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Rome must take control of the Legion crisis

February 5, 2009

When catastrophe strikes (or finally erupts within, however one prefers to see the Legion crisis) a major institution in the Church, a thousand voices go off at once. It can be difficult to distinguish among them. I leave it to my readers to decide whether my opinions are conducive to responsible governance in the Church, but I do ask that only my views be attributed to me, even if some of my views overlap in places with those of others with whom I would, in fact, disagree in many respects.

1. The second “official” Legion response, this one from Fr. Paolo Scarafoni, LC, in Rome, is out, and it is almost as worthless as yesterday’s from Jim Fair. More palaver about finding “certain aspects of [Maciel’s] life that are very hard to understand” and which “were not appropriate to the life of a priest.” Amorphous ‘rights of privacy’ are invoked as if their mere assertion should silence every questioner. “Facts”, though completely unspecified, are “admitted”. Such comments are useless. They sound like phrases lifted from a 1980s ecclesiastical PR handbook and they give more evidence, I think, that Legion leadership truly has no idea how to respond to this situation.

For the record: No one is asking for the name(s) of Maciel’s child/ren, or the name(s) of the woman or women involved; the immediate questions here are simple: did Maciel sire one or more children with one or more women while he was running the Legion; did Maciel take money donated to the Legion (afoul of 1983 CIC 1267 for starters) to pay off mistresses or to make child-support payments; who in the Legion knew of or suspected Maciel’s sexual liason(s); and who in the Legion abetted such payoffs as might have been made? If the answers to these questions in turn lead to discoveries of additional canonical or civil misconduct by Maciel and others, and they very well might, so be it. One must start somewhere.

2. Based on everything I’ve seen so far,* I do not think Legion leadership is able to conduct the kind of investigation that is necessary here, and at this point the credibility of any Legion-led inquiry would be near zero. In my opinion, the best thing for the Legion to do is to ask the pope for an independent investigation, “a visitation”, by two, at most three, prelates who really know how to get hard answers to embarrassing questions, who can see through financial obfuscations and moral rationalizing, and who are not afraid to confront ingrained, systemic denial behaviors. These prelates should make use of canonists, civil lawyers, and accounting experts, to be sure, but also, I think, they should seek out a few carefully selected Legionaries, say, some priests in the order long enough to know its operations, but far enough away from leadership to allow them to be objective in advising the investigators. Doubtless such men exist.

If the Legion does not ask for such an investigation, Rome should impose one without its consent. Quickly.

3. I don’t think that an investigation of the Legion should be carried out by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, this for at least two reasons. First, the Congregation still needs to be able to interact with the Legion on routine business while an unprecedented investigation into the Legion is going on; conducting regular business with an institute while at the same time carrying on a comprehensive investigation of it is at best awkward, perhaps even damaging. Second, a truly independent investigation will eventually need to inquire into the Legion’s interactions with Congregation officials over the years, and those officials need the freedom to answer frankly.

One thing is sure: Rome’s handling of this crisis will itself be subject to evaluation in the public arena, so it had better be effective, and be seen to be effective.

More as circumstances warrant and permit.

* I can now add Fr. Alvaro’s letter to Regnum Christi to the examples of how adrift Legion leadership is. First, Legion statements, such as they are, are coming out haphazardly. Somebody has to be named the spokesman here. I suggest that spokesman be a priest. And LC websites (which, last I checked, still had no hint of the slightest problems), should be used as archives of Legion responses. Currently, people must visit a number of websites, secular and Catholic, news and opinion, to get anything like an official read on the Legion’s position.

Anyway, the great part of Alvaro’s letter could have been written by any pastor to any flock in this Valley of Tears, in other words, most of it is not remotely responsive to the Legion crisis. Worse, the very few comments about Maciel (whose name is avoided) are either laudatory (for crying out loud!!) or are no more critical than “he was a man”. In short, more idiot-children language. Additional platitudes follow, interwoven with pietisms which suggest that no leadership is going to be exercised by Legion shepherds, only quiet commiseration with the sheep.

I doubt any point would be served by parsing additional statements, if any, from the current Legion leadership; they must all be benched, now, and competent people put in charge of responding to this worsening disaster.

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