For the last week, well-placed Legionary priests told journalists working on the story that a big, possibly authoritative statement of apology would soon be released by the order. After a few days went by, with deadlines shifting, I began to have my doubts that the order would actually release such a statement. Last night, an LC priest told me the statement had been delayed again -- he hinted that the Vatican caused the delay -- and this time he didn't provide a new deadline.
Whatever the reasons for this latest delay, the story still generates news, with more voices raising additional concerns about the order's ability to deal with the present crisis. Today, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, who has written for the National Catholic Register since 1997, posted a statement on First Things that called on the Legion's superiors and the NCR's editors to provide a thorough report on Father Maciel's transgressions, and to issue a clear statement of apology for past attempts to defend the founder. Wrote Fr. de Souza:
"Moreover, the odd way in which the news was made public, with rumors and leaks and vague statements from superiors, indicates that the Legion of Christ itself either cannot be or will not be a reliable source of information on this matter. The National Catholic Register might be able to do in part what the Legion of Christ seems unable to do.
"Indeed, even setting aside the particular charges against Fr. Maciel, all those who know and support the Legion of Christ are aware that cultural change is needed. Benedict’s abolition of some of the Legion of Christ’s vows in 2007 indicates that he recognizes this. The general approval that greeted Archbishop Edwin O’Brien’s crackdown on the Legion of Christ in Baltimore last year shows how widespread that recognition is. Part of that cultural change will necessitate a greater transparency and less fear of public comment and criticism. If a newspaper owned by the Legion of Christ cannot be a forum of openness, transparency, and criticism, then there is little hope for the order and movement as a whole.
"The National Catholic Register is a Catholic newspaper and a Legion of Christ apostolate. This crisis requires repentance and change, if the newspaper is to be true to its mission as a Catholic newspaper. As a contributor to the renewal and reform of the Legion of Christ. I urge those responsible for the newspaper to begin that repentance and change."
Meanwhile, in Rome, the widely read Vatican correspondent, Sandro Magister turned his attention to the Legion's problems, noting the public statements of prominent American Catholics--in and out of the order--who have suggested the "Legionaries of Christ no longer seems to be capable of managing its own recovery."
Magister also outlined one possible scenario, if the Vatican decided to play a decisive role in the Legion's affairs: "It would be the Vatican congregation for institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, currently headed by Slovenian cardinal Franc Rodé, that would appoint the visitor and implement his guidelines."
Finally, Austin Ruse in The Catholic Thing reminds us why the looming possibility of a Legion implosion will have serious consequences for the Church: "No matter what Marcial Maciel has done, the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi remain one of the bright lights in this era of the Church. They have brought hundreds of thousands to a deeper understanding of the Gospel message. They have fostered hundreds of good and solid priests who are a beacon of hope for the Church. Their seminaries are packed with what John Paul the Great called the “springtime of the Church,” young men eager to evangelize the world."
Ruse touches on one of the many mysteries that pervades the strange and disturbing life, vocation and mission of Father Marcial Maciel. His fruitful, if complex legacy may well lead the Vatican to put off decisive action, allowing the Legion additional time to process what it now must acknowledge to be true, and to prove LC superiors capable of setting an independent course. The question is whether the order will use its time well.