Charism and founder, Part 2: Grace

There is something about grace that makes it strangely un-American.

In our egalitarian, self-governing society, built on the shoulders of hard-working individuals and “justice for all”, there’s something creepy about receiving free and unearned gifts from an omnipotent being who seeks your utter allegiance and will bind you to a destiny for all eternity. Either we’re talking here about an aspiring (and not-so-remote) socialist dictator, or a King that is not of this world.

In the theological context, “grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (CCC 1996) It is a participation in the life of God, a distinct Other who has an intelligence and a will of his own, who makes plans of his own and executes them as he sees fit.

Grace is not always foreseeable because it is given, not earned. It is not a commodity that can be manipulated or service that must be rendered. It does not obey statistics or shift with the public opinion polls. No one, not even the holiest of saints, can stand at heaven’s gate and demand grace on his own merits. The sacraments and other means of sanctification are entirely God’s initiative. It stuns me to see devout young Catholics, wishing with all their heart they could enter the consecrated life, turn away because God is not calling them. So, every gift of grace implies that an Other is wholly present as protagonist and calls man to a mysterious life beyond any human experience.

Part of this mystery is how God only permits evil if he knows a greater good can be drawn from it. Violence, remarked Flannery O’Connor, is strangely capable of returning people to reality and “preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” Perhaps because violence strips, exposes, and debilitates the soul, preparing it to acknowledge its inherent weakness and its utter dependence on Someone greater. All of us would prefer that grace not arrive packaged in pain. But if it did, would we recognize it?

In March of 2011, Jesuit priest Gianfranco Ghirlanda gave a conference to the Legionaries of Christ in Rome on several topics dealing with charism and constitutions. Among them, he addressed the question of how it is possible that the grace of a charism could come through a corrupt and immoral founder.

The standard experience in our Christian life is that the presence of grace is somehow linked to holiness and virtue. We all know how the “you will know them by their fruits” argument was widely used as a defense for Maciel prior to 2009. The Catechism itself says that God’s blessings in our life are a guarantee that grace is at work in us (2005). Dom Chautard, in his popular spiritual work The Soul of the Apostolate, deems it impossible that a “false Christ” perform good works:

“Setting aside everything that works upon souls ex opere operato, God owes it to the Redeemer to withdraw from the apostle who is inflated with his own importance, all his best gifts, and to reserve these for the branch that humbly recognizes that all its life-sap comes from the Divine stock. Otherwise, if he were to bless with deep and lasting results the work filled with the poison of this virus we have called the Heresy of Good Works God might seem to be encouraging this abuse and favoring its contagious spread.”

And even though we know that the graces of the sacraments come to us independently of the holiness of the minister, we still feel cheated of grace when we confess to inattentive priests and attend sloppily celebrated Masses.

Ghirlanda’s conference was pivotal because it delved into the details necessary for analyzing a case as complex as Maciel’s: the key is to distinguish the types of graces and how each one works. The text of this conference, being an internal document, is not published for the public but Ghirlanda kindly gave me permission to cite it for this blog.

Ghirlanda turns to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (Part I-II, question 111, and Part II-II, questions 171 and 172) to explain the workings of grace. Aquinas distinguishes between gratia gratum faciens, or sanctifying grace, and gratia gratis data, or “grace given freely”. Ghirlanda explains that the first is the grace “that unites man to God or permits him to acquire personal perfection”; it is grace given to make the receiver holy, to enable him to reach his final end. The second, however, is a means to this final end; it is grace given to one for the benefit and holiness of others. The Catechism also mentions these special graces, or charisms, which the Spirit gives to the faithful to make them “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” (798) These include the personal charisms –such as prophecy, curing and the discernment of spirits- and the collective charisms received by persons who found new religious institutes.

It makes sense that sanctifying grace is lost when a soul falls into a state of mortal sin. Charisms, on the other hand, are “given freely”. Paraphrasing St. Thomas, Ghirlanda notes that

The gratia gratis data, exceeding the natural faculties and going beyond personal merits, does not require the preliminary dispositions; a sinner can also receive it and not lose it by his faults: this even confirms its‟ character of gratuity.” The gratia gratis data, as for example prophecy, can exist without charity (cfr. 1 Cor. 13: 1-2), and thereby it can be in a person without sanctifying grace, that is, without good morals, and be of use to the Church, not having been given directly to the person because of their union with God. That is how prophecy, for example, can exist in those who do not belong to God by means of grace.

This explains that enigmatic passage in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (7: 21-23)

Ghirlanda continues, “The mystery is in the fact that God can also use unworthy instruments to achieve his ends. The Spirit gives the charisms, but those who receive them can instrumentalize them for their advantage and not exercise them according to the will of God, but this does not mean that the gift of the Spirit in its origins has not been authentic.”

So now we come to a tough question: does this mean that it really made no difference that Maciel was not a saint? Is all his evil excused under the cover of gratia gratis data? Isn’t Dom Chautard right when he says “God owes it to the Redeemer” to make sure that bad people aren’t credited with good works? Don’t the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members deserve better than Maciel?

Nothing could be further from the truth to say that it made no difference. I’ve seen too many humiliated, depressed, bewildered, and tear-stained faces in the past four years to say there would have been no difference between a holy founder and a perverted one. Obviously, the great conundrum and tragedy is that Maciel did not incarnate the gifts he was given to give to others. Obviously, his case is exceptional and all means should be taken so that it does not repeat in the future on such a massive and detrimental scale.

Ghirlanda explains that “St. Thomas differentiates when a gratuitous grace comes given together with sanctifying grace, for the benefit of the one who receive it together with that of the others, producing friends of God and prophets at the same time; and when a grace comes given for the good of others, by which the person is only an instrument of God.” It is most fitting and most appropriate that those who receive charisms should be responsive to sanctifying grace, but St. Thomas does not dismiss the remote possibility that they be mortal sinners. He is not justifying bad behavior, but inviting us to explore the mysterious limitlessness and liberality of God’s action: we know that no founder can merit being a founder, but do we know it when a founder doesn’t merit being a founder?

In the end, anything that is good in Regnum Christi is from God, not from the founder or from the cofounders. But that would have been entirely true whether Maciel had been a great saint or a great sinner. His condition as a sinner just makes it easier to believe, and that is perhaps the good effect that God was hoping for.

(Next blog: Purifying the charism of the Legion and Regnum Christi)



About Melicia Antonio

Melicia Antonio is a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi. She studies theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
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43 Responses to Charism and founder, Part 2: Grace

  1. FrMichael says:

    In my opinion you are overly complicating Maciel’s case.

    Catholics know that God can work through imperfect and indeed, evil persons. The question here isn’t this basic spiritual fact. The question is whether a valid religious order can be founded by a person so thoroughly given over to evil like Maciel. What can be learned from his writings? What can be learned from following his example? Here was a man who lived “a life without scruples or authentic religious sentiment.” From what putative source could one derive a charism for the Legion if the founder’s life and writings provide nothing?

    I’m with Ockham’s Razor here: the solution with the fewest intricacies is the one that admits that the Legion has no valid charism from the Lord through Maciel. Ergo it needs to be suppressed and the Legion priests dispersed to other healthier parts of the Lord’s Vineyard.

  2. Exclaustrated says:

    Melicia, Fr. Ghirlanda’s thesis is not the mainstream way of thinking about the charism of an institution (Cf. Ciardi, Cencini), anyway you still pretend you can tell God’s part from Maciel’s. Even if it is true, in practice that means a lot of purifying and questioning, and obviously trying to find the essential aspects of the charism taking into account the very fact of the inmorality of Maciel. The LC/RC is now trying to erase Maciel from its history as if it just was a bad day in a lovely summer. You must repair the damage done, you must render justice to victims, you must remove bad leadership

  3. Liz Phelan says:

    Melicia, your points are excellent in showing that it’s possible for a charism to exist in the Legion and Regnum Christi. What your points do NOT provide is evidence for whether a charism does indeed exist. Isn’t the first question you all should have asked yourselves is “Gee, do we know for sure that we actually DO have a charism?”. Where are the portions of Fr. Ghirlanda’s conference that helped you to figure that one out?

    I think that the following statement by Cardinal De Paolis only a few months after the conference you mention explains why so many are skeptical of the Legion’s claim to a legitimate charism:

    ‘De Paolis paused when asked to define the Legion’s charism. “Bella domanda,” he said — “good question.” Noting that it was a work in progress, De Paolis cited the Legion’s evangelical zeal and insisted that even without a clearly defined charism, the vast majority of Legion members are happy, doing good work and serving the church.’
    – Interview with Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, Oct. 25 2011

    Very supportive words but not exactly a vote of confidence that you actually have a charism. And no attempt by the Legion in the 18 months since that time to articulate anything intelligible so that Cardinal De Paolis can update his opinion.

    If he is not able to be more specific than “happy and doing good work serving the Church” why don’t you just admit that’s who you are and leave it at that? Why all the insistence on having some special “charism”?

  4. John P. says:

    Fr. Michael, thanks for your post. However, I beg to differ from your use of Ockham’s razor.

    The same statement you quote describing Maciel also mentions the will of the Holy Father to accompany the Legion and Regnum Christi in a path of renewal and purification. If, after reading the results of the Apostolic Visitation, Pope Benedict decided to start a path of renewal, that means that he considered that there was something to be renewed an purified.

    Furthermore, when he named a Papal Delegate, the letter starts off saying: “The recent Apostolic Visitation of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ has made clear, besides the sincere zeal and fervent religious life of a great number of the Congregation’s Members, the need and urgency to undertake a path of in-depth revision of the Institute’s charism. Moved by the desire to follow closely, support, and guide this journey, I have seen fit to appoint a personal Delegate for this Religious Family, to be both a concrete sign of my closeness and to act in my name.”

    The Holy See’s Press Office statement was NOT signed by the Holy Father. This letter was. What would be the theological value of a Press Office statement compared to a letter of the Pope? Did you read the Apostolic Vistation’s results to be able to say that the Pope got it wrong by not supressing the Legion, which was a real possibility? I think he was very well informed.

    The much needed purification and healing are in progress. Still a long way to go.

    By the way, the tree that bears good fruit could not have possibly been Maciel, but rather Jesus Christ who gives gifts to the Church with liberality.

  5. Liz Phelan says:

    John P – The 2010 communique from the Holy See is a “press office statement”? Just out of curiosity, is the 2006 communique removing Maciel from public ministry also a “press office statement”? It would be enlightening to understand your thinking regarding the extent to which Pope Benedict may have been involved in the forming and wording of both communiques. I think many of us have the impression he was very involved indeed.

    In point of fact both the letter you mention and the 2010 communique highlight the need to revise the charism. But in the 3 years following, all we are getting from the Legion and Regnum Christi is that the good is from God and the tree that bears good fruit is from Jesus Christ rather than from Maciel. That’s without question but it doesn’t answer the original question: What Is Your Charism?

    This issue is crucial because it explains how any so called “vocation” to the Legion or Regnum Christi is distinctive from, say, a vocation to the Franciscans, the Carmelites, Opus Dei, or Comunione y Liberazione, to name just a few authentic orders and movements within the Church. “Sincere zeal”, “fervent religious life”, and “enjoys doing good work for the Church”, are wonderful attributes but they are shared pretty much by every sincere Catholic who takes his/her faith seriously – both those called to a particular charism, and those who aren’t. They are attributes associated with our baptism and membership in the Church. They are not “particular” within the Church w/o going into further explanation or detail (which is exactly what authentic orders and movements provide and what the Regnum Christi movement USED to provide prior to the Maciel scandal).

    If you remove the founder and are left in a “flounder”, it may be time to ask yourself whether you are distinguishable from a great group of active Catholics who enjoy getting together for spiritual support. There is nothing shameful or mediocre in that identity, by the way.

  6. Jim Fair says:

    Just to add a little simplicity to all this, the issue of whether or not Regnum Christi has a charism already is decided:

  7. Liz Phelan says:

    Thanks for the link, Jim. But Cardinal De Paolis’ letter does not purport to claim there is an approved charism.

    In fact, the letter is pretty clear that it is the proper ecclesiastical authorities – not the Legion or Regnum Christi, and not Cardinal DePaolis – who have the right to recognize a charism (and, importantly, which particular elements of that group’s “nature”, “spirituality” or “way of doing things” constitute the charism). The Legion’s press release seemed to leave off some wording pertaining to this important fact so I have reproduced the final paragraph in its entirety:

    “It could be helpful to remember that only what gets approved by the Church forms part of the charism. It could also be opportune to remember that the charism is considered an extraordinary gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church so that it may be built up in the diverse historical circumstances in which it lives. A charism is called a grace gratis data, given by means of the person called the founder. But a charism is not to be identified with the person of the Founder, especially not with his or her holiness or sin. A charism is a gift made to the Church. The Church, by means of its legitimate authority, recognizes that a charism belongs to it. Only those elements that are recognized as such by ecclesiastical authority constitute the charism. The
    Holy Father, while he recognizes this charism [of Regnum Christi] , also requests that it be revised because of the historical circumstances in which it developed. This is our task. Not to create new things, but to revisit that which has been received in order to arrive at a greater comprehension of it, a deeper reflection upon it and, if necessary, a purification of it. Any charism is by its very nature bound to history and its contingencies. It contains a richness that it is called to develop and adapt to the different situations of history, without losing its nature or being dissolved. In this reflection, the principal role belongs to the Institutions that look to this charism and are inspired by it.”
    – Letter from Cardinal De Paolis dated Oct. 19, 2012

    The delegate is obviously sympathetic and open to the possibility of a charism and clearly supportive and pastoral. He has to be. “We have an authentic charism!” has been the claim since the earliest days of the scandal. (Many will recall Fr. Scott Reilley’s very earnest insistence on this point in the first half of 2009 and I dare say the Legion was reciting this mantra long before any contrition for Maciel’s atrocious behavior was ever publicly expressed). It’s obviously a very sensitive issue and not really surprising that someone would tread a bit delicately in helping the group sort their problems out.

  8. Paul S. says:

    The argument from authority adds little because it just leads to circular reasoning: i.e. It is an authentic charism because it is approved, and it is approved because it is an authentic charism. Additionally the text cited above is subject to revision by the Pope himself in virtue of the very Motu Proprio that establishes the Delegate’s role. It is fair to say nonetheless that it is the Pope’s decision that the LC remain a licit institution in the Church- whether it serves with a legitimate charism is quite another matter.

    Admittedly it would be different if this were an exercise of the Pope’s teaching office, which it is not; rather only of his governing office. While we respect pontifical decisions made thus far, they are still subject to revision both in the short and long term.

    The major problem I see in Ghirlanda’s and DePaolis’s explanations is that it seems to not at all be a natural evolution of the theology of a collective charism, but a rather closed discussion contrived and controlled for these specific circumstances. It has not been opened up for a broader episcopal revision- no comments have come from authorities outside of those with a vested interest in the LC’s survival come what may.

    For all the theorizing about how a not-so-holy founder can transmit grace, no one has tackled the core issue of deceit. It would be one thing for a charism to arise historically in circumstances where the depravity of the founder was known and worked around with full knowledge of the cofounders, it is quite another to have the founder’s life, pre-tended witness and spiritual writings be feigned- faked, a systematic and sustained illusion to lure, convince and convict recruits. Would any religious ever argue that such matter is only incidental in the process of vocational discernment?

    I would be willing to entertain Ghirlanda’s thesis, were it not for this one singular factor of deception which invalidates the gratia datis; formal causes matter- and one cannot see the Lord who neither deceives nor is deceived, ever effecting grace in such a manner.

  9. Jim Fair says:

    Cardinal De Paolis reminds us in his letter: “[It is] opportune to remember that the charism is considered an extraordinary gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church so that it may be built up in the diverse historical circumstances in which it lives. A charism is called a grace gratis data, given by means of the person called the founder. But a charism is not to be identified with the person of the founder, especially not with his or her holiness or sin. A charism is a gift made to the Church. The Church, by means of its legitimate authority, recognizes that a charism belongs to it… The Holy Father, while he recognizes this charism [of Regnum Christi], also requests that it be revised because of the historical circumstances in which it developed. This is our task. Not to create new things, but to revisit that which has been received in order to arrive at a greater comprehension of it, a deeper reflection upon it and, if necessary, a purification of it.”

  10. Paul S. says:

    But would the good Lord permit the transmission of a grace through the means of intentional deceit to lure, attract and commit others to a ‘charism’ – the very act of founding? This is not a question of a founder’s personal holiness but the loss of fundamental integrity of the founding process. Clearly something once was that no longer is- and that was not merely because of a miscalculation but a plan to deceive.

  11. Liz Phelan says:

    Jim, don’t forget the part you keep replacing with those three little dots:

    “Only those elements that are recognized as such by ecclesiastical authority constitute the charism.”

    And while we are on the subject, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    800 Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms.253

    801 It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church’s shepherds. “Their office [is] not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good,”254 so that all the diverse and complementary charisms work together “for the common good.”255

  12. Jim Fair says:

    Liz…I think the Pope and the Papal Delegate do count as ecclesiastical authority.

  13. Liz Phelan says:

    Jim – once a definite charism is voted on by the membership, will they need to submit to the Holy See for approval?

  14. Jim Fair says:

    Liz…the Legionaries, consecrated members and 1st/2nd degree representatives are all developing the various documents necessary for our future governance. Everything will be reviewed by the Holy See.

  15. FrMichael says:

    Mr. Fair, I’d like to address your quote from Cardinal DePaolis:

    “But a charism is not to be identified with the person of the founder, especially not with his or her holiness or sin. A charism is a gift made to the Church.”

    While it is true that a religious order can exist with a charism without benefit of a single founder (e.g. the Servites) or even identifiable founders (e.g. the Carmelites), the large majority of orders do have individual founders leaving a corpus of writings and body of works of mercy (both spiritual and corporal) to serve as the lens through which the charism is interpreted by successive generations. With Maciel’s downfall, what do future Legionaries and RCs do? Maciel’s writings are unreliable and his example of life is horrible. We’re dealing with an already-existing religious order given a charism from above (your referenced letter from the Cardinal) without benefit of supporting documentation or example of life from the founder.

    Personally, I believe the way forward is to dissolve the Legion and RC. If former members can create a viable order pursuing “Thy Kingdom Come!” may God bless them! That way Maciel is removed from the picture and priests with a true spirit of holiness can serve as vessels of the Spirit without being tied to the everlasting stain of MM. These priests would be the founders of the order, while Maciel’s name and influence retreats to the dustbin of history.

    No matter how Rome chooses to resolve these controversies, one has to admit that this is quite an extraordinary situation and that questions are quite legitimate and hopefully will help to clarify things.

  16. Jim Fair says:

    Fr Michael…It is an extraordinary situation! That’s why we have a Papal Delegate and a process of renewal spanning several years. That’s why the members of the Movement — Legionaries, consecrated and 1st/2nd degree members — all are participating in the process. It takes time, hard work and more than a little faith.

    Stay tuned to the process. There will be greater clarity over time — I’m absolutely certain of that!

  17. Liz Phelan says:


    The delegate refers to an as-yet-unwritten “definitive, official text on the charism” that presumably will contain some “Essential Principles” that he and Fr. Ghirlanda were kind enough to articulate for the membership:

    “This [Essential Principles] text is not definitive; however, it contains the essential Principles that give shape to the common charism of Regnum Christi. As is clear, any formulation of a gift of God such as a charism in human words will always be limited and can always be perfected. It is possible to imagine a day in which an assembly that represents all the components of Regnum Christi might approve a definitive, official text on the charism. For the moment, the reflection on this text will be helpful and enriching for the diverse components of Regnum Christi. It will help them better understand the shared foundation that unites them all.”

    My questions are: Will the Holy See need to review and approve this definitive official text on the charism? And if so, doesn’t that mean that the issue of charism hasn’t QUITE been answered yet?

    In fact, if I’m understanding Cardinal De Paolis’ letter correctly (and assuming accurate and representative translation), the delegate and Fr. Ghirlanda needed – at the very least – to write up some “Essential Principles” that the Legion and Regnum Christi could use as a basis for revising their respective norms. And, subsequently, to be used as a basis for understanding how the component parts SHOULD relate one to another in terms of apostolic activity. The way it usually works is that any “essential principles” would be contained within the defined charism of the group. However, in this particular case the charism is NOT defined – in fact, it appears that the group members weren’t even able to put together some “Essential Principles” on their own – so the delegate needed to write this up for them to get them started on the crucial next steps of proper governance.

  18. Jim Fair says:

    Liz…as I said before, the Legionaries, consecrated members and 1st/2nd degree representatives are all developing the various documents necessary for our future governance. Everything will be reviewed by the Holy See. And as I have suggested earlier, a charism is in some regards like love. I know what it is, I can talk about its various attributes. I can proclaim it and be convinced that I have it. Putting it into precise words is a challenge. Having said that, the final approved documents will have a description that has been approved by the highest authorities of the Church.

  19. FrMichael says:

    Mr. Fair, thank you for your response. As someone who has had only modest incidental contact with the Legion and RC, I don’t have any personal interest at stake in these proceedings. However, as a priest I am very interested in knowing that the many orthodox members of LC/RC don’t have their good works and spirituality perverted by the twisted Maciel and those practices of LC/RC that reflect his godless nature. I will be following the process with great interest.

  20. Liz Phelan says:

    If putting the charism into precise words is such a challenge, does that mean that the following is no longer a correct synopsis of the charism of Regnum Christi?

    “It’s specific charism is the same as the Legion of Christ and consists in knowing, living, and preaching the commandment of love that Jesus Christ Redeemer came to bring us by his Incarnation. In fact, the work that the Legionaries of Christ and the members of the Movement of apostolate Regnum Christi carry out in the construction of the civilization of Christian justice and love is well known.”

    – Decree approving the statutes of Regnum Christi Nov. 26, 2004

  21. Liz Phelan says:

    Fr.Michael, I’d like to address your point about Maciel’s writings. While the Legion and Regnum Christi no longer mention the letters of Envoy and have changed some words around a bit, there is no doubt that the essential ideas of the Movement come right from Maciel. There is now a book called “Cristo Al Centro” (Centered on Christ) which was put together as a way of documenting the spirituality of the Legion and the Movement without referencing Maciel directly. However, the quotes I have seen from this book seem to be just a rewording of Maciel quotes. Furthermore, a perusal of the “Principles of the Regnum Christi Charism” that Jim linked to above reveals stuff that is very reminiscent of some of Maciel’s famous “TWA” letter.

    Perhaps Jim can clarify how the founder IS influencing the charism of the Legion and Regnum Christi. If the group can’t look to his personal example or writings per se, they are definitely looking to his ideas and the concepts. How could they not be doing so? But isn’t that a bit confusing for everyone, especially since you are not talking about the founder much these days? The natural response would be “then where did these ideas come from?”

  22. Jim Fair says:

    As the Holy See made clear from the start of the renewal process, the existing constitutions and statutes are approved and valid until they are replaced by new and approved versions. We are in the process of preparing the new documents.

  23. Jim Fair says:

    Regarding writings: In reality, the essential writings of Regnum Christi are the Bible and the great works of the Church Fathers. There are many universal truths in the writings of Fr Maciel, so it is to be expected that something he wrote will appear at some point in a conference or document by a Legionary, Regnum Christi member or other Catholic authority. For example, let’s assume that Fr Maciel told seminarians, “work hard and pray.” That doesn’t make it invalid for another Legionary, a Franciscan or a bishop to tell seminarians, “work hard and pray.” It would, however, be completely inappropriate to tell them, “As Fr Maciel said, work hard and pray.”

    I don’t think many members of Regnum Christi are having trouble finding inspirational Catholic reading, and the body of literature specific to our spirituality is growing and will continue to grow.

  24. Melicia says:

    Several of you mention the difficulty of discerning what was from Maciel and what is really the charism. This is a very important question and one that I will try to address in my next blog.

  25. Melicia says:

    Liz, you’re a very diligent reader of documents, much more than other critics I’ve come across. You search for what is objective and clear and you’re willing to modify your position according to new data received. But a difficulty I see is that you sometimes can’t read the documents in their context for the simple fact that you are outside, not inside, the reform process. The documents that are released to the public represent a smattering of the volumes of internal conferences, letters, theological texts, and drafts that are circulating inside the third degree (Legionaries and consecrated members). When the Holy Father and De Paolis speak of a charism to be purified, they are not talking about a charism that perhaps will be purified (if it exists), but a charism that is BEING purified. Over the past two years, third degree members have invested hundreds of hours of study, reflection, and discussion over draft versions of the charism and Statutes, sending the results to Rome for compilation. And now the first and second degrees have begun some very fruitful discussions which will contribute to the General Statute.
    I suspect that not being in this context makes you hyper-focus on multiple probabilities, not the actual reality. The probability that the Legionaries will wake up tomorrow and discover that they are really the Servants of Saint Cecilia and should be dedicating their lives to sacred music is not entirely impossible, but about as improbable as NASA scientists discovering a pool of wriggling fish on Mars. So is the probability that in a few months time all the RC members will throw in the towel and discover they never had a charism. So is the probability that the Holy See, after affirming the existence of a charism, asking for a revision of it and guiding the process through a delegate, will suddenly say, “There’s nothing here” and send us home bewildered and confused. Nothing is impossible. The Holy See has the absolute final word on everything. But having more of an inside scoop can help you see where things are going, and why some probabilities aren’t being widely discussed. Hopefully I can give you a glimpse of that through these blogs.

  26. Melicia says:

    You say that “Fr. Ghirlanda’s thesis is not the mainstream way of thinking about the charism of an institution (Cf. Ciardi, Cencini).” I suppose you mean either that Ciardi and Cencini have written negatively about the possibility of an immoral founder, in which case I would like to see your references, or that they have written nothing about these exceptions and therefore implicitly affirm that they are not possible. If Ciardi and Cencini do not write about these cases, it does not necessarily mean that they deem them impossible. Like Chautard, they could be just reflecting “mainstream” reality, in which 99% of the founders are receptive to sanctifying grace. Moreover, in 2012, Cencini himself was appointed commissioner for the Communita Missionaria di Villaregia, whose founders had been found guilty of serious crimes and were completely banished from the group. I imagine Cencini of the same opinion as De Paolis and team if he is doing the same work.
    Nota ufficiale del Commissario Pontificio

  27. Melicia says:

    @ Paul

    “ comments have come from authorities outside of those with a vested interest in the LC’s survival come what may.”

    Have you read the biographies of De Paolis and his counselors? What is their “vested interest”? That the Pope will spank their bottoms if they don’t risk their reputations to defend an order that has no justification for its existence whatsoever? Sorry, you need to provide more evidence before I can take you seriously.

  28. FrMichael says:

    Melia, your last comment fills me with some alarm. The kernel of my concern can be found in this sentence: “But a difficulty I see is that you sometimes can’t read the documents in their context for the simple fact that you are outside, not inside, the reform process.” Quite frankly, the Legion is seen by many of us as a duplicitous religious order. In ways big (Maciel’s duping of Blessed John Paul II) and small (great-sounding-apostolates proposed in parishes with hidden ties to RC) there is a great deal of mistrust by many in the Church against this movement. As far as I know, the accomplices to Maciel’s misdeeds have never been identified and punished. The financial picture of the Legion is quite hazy. And yet in the situation where accountability has only been required publicly of the mortally infirm and now deceased Maciel and the imposition of a non-Spanish-speaking Italian cardinal as nominal head of the LC, how is a Catholic on the “outside” going to have confidence in the fruits of a reform whose progress can’t be tracked on the “outside?”

    The Legion is not a small isolated monastery whose tyrannical abbot has died and the survivors are in chapter to figure out what went wrong elect a new abbot. The Legion is a large international order whose successes and failures affect the Church Universal. Many of us are interested in the outcome of the reform.

  29. Liz Phelan says:

    Thank you for the compliments, Melicia. Rest assured that your thoughtful response is much appreciated.

    I’ll make this very simple:

    As Jim pointed out, all the statutes and constitutions are in place and valid until they are replaced by new and approved versions. Therefore, you should have no problem describing the charism pursuant to the description contained in the Regnum Christi Statutes approved in November of 2004.

    So can you please provide a “current statute” definition of the charism? Please be sure to include the relevant statute number(s). Take all the space you need.

    Also please do me a favor and NOT quote the Regnum Christi Handbook. I would prefer to know what the actual statutes say. You see, the English version of the handbook was released AFTER the 2010 Holy See Communique and doesn’t seem to include any actual description of the charism (though the word “charism” does appear numerous times). Perhaps any such description was removed right prior to the summer 2010 release? You and Jim would know that better than I.

  30. Jim Fair says:

    FYI — the current English version of the statutes (which are under revision) is available on our website:

  31. Liz Phelan says:

    Thank you Jim. The abridged version will have to do.

    Melicia, it would appear that a relatively straightforward synopsis of the charism is provided in Chapter One: Nature and Purpose of the Regnum Christi Movement. How does this synopsis compare to your understanding of the charism? What elements of Chapter One – or, say, Chapter Five: The Formation of Members – would require some purification? As you are inside the reform process you probably have a great perspective on this.

    Also, as the statutes pertaining to the consecrated members have already been modified perhaps you can share a few examples of how the charism purification has been applied to some of those specific statutes.

    Finally, it seems that the Essential Principles articulated by the delegate do not really seem to disagree with Chapter One of the Statutes (Nature and Purpose of the Regnum Christi Movement). There is really nothing new or innovative in the Essential Principles – nor was there supposed to be. So how do you go about figuring out what and how to purify?

    No doubt your next piece will shed some light on these issues. I look forward to it.

  32. Br Matthew P. Schneider, LC says:

    Let me present an analogy that although it has it’s imperfections, may help us.
    Each charism is like a fresh mountain spring. The type that can sell bottled water for $4 a quart. But each one has a different flavor. We however, are not in the mountains and need a pipe to get the spring water.
    In RC and the Legion, we have a rusty old pipe (i.e. Fr Maciel) who was the first one to discover this spring and set a pipe to it. Those of us who were called recognized the water as the right flavor despite the added rust and other junk. Now our responsibility is to somehow purify that water or build a new pipe to the spring or some combination of both.
    The spring water is the Charism – a grace freely given by the Holy Spirit to be transmitted to others. The founder is just the pipe and although I think we’d all prefer a pristine pipe, that’s not what we got and now we have the duty to clean it up.

  33. Liz Phelan says:

    Br. Schneider, you bring up an interesting analogy and actually have made a strong case for significant reorganizations of the Legion and Regnum Christi at this time. I hope you are opting to build a new pipe rather than merely attempting to “purify” the water running through the existing system. If the pipe was filled with rust and other junk when set initially, it’s time for a complete replacement and you owe that to those who are at the receiving end of the transmission.

    Also, I’m sure you are beginning to taste a “right flavor” of some kind but you need to discern just what that spring is that your deceitful founder has tapped into. Many would argue it’s none other than the Mother Spring directly as opposed to a distinct branch fed by her but flowing in a particular direction and for a specific purpose. It’s quite possible, for instance, that Maciel was able to arrange for a few noxious chemicals from the pipe to flake off and mix with the good water making it taste “different” and “special” when in reality it was poison. That may be another reason to get rid of that icky existing pipe altogether.

  34. Melicia says:

    @Fr. Michael
    In answering the question, “How much communication to the public should there be?” I think there are two extremes.
    The first would be no communication, lack of transparency on important subjects, communication that causes more confusion than clarity. We’ve seen this in RC: I used to read Catholic News Agency to get updates on our situation because the redaction and content was more satisfying. I didn’t want to look like a dunce the next time I had to talk to someone outside and who knew more than I did. Like you say, LC/RC is an important factor in the Church and people are interested.
    The other extreme is communication about absolutely everything. A couple years ago, some legionaries and consecrated thought that “more communication is always better” and would tape private conversations and leak internal documents to the press. I can’t describe to you the paranoia and mistrust that reigned in those days (and hopefully are over). A group that is in need of healing and is trying to carry out a delicate reform process needs a legitimate amount of privacy and internal dialogue. Think of a family that needs “family meeting time”.
    Where is RC now? I think we’ve come a long way in communication, on all levels. Internally, there is much more frequent communication about decisions, events, results of meetings. Externally, there are more interviews, more articles, more documents made public. There are also letters written by the Delegate, his counselors, and the major directors. I think Liz should have been able to glean from what is already public that the “no charism” path is not a serious option, but I understand how certain theories can gain force because of the bulk of online criticism from ex-members who want LC/RC dissolved.
    There is only so much that can be made public. There is only so much that the public will benefit from. The public will need to trust the Delegate and his counselors that they are leading LC/RC on the right path. At least you know that within a year the finished Statutes will be presented to the Pope for review. It may take several years for public confidence to be restored, but better that it be done the right way, and LC/RC will deal with the consequences (falling vocations, benefactors, apostolates) in the meantime.

  35. FrMichael says:


    I understand your model of the two poles of communication: no communication vs. let it all hang out. I would actually change the first pole from “no” communication to “misleading” communication, because that’s how Maciel set up the LC/RC system. He consciously formed the movement to be a hall of mirrors so that his personal perversity would not be stopped by his followers. Indeed he set up the system so well that the great majority of the LC/RC would unintentionally aid his disordered appetites and become indignant with suggestions that the man was any less than a living saint. And plenty of others outside the movement– notably Pope John Paul II and Fr. Neuhaus, for starters, were likewise deceived.

    So the LC/RC system itself has designed into it a severe lean to the no/misleading communication pole. It is a spiritual equivalent to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, except that the lean was not the accident of the builder but intentional. Just as the Pisans modified the construction of the Tower over the years to accommodate the lean, so LC/RC members have had to adjust to make the movement work with so many aberrations in the structure. So to look at another analogy of yours, the “family meeting time,” one would have to distinguish between essentially sound families encountering a rough patch vs. abusive families. The former might need some private time to resolve difficulties while maintaining the dignity of its members. The latter often uses privacy for evil ends and private gain. Notwithstanding the good will of the majority of the members of LC/RC, I argue that the system itself is more akin to an abusive family due to Maciel’s twisted vision. Pope Benedict evidently agreed as he brought in an outside “family counselor”– the cardinal– to try to heal the disfunction. And just as the children of abusive families often have skewed understandings of what should be private and what should be public, I posit that this applies to LC/RC members too. I think a conscious “lean” of members to the open communications pole would be appropriate given that the movement’s way of being heretofore has been to the opposite.

  36. Melicia says:

    Fr. Michael, might I add that the Pope brought in not just one “family counselor”, but ten of them: the five visitors (who literally saw RC/LC with everything hanging out), the Cardinal, and his four counselors. And I can at least speak for the consecrated women and say that numerous other experts have also been brought in during the past two years to instruct and evaluate us on topics pertinent to the reform: prayer, discernment, spirituality, psychological healing, etc.
    I agree with you that we have to lean towards more communication and not less. But what concretely do you want to be made public? How would it help the victims and RC/LC members find healing? How would it help the RC/LC members carry out a prayerful and serene renewal process? Remember, the primary beneficiaries here are not the “public” or those ex-members who have consciously opted out of the reform but still think they have a right to vote.

  37. Liz Phelan says:

    Melicia, on the subect of communication, how about communicating what you think the charism is. In all this discussion, the ONE thing you have avoided is any attempt to articulate your charism.

    As for what exactly should be made public, George Weigel made a great argument for publicly exposing Maciel’s double life. Read about it here:

    As for the question of charism, Weigel also had this to say:

    “Historically, the charism of a religious congregation has been deeply and intimately linked to its founder, even if the original foundation subsequently has split and subdivided (as, for example, with the Franciscans, whose various communities today nonetheless all live in continuity with the originating charism of St. Francis). In this case, however, the founder must be repudiated: Whatever canonical form a reformed or reconstituted or refounded Legionaries of Christ might take, its charism cannot be linked to Marcial Maciel. How it might be linked to the spiritual patrimony of the entire Church militant, mediated through the holy lives that have in fact been lived within the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, is a question requiring very careful thought and a willingness to consider a full menu of possible answers.”

    No parsing or fine lines here, delineating “person” from other. He recommended a pretty clean break.

    It should be noted that Weigel is hardly an “ex member who wants the LC/RC dissolved”. It would be refreshing if the communications coming from the Legion and Regnum Christi were as thoughtful and forthright as Weigel’s.

  38. FrMichael says:


    Besides the wholesale public repudiation of Maciel at every level and by every member of LC/RC, I would suggest the following as a communications strategy:

    1) Investigation by an outside agency and public disclosure of the names of Legionaries and RC who had personal knowledge of Maciel’s misdeeds. Permanent removal of these individuals from every supervisory and spiritual formation position in the movement. Possible expulsion based on their level of knowledge and complicity.

    2) Publicizing the names of LC priests worldwide who have been removed from the order or even continue in it who have credible allegations of child sexual abuse, including in the LC seminaries.

    3) A thorough forensic international audit of the finances of LC/RC and its financial organs (e.g. Integer Group), with publicized findings.

    4) A thorough listing of every LC ministry and RC apostolate in the world.

    5) A thorough listing of every LC-associated school in the world, along with LC’s interest– spiritual, canonical, and legal– at each institution.

    6) Publicize every rule of life ever established by the order for Legionaries and the RC. This includes “confidential” ones as we know have existed and have leaked onto the internet.

    7) Publicizing any information the LC possesses regarding the lifting of Pope Pius XII’s sanctions against Maciel during the interregnum between Pius and John XXIII and/or the early period of Pope John’s pontificate.

    8) Publicizing all gifts, financial and otherwise, given by LC/RC to clerics of the Catholic Church, including popes and cardinals, in the history of the order.

    I wasn’t aware that the Cardinal had other counselors assisting him with the reform of the order. The number four seems pitiably small for such a large order and lay movement, but it is a good start. I also wasn’t aware that the five visitors had a continuing role: was under the impression that they conducted a one-time review. Having been at a seminary which was visited by four visitors at once, I am well-aware of the limited value of ad hoc visitations.

  39. FrMichael says:

    My suggestion #8 was not meant to be a smiley face.

  40. Melicia says:

    Fr. Michael, a quick clarification: the visitors do not have a continuing role; I mentioned them in the context of “family counselors” because they helped at the “diagnostic stage”.

  41. Exclaustrated says:

    Well, basically Ciardi and Cencini’s thesis about charism is that it is inextricably linked to the spiritual experience of the founder. They don’t use this analogy but it is something like the writers of Holy Scripture, word speaks through them…So if Maciel had no authentic spiritual experience the obvious conclusion is that there is no charism from him. Staying in the previous analogy is like saying apocriphal gospels os lettes were inspired. Thay can have more or less value, but they are only fruit of human reasoning…no communication from God there…

  42. Paul S. says:

    The vested interest of DePaolis does not originate with him, but rather within the curia close to the pontificate of John Paul II and whose influence was sustained in and around Benedict. It is noted from the very onset of the visitation that no language or consideration of “refoundation” was ever permitted, only one of ‘renewal’ and reform. In other words the conclusions were drawn to fit a predetermined result, even if it did not fit the logic of the newly revealed historical facts of foundation. Would not the Holy See fear something of its own prestige should a ‘favored’ order dissolve overnight? Was there not a felt need for self-justification of prior approvals and support? Perhaps even a mistaken compassion for members that was unhinged from the truth of their situation? Hence the solution- create a separation of founder and historical foundation from the ‘charism’ itself of members such has never been done before in the history of the Church.

    Breaking the personal tie to a founder has its consequences however that will be seen over time, any religious will tell you that. All that will be left the day after the General Chapter will be words on a page whose future interpretation will struggle for revivification that can only come from a real, genuine and defining fatherly (motherly) witness.

  43. Exclaustrated says:

    Do you share this words, Melicia?
    P. Sylvester Heereman, LC: Si la pregunta va en la línea de la relación que hay entre la recepción del carisma con el fundador histórico creo que sería precipitado dar ahora mismo una respuesta definitiva. Sin duda, la recepción del carisma es un gran regalo. Y también es innegable que el fundador histórico ha sido instrumental en esto. Entonces, hay por delante toda una tarea, que nos va a llevar decenios, en la que el Espíritu Santo nos tiene que enseñar a discernir cuál es el mensaje que hay justo en esa relación. Hemos recibido un carisma por medio de este padre en concreto, que al mismo tiempo ha sido un padre pecador, un padre que nos ha traicionado de alguna manera pero que, a su vez, no podemos negarlo, es el padre, ¿no? Esa es la cuestión. Luego por tanto, entender esto, vivirlo con serenidad, sin falsos misticismos pero con objetividad y al mismo tiempo con atención a lo que pudiera ser el mensaje de Dios, es una tarea que apenas hemos comenzado. Por otro lado tampoco somos los únicos que están en esta situación: recientemente hemos tenido noticia de varios movimientos que viven situaciones análogas, lo cual refuerza mi intuición de que debe haber algo más ahí. [Nota del entrevistador: las cursivas indican un énfasis especial en el tono.]

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