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Pope must decide what to do with disgraced Legion

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 9:04 a.m. MST

Yet the process itself seems questionable when even the Legion's current leader continues to speak fondly of Maciel.

In a recent interview with a Spanish-language online journal, Vida Nueva, the Rev. Sylvester Heereman said that regardless of the bad things Maciel did, "he continues to be someone to whom I owe a lot, whom I remember with a mixture of gratitude and compassion, even though I understand and respect those who personally suffered and cannot share those feelings."

Recently, a senior member of the Legion's consecrated lay branch, Alejandro Pinelo Leon, visited Maciel's tomb in Cotija, Mexico on a pilgrimage of sorts: "Our founder teaches us many things and before his tomb I got emotional and thanked him for all that I learned about God from him," he wrote on Facebook.

The Rev. Thomas Berg, an American priest who left the Legion in 2009, said such nostalgia shows that a considerable portion of the Legion membership is still unable to shake itself from Maciel's toxic influence.

"The continual resurgence in private and public of the story-line that Macial is a 'flawed instrument,' but an instrument of God no less, is proof in the pudding that the purification has not gone deep enough," he said.

Other indications include the roster of men who will elect the next superior: They include 19 existing superiors and 42 priests elected by the Legionary membership to represent them. The existing superiors include many of the top Legion priests who were close to Maciel and his successor. Electors chosen by the rank and file to represent them include Maciel proteges or still other associates. One recently was forced to explain a bizarre correspondence with a woman under his spiritual guidance.

"With so much of the old guard, so many men who Maciel put in as superiors, and younger priests formed under their influence and supervision, there is no hope of serious reform," said Glenn Favreau, who left the Legion in 1997 before being ordained a priest and later co-founded ReGain, an online community for former Legion priests that was sued by the Legion after parts of the order's constitutions were posted on an Internet message board.

Clariond, the Legion spokesman, defended the roster of electors as being fair and representative.

"If you consider that for 42 of the people participating this is their first General Chapter we really cannot be speaking of an 'old guard,'" he said. "We feel confident that all views will be present, and that the work of renewal will continue on."

But Xavier Leger, a French seminarian who left the Legion in 2006, said the Vatican's reform was flawed from the start since the Holy See has relied almost exclusively on current Legion members for its information.

"When you are confronted with cult-like behavior," said Leger, "the testimony of someone who is under the influence of a cult, this testimony cannot be trusted."

According to Berg, the American priest, there was never any way the Legion could reinvent itself in such a short time.

"Such a toxic environment cannot be rehabilitated in a matter of three short years," Berg said in an email to AP. "While the Legionaries desperately want to believe that they are nearing the completion of the reform, this is just one further indication of their inability to deal with reality."

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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