The Crucified Christ by Peter Paul Rubens (painted c. 1610-11)
How many of you remember the story about the saint who sued one of his critics?
Doesn't ring a bell? That's because most stories involving persecution in the lives of the saints detail saints who remained silent after being criticized and who responded to the worst sorts of calumny and detraction with dignity, long-suffering, and grace.
The Legion of Christ has decided to go a different route. The Legion of Christ is suing ReGAIN, an organization comprised of former members of the Legion and its Regnum Christi movement.
This is a bit of an about face for the Legion of Christ.
The Legion was quick to paint Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, as silent 'like Christ" after Fr. Marciel was disciplined by the Holy See on May 19, 2006 and formally "invited" to restrict himself "to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry" in the wake of multiple allegations of pederasty from multiple alleged victims.
Details about that can be found here: Fr. Maciel Is Disciplined by the Holy See: What Will the Legionaries Do Now?
The official communiqué from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado on May 19, 2006, said (in part):
"Beginning in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received accusations, already partly made public, against Fr. Marcial Maciel...for crimes that fall under the exclusive competence of the congregation.... After having attentively studied the results of the investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith...decided -- bearing in mind Fr. Maciel's advanced age and his delicate health -- to forgo a canonical hearing and to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry. The Holy Father approved these decisions."
The Legionaries and Regnum Christi (the Legion's lay affiliate) followed that official communiqué from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with an official statement of their own on May 19, which said (in part):
"Facing the accusations made against him [Maciel], he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way."
The Legion's reaction to the allegations against Fr. Maciel prior to his being disciplined by the Holy See was similar to their reaction after the "invitation" for Fr. Maciel restrict himself "to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry". Prior to this disciplinary action, the Legion and its associates painted Fr. Maciel as a saint and the allegations were portrayed as a purification. This is best demonstrated by a web page written by a Legionary priest. The site documents founders of religious orders who were victims of persecution: Founders – Cross and Resurrection in the Life of Some Founders
Rorate Caeli had an excellent analysis of the Legion's statement following the disciplinary action against Fr. Maciel here: Church is Sanhedrin, Pope is Pilate, Maciel is Jesus
Jimmy Akin's take is here: The Fr. Maciel Matter
As Brian Mershon said: Someone is lying ... but is it the 100 alleged abuse victims or Fr. Maciel?
According to The National Catholic Reporter, which is an admittedly liberal publication, but one that tends to get its facts right:
Rumors of various sorts have long dogged the Legionaries' founder. In 1956, he was deprived of his faculties to govern the Legionaries and sent into exile in Madrid while a canonical investigation was carried out. Charges at the time did not include sexual abuse but other matters such as excessive control over seminarians, theft and drug abuse. In 1959, the investigation cleared Maciel, and he was restored to his functions as superior general.
Maciel later referred to this period of trial as "the Great Blessing."
Complaints of sexual abuse first surfaced in the late 1990s, when nine former members of the Legionaries filed a canonical complaint against Maciel with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, alleging that they had been abused by Maciel as seminarians and young priests. Those acts, according to the accusers, dated to a period from 1943 to the early 1960s.
The Legionaries, and Maciel personally, strenuously denied the charges.
"Before God and with total clarity of conscience I can categorically state that the accusations brought against me are false," Maciel wrote in April 2002.
One of the original accusers later recanted; another died.
The accusations became public through 1997 articles in The Hartford (Conn.) Courant by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner and in the National Catholic Reporter, based on the Courant story. The two reporters filed another major piece on the case for NCR in December 2001, noting that canon lawyers in Mexico and the Vatican had found the accusations to be credible but that then-Cardinal Ratzinger had halted the investigation of the charges in 1999.
Berry and Renner co-authored the book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Free Press), which is in part about the Maciel case.
According to Renner's and Berry's earlier reporting, the nine who originally brought accusations claimed that Maciel "first abused them when they were between the ages of 10 and 16, sometimes telling them he had permission from Pope Pius XII to engage in sexual acts with them in order to gain relief from pain related to an unspecified stomach ailment."
After the case was reopened in 2004, the congregation's promoter of justice, Maltese Msgr. Charles Scicluna, began to collect additional testimony. Sources told NCR that the eventual number of accusers who came forward against Maciel was "more than 20, but less than 100."
The Legion of Christ has many critics. See: Why Orthodox Catholics Are Angry With the Legion of Christ, by Michael Rose.
Apparently the Legion of Christ has abandoned the innocent Lamb led to the slaughter defense and has decided to take a different approach in response to their critics. Until now, the Legion of Christ has reacted to such criticism by alternating between good old-fashioned clericalism (the cronyism and cloistered political environs of the Church, often hiding behind the pious notion that one should never criticize a priest, religious, or bishop) and the tried and true mantle of self-professed martyrdom and perpetual/professional victimhood, but claims of martyrdom and victimhood haven't won many converts in the court of public opinion, and neither have comparing themselves to Christ and His saints, so The Legion of Christ has decided to take their critics to civil court instead.
Matt Abbott writes:
According to a ReGAIN news release, the Legion of Christ will appear in the Circuit Court of Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 22 to demand a pre-trial seizure of the organization's property, including computers, files and e-mails.
Matt Abbott has the story here: Legion of Christ sues opposition group
ReGAIN documents the often tragic experiences of many former members of the Legion and its Regnum Christi movement. The common themes among these former members include charges similar to the ones from the past: excessive control over seminarians, but they also include allegations of a cult of personality, clericalism, and high pressure tactics to get members to join, stay, and donate money. Many of the stories from former Legionaries and former members of Regnum Christi sound like the stories one hears from people who have left a religious cult. In some ways, the ReGAIN website reminds me of Operation Clambake, a site that documents the history and inner workings of Scientology from the perspective of former Scientologists.
You can check out the ReGAIN website here: ReGAIN
The Church of Scientology is notoriously litigious. Some have claimed that the Church of Scientology openly harasses and persecutes its critics both through legal channels and by other means. It would be sad to think the Legion of Christ has opted to devolve into that same sort of behavior instead of recognizing that whatever their own perceptions, people claim to have been deeply hurt – emotionally and spiritually – by The Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and then engaging in humble self-reflection about how to make amends with these people and reform the order.