'True believers' on Maciel still kicking

Last fall, I wrote a piece on the progress of a Vatican-supervised reform of the Legionaries of Christ, the religious order founded by the late Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, in the wake of revelations that Maciel was guilty of various forms of sexual and financial misconduct.

At the time, I distinguished three currents with the Legionaries and their lay branch, Regnum Christi:

  • “True believers,” who play down Maciel’s failures and see current events as a trial sent by God;

  • “Realists,” who accept Maciel’s guilt and the need for reform, but who believe the vision and structures of the Legion are fundamentally sound;

  • “Root and branch reformers,” who essentially want to start over, beginning with getting rid of the current crop of superiors.

Though official acknowledgment of Maciel’s “reprehensible actions” by the Legionaries in 2010 obviously constituted a massive blow to the “true believer” camp, a widely read blog this week from an influential Mexican member of Regnum Christi shows that it still has some gas left in the tank.

See this related story: Victims of Legionaries founder to get hearings.

The blog came from Lucrecia Rego de Planas, a Mexican laywoman and editor of “Catholic.net,” one of the most popular Catholic web portals in Spanish. In the posting, she suggests that “there is something yet to be discovered” about the supposedly “incontrovertible proof” shown to Pope Benedict XVI demonstrating Maciel’s guilt.

Rego de Planas takes her cue from the words of Christ in Matthew 7:17: “Every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” She notes that Benedict XVI and other senior Vatican officials have repeatedly praised the zeal and deep faith of the Legionaries, and suggests that leaves only two options: either Jesus was a liar, or there’s something amiss about the case against Maciel.

She does not offer any specifics, but she indirectly suggests that the jury is still out on Maciel, saying the last word will not be spoken until “Judgment Day.”

Rego de Planas also suggests that Benedict XVI must be wrestling with this dilemma, quoting his recent comment in the book-length interview Light of the World that Maciel was an “enigmatic figure.”

In the book, Benedict also refers to the “adventurous, wasted, twisted life” led by Maciel, and refers to him as a “false prophet,” while also insisting that “by and large the congregation is sound.”

While the Legionaries have officially accepted Maciel’s guilt, the Rego de Planas blog offers confirmation that within the broader Legionary and Regnum Christi network, there remain influential figures who believe that Maciel may one day be vindicated, or at least that his responsibility may be mitigated.

Jim Fair, a spokesperson for the Legionaries in the United States, told NCR this morning that Rego de Planas' comments "in no way represent the official position" of the Legion or Regnum Christi.

Fair also said that the position reflected in the blog represents a diminishing camp within the Legionaries' network.

"Everyone I know gets it," Fair said.

Rego de Planas noted that Sunday, Jan. 30, marked the three-year anniversary of Maciel’s death, which she said would be observed with penitential Masses around the world.

In the meantime, the leadership of the Legionaries continues to deal with the fallout from Maciel’s life, including possible payouts for children he reportedly fathered out of wedlock, as well as former Legionaries who claim they were sexually abused by Maciel.

Earlier this week, the Legionaries announced the creation of a “Commission for Reconciliation”, the purpose of which is to examine requests for financial compensation or other actions from Maciel’s victims. The commission will examine each case and prepare a detailed report for Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, Benedict XVI’s delegate to lead the Legionaries through a process of reform.

A statement from the Legionaries said the commission will not interfere in cases currently underway in either civil or church courts, but will respond to requests for action from those hurt by Maciel.

“We intend to continue to face our recent history with seriousness and responsibility, as it regards the conduct of Fr. Marcial Maciel and the implications and consequences it had for some people,” said Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, Maciel’s successor as superior of the Legionaries.

“We want, as much as humanly possible, to close the most painful aspects of this chapter, seeking reconciliation and making sure that justice and charity prevail,” Corcuera said.

The “Commission for Reconciliation” will be headed by Italian Monsignor Mario Marchesi, a personal adviser to De Paolis. Its other members will be:

  • Fr. Florencio Sánchez, a Legionary priest and chaplain at the Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, Spain;

  • Eduardo Robles-Gil, director of a Regnum Christi section in Mexico City;

  • Fr. Silverio Nieto Núñez, a priest of the Madrid archdiocese and former judge and magistrate who today directs the Civil Justice Service of the Spanish bishops’ conference;

  • Dr. Jorge Adame Goddard, a law professor at the Panamerican University in Mexico.

According to the Legionary statement, anyone wishing to be heard by the commission can contact it at the following address:

“Comisión de Acercamiento”
c/o Legionari di Cristo
Via Aurelia, 677
I – 00165 Roma
E-mail: acercamiento@legionaries.org

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