Baltimore’s Archbishop Edwin O’Brien has taken a direct and hard shot at the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative and sometimes controversial Roman Catholic religious order.
O’Brien has directed the Legionaries (and its lay movement, Regnum Christi) to disclose all its activities within the Archdiocese of Baltimore and — this is serious — to end one-on-one spiritual direction with anyone under 18.
Furthermore, O’Brien (that’s him) granted an interview about the move to John Allen, the respected and influential journalist for National Catholic Reporter, guaranteeing that his remarks will be widely seen.
Asked by Allen about the Legionaries’ spiritual counseling to teens, O’Brien says:
But what goes on in the one-on-one counseling â€¦ there seems to be a tendency to say, â€˜We represent God. You can tell us anything, and you better believe that what we tell you is from God too. If your parents disagree, we know better. Weâ€™re in the God business, and theyâ€™re really not.â€™ This is a caricature, but itâ€™s there.
They sponsor father/son weekends. The father drives 14 hours, brings the kid up to New Hampshire and drops the kid off at 11:00 at night. Whereâ€™s the farther going to stay? Well, thereâ€™s a place about 40 miles away you can stay, so the fatherâ€™s sleeping in the car overnight. Next day theyâ€™re ready for the hike, but no, the fathers donâ€™t go, itâ€™s just the counselors and the kids. Thatâ€™s the tendency.
Whoâ€™s in charge of this? Whoâ€™s responsible? Each time you meet with an official, [they say], â€˜Oh, no, that didnâ€™t happen, did it? You should have let us know right away. Thatâ€™s not right.â€™ But it happens over and over again.
This is serious stuff.
O’Brien, of course, is a native New Yorker and widely known figure in these parts. He only became archbishop last year after Cardinal William Keeler’s retirement.
The Legionaries — who have a strong presence in Westchester — are a fast-growing order of priests that has many supporters and many detractors. Their greatest supporter was none other than Pope John Paul II, who never missed a chance to promote them.
Then John Paul died — and Pope Benedict XVI censured Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Legion’s founder, who had been accused many years before of sex abuse by former seminarians.
Orthodox Catholics often point to the Legion’s success drawing vocations as proof that Orthodoxy connects with young men. But others question the Legion’s methods. In 2004, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese shut down the Legion’s operations.
Now O’Brien is really piling on. He criticizes the Legion as an outside critic might, in terms not generally heard from an archbishop:
Iâ€™ve always suspected the flaws in the organization are endemic to it. Thereâ€™s no remedying them, because itâ€™s so deeply ingrained. Thereâ€™s a sense of secrecy right from the seminary. The seminarians move two-by-two wherever they go. If one criticizes anything about the institution, the other one has to report it. â€¦ All this flows into Regnum Christi as well. Nothing happens in Regnum Christi without the Legionaries.
And then there is this exchange between Allen and O’Brien about the allegations agains the order’s founder:
Do you believe that any reform in the Legionaries has to involve coming to terms with the charges against Fr. Maciel?
Itâ€™s got to be faced. They really have to face it. First of all, they have to come to grips with it themselves, within their own community of Legionaries. They have to squarely face it. They need to be able to say, â€˜The evidence seems to be that this man engaged in some activities that were less than honorable, and maybe even sinful.â€™ Of course, I donâ€™t know what the evidence is, but â€¦
One presumes that the CDF would not have reached the judgment it did without compelling evidence.
Absolutely. Without facing that, I think it casts a pall over any other objectivity, any other integrity, they claim to put forth as their qualifications to deal with lay people and with the Catholic church in general.
The Legion owns large estates in Mount Pleasant and New Castle, but has long been at odds with both towns over development plans. The Legion has plans to build a liberal arts college on part of its Mount Pleasant land.