May 20, 2005

The Legion of Christ: Hope for the Church?


In the unsettled atmosphere of a Church rocked to its core by clerical sexual abuse scandals, Catholics, facing a dearth of priestly vocations, anxiously cast about for signs of hope. Until recently, one of those signs has been the Legion of Christ. Spurred on by Pope John Paul IIís demonstrative approval of Father Maciel, the Legionís founder, the Rome based religious order has made enormous inroads in certain U.S. circles. Founded in Mexico in 1941 by Marciel Maciel Degollado when he was a seminarian, the Legion now claims 500 priests, another 2,500 seminarians, eleven universities and over 150 prep schools worldwide. Legionary priests serve in the United States. The order operates a seminary and novitiate in Connecticut. The lay movement associated with the Legion is called Regnum Christi.

But today the luster surrounding the Legion is showing tarnish. There are skirmishes between Legionaries and lay people over schools. Three U. S. dioceses have forbidden the Legion to operate within their environs: the Diocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Archbishop Harry Flynn, Columbus, OH, Bishop Emertius James A. Griffin, and Baton Rouge, LA, Bishop Robert Muench. The Legion and its auxiliary lay movement, Regnum Christi, are coming under fire from former members. They accuse the order of manipulation, mind-control, and subversive tactics that could rise to the level of a cult. Former Legionaries and Regnum Christi members have formed a network, ReGain. Through ReGainís web site, which features news articles and personal testimonies, members say they seek to inform the public of the true nature of the Legionís policies and practices as well as to provide healing and reintegration for those psychologically damaged by the order. ( The most explosive situation for the Legion of Christ, however, is the charges made by a number of former Legionary priests that Father Maciel sexually abused them for years beginning when they were children in the Legionís minor seminaries.

In the United States, the Legion has operated an almost a subterranean existence in Connecticut since the middle sixties. Very little was known about them until the past ten years. In the early 1990s, a Hartford Courant journalist, George Renner, attempted to interview the Rev. Anthony Bannon, the Legionís national director for a story on the seminary. Bannonís unexpected refusal to talk to a journalist peaked Rennerís interest, and he began to look more closely at the order. When Renner wrote an article about the Legion in a March 25, 1996 issue of the Courant, he began receiving phone calls about the secretive Cheshire seminary where ď200 young men in black cassocks do preparatory studies for the priesthood before further schooling in Spain and Italy.Ē After meeting with several former seminarians, all of whom complained of being ensnared in a closed system and subjected to fierce control and brainwashing, Renner wrote more extensively about the Legionís strange practices.

Posted by kshaw at May 20, 2005 04:04 PM