The Legionaries: “double secret probation”

It seems that the Holy Father has done pretty much what I figured he would do regarding the Legionaries of Christ: he effectively put them on "double secret probation", as it were.

Vatican Radio.

From CWN:

Pope Benedict XVI will appoint an apostolic delegate to supervise the Legionaries of Christ, the Vatican announced on May 1.

The Saturday announcement from the Vatican press office came a day after the five bishops who had conducted an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries presented their report. In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican indicated that the bishops had reached a "widely convergent evaluation and a shared opinion" on the need for "profound re-evaluation" of the religious order.

The details of that re-evaluation were not immediately disclosed. However, the Pope’s delegate will assume control of the Legionaries, with the group’s current leaders reporting to him. The Pope will also appoint a commission to study the constitution of the Legion, perhaps suggesting changes in internal rules. And the Pontiff will appoint a "visitor" to guide Regnum Christi, the lay movement affiliated with the Legion of Christ.

The Vatican intervention into the controversial religious order is intended to help members along "the path of purification that awaits them," the official statement state. The five bishops who conducted the apostolic visitation praised the zeal and dedication of many members of the Legion and Regnum Christi, and emphasized that the Church should support their commitment.

However, the gross misconduct of the late Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries, has created grave problems for the order the Vatican found. The May 1 statement suggested that the founder had developed a pattern of administration that protected him from discovery. Without criticizing any of the current leaders of the Legion, the statement said that the founder "had created around him a defense mechanism which made him untouchable for a long time." The statement decried "the lamentable disgracing and expulsion of those who doubted" Father Maciel’s virtue.

The Vatican said:

The serious and objectively immoral behavior of Fr. Maciel, supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling. The large majority of Legionaries were unaware of that life, particularly because of the system of relations created by Fr. Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up an alibi, to gain the trust, confidence and surrounding silence and strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Time will tell.

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  1. Randii says:

    What has happened with the LC seminarians? Didn’t they have the largest seminary class of any order in the world prior to the scandal? I’m guessing those numbers have sharply fallen.

    What exactly does this double secret probation mean? Will the LC continue – some had suggested a disbanding of the order as the appropriate step. Unfortunately this does not sound like a disbanding to me.

    How can parents/family discern cult-like orders? Father Fessio was on CA last week and got a call from a worried mother whose daughter attends Ava Maria University and is restricting her socialization to a group of nuns associated with Garabandal. Fr. Fessio started out saying he knew those nuns and they were great. Nothing to worry about. Then the mother told how when she visits she is not allowed to go out with her daughter alone or take her daughter to see the grandmother. Only then did Fr. Fessio say that kind of stuff is a warning sign to parents. I was disappointed in Fr. Fessio’s not realizing there is potential trouble with this group.

    Opus Dei has a secret cult-like reputation. I’ve read stories of ex-members who say how dangerous OP is. Has Opus Dei been investigated by the church? [Did something in the top entry give you the impression that Opus Dei was involved in this?]

    Too many of these “new movements” are too much a sign of the times IMO – cult like appeal often around a charismatic leader or a purported miralce – like Garabandal whose authenticity is dubious.

  2. sejoga says:

    Randii, I believe “double secret probation” is an “Animal House” reference. It suggests to me that perhaps Fr. Z thinks of this as a pretty bureaucratic reform effort, although I may be misinterpreting his intentions in using the expression. [Indeed, you may be.]

  3. ljc says:

    In my opinion Cardinal Rode should have been replaced before conclusions were made on the Legion. He can hardly be considered a neutral party since him and Fr. Macial were so buddy-buddy.

  4. Mike says:

    “Opus Dei has a secret cult-like reputation. I’ve read stories of ex-members who say how dangerous OP is. Has Opus Dei been investigated by the church?”

    Well, that “reputation” has come from sources hostile to the Work, hostile to Christianity. but this post isn’t about Opus Dei, so I will stop.

    Prudence, common sense, a supernatural outlook all need to be in place when looking at LC.

    In regard to the objections of parents in regard to their children’s vocations, they are often not the best judges. Although I think Fr. Fessio is right about those warning signs.

  5. Randii says:

    I believe “double secret probation” is an “Animal House” reference. It suggests to me that perhaps Fr. Z thinks of this as a pretty bureaucratic reform effort, although I may be misinterpreting his intentions in using the expression.

    Comment by sejoga

    If your interpretation is correct that does not give one confidence that anything good will come of this. A disbanding of the order seems to have been/should be what is done. You know the suspicion will be there, if the Pope/Vatican goes for an administrative reform, that this is about salvaging the money stream and secular influence the LC has built up.

    This will not IMO help rebuild trust in the Pope or the Vatican at a time trust in the high levels of the church is waning among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

  6. Don’t worry.
    They’re gonna clean house. Big Time.
    This is just “romanita”; Pope Benedict knows, full well, of all the creepy, criminal, immoral and downright nasty stuff that has gone there.
    Don’t worry.
    He’s just being careful, cautious and going take his time to take care of this business.
    How do I know?
    I don’t, with complete certainty.
    But our Holy Father is nobody’s fool. He’s in charge here.

  7. Tim Ferguson says:

    Like anyone else I enjoy a good smackdown from time to time, but those who are disappointed in this step taken today by the Holy Father need to take a step back. A disbanding of an order is not something that is done on a whim. Consider how poorly the dissolution of the Jesuits went.

    And, this current step does not eliminate the possibility of a dissolution down the road. It is a solid and definitive step in the right direction. It begins the process of purging the filth of Marciel Maciel from the Church.

    It’s not about “salvaging the money stream” – I seriously doubt that that is even on the Holy Father’s radar screen, and is a pretty serious calumny to accuse him of that sort of rapacious greed. There are many good, sincere, and holy men in the Legion – men who have been deceived about the character of their founder. Like a good shepherd, the Pope is saying to them – “The house you have been living in is rotten at it’s foundation. The ‘path of purification’ ahead is a serious and difficult one. It may be possible to carve out the rot and salvage the house, but there are no guarantees. A profound reevalutation must be undertaken.”

    The fact that there was a convergence of opinion on this path by the several visitors of the Legion gives me confidence that the Holy Father is taking the right steps. This is not in the hands of Cardinal Rode, so his association with Marciel Maciel is irrelevant. We shall see who the delegate is, and who the visitors to Regnum Christi are.

    Whether or not this will “rebuild trust in the Pope or the Vatican” is positing the question like an American PR firm. While the Church has stumbled because of the lack of a solid PR approach, that should not ever be our first concern. Our first concern should be – what is right. This seems right, even if it doesn’t satisfy the desire for a good hard smackdown. I guess I’ll have to watch a Jean Claude Van Damme movie for that.

  8. Randii is not interesting in building trust in the Catholic Church and the Holy Father. Randii is an Orthodox Christian who uses his comments to try to lure people away from the true Church, or at least to demoralize them. He is playing the role of the accuser (in Hebrew, “Satan”).

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    This seems to me to be a quite reasonable first step.

    His Holiness is being quite candid that a great deal of difficult work will need to be undertaken.

    If a good house can be salvaged, even with much hard work and supervision, there’s no point in burning it down without even making the attempt.

    And I know that the LC priests here in this diocese have done very good work.

    And I trust BXVI to do what is right.

  10. Jacob says:

    Father, what exactly do you mean by ‘double secret probation’? I am thinking you are using it a certain way that isn’t exactly how it came off in the movie.

  11. eiggam says:

    I attended the LC Convention in Indianapolis a few years back. Fr. Maciel was there and gave some excellent talks. My take on the Vatican’s actions is an attempt to remove that which is evil while allowing any positive attributes of the LC to remain in place.

  12. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Tim Ferguson:

    You make good points–you may not be a priest, but you have the pastoral sense.

    There are too many people licking their chops to see the Legion disbanded, and all to often with that “sick em, boy, sick em” that people use to tell their German Shepherd to attack and bite someone. Our German Shepherd is not looking to attack and bite. But this pope is not our spiritual K-9 for mauling and annihilating our enemies in the Church. A pope of little prayer and holiness might act that way. But we are under the leadership of a true saint, of a man who is not to be outdone for his loving patience with the errant.

    Pope Benedict XVI is a pastor to the core, a loving father of his flock. In his careful and thought out plans, one sees the constant effort to bind up the wounded and carry them with care, even the priests, seminarians, and lay members of the “hated Legion.”

    His modus operandi reminds me of how kindly he also dealt with the SSPX. When he spoke of reaching out to the SSPX, he told his brother bishops in so many words, “Am I supposed to just not care about the spiritual care of hundreds of priests, seminarians, and the faithful under their care?” How much easier it would be for him to rain down acid and fire from the Chair of Peter on all his problem children, to have that “killer instinct” of a severe, iron hand in dealing with people.

    Seeing him now deal with the Legion–and not wanting to run rough shod over the many good and sincere members not guilty of the sins of their leadership–affirms to me again that a greater model of patient long-suffering is not to be found in the entire college of bishops.

  13. Catherine says:

    Fr. Sotelo, you’ve expressed my thoughts and sentiments also. To my way of thinking, the Holy Father is deeply concerned about all those who, in good conscience, sincerely followed what they considered to be a legitimate calling to the vocation of priestly orders or lay apostolic works. What is to be done with them? Are they to be victims of scandal….left to doubt their faith in God’s will and possibly to even leave the Church in despair?

    I know many Legionary priests and many more members of Regnum Christi. They are very devout and sincere, and they have always tried to follow God’s will in responding to a call they thought was genuine. I commend both the Pope’s strong stance on this issue and also his compassion for all members of his flock.

    Whatever we may think of the Legionaries of Christ as an order, let us, in charity, pray for these souls who have been left to flounder in bewilderment and confusion….that they may hold fast to their faith which is being sorely tested.

  14. RichardT says:

    Father, I also am lost by “double secret probation”. Is this an American reference that I’m missing?

    But I am worried about attempts to preserve the Legion. There is a danger, at least in secular organisations, that bad methods (in this case secrecy and a personality cult) can become so engrained throughout the organisation that they cannot be eradicated, even by a change in rules and a change at the top.

    I take the point above that “If a good house can be salvaged, there’s no point in burning it down.” But if the house is riddled with woodworm, sometimes it has to be burned down – any attempt to salvage even the best items from it just risk spreading the danger to the new place.

    I just hope and pray that we won’t regret this in twenty years time.

  15. KAS says:

    It seems to me that the Holy Father is being charitable to the many people who followed this group in good faith and who were seeking to become virtuous Christians by way of their participation. It would be another trauma for them if the group were disbanded abruptly. I see this chosen path as one where there is time for people to adjust, and either the movement will die off as people find other groups, or it will become healthier.

    Pope Benedict XVI is showing his kindly but very firm pastoral side with this decision. IMO

  16. Jacob says:


    In the film Animal House, a college fraternity made up of various misfit students had antagonized the college dean with various stunts, acts of debauchery and the like over the years. Finally, the dean showed up at the fraternity’s house and declared to them all that the fraternity was on “double secret probation”.

    This was apparently some kind of final state with the axe poised to fall if they performed even the slightest act of defiance. But actually, “double secret probation” was viewed by the fraternity as being an ad hoc, extra-judicial status placed upon them by the ham handed, old-fashioned dean who represented The Establishment.

  17. But I am worried about attempts to preserve the Legion. There is a danger, at least in secular organisations, that bad methods (in this case secrecy and a personality cult) can become so engrained throughout the organisation that they cannot be eradicated, even by a change in rules and a change at the top.

    I don’t think it’s an attempt to preserve the Legion so much as to rescue souls. You don’t want the tower to collapse until all the people are safely out.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    You may be right, Anita.

  19. Geometricus says:

    I, too think you may be right, Anita.

    I teach in a very nice independent Catholic high school in which our most devout and mission-minded families are associated with Regnum Christi. Our school is not, nor has it ever been associated with the Legion, but there is an LC K-8 grade school in the area, and though they tried to build a high school, they couldn’t do it so many of those kids come to our school.

    My heart aches for these loving, pious young souls who only want to live for Christ in a world hostile to the faith. I shudder to think what would happen to their tender, incipient faith if the Legion is simply “suppressed” as some seem to want. Yes, our Holy Father is wise indeed in trying to rescue the faith of good families caught up in Maciel’s evil web when they thought they were building up the body of Christ. This whole operation calls for much sensitivity and much prayer. I have been praying for these kids since word broke in 2008 about MM, and I have told them as much, at least the ones I teach. I hope everyone who reads this blog does the same.

  20. irishgirl says:

    Fr. Sotelo-what you said! I’m with you, too!

    And I like the “German Shepherd’ analogy as well…what the heck, I’m a ‘dog person’!

    Seriously, though-our Holy Father has the right way of going about it. He is A FATHER first of all, and fathers should not run roughshod over their children!

  21. says:

    Much assurance has been given to the Religious, Brothers, Seminarians, Family members of the above, members of Regnum Christi, et al, and anyone having suffered abuse via Maciel’s reign that they will not be forgotten by our Holy Father. What concerns me are those persons affected deeply by this crisis not fitting into any of the above categories – namely, employees at the various institutions of learning. At the local minor seminary for the Legion of Christ, at which my husband is a teacher, I know that all of the teachers and employees are sick with worry about their existing jobs. Further, what future employer would put himself in the position of defending to a board of governers or benefactors a decision to hire someone who worked for the infamous Maciel? How will these family men move on? What can the vatican possibly do for so many who need to earn a living wage?

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