Sandro Magister's latest newsletter has an exclusive interview with Fr. Thomas Berg, formerly of the Legionaries of Christ and now a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, and director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.
The interview has the following passages on the groupthink, false obedience and unhealthy exclusivism that has been inculcated into the minds of not a few Legionaries. As should be easily realized, these passages apply not only to the LC, but to many other major ecclesial movements and religious societies, some of which have the same inability to self-examine and to admit error, sometimes condemning even well-meaning and constructive criticism.
As someone who has friends in the Regnum Christi and who is aware of the good that God has drawn out from the works of the LC and RC, it is my humble prayer that the LC and RC -- and the other movements in the Church that now suffer from similar problems -- will move to a spirituality more in accord with the mind and tradition of the Catholic Church.
Q: What would be your suggestions to the five visitors?
A: I will limit myself to one overall suggestion: help the Legionaries to engage in an honest and objective self-critique. What I have found most unsettling of late is the kind of group-think that has settled in among the Legionaries: "We really don't think there is anything wrong with the internal culture of the Legion, but if the Holy See tells us to change things, we will." The docility to the Holy See, though laudable and correct, masks a huge internal flaw: the Legion's corporate inability to engage in a healthy self-critique. This is no time for a business as usual approach, but that has been the impression one generally gets from the Legionaries over the past five months of the crisis. That inability to see and honestly recognize the flaws and errors that so many people outside the Legion are able to see speaks volumes. The Legionaries should be reminded that it is not the task of the Holy See to reform the Legion. The Legion will only be genuinely reformed when it reforms itself from within. But that can only begin with a self-examination that arises from within the Legion and owns up to the Legion's errors.
Q: What are the issues you think should change in the internal culture of the Legion, especially related to the recently suppressed "vow of charity", meaning the vow not to criticize one's superiors?
A: At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle - in itself valid - that God's will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal "dependence" on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience.
Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding "reporting to," "informing," "communication with," and "dependence on" superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity.
More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors. Granted, the primary motivation behind such living of obedience is the ideal of total "immolation" of oneself for the love of Christ as embodied in the relentless living of all norms and indications of the superiors. This "immolation" of intellect and will is at the heart of the "holocaust" that the Legionary is invited to live for love of Christ and the Church. While the motivation is valid, and generations of Legionaries have pursued this in good faith, in the long run it not only proves profoundly problematic, but also explains the negative personality change which many, if not most, Legionaries undergo over time: the shallowness of their emotional expression, the lack of empathy and inability to relate normally to others in so many contexts, the general sense of their being "out of touch," etc. Only exceptionally do Legionary priests move beyond this, but only thanks to the multiple talents and human gifts they brought with them to the Legion.
Q: What elements do you find more disturbing and in need of special attention from the visitors?
A: Just to name a couple. Why, for example, were approximately 25 Legionary priests convoked yet again - as groups are every year - to a two-month long "spiritual renewal" at the Legion's center for spirituality in Cotija, Michoacan Mexico, housed in the very house (now retreat center and museum) that Fr. Maciel grew up in? Why there? Why in Cotija? Why now?
Why, furthermore, has the Legion continued to engage in vocation work? Now? In these circumstances? It would be a very honest gesture for the Legion of Christ to simply call a halt to all vocational work at least for the duration of the canonical visitation, and even better until it finally gets its house in order.
And one of my deepest concerns is that current Legionary seminarians are not presently in a position to adequately discern what Christ is calling them to do. And this is because they are systematically deprived of the kind of information they not only have a right to know but a fundamental need to know: a complete presentation of the basic facts of Fr. Maciel's double life; the understanding that the religious life, with its norms and internal discipline, they have come to live is deeply problematic and in need of thorough scrutiny and review; a thorough presentation of the reasonable criticisms that have been leveled against the Legion and Regnum Christi; and an honest admission on the part of the major superiors of the Legion's errors. We should all find it deeply disturbing that most Legionary seminarians - and the same can be said of consecrated members of Regnum Christi - to this day live their daily lives largely unaware of most of these things, shielded as they are from virtually all negative information about the Legion and Regnum Christi. Consequently, they lack the requisite interior freedom to genuinely discern God's calling in their lives at present. This is something to which the visitors need to pay careful attention.