Legion of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams is an American who has held various leadership position for the religious order, including dean of theology at its university in Rome. He's also known to many Americans as a news analyst for CBS.
I conducted this interview via email, like the one I did with him last year when the Legion first admitted Father Marcial Maciel Degollado's "failings."
OSV: The Legion leadership has promised full cooperation with the steps announced in the Vatican communique this weekend. Was there anything that particularly struck you about the Vatican announcement?
The first thing that struck me was the swiftness with which the Holy See released this statement, something I am tremendously grateful for. There is nothing worse than being in limbo and I really appreciate this quick and encouraging statement.OSV: There have been several high-profile defections of priests from the congregation, and anecdotal evidence that a number of Regnum Christi members have left, but it appeared there was also a group that postponed that decision to see what action the Vatican would take. Do you get the impression that this announcement of “in-depth revision” is sufficiently strong to keep more from leaving?
The content of the statement was basically what I expected. I loved the last section, where the Holy Father assures us of his closeness to us, reminds us that our vocation originates in Christ's call, is a genuine gift from God, and represents a treasure for the Church. This gives me great confidence for the future, and also allows us Legionaries to present this path to others as something that the Church appreciates and values. Personally, I was greatly encouraged by the Holy Father's evident concern for us, and paternal care.
The statement also mentions specific points that require evaluation and study, such as calling for a redefinition of the Legion's charism around its core as "militia Christi," which I found invigorating. It reminded me immediately of Pope Paul's words to the Legionaries back in 1974, where he says: "You are Legionaries, that is, not listless people waiting to see how things go, but who want to give Christianity an expression that is particularly yours: militancy. Legionaries: that is, soldiers for Christ. May God preserve you in this character." This is one of the things that first attracted me to the Legion many years ago.
The Holy See also calls for a review of the exercise of authority in respect for conscience and in the truth. It asks as well for a special effort to preserve the enthusiasm of the faith of young members of the congregation who could be tempted to doubt their vocation out of discouragement after what has been learned of the life of the founder. These points call for a concerted effort from all of us to bring about the changes that the Holy See is calling for.
I think that depends on what they were waiting for. Some probably had preconceived notions of what they wanted or expected from the Holy See, so it all depends on whether they got what they were hoping for. People leave for all different reasons, and they need to be respected in their decision. Religious life is always hard, and especially in a moment like this. I don't fault anyone for leaving.
OSV: Did you ever consider leaving? Why did you stay?
When people around you are questioning their vocation, it's hard not to question your own. What I found, however, is that I can't deny the vocation I received from Christ. It wasn't my imagination; it was, and is, real. Someone else's failings don't excuse me from living out the vocation I was called to. It's tough, and I never would have planned things this way, but I believe in God and I have to answer to Him alone.
OSV: The Vatican says that the “great majority of Legionaries were unaware” of Father Maciel’s immoral and criminal behavior. This suggests that some Legionaries were aware. Yet Father Álvaro Corcuera, the general director, reportedly told a Mexican newspaper recently that he had “no knowledge” of Father Maciel’s double life. How is it possible that top leadership either did not know or turned a blind eye to what should have been suspicious activity? (And at the risk of making this question too long, are Father Maciel’s personal secretaries/assistants, who surely knew, still with the congregation?)
Father Maciel was always very discreet, and in the 10 years I lived with him I never witnessed anything but exemplary religious behavior. Maybe others did, but I certainly didn't. I don't believe that Father Alvaro knew anything about Father Maciel's immoral behavior, either, and I have no reason to believe that any of our current leadership was aware of this. I know that for people outside the Legion this can seem unbelievable, but for those on the inside it's just the way it was.OSV: Did you personally ever have any suspicions?
No. I think the reason we were so slow to believe the accusations against Father Maciel, and so shocked when they turned out to be true, is because we had only seen the "good side" of Father Maciel. He always treated me with kindness and respect and I never had cause to suspect that there was another side to him. I am very sorry to have doubted the victims of his abuse, but at the time the accusations seemed unbelievable to me, and foreign to everything I had experienced of Father Maciel.
OSV: What has been the impact on daily life in the congregation and Regnum Christi as a result of of these revelations, the visitation and the uncertainty?
I think the uncertainty is the hardest thing, and that's why I am so happy that we finally have a first response from the Holy See. We are anxious to move forward, to rebuild, and to engage in the process of purification that the Holy See has indicated to us. Obviously the initial impact of the revelations concerning Father Maciel was devastating, and many experienced a deep sense of betrayal and confusion. Now that we have had some time to assimilate this news, we need to work together to make the Legion what God intends it to be. The Holy See's directives and encouragement are hugely important in this process.OSV: Without asking you to speculate beyond your competence, how do you see this process (of redefining the congregation’s charism and reviewing “the exercise of authority”) taking place? What will be the biggest challenges? How long will it take? How much will the final “product” of this process look like the LC/RC of a year ago?
I think that there is an abundance of good will on the part of the Legionaries, but this process will also require a self-critical eye to detect and root out anything in our way of life that doesn't fully correspond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is wonderful that the Holy Father will be sending a Delegate to assist us in this process, and it gives me a great deal of confidence that we will be able to do it effectively. Most of us have had a really good experience of authority in the congregation, with excellent superiors who truly are fathers and brothers to us. We will need to be open to those whose experience has not been so positive, in order to see what needs to be changed.
I would think that this redefinition of the Legion's charism and a review of the exercise of authority will take place simultaneously with the review of our constitutions, which define Legionary life and spirituality. Much of this process has yet to be defined, and the communiqué states that the Holy Father "reserves to himself the task of instructing how this assistance will be organized" so it still isn't clear how he intends for this to happen in practice.