New leader looks to move Legionaries forward

It was a statement years in the making.

On Feb. 6, the Legionaries of Christ released a communiqué to the publicly acknowledging both the grave sins of it founder, Marcel Maciel, and its past failings as a religious community.

The communiqué came in the wake of the Legion’s Extraordinary General Chapter, which convened in January with the purpose of electing new leadership and establishing new constitutions for the scandal-plagued order. A Mass of thanksgiving on Feb. 25 marked the closing of the General Chapter, before which the Legion was led by Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, who was appointed governor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 after an apostolic visitation determined the order needed “profound re-evaluation.”

Last week, the Legionaries’ newly elected general director, Father Eduardo Robles Gil, agreed to answer questions from Our Sunday Visitor.

Our Sunday Visitor: What kind of soul searching has gone on within the Legion during the past four years as it has reflected on the sins of its founder and the culture within the Legion that allowed those sins to both continue and remain hidden from public view?

Father Eduardo Robles Gil: Let me start with some context. For decades we looked to our founder, Father Maciel, for inspiration and guidance. But in recent years we came to learn that he was living a hidden life in which he had sexually abused minors and had had extended affairs with women and other types of misconduct which we addressed in the communiqué. When these facts came to light, Pope Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on our founder and initiated an apostolic visitation of our congregation.

There has been great soul searching. There is the initial shock of learning that someone you admire had deceived you. It takes time to pull the facts together and accept them. Then comes the question of whether you really want to be here. I realized that it was God who had called me, that I had not been following a man, but God. This became the bedrock that I set my feet on.

We had to learn to see religious life differently. Thanks to the Holy Father’s directives, we have made progress.

I, personally, had the heartrending task of reaching out to Father Maciel’s victims. Anytime I think of those people, the memory of the anguish they live with breaks my heart. I am firmly resolved to do everything I can to ensure that others do not have to undergo the same suffering.

OSV: Does the Legion believe it was founded upon a genuine charism? If so, what is that charism?

Father Gil: Of course we have a genuine charism. The Church has said so. At the end of the apostolic visitation in 2010, Pope Benedict confirmed that our vocation “has its origin in Christ’s call” and “is an authentic gift from God, an enrichment for the Church and the indestructible basis on which to build [our] personal future and that of the Legion.” We like to express our charism with three words and an exclamation point: “Thy kingdom come!” But as with any charism, it really can’t be expressed in words, but understood by living it over time.

I seek to let Jesus Christ reign in my heart as the Lord of my life and the love of my life. We Legionaries and Regnum Christi members know the fulfillment this friendship brings to one’s life. Many of us have seen it transform our families. Some have seen it transform their workplace. We know it can transform culture one day.

Now, when I say that our charism is a call to be friends with Christ and to share this friendship with others, I am not saying that we are the only ones in the Church who do this. Nor am I saying that we do it better than others. What I am saying is that we have the deep conviction that this is what the Lord is asking of us and that we are a gift to the Church when we do this.

OSV: What do you say to your critics who think the Legion and Regnum Christi should just be suppressed, abandoned or dismantled?

Father Gil: Given the pain many have endured by our founder’s sins and our own failings, such a view is understandable. Many of these people were once part of our spiritual family. I would like to ask pardon of those we have hurt. I hope that one day we can reconcile.

OSV: Why should people trust a new Legion, especially when so many longtime friends and collaborators of Father Maciel remain in positions of leadership?

Father Gil: The Vatican has conducted three investigations, one by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005, one by the apostolic visitators in 2009-10, and one that focused specifically on the finances in 2011-13. Summaries of the findings of these investigations have been published. In the end, I hope people will judge us on the basis of our actions moving forward. We are seeking to learn and to be worthy of your trust. This will take time, humility, conversion of heart and, above all, God’s grace and mercy.

OSV: Has the formation of seminarians undergone any serious changes in light of charges that insufficient freedom was previously given to them in the process of discernment and formation?

Father Gil: Yes. Recently, we have updated the norms governing the dealings of Legionaries with their families. We have also eliminated the practice of opening letters sent to Legionaries from their families and of sending minor seminarians and novices to study outside their home country. The General Chapter is looking at ways to improve our formation, especially in the area of vocational discernment.

OSV: The sins of Father Maciel were both grave and public. Doesn’t that demand some form of public penance on the part of the Legion’s leadership today? Is it possible for the Legion to move forward without the graces of serious penance?

Father Gil: Since May 2010, many priests, brothers and Legionary communities throughout the world have had all-night Eucharistic Adoration before each first Friday in reparation to the Heart of Jesus for our founder’s sins. In the general chapter itself, we lived this past Jan. 30 as a day of fasting and prayer. There have been other initiatives, and members are continuing to find ways to atone. About public atonement, we aren’t making a secret out of these efforts, but we aren’t broadcasting them either. It is more important to really atone than to publish pictures of Legionaries atoning.

OSV: How will the Legion of the future be different from the Legion of the past? How will it be the same?

Father Gil: New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles are very different places with very different needs. In the past, we have not been good at serving the needs of each local Church. You can look for us to seek to learn and grow in this area. How will it be the same? Just like always, we will focus on helping people become friends with Christ, share that friendship with others and find their mission in life in the service of the Church.

OSV: Is there anything else you would like to add or you think is important for people to know as the Legion moves forward?

Father Gil: We have much to learn in order to be able to serve the Church the way the Church wants us to serve. It will take time, humility and God’s grace and mercy. I ask for your prayers.

Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.