Patrick Madrid doesn’t seem to be holding anything back in expressing his disgust with the duplicitous life of Fr. Maciel, the posthumously disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. I can remember attending a Regnum Christi retreat or conference around the year 2000 when Mr. Madrid was in attendance. Having recently published his second or third Surprised by Truth volume and having appeared on EWTN, he was a bit of a celebrity. The Legionary priest who was going to give him spiritual direction joked that Patrick was going to convert him and put his story in the next book. I relate this anecdote only to point out that Patrick hasn’t always been a critic of the Maciel legacy. Like many of us, he was, at least for a while, fooled by appearances.
The veil was torn, however, and now the whole Maciel affair constitutes a festering wound on the Body of Christ.
Accusations of misconduct by Maciel had been present for many years, but could not be proven. In the absence of indisputable evidence and in light of the apparent good fruits produced by the order and the movement that Maciel had founded, the accusations against him were dismissed as calumnies – baseless charges leveled by enemies of the gospel. The problem is, at least some of the allegations now appear to have been true, and it was the defenders of Maciel who were calumniating his accusers.
A year after Maciel’s death in 2008, it was revealed that he had lived a double life and had fathered at least one child. All those who had previously been encouraged to look to him as an example of holiness and tireless devotion to Christ were thrown into a state of spiritual turmoil and forced to re-evaluate everything that they thought they knew about their service to the Church through the Legion or Regnum Christi and everything upon which Maciel had left his mark. Some within the movement insisted that the approval of the order’s constitution by the Holy See was imbued with a degree of infallibility and that, as flawed a man as Maciel was, the Holy Spirit could still work through him to produce a great gift for the Church. Last year, the Vatican conducted an Apostolic Visitation of the Legionaries of Christ. A statement released by the Vatican at the conclusion of the Visitation noted that Maciel’s was “a life devoid of scruple and of genuine religious sentiment.”
I’ll leave it to others far more clear-thinking than I am to discuss what the future might hold for the Legionaries and Regnum Christi. George Weigel seems, to me, to be among the most lucid commentators on that front. However, over the last few weeks it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed to decide what, if anything, I would do. I found that I could not read the phrases “Maciel” or “Legionaries of Christ” or “Regnum Christi” without flinching.
The gospel reading from a few weeks ago was Matthew 7:15-20. When I read it, I was stunned into reflection upon the current mess. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Is this not an apt description of Maciel? “By their fruit you will recognize them.” When rotten fruit was presented to us, we denied it. We denied that it was rotten, or claimed that it came from some other tree. Then we pointed to the fruit that was still on the tree and claimed that it was beautiful and good to eat. Such good fruit couldn’t possibly come from a bad tree, could it? But Our Lord continues, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
So there you have it. If I were speaking to any other person, I would advise him to steer clear of any fruit from a bad tree. It isn’t necessary. There are plenty of good trees to pick from, so why take a chance? Are you going to trust yourself to discern the goodness of the fruit when you and so many others were wrong about the tree?
So what stopped me? It can only be the thing that brought me into the Regnum Christi movement to begin with – the individual persons with whom I share a common theological perspective and a desire to see an authentic gospel proclaimed. They are my friends, and I want them to remain so. I very much enjoy our discussions, and I feared that if I were to leave the movement I would find myself – alone. (Except for my dear wife, of course, who is shackled to me for better or worse.) I already feel like an alien in my parish, and if I had to give this up, I would be completely on my own, or so it seemed.
What attracted me to the movement is not unique to the movement, but was largely borrowed from other sources and packaged together as a collection of best-practices. There is no other group in our area, as far as I am aware, that offers the kind of interaction that occurs at our Encounters (in which we reflect upon the Gospel and discuss a case of life) and Study Circles (currently Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI) or the spiritual depth of the retreats (other retreats that I’ve attended have been distressingly shallow). However, I could not ignore the counsel of Christ. Whatever apostolic zeal I once had has already been greatly eroded by the scandal, and I didn’t see how it could return if I remained within a movement founded under such circumstances. There will forever be a cloud of uncertainty and doubt over the order and movement, thanks to the actions of the one who was called Nuestro Padre.
And so, what began with a letter requesting incorporation into the Regnum Christi Movement ends with a blog post announcing that I cannot, in good conscience, remain a member. I harbor no ill will toward other members, whom I still consider friends. Nor do I think any less of them for coming to a different conclusion than I regarding their own future in the Movement. Many of them have experienced the Movement as a vocation. I never have. I hope that they can understand and respect my decision.