2014-11-01 11:59:00

Holy See approves new constitutions for Legionaries of Christ

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See has approved the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ.  The approval letter was signed on October 16th by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, and Fr. Sebastiano Paciolla, O. Cist., respectively secretary and sub-secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  The new Constitutions are in force.

In a letter to Legionaries general director Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil, stated the Congregation should be “grateful for the paternal care with which Popes Benedict XVI and Francis and Cardinal De Paolis and his councilors have guided our congregation’s steps in these years”.

This approval fulfills one of the principal objectives of the renewal process that Pope Benedict XVI began in 2010, naming Cardinal Velasio De Paolis as Pontifical Delegate, and which Pope Francis has continued. 

The text is the result of a 3-year period of consultation and reflection in which all Legionaries had the opportunity to participate and contribute.  Cardinal De Paolis’ task as Pontifical Delegate culminated with the Extraordinary General Chapter of the Legion of Christ, which was held in January and February of this year. 

In his letter, Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil said: “We now have the text of our Constitutions in our hands.  As the path that will guide us to holiness and apostolic fruitfulness in serving the Church and men and women, they describe the specific way each of us should live religious life in the Legion.”

Some characteristics of the new Constitutions

Among the principal tasks of the renewal process were: clarifying the charism; simplifying the norms that govern the Congregation and reducing their number; ensuring a mode of exercise of authority that would allow for more participation by the members of the Congregation and be more in accord with Canon Law; reviewing the formation Legionaries receive, emphasizing the personal responsibility of each one in his vocational discernment; guaranteeing the distinction between the internal and external forums.  These issues have been addressed in these Constitutions.

Simplification and reduction of norms: Many chapters, articles and numbers have been eliminated from the text.  The old Constitutions contained 872 numbers.  The new Constitutions contain 235.  As well, many details and specific applications have been removed.  This will enable the members to focus on the essential and facilitate adaptation to the circumstances of different times and places.  The exhortative tone of the previous Constitutions has been removed.  The new text seeks to offer explanations of the spiritual and theological motives behind the norms being proposed. 

The charism: John Paul II in Vita Consecrata n. 93, said that the charism of a religious institute makes a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ present in the Church.  This involves a particular relationship with God, from which springs a particular spirituality, a particular relationship with others, which is expressed in a particular way of living out communion, and with the world, which becomes concrete in a particular mission.  The new constitutional text offers some of these aspects in numbers 1 through 4.  The mission of the Congregation is described in number 4:

4.              In their mission of forming apostles, Christian leaders at the service of the Church, Legionaries make present the mystery of Christ gathering the Apostles around him, revealing to them the love of his heart, forming them and sending them out to collaborate with him to build up his Kingdom (See Mk 3:13-14; Mt 10:5-10; 28:18-20). Consequently:

                  1.° Legionaries should bring others to live out their baptismal calling to the full, fostering the spiritual growth, the integral formation and the apostolic outreach of the men and women, including Regnum Christi members, who are called to develop and exercise their leadership at the service of Jesus Christ who transforms the personal, family, professional and social life of all people.

                  2.° Together with them, Legionaries should establish the institutions and undertake the actions that most contribute in depth and extent to building up the Kingdom of Christ in society and in this way respond to the needs of the universal and local Church, in communion with their bishops and according to their own charism.

                  3.° Legionaries should exercise their pastoral ministry principally in the fields of spreading the faith, education, evangelization of the family, of culture and of the media, youth work, clergy formation and the promotion of justice, charity and solidarity with the neediest, as well as the spiritual care and formation of the Regnum Christi members.

The exercise of authority: The structure of government and the way in which authority is exercised on the general, territorial and local levels better follow the indications of Canon Law: authority is exercised directly by the superior in question,  avoiding the multiplication of auxiliary offices (# 124 and 125); the duration of superiors’ mandates and the requirement to change them correspond with what Canon Law stipulates (#126); appropriate consultations are to be carried out before the naming of superiors (#126 § 5); the superior is answerable for the community called together in Christ, and not a mere representative of a higher instance of authority (Chapter 18); responsibilities have been decentralized, with many now assigned to the territorial directors (Chapter 17); emphasis is placed on the role of councils to aid the superiors in decision-making processes and foster accountability (#125 § 3; 149,5o; 176,6o; 201,3o; 223 § 2).

Freedom of Conscience: The Constitutions stipulate that there be spiritual directors and confessors that are distinct from the superiors of the Congregation whom the religious may approach freely; internal forum and external forum are clearly distinguished. (# 50; 59; 60; 212 § 3)

Formation: The Constitutions place a special emphasis on the responsibility of each religious to discern his own vocation and freely choose for it (#63 § 1,3o; 65; 69; 77 § 2; 83,1o; 91 § 1; 109).  The meaning and value of discipline is underlined, as well as the fact that it should be accompanied with education for freedom in Christ (#39 § 1; 71; 83,4o; 98).  The text emphasizes the importance of graduality and of adapting to different stages of formation, ages and circumstances (#53 § 2; 60 § 1).

Insertion in the Local Church: #5 of the Constitutions stipulates that “Legionaries, in their various apostolic activities, participate in the overall pastoral program of the local Church.”  (See also #4.2o; 14,3o).

Relationship with the Regnum Christi Movement: The General Chapter of the Legion of Christ and the General Assemblies of the Consecrated Men and Women of Regnum Christi expressed their desire to be united in the Movement Regnum Christi.  The numbers 1,2o; 16; 112 and 130 § 2, which express this desire, show up as not approved. They will have to await a definitive legislation regarding the canonical configuration of Regnum Christi.  The revision process of the Statutes of Regnum Christi is under way, with the expert advice of Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda who is serving as Pontifical Advisor.  This issue is projected to be resolved in the next general chapter of the Legion in the year 2020.  (More information regarding the process to define the canonical configuration of Regnum Christi can be found here.)


Some issues the Constitutions do not address, and the reasons why

According to Canon Law, the Constitutions contain the fundamental norms for the governance of the institute and of its members’ discipline, admission, formation and sacred vows. (Cf. Canon Law 587)  For this reason, they are not the place to establish more detailed processes and procedures or norms that do not hold for all the members. 

Safe Environments: The Legion of Christ is firmly committed to preventing abuse of minors, to responding quickly and responsibly to any accusation that is presented in this area, to attending to the needs of victims and their families and to cooperating with civil and ecclesiastical authorities.  Since these policies are in a process of continual improvement and since they must be in accord with legislation in each country, the text of the Constitutions is not the place where these policies should be defined.  The Constitutions do offer orientation regarding respectful dealings with women, children and adolescents (#29).  The Legion’s General Chapter addressed these issues in #32-34 of their communiqué on Government, Authority and Obedience.  The Legion’s website has the most recent policies and the Legion’s Code of Conduct.    

Fr. Marcial Maciel: For this reason, the Constitutions are not the place to address the issue of the founder’s behavior and his relationship to the congregation.  The communiqués published by the Holy See’s press office on May 19, 2006 and May 1, 2010 clearly distinguish the Congregation of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement from the immoral behavior of their founder.  Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz restated this distinction in a press conference on January 31, 2014: “You must distinguish between the founder who brings a charism and the charism itself. This is a distinction we are learning to make because, honestly, it applies not only in the case of the Legionaries, but we have several similar cases, both ancient and new. […] Not all founders who bring the church a grace that is good and beautiful live according to the grace they communicate. This is something we must recognize. This is how it is.”

In 2010, Pope Benedict began a renewal process in order to correct the negative influence that the founder’s behavior had on the Congregation.  In this book-interview “Light of the World”, Pope Benedict affirmed:

To me Marcial Maciel remains a mysterious figure. There is, on the one hand, a life that, as we now know, was out of moral bounds—an adventurous, wasted, twisted life. On the other hand, we see the dynamism and the strength with which he built up the congregation of Legionaries. Meanwhile we have had an Apostolic Visitation carried out and appointed a delegate who together with a group of collaborators is preparing the necessary reforms.

Naturally corrections must be made, but by and large the congregation is sound. In it there are many young men who enthusiastically want to serve the faith. This enthusiasm must not be destroyed. Many of them have been called by a false figure to what is, in the end, right after all. That is the remarkable thing, the paradox, that a false prophet, so to speak, could still have a positive effect. New courage must be given to these numerous young men. A new structure is needed so that they do not fall between the cracks but are guided correctly so as to be able to continue performing a service to the Church and to mankind.”

The new constitutional text is the core of the new structure that Pope Benedict foresaw in the interview just quoted. 

From the Legion of Christ’s point of view, the last General Chapter adopted a position regarding Fr. Maciel on behalf of the whole congregation on February 6, 2014


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