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.

1 comment:

  1. See "Baltimore and the Legion of Christ, Tuesday, June 17, 2008,at First Thoughts, a First Things blog.