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Apology issued to victims of Legion of Christ

Rev. Thomas Berg issued a letter to Regnum Christi, a movement founded by disgraced founder Rev. Marcial Maciel, acknowledging his order's "disastrous response" to revelations about Maciel. He apologized directly to Maciel's victims and appealed for help.

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Following the recognition of the misdeeds of Legionaries of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, Fr. Thomas Berg, LC, has written a letter to Regnum Christi members acknowledging their the feelings of confusion and betrayal and lamenting the “disastrous response” to the crisis provided by the Legionaries’ leadership.

He also apologized directly to Maciel’s victims, appealed for help in reforming the Legion and demanded an independent third party investigation to discover any Legionaries who may have been “accomplices” to Fr. Maciel’s misconduct.

In 2006, following allegations that Fr. Maciel had sexually abused around 20 different teenage recruits to the Legion of Christ, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had invited the priest “to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.”

The Congregation had decided to forgo a hearing to the allegations on the grounds that Fr. Maciel was in advanced age and declining health. He died on January 30, 2008 at the age of 87.

Recently, reports surfaced that Fr. Maciel had kept a mistress, fathered a child, and lived a double life.

On Feb. 3, Legionaries spokesman Jim Fair confirmed to CNA that there were aspects of his life that “weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.” He did not verify any specific allegations of misconduct.

Fr. Berg, Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person and author of the CNA column “With Good Reason,” on Sunday addressed a letter to members of the Legion of Christ’s lay order Regnum Christi (RC).

He said that so many priests and section directors have met with RC groups to break the “horrible news.”

“Believe me, we have all been trying to do everything possible to reach out to all of you personally,” Fr. Berg wrote. “But my heart aches because our best efforts have not been enough.”

“I beg you, in the midst of such pain and hurt, please bear with your directors,” he continued.

Fr. Berg also begged forgiveness for “the disastrous response which this crisis has received from our upper LC leadership.”

“There is no other way to say it: in so many respects, Legionary superiors have failed, and failed miserably to respond adequately to this crisis, and not surprisingly, have engendered in many of you and understandable lack of confidence. Those are the facts and your reaction is natural and reasonable. With all my heart, on their behalf, I apologize. Our superiors are human instruments; I know in their hearts they have trying to do the right thing, under inhuman pressure. Please understand that.”

Though defending Legion spokesman Jim Fair, he said he would not make excuses for the “fumbled media responses,” the appearances of being “less than forthcoming”, the lack of information and the confusion of messaging.

Insisting that the situation is about more than “crisis management,” he added:

“The thing I am most pained about—I share this as a brother—is the near absence of but fleeting suggestions of sorrow, and of apologizing for the harm done, both to alleged victims of Maciel, and, frankly, to all of you. I am deeply, deeply sorry, and I personally apologize with my heart in my hand to each and every one of you.”

“I understand your feelings of betrayal,” he continued, noting his 23 years of service to the Legionaries and his own past attempts to defend Fr. Maciel.

“I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary.”

“You feel betrayed? You feel rage?” he asked his readers. “I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days… are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. My thoughts and my heart have been so often with them these days…”

He advised Regnum Christi members to understand they are going through mourning.

“Keep talking to your section directors,” he counseled. “Let them know how you feel. Let them know if you are satisfied with their response to you.”

Fr. Berg suggested they offer acts of reparation for those suffering the effects of clerical sexual abuse and asked they consider reaching out to those who have been hurt by their experiences with the Legion or RC.

To help their own spiritual needs, Fr. Berg advised Regnum Christi members to speak with anyone inside or outside the movement about their pain and their reactions to “this tragic news.”

He said their “spiritual experiences,” even when they came through the letters of Fr. Maciel, are “valid, and real.”

“God was working through those instruments. The sad revelations about Maciel do not change that.”

He noted that the charism of the Legionaries of Christ is “Pauline,” and told those who can no longer find Fr. Maciel’s letters helpful to put them aside and “nourish” their spirit on the letters of St. Paul.

“Try to thank God for the past, and sing his praises for the way [sic] he has done in your lives through RC,” Fr. Berg suggested. “Prayer of thankfulness will help you. Prayer of thanksgiving for this deliverance he has given us now, and for the purification which we are undergoing will also be very helpful.”

Regnum Christi members’ meditation should return to “the bedrock truths of your life” such as the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Redemption, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, their Baptism, and their call to “a more deeply committed Christian life.”

“Finally, I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel,” Fr. Berg stated.

“Demand that [Legionaries General Director] Fr. Alvaro seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the Holy See) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel.

“Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion,” he urged.

Fr. Berg’s letter closed with an exhortation to prayer, quoting Psalm 36 (37): “Entrust your life to the Lord, and He will act.”

Fr. Berg's full letter can be read below:

Thy Kingdom Come!



Sunday Feb. 8, 2009

To my beloved Regnum Christi Family

A personal note from Fr. Thomas Berg, LC offering guidance and warmest companionship in the midst of this intense suffering.

Dear everyone—

Christ’s peace.

I write to you this Sunday morning with my heart in my hand. I know personally that so many of our priests, section directors, have been working for hours on end, meeting with groups of RC, first to break the horrible news and then to accompany them, often themselves reduced to the point of tears. Then there have been the endless follow—up phone calls, private conversations. Believe me, we have all been trying to do everything possible to reach out to all of you personally.

But my heart aches because our best efforts have not been enough. I want to reach out to you as a brother and friend this morning and try to assure you, if nothing else, that we are here. I know further efforts are underway to attempt to respond more adequately and formally to the confusion you all feel, not to mention the hurt and betrayal. I beg you, in the midst of such pain and hurt, please bear with your directors.

At the same time, however, I also beg you forgiveness for the disastrous response which this crisis has received from our upper LC leadership. There is no other way to say it: in so many respects, Legionary superiors have failed, and failed miserably to respond adequately to this crisis, and not surprisingly, have engendered in many of you and understandable lack of confidence. Those are the facts and your reaction is natural and reasonable. With all my heart, on their behalf, I apologize. Our superiors are human instruments; I know in their hearts they have trying to do the right thing, under inhuman pressure. Please understand that.

I am not making any excuses, however, for the fumbled media responses (which I believe have been too often unfairly attributed to Jim Fair our communications director who needs your prayers and has earned a very high place in heaven for what he has had to endure this week), for the appearances of being less than forthcoming, for the lack of information, for the confusion of messaging. For that, there is no excuse in a way, and tragically is largely due to the ineptness of many of those in leadership positions to respond with expertise and diligence in a crisis management situation like this.

But it is more than just crisis management. The thing I am most pained about—I share this as a brother—is the near absence of but fleeting suggestions of sorrow, and of apologizing for the harm done, both to alleged victims of Maciel, and, frankly, to all of you. I am deeply, deeply sorry, and I personally apologize with my heart in my hand to each and every one of you.

I understand your feelings of betrayal. For twenty-three years I have loved and tried to follow Christ in the Legion. I can say before God, in spite of my many human frailties, I have been faithful. I have also, more than many of you to be honest, gone out on limb after limb, trying to defend Maciel. I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary. You feel betrayed? You feel rage? I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days (the hardest days of my entire life, emotions like I have never experienced) are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. My thoughts and my heart have been so often with them these days…

I know that many of your are utterly confused about what you are feeling and about where we go from here. In no particular order, let me offer my advice and counsel as follows:

1. Most of you are going through the stages of mourning. Understand that and know what that means. This is a very useful site: http://www.cancersurvivors.org/Coping/end%20term/stages.htm

2. Keep talking to your section directors. Let them know how you feel. Let them know if you are satisfied with their response to you.

3. Many of you might find it to be a wonderfully freeing and healing experience to offer acts of reparation for those suffering the effects of priestly sexual abuse. You might also find it healing to reach out to persons who, in any way, have found themselves hurt by their experiences with the Legion or RC.

4. For your own spiritual needs right now:

a. Remember you are free to speak with anyone, inside or outside the Movement about your pain, your reactions to this tragic news, and for ease of conscience to speak to whomever you believe can best help you at this time. I would encourage you to reach out to and find guidance from priests whose holiness and sound judgment you trust, whether Legionaries or not.

b. Your spiritual experiences—even when they came through the letters of the Founder—are valid, and real. God was working through those instruments. The sad revelations about Maciel do not change that. Try to thank God for the past, and sing his praises for the way he has done in your lives through RC. Prayer of thankfulness will help you. Prayer of thanksgiving for this deliverance he has given us now, and for the purification which we are undergoing will also be very helpful.

c. If you still find the letters of the founder helpful in prayer, feel free to use them. But it is certainly OK to leave them aside. Remember that in many ways, the spirit and charism we have lived is Pauline. Continue to nourish your spirit on the letters of St. Paul.

d. In your meditation, go back to the bedrock truths of your life and ponder them serenely before God and let him use that meditation to soothe your hearts: the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Redemption, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, your Baptism, your call to a more deeply committed Christian life, and a loving meditation (“Mary meditated on all these things in here heart”) of all the wonders God has done in your life.

e. I also recommend using The Better Part by Fr. Bartunek, and any other spiritual writings be Legionary priests. You might find those helpful. Your section directors should also be able to point you in the direction of other sources on which to nourish your souls. Share your ideas with each other.

Finally, I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel. Demand that Fr. Alvaro seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the holy see) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel. Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion.

And remember: “Entrust your life to the Lord, and He will act.”

Let’s pray for each other. With all my love, gratitude to all of you for your fidelity.

In Jesus,

Fr. Thomas Berg, LC



Filed under religion, christianity, us, catholic, priesthood, crime, Global
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