Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In Premier See, Legion Gets Premier Scrutiny

Culminating years of concerns over the work of the Legionaries of Christ in the nation's oldest diocese, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore has placed the movement's twin organs under a heightened level of oversight.

After meeting with the Legion's superior-general last Friday, O'Brien sent his priests a "letter of understanding" addressed to the group's leader, Fr Álvaro Corcuera Martinez del Rio, detailing the new policy, which was formulated after consultations both with the archdiocese's presbyteral council and the Holy See.

"I need the following from you," O'Brien wrote Corcuera, noting along the way that the "willingness to accept the discernment of ecclesiastical authority is but a further proof of the authenticity of the charisms" of the Legion and its lay arm, Regnum Christi.

By the end of this week, Corcuera was asked to name a priest to serve as liaison between the communities and the archbishop's office, subject to approval by O'Brien. By 30 June, the liaison is required to provide coordinates for every Legion priest serving in the 525,000-member archdiocese; detailed information on every Regnum Christi branch within its boundaries, including "activities, meeting locations and schedules, membership rolls and methodologies for gaining new members"; each RC youth program operating in Baltimore, and a full disclosure of every other LC/RC apostolate active in the archdiocese. By the same date, each pastor whose parish has one of the groups' works on its territory is to receive a "full written" briefing on their activities there.

Given longstanding criticism from some quarters of the Legion's recruitment methods, the most significant part of the new norms deals with the movement's outreach to the young.

"I want to ensure that encouragement of vocations is carried out in a way that respects the rights of parents in the upbringing of their children and the rights of young persons themselves to be able to make free and fully informed decisions about their futures," O'Brien wrote.

Per the archbishop's order, "to avoid any undue sense of vocational obligation," the LC is forbidden to conduct "ongoing, individual" spiritual direction with a minor. The group is likewise to disclose to the archdiocese the names of all under-18 participants in its summer programs, and all attendees of its high school seminaries or boarding schools.

The letter closed with a request for the groups to keep the archbishop informed of their "long- and short-range planning goals and objectives" for their Baltimore apostolates on a six-monthly basis. "I know of the deep commitment of the Legion and Regnum Christi to carry out their mission and exercise their charisms in support of the unity and communion that Christ wants for his Church," he wrote.

Known worldwide for its massive numbers of priestly recruits, pre-eminent organizational prowess and the decades of papal favor that made it one of the most powerful groups in the global church, the LC/RC counts around 250 members in the Premier See, where its prime institution is Woodmont Academy, a K-8 school of over 300 students located about 20 miles west of Baltimore. Founded in 1995, O'Brien's predecessor Cardinal William Keeler did the honors when Woodmont dedicated its new home a decade later. The Legion likewise runs a "family development" center out of an antebellum mansion in Annapolis; the latter's calendar includes marriage prep classes, couples counseling, sessions on how to raise teenagers, and programs for children as young as 10.

While scores of American sees have welcomed the Legion for activities ranging from education and establishing formation houses to spearheading the spiritual renewal of their secular clergy, Baltimore isn't the first Stateside diocese to put the communities under a closer spotlight. Several local churches have enacted similar policies to O'Brien's over the last decade; most prominently, in late 2004 then-Archbishop Harry Flynn of St Paul and Minneapolis effectively banned the LC/RC from "being active in any way" in the Twin Cities.

In late January, the Legion's controversial founder Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado died at 87. After a lengthy investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was concluded in 2006, Maciel became the highest-profile cleric to cease from public ministry under the specter of sex-abuse allegations when, in exchange for the Vatican's decision to "forgo a canonical process" (keeping the matter out of a church tribunal), the priest known to his faithful as "Nuestro Padre" accepted of a secluded life of prayer and penance. Its constitutions originally approved by the Holy See in 1983, in recent months foreign press reports indicated that the Legion's practice of "secret vows" -- including one to not criticize the judgments or acts of a superior -- has been dissolved at the personal behest of Pope Benedict.

Counting 750 priests, 2,500 seminarians and more than 70,000 lay members, the LC/RC are currently active in over 40 countries around the world.