No. Really. The Legion Should be Dismantled

Here’s why:

•It is deeply tragic that a priest has broken his vows, but as important as the matter is, it is the surrounding duplicity that is of far more concern, especially from a group that is trying to reform after decades of monstrous deceit;
•The most troubling element of the affair itself is that the child is referred to as “hers.” For a congregation that associates itself with the New Evangelisation, they have dropped the ball grievously on this point, since fatherhood is a particular area where the culture is lacking;
•Since it has been admitted that the child was born some years ago, recent events (book tours, speaking engagements, television appearances, promotional material) had to have been approved with the full understanding of the monumental hypocrisy involved;
•Either TW did this alone, or the Legion was complicit — and although they refuse to say when they knew, in such a case the refusal is damning in itself;
•We also know that the Legion only acted when their hand was forced by Patricio Serda, despite their laughable insistence that this, too, was the result of an internal investigation — if that were the case, then it would have come out a long time ago. The timing is clear: they could no longer maintain the pretense;
•Cardinal dePaolis’ response, “these things happen” beggars belief. One expects to hear that when sportscasters are announcing a quirky aspect to the game they’re covering — not from a “Prince of the Church” when responding to a grave breach of trust in a theological matter;
•The fact that TW taught Moral Theology at a seminary while harbouring such a secret is deeply unsettling; but another professor of moral theology scandalised LARC readers years ago by saying that the sexual abuse suffered within the Legion was known to him and not that bad;
•For years, TW has been the model Legionary, the “poster boy” as it were, filling the gap left by the previous model Legionary — MM himself; since the Legion hierarchy cannot find a model Legionary who is a man of integrity, are the superiors deliberately telegraphing something, or just confounded in their choices?
•It has to be noted that once again the temptation from within the L/R ranks is to cast aspersions on those who are horrified by this tragic news. Their own reactions are deflected so that critics are called mean, scandalous reactions are called “judgemental,” and there is the hasty [irrelevant] call for forgiveness;

The Legion leadership goes on doing what Maciel built that monstrous robot to do. It’s a fine piece of workmanship built by an organizational genius who also happens to have been deeply depraved. The robot continues doing what he built it to do long after he is dead. And so all the same stupid and evil defensive measures are taken on Williams’ behalf as they were on Maciel’s. And Legion defenders assist the robot by (still! after multiple lessons from Maciel, Euteneuer, and Corapi) indulging the foolish cult of Folk Hero worship, of attacking those who question the Folk Hero as enemies of the Faith, of being crushed yet again when the idol has feet of clay, and then battening on the *next* celebrity Folk Hero.

Take the Robot Monster apart piece by piece till there is nothing left. If the Legion, at this late date, still cannot confront these evils with anything other than the same wicked measures it took to defend Maciel, then it appears to be structurally incapable of doing so. Therefore, dismantle the structure. Machines don’t do what we want them to do. They do what they are designed to do. There are a lot of other apostolate out there that are *not* designed by monstrous fiends to exploit decent and good people. Let the many decent and good Legionaries devote their energies to one of these.

Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


  • Luis

    Thanks for your commentaries, Mark. I’m sure there are many things that I still don’t understand about the Church, mostly regarding these matters, but when I read your remarks I find things conclusions like, that the Legionares of Christ are as a whole a robot, created to deceive; I cannot but remember what I saw when I was studying theology in Rome: Hundreds of LC seminarians, whom I honestly think were witnessess of a sincere vocation with this group. How can anyone conclude that all of these men are but part of a big robot, created to deceive and not that God is calling them to participate of all the good things that the LC have done, is a mystery to me, man. How do you conclude that LC is a robot created to do one thing, when it is conformed by hundreds of men, whom God has endowed with a will and a capacity to freely choose what they want to do? How do you conclunde that whatever has gone wrong with some of it’s leaders is bigger than God’s purpose for bringing all of these men together and His grace to accomplish that? Honestly, bro; I don’t see it and I know, Mark; I could be wrong or blind, or both; but I still believe that God’s plan for this people is not what the minority of them have made of their own lives, by their own choice and I sitll believe that, that plan can come to fruition. I admire you in many ways, bro; but some times when I read some of the commentaries you and other Catholic theoligians write, I thank God that He did not think that way when He flooded the earth…if He had, we would not be discussing any of these things.

    • Tom K.


      I don’t know whether the LC needs to be dismantled, but everything you’ve said here was said ten years ago to explain why the charges against Maciel were false.

      “Doing good works” is not a religious charism. Do you have an opinion as to what charism the LC has that God called the LC seminarians to join in?

    • Matthew

      Personally what I find most distrubing is your concluding equation that to support the dissolution of the Legion is analogous to the destruction of the entire world.
      No, brother, the Legion is not the world. The dismantling of the Legion is best compared to the destruction of Sodom – they may appear successful and prosperous but underneath the system is ROTTEN.
      Thanks be to God for all the truly good and holy religious communities out there.

  • Charlotte

    Luis–Give credit to the Holy Spirit, not LC. God brings good out of evil, but evil is still evil.

  • Barbara

    Our pastor won’t allow any RC or LC activities at our parish since the Maciel scandal broke. He won’t bad mouth them, so if you ask him why he will only respond, “Because it’s my decision.” but I have wondered if he sees things as you do.

  • Gail Finke

    I have met many devout and sincere people who are part of the LC, including several priests and seminarians who seem to be find, upright men and are certainly beloved. The question is, does something about the Legion encourage this aberrant behavior among some? Or does this behavior happen everywhere from time to time? It seems to me, an outsider, that the LC needs some major reform, and perhaps even needs to be disbanded and reformed with a different name and a different structure and leadership. I know of a very small group of priests and lay people in my diocese that was disbanded after its founder (a priest) died. There was no wrongdoing, it was simply because the leader died unexpectedly and the group was still pretty new. Many people in the group continued what they were doing and it may eventually be official again with a different name and (obviously) different leaders. Others went on to other things and some of them are founding different but related groups as they adapt the charism of the old one to changed circumstances. Maybe this needs to happen at the LC as well.

    • Ted Seeber

      Here’s the thing I see that encourages the abhorrent behavior: The Legion has a reputation for running schools that “encourage” priestly vocations.

      That seems like a positive thing on the surface- but it is the type of surface positive thing that can hide a robust culture of abusers.

      So I’d say let the sunshine in. Make every legion owned school *required* to hire at least some non-legion teachers and administrators. Require background checks for legionaries, the same way every US Catholic Archdiocese now does. Require additional supervision- let no non-parent be alone with a child or children at all- not even the confessional unless it’s one of those old fashioned separate joined booth types with a screen between.

      And if anybody objects to this, then that piece of the institution gets dismantled.

      • Dan C

        Additionally, much is revealed in good forensic accounting. Many of their troubles surround power and money.

        Outside accountants should be brought and the goofiness reported publically if identified. Crazy contorted corporate relationships should be set square (I think of Zenit) and members should have access to its reports.

        I agree with Mr. Seeber’s approach to youth protection. Its the BSA program.

  • Anon
  • Matthew

    My own puzzlement is slightly different. I completely understand how people with good, noble, and pious intentions can be taken in by a religious charlatan like MM. The real puzzle is how to understand such people as continuing to be good, noble, and pious once they know all about the scam and yet continue on the path????

  • Luis

    On debating I have learned that when some people don’t have a strong enough argument their only way out is to intentionally exaggerate their oponent’s argument in order to make it look ridiculous. There’s nothing in my argument that is remotely intended to justify anything wrong some of the LC’s leaders have done and no…there’s nothing in my argument that points out to feeling that the world will end if the LC’s are supressed. Please, if you are going to refute my argument, then take what I have said and refute it, but don’t come up with this pittyful attitude of presenting a no-rebuttal to any of my points as a rebuttal to all of them. Perhaps you think you’re conservative enough to proclaim your opinions about why this evil community must be supressed…then again, so far, I think I’m standing on the Church’s side of wanting to save this religious community. What do you think…that you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or that you have a better opinion than the Vatican?

    • Tom K.

      Let me be clearer: Just as favorable impressions of LC seminarians were non sequiturs a decade ago when the question was Maciel’s guilt, so your favorable impression of LC seminarians is a non sequitur today, when the question is the suppression of the LC. A religious congregation is more than the union of its members, however holy they may be. For starters, there must be a charism, some gift of God given to the Church and the world through the congregation. As I said above, “good works” is not a charism.

      Mark’s proposition might be stated this way: The LC is not, in substance, a religious congregation; it is an elaborate confidence game with the appearance a religious congregation.

      That proposition may be false, but saying that some people treat it like a religious congregation is not evidence that it’s false, nor is pointing out the good works members of LC do.

  • Dan C

    Unless the disaster that is the LC is really publicized and opened to the world, the LC functions to “house” offenders who would scatter to the four winds and continue their individual shenanigans. It is not reasonable to expect a Vatican-directed “glasnost”-this isn’t really their strong suit. Destoying the LC eliminates the records of these men and sends them “clean” into the world. Keeping the LC concentrates these men in one place and lets them torture each other (rest assured, in an organization like the LC the secret of TW was used against him, and he used secrets against others). Since it is unreasonable to expect the LC to really “come clean” especially with Vatican direction, it would make sense to keep the LC men together in one place to let them “at each other” only.

    Sending them out into the world with their pasts erased (for that is what would happen) is a problem for those exposed to these people.

    Keeping them in the LC at least houses them all in one place with the scarlet letter “LC” on their shirts.

  • John

    How did Jews go on being Jews after King David’s crimes became known? Were his secret crimes caused by his Kingship and religion or merely made possible given the occasion of his power and position? We have to distinguish between individual members and “the system”: people are complex and so is the ‘system’ or charism – it’s not just what’s written in the Constitutions and “norms”; it’s also in how the members understand and live those norms “in praxis”.

    So for example, was Richard Nixon corrupted by the Presidency or was the Presidency merely an ‘occasion of sin” for him? Was the system rigged and designed only for crooks and liars or was it designed for good men but could lend itself to allow bad men great leeway for damage?

    No one joined the Legion in order to be a pervert or hurt people – that’s not how con men work. People joined because the ideals preached and held up for view were noble and good. Men joined the Legion because their priests said Mass with reverence. Were not shy about wearing priestly garb. Were manly in an age when most priests tried to blend in with the civilian population… their priests spoke openly about Jesus Christ, Mary, and obedience to the Pope and “bishops in union with him”. There were noble apostolates in schools, missions, helping the poor, working with the middle class and the wealthy for the sake of the Kingdom. Now Maciel certainly used the system to his advantage and it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that his prudential decisions as Superior General especially in the choice for major superiors ought to be scrutinized. It’s entirely reasonable to conclude that particular men might have been picked by him for certain positions so as to insulate himself from scrutiny whereas other men were “sent off to the missions” or far from where he was operating. But I highly doubt we can assume ALL superiors, formators, priests etc. can fall into that category.

    So you have 1,000 sincere seminarians who join an organization out of devotion and honest desire to help the Church and they live in community, attend daily Mass, say a daily rosary, spend at least 30 minutes in Eucharistic adoration daily (year round, rain or shine, in school and on vacation)… they lead lives of healthy exercise and work… they study and strive to be holy…. those are individuals, not cogs in a machine.

    So what exactly is this “machine” that you talk of? If it’s habitual ways of looking at things or organizing community life or overlooking particular areas – a type of ‘unwritten rule” or espri d’corps that’s inchoate and hard to pin down but is a sort of matrix of values…. um OK maybe. There’s certainly the cultural thing of Mexicans who, thanks to 100 years of official government persecution of the Church have developed a type of reflexive equivocal attitude about the law and honesty (saying “si si” or “que ya” when they really mean “no”) Plenty of American & German legionaries in the 1990s began to make noise about this tendency of Mexican and Spanish Legionaries to fudge the truth about little things – it came to a head in 1994 if memory serves and we strove to help our fellow brothers see that mental reservations – while they might be understood in Mexico are seen as “lies” in the US. Similarly with the RC movement’s praxis vs. the written doxis…. American and German Legionaries noticed a difference between what’s written in the rule book and what was actually practiced….if they had done things ‘by the book’ the RC would NOT have been promoted and pushed and expanded as rapidly as it was in the late 1990s because the proceedures for vocational discernment simply can’t be rushed. You can’t force tomatoes to grow and you can’t rush someone’s vocational discernment either. When you do, no one is helped.

    Virtually all of the genuine scandals caused by RC members can be attributed to 2 main factors: rushed and therefore incorrect vocational discernment (numbers for the sake of numbers) and a misuse of the concept of “discretion” as Americans understand it vs. how Mexicans understand it. The written doxis is correct – it’s the praxis that led to problems – and it was this divide that led to alot of Americans struggling with the ‘system’ in the late 1990s as we saw a divide between “what we signed up for” de jure and what was actually being promoted by our major superiors “de facto”.

    As you can see, it’s not a black and white “machine” – and this is why the Vatican is taking the reform route to separate what is good and worthy (the baby) from the bathwater.

    Individuals have free will and their own consciences – TW made his own choice in this scandal, the “system” didn’t set him up for a fall in chastity. That the order didn’t rush to the microphones to announce a scandal like this (no minor was involved in sex, no crime was committed as it was two adults and consensual, and apart from the child, no obligation mandating he immediate leave – as for all we know she might be married, the child might be perfectly cared for etc….) is understandable given all the other worse stuff they were dealing with. I agree that if I were TW I’d not have put myself forward as an author or TV personality or kept myself in a top slot in Rome. I’d have opted for some obscure post in the wilds… but again, compared with pedophilia, and perhaps with the event in the past.. who knows. But what I do suspect is that “the system” is not at fault here. So blaming the Legion for the choice of TW to have an affair or one-time fling (as we don’t know details) is absurd. They’ve got plenty of legitimate problems. But to assert that “the system” is breaking good men and making them monsters…. I don’t buy it.

    • Dan C

      Absolutely all promotions within that system need scrutiny. In such an organization, if large, many knew secrets. It seems that secrets are the routine in the organization. It is a system within accountability and transparency. There is no indication “glasnost” has come to the LC. Organizing such a group requires many leaders. Those who leave the LC often describe it as “escaping.” Theses stories are “legion.”

      Even still, I say eliminating the LC releases contagion.

      I don’t blame “systems,” I blame the people in the system, and this system, so large, required many to aid and abet its activity. (As far as “manliness,” it is not unusual for corrupt masculine organizational cultures to have a “masculine” identity.)

    • Zac

      You’re right to point out that the recent scandal does not prove Mark’s position (after all, the latest scandal could merely be coincidental). But Mark’s point is that the burden of proof for the existence of a religious order or congregation falls on the charism of its founder. Rather than asking ‘why should it be disbanded?’ Mark is asking ‘why should it exist?’ If the corruption of the founder was known from the beginning, it would surely never have been created.

      According to wikipedia, the Legion has since stated of its founder: “given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life.” and the Vatican reportedly denounced him “for creating a “system of power” that enabled him to lead an “immoral” double life “devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment” and allowed him to abuse young boys for decades unchecked.”

      If you take the attitude “why disband it?” then even the corruption of the founder is not a serious problem: just look for good things that can be salvaged, change the system a little, and voila. But if you ask “why should it exist?” the only real reason appears to be “because it can be salvaged”, and that’s not really a great reason from the perspective of founding a religious order or congregation.

    • BBane

      It is not “understandable” at all. AT. ALL. Perhaps it is understandable for a company bent on protecting its interests and keeping scandal from stockholders. (It would still be crappy morals, but “understandable” by the world’s view.) But let us not pretend there is anything defensible in an organization that so recently made (empty) promises to come out with the truth voluntarily, has made promises of reform, etc etc…. that has now gotten caught doing the very same thing again: hiding the sins of its superiors. So, did they know what this guy had done WHILE the Vatican dudes were touring around and interviewing and making recommendations to reform the org? Were those hiding him nodding complicitly to those Vatican reps while quietly discussing how to handle the TW problem in backroom meetings?

  • Br. Gabriel, OP

    We should be very careful here. Mercy is an essential ingredient to the Christian life – essential! Priests, religious, bishops, sisters, nuns, and monks are not absolved from the effects of original sin. We fail and fall just as much as everyone else. But, regardless, we must approach one of these with great mercy. Only the hardened sinner doesn’t care about how his weakness violates the people’s trust.

    We need to reflect on ourselves. Do we create a space for a person like this to be truly reconciled? If not, do we really believe in forgiveness? Do we really believe that people can change? Are we more insterested in feeling betrayed or in feeling concern for this errant priest?

    St. Catherine of Siena described the Church as concurrently a glorious king and a leper. Do we love the king more than the leper?

    • Dan C

      The question is the organization and its exercise of power and the decades of a culture of silence, corruption, the extensive maintenance of secrets and the way those secrets were used to control and manipulate. This is not about TW actually. Or even Maciel anymore. Its about the question: “What is going on there?” My answer is “containt the plague, avoid contagion.”

      You are shifting the question.

      • Br. Gabriel, OP

        I’m not shifting the question at all. The critique was the institution and the proof was the priest which was then linked with other priests with cult followings. I’m only addressing the second point because it was flawed. The first part, the critique of the Legion, is fair. The two are inter-related because a community that lives faithfully its regular life should act as a safeguard against a member of that community falling into grave sin. I think the critique of the core life of the Legion is that it doesn’t do that. This is most likely the case. However, we should take care to recognize that it was the manner of the religious life of the Legion that failed its priest. Also, those who approved the way of life of the community also have some responsibility for this failure. But this is a separate matter than my more narrow concern. Just because a cleric fails in virtue does not mean that he should be excluded from ministry. If so, St. Augustine, is just one example of a man who would not pass the rigors of our imposed perfectionism. Augustine is only the prime example of a much longer story of vicious men becoming saints through the possibility of real forgiveness.

        • Dan C

          “Just because a cleric fails in virtue does not mean that he should be excluded from ministry.”

          On this, I agree. The manner in which TW lives out his life, and is involved in the life of his child is actually something between TW and the child’s mother (and secondarily, his order). I think many options would be available. I think his role as a spokesman was not just poor judgement on the part of superiors who knew the about his child.

          Goofy stuff has been happening in that order that can be most easily explained by unfortunately depicting the activities of the leadership in Macchiavellian terms. So, how does a prominently placed person with such a past hold that position in the organization? Because he knows many secrets about others. This is the routine function of such environments.

          The people leading this organization are troubling. They should all be contained and supervised.

        • BBane

          Br. Gabriel, with all due respect, this is exactly the type of response that filled the internet at the beginning of the Fr. Corapi scandal. Pages upon pages of “well let’s not be JUDGING anyone or not FORGIVING”. Funny how that all kinda disappeared the more stuff came out.

    • Ted Seeber

      “So for example, was Richard Nixon corrupted by the Presidency or was the Presidency merely an ‘occasion of sin” for him? Was the system rigged and designed only for crooks and liars or was it designed for good men but could lend itself to allow bad men great leeway for damage?”

      Bad example. Every single President in my lifetime has been more of a crook and a liar than the one that preceded him. Even St. Ronnie. Even Gerald Ford.

      • Dan C

        Its a bad example because Richard Nixon did not craft the Presidency, choose his successors and select and promote those who would guide his organization for the next generation. The level of internal gamesmanship and politicking would be intense in such a hierarchical system with rewards for behavior that would be otherwise considered unethical. As predicted, individuals leaving the LC (who describe themselves as “fleeing” or as “refugees” often) describe such behavior.

  • Lenny

    John – your comparison using King David and the Jews is apples to mangoes. Being a Jew wasn’t a voluntary act, and the Jewish nation wasn’t set up as an addendum to something. A better analogy would be what would have happened to the Franciscan order if it St. Francis was found to be engaging in pedophilia or some other atrocity and used his order as a front for his crimes?

    Second, you talk of The scandles by “RC” members. I don’t know if you mean the Regnum Christi lay apostolate or the actual Legionaries of Christ. If you mean the LC seminary system and endemic of rushing vocations, simply looking for numbers, and overall lack of a consistent and cohesive formation, then you are dead on. This IMHO is the main issue with the Legion. I know way way too many former Legionaries who were in the system for 10+ years, the bulk of that time being spent out and about recruiting, running schools, being the “face” of the Legion only to have their vocation be questioned after they were used for a decade. Most of them questioned their vocation for years but were told to carry on, have faith, resist the temptation by the devil to questions God’s plan for them etc etc.

    Hence, you had (and still do) many LC’s with a shoddy formation. Eucharistic adoration, praying the rosary, excercise, community, and daily mass and self-generated study a priest does not make. That’s what I do and I’m a simple married man. Seminarian training and formation takes focused, constant, spiritually strong educational/spiritual/formative/psychological et al involvement. That’s why the LofC needs to be broken down and rebranded and focused. It’s unsustainable.

  • Elizabeth

    The Cardinal and the order have recently found numerous commonalities in the charism (not charity) in meetings in Rome in September 2012. Lenny, you do not know enough to assume shoddy formation. I think the Holy Father and the Cardinal are substantially more trusted authorities than you, as a simple married man. Please do not take offense. If there is room for improvement it can be taken care of, just as they have done in dioceses. The detailed personal lives of the early saints is simply not well known or documented, but there was certainly a time when celibacy was considered part of the vocation to priesthood or religious life. St Francis was not a priest, anyway. Cardinal DePaolis’ own order was founded to take care of Italian immigrants, and we do not say his order has no reason for being and that they have no valid charism any more just because Italians are not leaving their country in large numbers. This is not the way it works.
    To Br Gabriel, OP, how do you see the life of the Dominicans as protecting its priests and religious from such further sins and crimes as those committed in San Jose, CA? The scandal there was horrible and massive. How would you defend your own order?