary cornerstone the next, and another for him to allow the Legionaries, trying to maintain their statistical place as the Church’s foremost recruiters, to accept a new year’s class of apostolic school students, co-workers, novices, and vow takers before the questions of the visitation are settled.

Repeated statements, as by Bravo and Moreno, of “shock y dolor” at the February revelation dull the memory of how some Legionary superiors knew about it already by the summer of 2008 or how even Bravo himself, according to Proceso, said that the Legionaries knew the Vatican knew about it all even before Maciel died in January 2008. Bishops, theologians, recently former Legionary priests, concerned parents, all might prefer radical supervision or resolution before new classes are admitted, but their outrage will eventually cease to crash on the rock of Church administration.

Whether it is Father Reilly in St. Louis or Father Corcuera in Jerusalem, the Legionaries, all soothing, publicly downplay the possibility of hazard in the visitation. It’s unnerving to hear Legionary spokesmen, supposedly Catholic, defiantly paraphrase Nietzsche, as did Bravo when he said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you better.” (“Lo que no te mata te hace major.”) Legionaries whistle in the dark and claim it’s the music of the Holy Spirit. But maybe it’s just the music of Kanye West:

(Work it harder, make it better)
N-n-now that that don’t kill me
(Do it faster, makes us stronger)
Can only make me stronger…