Friday, June 13, 2008

Archbishop O'Brien speaks about his letter to the Legion of Christ

Baltimore Archbishop Edward O'Brien last week issued a letter demanding "greater accountability and transparency" from the Legion of Christ and its lay arm, Regnum Christi. John Allen Jr. has more in a National Catholic Reporter article that includes an interview with the Archbishop.

Some highlights from the interview:

Can you describe what led you to issue this letter?

When I came into the archdiocese, I was told by our Vicar General that there had been a long series of exchanges between the cardinal and the locals of the Legionaries about programs going on in the archdiocese that our pastors didn’t know about, didn’t know the extent of them, didn’t know the nature of them. There were seemingly heavily persuasive methods used on young people, high schoolers especially, regarding vocations. ...

... They sponsor father/son weekends. The father drives 14 hours, brings the kid up to New Hampshire and drops the kid off at 11:00 at night. Where’s the farther going to stay? Well, there’s a place about 40 miles away you can stay, so the father’s sleeping in the car overnight. Next day they’re ready for the hike, but no, the fathers don’t go, it’s just the counselors and the kids. That’s the tendency.

Who’s in charge of this? Who’s responsible? Each time you meet with an official, [they say], 'Oh, no, that didn’t happen, did it? You should have let us know right away. That’s not right.' But it happens over and over again.

Are these activities organized by Regnum Christi?

Regnum Christi, yes. I’m really talking about Regnum Christi all the way through here. To what extent the priests are involved … the Legionaries of Christ are a religious order. My thought is that where lay people are involved, it’s called Regnum Christi. The priests are there for spiritual direction. Who’s setting the agenda? Obviously the priests are, but they’re very clever with their organization. They have several different corporations, and we can’t figure out which is which. As far as property goes, responsibility for various organizations, the Legionaries stay pretty far away on the books, though practically speaking they’re very much involved.

There’s a lack of transparency, as I’ve called it. I’ve met some extraordinarily fine members of Regnum Christi. They’ll talk about what had happened before they met Regnum Christi. Every priest they went to, they got a different story about what the church taught, and then finally they got it [from the Legionaries]. What they’re hearing usually is right. But it’s the tactics that get you. The question is, will some of these very good people be disenchanted someday? For that matter, should they be disenchanted now? Do they know all the facts? I don’t know. I’m not in there to break up Regnum Christi, I’m in there just to see that Regnum Christi is as accountable as every other group should be to the ordinary of the diocese. ...

... I’ve always suspected the flaws in the organization are endemic to it. There’s no remedying them, because it’s so deeply ingrained. There’s a sense of secrecy right from the seminary. The seminarians move two-by-two wherever they go. If one criticizes anything about the institution, the other one has to report it. … All this flows into Regnum Christi as well. Nothing happens in Regnum Christi without the Legionaries.

I had been thinking that this endemic, but this [the letter and the Legionaries’ response] will prove the case. I hope I’m wrong. I hope they can be at ease in working with the ordinary of the diocese, before the ordinary has to come in and say ‘I don’t want you in my archdiocese at all,’ as [St. Paul] Archbishop Flynn did.
I have edited out some of the questions; to get the full context, please read the entire interview.

Archbishop O'Brien also speaks of how the Regnum Christi members he met were clearly acting out of a strong desire to do good works:
I also met, however, with ten active members of Regnum Christi. I was deeply impressed. I had known Legionaries and Regnum Christi members in passing, but this meeting was my first formal get-together. It lasted almost two hours, and I could see the anxiety, the tension, they have. They want to be faithful to the church and to the bishop, but they are also so deeply grateful and involved in the good works they see Regnum Christ[i] doing.
I too have seen this good will in individual members of Regnum Christi and Legionaries priests. At the same time, on an organizational level, the need for transparency and accountability within the group (as with all groups operating within the Church) is essential, particularly in light of its actions that the archbishop describes.

Please be charitable to one another in your comments, especially as I will not be able to moderate them as often as usual this weekend.