Text: Open letter to Legionaries by Dr. Germain Grisez
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Posted with permission of the author February 5th, 2009.
This morning I found the attached Catholic News Service report posted on the National Catholic Register website, which suffices to convince me that the report’s content is substantially accurate. I attach it so that you may know exactly what has moved me to write this message to you, who are the only Legionaries of Christ I know well and regard as friends.
I hope that you will realize without my saying so that nothing true of Father Maciel could ever lessen my admiration and affection for you, my readiness to associate with you, and my desire to cooperate with you whenever our different vocations make doing so appropriate. As your friend, I am thinking about your plight, and wish to offer the help I can give you.
You must be feeling great pain at your spiritual father’s betrayal of Jesus, of his Church, and of you and all your good and faithful confreres. You also must be feeling great anxiety at the dimmed prospects for the unfolding of your vocations to priestly life and service. I try to imagine and do sympathize with those feelings and pray that the Holy Spirit will console you and strengthen you to console your good and faithful confreres.
In my draft of chapter three of my volume on clerical and consecrated service and life, I wrote:While good close collaborators never renege on their total self-gift, some do leave the diocese or institute to which they first committed themselves in order to enter another, form an entirely new institute, or undertake a different sort of consecrated life. But they only undertake such a change if convinced that God is calling them to make it. Many saints have discerned such a calling and responded. Their example makes it clear that their commitment to and membership in particular dioceses or institutes is a stable but not always unalterable way of carrying out their fundamental commitment, namely, their self-gift to Jesus and his Church.
If I were you, I would bear in mind that your fundamental commitment is to Jesus and his Church. The question that should be uppermost in your minds is how to continue carrying out that commitment most faithfully and fruitfully.
You and all your good and faithful confreres share a common good that includes realities of great value: your communio with one another, your experience and habits of working together, and material means of carrying on your common service and life. All that should be protected, salvaged, and, if possible, kept intact. I do not think that good end can be realized by the juridical person, the Legionaries of Christ, and its present leadership.
Sex-abuse involving diocesan clerics and members of religious institutes has been dealt with up to now solely by sanctions against those guilty of abusive activities and by measures to prevent such activities. The bishops, religious superiors, and others who were guilty—of complicity in such wrongdoing, lying about it, irresponsibility toward victims, and so on—have in general not honestly admitted, much less rectified, what they did and failed to do. For that reason, the injury to the Church continues to fester. Still, those past experiences might seem to some Legionaries to provide a model by which your present plight can be overcome.
That would be a grave mistake for two reasons.
First, no matter how corrupt the hierarchy may be, faithful Catholics cannot do without it, but we can do without any particular religious institute. Everyone realizes that Father Maciel’s double life required the complicity of associates, some of whom surely are still members of the institute, and some of whom probably are functioning as superiors. Unless those who shared in the betrayal are identified and faithful Legionaries cleanly separate from them, the latter group’s common good will not continue receiving the support of faithful Catholics, and will not be preserved.
Second, when a bishop dies, the diocese’s priests cease cooperating with him. But even after the death of an institute’s saintly founder, its members’ service and life continue as cooperation with him or her. Regardless of Father Maciel’s subjective moral responsibility—which only God knows—the evidence of his objective betrayal of his commitment makes it impossible for you and other good and faithful Legionaries any longer to carry on your service and life as cooperation with him. Unless you and your confreres proceed as quickly as possible to terminate the juridical person, the Legionaries of Christ, and reorganize yourselves into a new institute, the common good you now share will begin to decompose: very few new men will join you, many in formation will leave, some professed members will separate, and the collaboration and support of the lay faithful will shrink.
The Pope is the ultimate superior on earth of every religious institute. Only the Pope can oversee the termination of the Legionaries of Christ, the salvaging of its faithful members and other assets, and their reconstitution into a new institute. Therefore, if I were you, I would at once appeal to the Pope to fulfill his responsibility toward you, to appoint two or three prelates—members neither of the Legionaries nor of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life—as an ad hoc papal commission to conduct a thorough visitation, identify those complicit in Father Maciel’s wrongdoing and its concealment until now, and work closely with faithful, professed members in carrying out an orderly termination of the existing Institute, election of a small group to serve as founders of its replacement, and the preparation of an entirely new and reformed body of particular law for the new institute.
Some of your good and faithful confreres undoubtedly will tell you that following my advice would violate your vow of obedience and constitute grave disloyalty to your superiors. Those sincere men will be mistaken. Your vow is to obey morally acceptable precepts. In the present disaster, it is, in my judgment, your grave moral duty to appeal to the Pope, as your superior, to save the common good of the faithful members of the Legionaries of Christ by terminating the present juridical person, and seeing to the formation of a new institute. I am sure that most who were complicit in Father Maciel’s wrongdoing were constrained by a false sense of loyalty. Do not follow their bad and disastrous example. Remember instead your responsibility to Jesus and to his Church—to all those whose souls are still to be saved by your service and that of the members of the new foundation.
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