UTILITARIANISM OF THE REGNUM CHRISTI MOVEMENT
Using People, the Church, and Fear for their Own Ends
The act of faith is of its very nature a free act. Man, redeemed by Christ the Savior and through Christ Jesus called to be God’s adopted son, cannot give his adherence to God revealing Himself unless, under the drawing of the Father, he offers to God the reasonable and free submission of faith. It is therefore completely in accord with the nature of faith that in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded (Second Vatican Council Documents, “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” no. 10).
THE POST VATICAN II STORM
A brief history of the Church in recent decades explains the extraordinary growth of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement. As many know, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) intended to integrate the timeless teachings of the Church with the modern world. This pastoral council changed no doctrine, eradicated no prior beliefs, and eliminated no Sacred Traditions, but simply suggested that the methods of transmitting the Truth of Christ be updated so that the present and future generations would find the faith more compelling and accessible.
Sadly, many zealous and overhasty Catholics embraced the idea of meeting modernity head-on, interpreting it to mean that renouncing legalism meant rejecting the Law, and evangelizing the culture meant elevating popular sentiment at the expense of the age-old 'sensus fidei'. Few need to be reminded of the chaos that followed the close of the Council, as spontaneity and innovation dominated the Sacred Liturgy and creative theology swept through Catholic schools.
On a personal level, Catholics received questionable teachings in many venues, saw droves of family members and friends leave the Church, and witnessed the marginalization of those who held firmly to traditional theology and devotions. That the faithful felt the earth shifting beneath their very feet would not be an exaggeration. Once known for their unique world view and strong family culture, now Catholics were hardly distinguishable from non-Catholics in the way they lived their daily lives.
"THOSE HANDSOME YOUNG MEN IN CASSOCKS"
Almost every orthodox Catholic’s first encounter with the Legion of Christ has been accompanied by relief and joy. Here were exuberant young men in traditional garb participating in reverent liturgies. Not only did they love the Pope, the Church, and Our Lady, but they wanted to share that love with everyone they met. They were on the lookout for any young men or women with vocations, families who wanted their children to share their zeal through age-appropriate youth groups, and adults they could invite into Regnum Christi to work alongside them for the Kingdom. Wasn’t this the long-awaited answer to prayer?
Setting aside the nature of the “kingdom” for the moment, it is important to look at how members of the Movement are encouraged to look at the world in which they live, especially how to use that world to bring about the good that God desires. Specifically, we need to consider the way that the Movement sees people, the Church, and the secular world in which they move and operate.
One of the most common comments about the Movement is that they spend a lot of time and energy on recruiting new members. It is understandable that if someone has found something he finds highly valuable, he wants to tell everyone about it. This would be true of a promising stock, a beneficial medicine, or an inspiring book, and it is the assumption that souls who find authentic Catholicism through the Legion want others to find it there as well. From the youngest members in youth groups to the seminarians and priests on recruiting teams, every member is encouraged to bring others to Christ through the Movement and to make it grow.
Now putting aside the theology of “God blessing the Movement through a growth in numbers” (treated below), one could quickly get the impression that existing members are valued more for their access to new recruits than for their own “vocation” to the Movement. Commonplace are the following and similar directions:
• make a list of friends who might be open to joining;
• bring us your school directory so that we can invite your classmates;
• ask your pastor if we can use his facilities to introduce Regnum Christi to the women of his parish;
• bring us the names and addresses of influential Catholics you know whom we could visit.
Zeal to spread the Kingdom could account for many of these directives, but one gradually senses that each member is responsible for bringing others of a certain caliber to the ranks, who then are pressed in the same way. Highly valued are the high-profile recruits whose incorporation will attract others by their mere association. It is standard procedure in youth groups to dangle well-known guests, such as popular athletes, to draw youngsters to retreats. This would not be controversial, except that the intensity of the recruiting never lets up and it becomes evident that people are used more as tools than as ends in themselves.
Recruiting one-on-one is bolstered by the growth of apostolates that will attract Catholics who can then be invited to Regnum Christi events. A seemingly solid defense of these apostolates is that they “form the laity” or “catechize the faithful.” No doubt, there is exposure to solid catholic teaching but one becomes suspicious that the apostolate is more bait for recruiting than an end in itself. This view would be bolstered by the evidence: all visitors are tracked, entered onto mailing lists, invited to subsequent events, solicited for money, and probed for eligible family members who fit other recruiting categories. Additionally, the fact that the event’s affiliation with the Movement is often hidden or disguised adds to the suspicion that there is something other than “sharing Christ” at the heart of recruiting.
Most important, it is the treatment of members who cannot recruit or benefit the Movement which reveals the utilitarianism of the Legion. Regnum Christi members discover that each apostolate has to raise its own funds, be self-staffed, and also provide money and new members for the Movement. The Legionary charism of “efficiency” leads the priests to support healthy, productive members. As a result, priests, seminarians, or consecrated women hover around the healthy families who provide what they want. But when disaster hits, few find that the Movement has time or energy for high-maintenance members. Families who suffer crises, who encounter real inner struggles, or who need ministry themselves find little help from the Legionary priests. Efficiency and urgency “for the Kingdom” lead them on to others who can provide access and resources to build the ranks without diluting their strength.
As a side note, having focused on energetic and apostolic Catholics to fill their ranks, the Legion uses the initiatives of its members to bolster its own image. Each team member is encouraged to brainstorm for new ways to spread the faith, and in this framework the Legion then takes credit for spreading the kingdom by means of its methodology. A recent medical story provides an analogy. It was reported that the use of the birth control pill lowered the risk of heart disease. Seeing a red flag immediately, pro-lifers pursued the facts to discover that there was no study to this effect, but just some statistics. Analysis of the statistics showed rather quickly that the lower incidence of heart disease was the result of doctors discouraging women with heart disease or a family history of such from using the Pill. The deck, in essence, was stacked. In the same way, if the Legion only invites enthusiastic and thriving families into its ranks, it can take credit neither for their initiatives nor their formation. It is not the methodology that is blessed but the faith of the members who were already pursuing God’s will for their lives. But that doesn’t stop the Legion from using them for PR. *
"THE POPE LOVES US – WE'LL TAKE YOU TO ROME!"
It is with great sadness that one must suggest that the Legion uses the Pope, the sacraments, and its own spiritual direction for its own ends, and not necessarily for the good of its members or even the Church at large. There are pictures of the founder with the Pope, the seminarians with the Pope, the papal Masses, the trips to Rome, the papal endorsement, the endless string of anecdotes indicating the personal affection of the Pope for the Movement, as well as the endless promotion of the “similarities” between the lives of Marcial Maciel and Pope John Paul II. This is the most attractive “hook” for any faithful Catholic who wishes to adhere to the teachings of Christ as espoused through His vicar on earth. It would benefit anyone considering this collaboration to step back a moment and weigh the facts.
What are the facts? The Church has emphasized that this is the “age of the laity” in the Church and that the rise of the ecclesial movements indicates God’s will in this regard. The great growth of the Legionaries of Christ further indicated His favor, though one could attribute it to Madison Avenue caliber marketing and the recruitment techniques described above as well. The Legion insists its constitutions are approved, though they are not available for public consumption, and even members have concluded that there may be more than one version in use. They use remarkable numbers when describing the growth in their ranks, though few priests are involved in parish work and it is virtually impossible to double-check their veracity in this regard.** One only sees the priests and brothers leave the seminaries to work with boys’ clubs (which recruit new members), in schools (which recruit new members), on retreats (which recruit new members), or in recruiting teams (you get the idea). Those not recruiting are commissioned to raise funds from people primed by the recruiters. These funds don’t go towards financing the apostolates, but are solely for the Legion. (Remember it is the apostolates who are responsible for raising funds for the Movement, not the other way around.)
Add to this fact that the Legionaries offer spiritual direction to members which is directed towards cementing the members to the Movement. Those who become overwhelmed at the demands of their service to the Movement are encouraged to soldier on, those who indicate family problems or children who want to back away from youth activities are instructed that their souls may be in jeopardy, and those who criticize the methodology are reminded that this group is an approved gift of God that cannot be questioned. It would seem that “all roads lead to Rome” – but not in the classic sense. Rather, it eventually becomes clear that the Pope, the sacraments, and spiritual direction serve the Legion as distinct from the Church, and that even the apostolates don’t benefit anyone other than the Movement. *** By their good will, zeal, and sincerity, the members open themselves to their Legion superiors and yet, in the end, find themselves used by the very “Catholic” means which attracted them.
"SAVE YOUR SOUL - JOIN THE MOVEMENT"
Finally, as the introduction indicated, the lay faithful want to serve the Church and ensure the sanctity of their loved ones in a world that has drifted far from a Judeo-Christian ethic. The mistakes that their children can make are not only dangerous but even deadly. Promiscuity, illegal drug-use, sexually-transmitted diseases, abortion, and father-absent homes are but a few of the dangers lurking all too readily in the wings. Surrounding the children from an early age with companions of good moral repute is one way to minimize temptation, and “circling the wagons” is an ancient strategy to defend against the enemy.
Unfortunately, “circling the wagons” plays right into the methodology of the Legion, which uses the latent fears that Catholic parents have when it comes to making choices for their children. The use of Legionary schools, youth groups, and retreats are not inherently to arm the children to take on the world, the flesh, and the devil; instead they reinforce the fears – suggesting that parents are not capable themselves of forming their children, that vocations cannot be pure unless the child is taken at an early age from the home, that straying from the vocation to the Movement puts the soul in peril, or that if members don’t work intently to build Legionary sponsored apostolates, the Kingdom will not be present on earth according to the plan of God.
It is this very idea of “Kingdom” at the heart of the Movement that captivates so many Catholics and allows its members to use techniques that would otherwise lead them to question themselves. It is for God, they surmise, and the salvation of souls that friendships can be used, the Pope can be marketed, or fears can be exacerbated. As long as the destination is “orthodox Catholicism in union with the Pope,” members assume that it is all right to use people, to be less than forthright about associations, or to coerce attendance of young people. Can we really “save souls” by doing an end run around free will or total honesty? Can the Kingdom really be built at the expense of the inherent dignity of the human persons who will ultimately inhabit it?
Anyone who has spent time in the company of members of the Movement must concede that the zealous and focused profile offered here is warranted. Many have excused their behavior because their cause seems Catholic enough and the urgency to fight for the Church is well-placed. The so-called papal approval has silenced many a critic whose sense of justice and forthrightness has led him to question the methodology. Even those who witness dishonest, aggressive, or questionable tactics on the part of members of the Legionaries or Regnum Christi excused them as growing pains, individual excess, or a necessary evil when fighting in a fallen world. Let’s not allow the Kingdom they’re building to cloud our judgment over the way they lay the bricks. One might pause to consider the legitimacy of their claims to being “Christ-centered” if the end they promote is masking less than Christian means of arriving there. In the end, the question we must ask is, What would Jesus do? I sincerely doubt He would approve of these means.
* Some would counter that the strength of the RC Movement is the structure which can foster good works and encourage holiness. That is another argument and will require another article to study the fruits of “Legionary apostolates.” It was shown above, for now, that the window dressing of apostolates would seem to serve recruiting goals rather than serving the Church at large.
** The membership numbers provided to Rome are provided by the Legion and impossible to verify, even by the Vatican.
*** Countless anecdotes have been documented of streamlining invitations to participate in apostolic outreaches to those who were “Regnum Christi material” or eligible to help the Legion in some way.
The author has been closely associated with Regnum Christi since 1992 and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: ReGAIN and this site are neither endorsed by, nor sponsored by, nor affiliated with the Catholic congregation of priests and religious with the names Legion of Christ, and Legionaries of Christ, nor with the group called Regnum Christi.