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Legionaries leashed.

As noted by several blogs this week, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore has issued a letter to the Legionaries of Christ and its lay movement Regnum Christi requiring them to inform him of all their activities within the archdiocese--including names of priests, recruitment methods, the locations and schedule of their meetings, and descriptions of all their youth activities. The archbishop also barred them from conducting one-on-one spiritual direction with minors.John Allen has the story (along with an excellent interview with O'Brien):

The ban on counseling minors, OBrien said in an interview with NCR on Wednesday, is related to concerns that the Legionaries and Regnum Christi practice heavily persuasive methods on young people, especially high schoolers, regarding vocations.(...)I want to ensure that encouragement of vocations is carried out in a way that respects the rights of parents in the upbringing of their children and the rights of young persons themselves to be able to make free and fully informed decisions about their futures, OBrien wrote.Finally, OBrien asked to be updated every six months about the activities and objectives of Legionary and Regnum Christi groups in the archdiocese.The June 6 letter, OBrien told NCR, represents a last-ditch effort to repair relations. OBrien said he actually reached a decision two to three months ago to ask the Legionaries and Regnum Christi to leave the archdiocese, but was persuaded to stay his hand by three Vatican cardinals who asked him to meet first with Corcuera.That meeting, OBrien said, took place earlier in June.In the NCR interview, OBrien also expressed skepticism that the Legionaries will be able to implement needed reforms until they come to terms with seemingly persuasive evidence that Maciel, the founder, engaged in activity that was less than honorable, and maybe even sinful.

Throughout the interview, and to his great credit, O'Brien doesn't attempt to hide his skepticism of the Legionaries. He candidly admits the archdiocese's alarming level of ignorance regarding their activities. O'Brien cannot say whether the Legionaries have generated a lot of vocations. More troubling, O'Brien explains that for Regnum Christi's father/son weekends, "the father drives 14 hours, brings the kid up to New Hampshire and drops the kid off at 11 at night. Where's the father going to stay? Well, there's a place about 40 miles away, so the father's sleeping in the car overnight. Next day they're ready for the hike, but no, the fathers don't go, it's just the counselor and the kids. That's the tendency." And, according to O'Brien, the archdiocese can't get a straight answer about who's responsible. "Each time you meet with an official, [they say,] 'Oh, no, that didn't happen, did it? You should have let us know right away. That's not right.' But it happens over and over again." Over and over.And if the Legionaries don't comply, Allen asks, "you would be willing to take that next step of barring them from the archdiocese?""I think we'd have to." In fact, as O'Brien tells Allen, he was "tantamount" to barring them from the archdiocese a few months ago, but the Holy See asked him to hold off until meeting with the Legionary superior general.There's much, much more worth reading in the interview. Read the whole thing right here. It's rather stunning.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Any group that operates "baby seminaries" will have a hard time convincing me that it gives prospective enrollees the opportunity "to make free and fully informed decisions about their futures." Given that many of these kids have parents who belong to Regnum Christi, I suspect such kids are faced with a "double whammy" in terms of pressure to attend the seminary.In light of all the problems associated over the years with kiddy seminaries, I'm surprised any bishop would allow such recruitment in his (arch)diocese. However, I'm not at all surprised by the Vatican intervention described by Allen. Rome apparently still doesn't "get it" to this day, the pope's recent PR job in the United States notwithstanding.

That's absolutely amazing.

O'Brien deserves a lot of credit for this. The Legionnaires were the poster children of the Vatican for a long time. Further, a lot of orthodox, right wing energy has been invested in them. Benedict acted. Now the job appears incomplete. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Encouraging to see a bishop act according to his conscience. This is the true tradition of American bishops. Historically, bishops were mainly responsible to the people in their diocese. Pius IX changed the culture a bit. Whatever one says about the late Cardinal Spellman, he was a person who knew that a bishop had to serve his diocese first. If Spellman backed someone in his diocese, no one in Rome dare go against that.Hooray for O'Brien on this one.

I am not a fan of the LC, but will give them credit for one thing. I have visited Jerusalem 6 times over the past 20 years and have always stayed in the Notre Dame Centre. For years it was run by the Augustinians and a few years back it was given over to the LC by JPII.They cleaned it up, added some excellent art work, refurbished the chapel in a very nice way. They also are consummate businesspeople and I have been solicited regularly for a donation.The 2 men in charge look like Wall Street execs and are smooth operators.

The Japanese bishops have gone to enormous trouble and expense to close down a Neocatechumenal Way seminary that has been causing lots of problems here in Japan. Though they at last received permission from the Pope to do so, it is not clear that the group will not find a loophole, thanks to protectors in the Vatican. John Paul II undercut episcopal authority by giving autonomy to Opus Dei and other right-wing movements, and the fabric of church life is paying the price.

I had a student back in the mid-80's who felt that he had a vocation to become an LC. The vocation recruiter came over from Paris to meet the boy and his family. The youngster was gifted in music and the ease with which he mastered foreign languages. After he graduated from Catholic High School, he entered the Novitiate in Paris. His family did not see him for twoyears. The boy wanted to work in music and with youth. The vocation recruiter assured the young man that he would get his wish. And, assured the vocation recruiter, "The Holy Father(JPII) loves and blesses our religious community." As far as I know, the young man is still aLC.

One interesting sidelight in Allen's story was that "3 Vatican Cardinals" contacted O'Brien to try to reach some rapprochemnet before asking LC to leave.Who were they and what were their motives?

Archbishop O'Brien deserves a great deal of credit for taking a very fair-minded - even open minded - approach to the Legionnaires and clearly explaining to everyone why he is doing what he is doing. It seems clear that LC/RC has been playing games with the Archdiocese. The Archbishop's directives to (a) disclose their activities to the Archdiocese and (b) abide by rules concerning recruitment of minors are indeed not very burdensome requests. If LC/RC continues to play games and is booted from the Archdiocese, they will have no one to blame but themselves, and no one will be able to seriously believe that they were the victims of a heterodox/liberal - or tyrannical episcopal - vendetta or otherwise required to assimilate into the establishment American Catholic "borg." On the other hand , I'm not opposed to high school seminaries, and there is nothing wrong with fostering vocations amongst high school students in itself. However, the stories about them manipulating young men in cult-like ways are quite a different story.

If only more bishops had the courage to do what Archbishop O'Brien is doing - fair but comprehensive accountability and requiring this group to be transparent.If you want some more history on how the Legionnaire's got to be named a papal apostolate answerable to no one but the pope, read "The Power and the Glory" by Daniel Yallop. His argument is that the Banco Ambrosiano scandal with Bishop Marcinkus required a financial bail out - the Legionnaire's provided this money and were granted their papal apostolate by JP II. In addition, JP II paid numerous compliments to Maciel while ignoring his sexual abuse history.Some full disclosure - I do not believe that high school seminaries are psychologically healthy and will not lead to a resolution of the lack of priests. I helped close the high school seminary and college seminary I attended and transitioned to healthier houses of formation located on college campuses requiring men to live in the real world. I am concerned by Legionnaire high schools (e.g. Dallas, TX) that operate as separate boy/girl institutions on the same property - reminds me of the studies in the 1970's that indicated most US Catholic priests were psycologically immature.

I've heard it suggested that, abusive founder side, one of the reasons the Legionnaires generate so much friction in the US is that their order doees not originate from the First World, and embodies expectations and practices that might make more sense in certain third world cultures. I'm not trying to defend the order. Nor do I think that all cultural differences are morally neutral. But I wonder if at least some of the general impression of the order - the secrecy, the unaccountability, the high-handedness, the culture of absolute loyalty, the recruitment of very young men - might be more familiar in cultures other than our own.

John Allen has a couple of interviews and comment on O'Brien's move and the Legionnairies response. Very interesting in terms of this string of thoughts. By the way, the Legionnaire's enjoyed the overwhelming response and admiration of JPII and his secretary, now Cardinal Dwiswz. It appears that there are a number of Cardinals who are exerting pressure to maintain, support, and encourage the growth of the Legionnaire's even in the face of some significant issues e.g. B16 has pressured them to drop certain secret rules; modify some practices, etc. without making any type of formal statement or demand.Shortcut to:

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