In his recent letter/Christmas card to the LCs, Fr. Heereman finds something divinely providential about the scheduled start of the General Chapter being so close to the Christmas season.
The control obsessed creation of Fr. Maciel has an inglorious history of scheming, plotting and hatching its plans, only to attribute the results to divine intervention, so any insight of the superiors as to the mysterious workings of God’s providence should immediately trigger the gag reflex of the impartial observer. It is especially brazen – or clueless – on Heereman’s part to invoke ‘providence’ regarding the carefully choreographed Chapter on any level. One might reasonably object that the Legion has done everything possible to preempt all divine action from its upcoming victory party, fearing that God’s ways may not, in fact, coincide with the Legion’s well laid plans.
The LC posits as the task of the Chapter two goals: elect a new cadre of superiors and approve a re-elaboration of the Constitutions. Once done, the world will behold and applaud a shiny, new, scandal-free, unimpeachable and critic-resistant Legion. The Church will emit a profound sigh of relief that its temporarily tarnished favorite son has come home and can resume its role as ultimate hope of humanity. Why, then, on the threshold of this divinely providential miracle of rebirth is there so little enthusiasm, such deep apprehension and skepticism among the rank-and-file of the Congregation?
There may be a number of factors contributing to the pervasive ennui of Legionaries and members of the RC that have held on this long. Some are fairly obvious.
First, regarding the orchestration of the Chapter itself, its self-defined objectives were tainted and skewed from the outset. The game of musical chairs with the superiors began when the LC could no longer pretend not to hear the clamor for leadership different from the hand-picked minions of Fr. Maciel. Lists were drawn up and the more notorious remnants of the old guard were shuffled around to make room for reliable, sometimes younger substitutes. Yet the supreme criterion for assuming any real role in the government of the Legion continues to be ‘loyalty’. Non-dissenting, unquestioning fealty to the myth, the established story-line, the core convictions imparted over the years by Maciel to his followers. Any changes made up to now in the roster of superiors have been, at best, cosmetic.
This ‘rearranging of the deck furniture on the Titanic’ was the prelude to the election of participants in the Chapter. Those attending the Chapter in function of their positions in the hierarchy are one thing. No surprises there. But look at the list of the elected: in their majority, they are relatively newly appointed superiors or relatively recently dethroned superiors. Coincidence? Divine providence? There is not one Chapter participant that offers the slightest hope of independent, self-critical thinking, much less courageous dissent. How will the Legion that evolves from the Chapter be significantly different from the one that limped into it?
Add to that the discomforting twists of plot over the past few weeks: De Guedes bails out, Izquierdo and other superiors are implicated in abuse allegations, Sabadell writes a public letter of contrition that embarrasses the Congregation for what it has never done, and the Ortega-Sanchez telenovela plays out in all its disturbing hilarity… These men are the heralds of reform? Does anyone inside or outside the Legion truly think that the Chapter will be capable of the profound soul-searching and drastic decisions necessary to honestly rid itself of the spirit and stench of Fr. Maciel?
Similarly, the second objective of the Chapter, the approval of a rewritten Constitution, has been prepared through a process that is hardly above suspicion. A commission was named to revise the fundamental document of the Congregation. It met behind closed doors and scripted the rough draft of a modified text which was sent off for supposedly open discussion to the LC communities who were free to offer what additions, omissions or suggestions they deemed appropriate. Sounds legit, right?
The introductory letter that accompanied the draft and its copious explanatory notes are a mysterious mix of candor and camouflage. The letter strangely admits that a task that was initially defined as a ‘review’ of the existing versions of the CLC (4!) was soon redefined as a necessary rewriting (“reelaboración”) of the constitutions from top to bottom. It is unclear what, exactly, in the initial proceedings of the commission convinced De Paolis that he should urge a more radical approach.
The ‘open discussion’ of the communities consisted for the most part in a series of meetings under the vigilant eye of the superior in which certain numbers of the draft were selectively subjected to commentary. The process was fundamentally undermined by a lack of information and transparency.
Imagine you are the typical LC called to a meeting and asked to offer critical commentary on the Constitutions. How is this possible? Yesterday the CLC was the unquestionably inspired will of God that regulated even your deepest motives and attitudes… yesterday the CLC was the object of adoration right next to the Blessed Sacrament every 29th of June (remember how we’d go up and have to kiss the little red book as we left the chapel?)… yesterday our Founder solemnly prophesied: “Si me buscan, me encontrarán en las Constituciones.”… yesterday you were certain that the litmus test of a true co-founder was his faithfulness to the Constitutions…. And today you’re being asked to suggest changes to it? Is this a trap? Moreover, what’s wrong with it? Yesterday it was God’s will and today we’re rewriting it?
The truth is, the LCs have never been told what is wrong with the LC. (Not that many haven’t been able to figure it out for themselves…) Officially, Fr. Maciel was the problem. But he’s gone… right? So why and according to what should we change the Constitutions?
The root of the problem, that is, the inability of the LCs to make meaningful commentaries toward changing the Constitutions, is that the results of the Apostolic Visitation were never made known… not even in a summarized or redacted form. If you tell me what’s wrong with a text and what the final version should look like, I can take the text, remove or change what has been diagnosed as problematic and offer suggestions that will better approach the ideal. Without that information, what use are my commentaries? Where would I even begin?
One can only hope that the commission that wrote the current draft of the CLC DID see the results of the Visitation and DID receive very clear indications of what was to change. One can only hope that they took said indications seriously… but I have my doubts. Too much of what remains in the CLC as it goes into the Chapter is still couched in Maciel-speak… his expressions, his insidious way of messing with a person’s head and heart, his particular vision of the Church and the Legion… It just sounds too much like HIM.
There’s even an alarming footnote in the section that deals with the private vow that makes allowance for the possible reintroduction, at some stage, of the ‘vow of charity’ that was annulled by Pope Benedict. Yup. The single most destructive weapon in Maciel’s arsenal could conceivably make a comeback somewhere down the road.
Does this sound like a sincere effort to rewrite the Constitutions?
They should be actively and aggressively purging the Constitutions of every vestige of the Legion’s nefarious Founder and instead it seems that they are sowing the seeds for his eventual vindication.
The way in which the Legion has prepared the General Chapter to handle its twofold task of electing new superiors and approving new Constitutions leaves little doubt that ‘new’ is the last thing anyone participating in it really wants. Can you blame the members of the Legion for being less than enthusiastic about the whole thing?
Another, perhaps more reality-based reason for the unease, skepticism or indifference that the vast majority of Legionaries harbor towards the Chapter has to do with the personal situation of each member.
Most LCs are tired, even disgusted with the debacle that has thinned the ranks and flattened the morale of the Congregation since the secret lives of Fr. Maciel went public and the Legion was revealed to be a shameless, shallow, utilitarian dystopia.
For many, the outrage became an untenable issue of personal conscience and they did the only sane and noble thing: they left in protest and are serving the Church honestly and anonymously in a variety of ways, most notably the diocesan priesthood. We sincerely hope that many more walk away from the Legionary dumpster fire after the Chapter when things go ‘back to normal’. (Note to brother priests: Unlike the Legion, the Church NEEDS you and has many options of service open to you that do not require the misguided subservience that you’ve experienced up until now. Imagine that! You can be that fruitful, faithful priest the Church so desperately needs without all the scandal, deceit and narcissistic nonsense of the Legion!)
There are other LCs, perhaps the silent majority, who are equally and painfully aware of all that is wrong with the Congregation. Some of them have made a niche for themselves and find great purpose in their personal ministries. The essentials of life are taken care of for them, they are good priests and touch many lives… and the Legion basically leaves them alone. They may have to throw the superior a bone occasionally or sit through some of the idiosyncratic ordeals of community life, but all in all it’s not so bad. Leaving the Legion is a daunting proposition, full of risks and uncertainty. A man leaves the Legion basically with the shirt on his back and labeled a traitor or a quitter. So they stay: they’re neither stupid nor blind and they may, in fact, be quite unhappy with the way things are going in the Legion. But there is no acceptable alternative. To start over after 15, 20, 30 or more years in the Legion is just too much to ask. Better to fly under the radar, do good in one’s personal life and hope that the PTB don’t end up making a total mess of things.
A few of those that ‘see but stay’ are a bit cynical. They have carved out virtually untouchable positions of privilege for themselves, they come and go as they please, their credit cards never expire and no one ever calls them to the carpet. These are not superiors nor would they want to be superiors. They harbor no illusions about the Legion or its leadership, but would fight tooth-and-nail to preserve their lifestyle. They are the cheerleaders and toasters of the Legion. They are the spin masters and good-will ambassadors of the Legion. When pressed on any one of the unsavory aspects of the Congregation or the latest LC scandal they frequently fall back on the argument to end all arguments: “The Pope approves of us.”* They conveniently forget that for 70 years the Legion conned, duped and bamboozled Popes, bishops, Vatican functionaries and wealthy benefactors… all of whom “approved of the Legion”. It is unfair to put the onus of the LC’s disgrace on the Pope, but – short of admitting that the Legion was, is and always will be responsible for its own probity – who’s left to blame?
Anyway, the common denominator of the vast ‘see but stay’ group in the Legion is utter disinterest in the General Chapter, the Constitutions or any of the other documents or letters that the Matrix may churn out from Rome. It’s all good. Just leave me alone and I won’t be a problem.
Another group of LCs is made up of relative youngsters for whom Fr. Maciel is but a hiccup in the Legion’s otherwise fairytale existence. They don’t know and may never know the truth of the Legion. They trust the superiors and are hopelessly caught up in the hype and the hubris. Maybe these guys are excited about the Chapter, maybe ignorance is bliss…
Then there are the true believers for whom the so-called scandal of Fr. Maciel and ensuing criticism of the Legion is fruit of a huge conspiracy (maybe one of the many conspiracies that Nuestro Padre told us to look out for) or, at best, a big misunderstanding. The persecution is real and we have suffered greatly, but if we exhibit the appropriate contrition for crimes we never committed and humility toward our unjust aggressors… we shall rise again. Plans are already being made to revisit the history and writings of Fr. Maciel. The future will recognize what the present denies and he will be elevated to the ranks of the great saints and founders.
It would be nice to think that the believers are mostly the oldy-moldies who get wheeled out to the bancas for merienda-cena once in a while, but otherwise go unheard. However, moments like Pinelo’s rapture by the crypt of the Founder, immortalized by his waxing poetic online a few weeks ago, may indicate that the nostalgia is even more widespread. At any rate, the true believers will inevitably be disappointed by the Chapter for all the wrong reasons. The Chapter will ignore as best it can the Founder and the history of the Legion and will, in fact, talk about the Congregation as if it miraculously descended from heaven as we now know it. There will be no triumphant reaffirmation of Maciel, for now, and the believers will have to go on waiting… and hoping.
When all is said and done, it’s probably safe to say that the General Chapter of the Legion of Christ will achieve little, fool few and disappoint pretty much everyone. Happy freakin’ new year.
*(Or, since Pope Francis came on the scene, “The Pope hasn’t publically disapproved of us”).