Cardinal De Paolis Says General Chapter Is An Important Step in Renewal

Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi Interviews Pontifical Delegate for the Legionaries of Christ

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In an interview with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the Pontifical Delegate for the Legionaries of Christ, said that the General Chapter taking place in Rome is an important stage in the renewal of the congregation.

According to Vatican Radio, Cardinal De Paolis granted the interview in order to present the progress made in the past three and a half years during his term as Pontifical Delegate to the Legion. Under his guidance, the Chapter will seek to continue its path of renewal and reform in the wake of revelations regarding the double-life of its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.

An investigation in the priest’s life led to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision that he be restricted to a life of “prayer and penitence, renouncing any public ministry.”

Below is the Fr. Lombardi’s full interview with Cardinal De Paolis:

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Fr. Lombardi: Your Eminence, the General Chapter for the Legionaries of Christ begins on January 8. It represents the next and fundamental step on the long journey of renewal that you led on behalf of the Holy Father. Would you like to summarize briefly the steps and the main events of this journey of preparation, from your appointment up to the Chapter?

Cardinal De Paolis: I would first of all like to point out that this path is not the beginning of the story of the Legion and Regnum Christi, but it is one stage of it. The first stage is the story of the Founder; the second is the visitation by the five bishops sent by the Holy Father to get to know this reality; and the third stage, in fact, is the appointment of the papal delegate. It is important to emphasize this. Why? Because the visitation of the five Apostolic Visitators presented the result of a reflection, an evaluation and also a consideration for the future. When the Holy Father appointed the Papal Delegate, he had already issued a severe judgment regarding the actions of the Legion’s founder in the Official Bulletin. However, this judgment was not so severe as to destroy the congregation: if the Pope appoints a Delegate, he is implicitly denying that a substantially negative judgment of the Legion itself should be made. At the beginning of the bull of appointment, he says, “There are a large number of priests who are zealous and committed to the path of holiness.” Since there was this assumption of trust, this step—which began with the appointment of the Pontifical Delegate—was rather a positive appointment. In other words, he wanted to restart the journey alongside the Legionaries, so as to guide them through a period of reflection and renewal—which was also penitential—and so as to review their charism, to rewrite their Constitutions and then to resume their positive position within the Church. This is necessary to say, because the investigation regarding the Founder was considered, in some way, closed; even the stage of visitations to various places was considered closed. It was now necessary to work within the institute, in order to make people think and to help them overcome their difficulties. And this was precisely our task. The Pope says that, among many tasks, the main one is the revision of the constitutions. They had constitutions which had not been drawn up according to the criteria of the post-conciliar period, but rather using the traditional criteria: it was a very long, heavy, even cumbersome text, in which the constitutional norms were indistinguishable from others. At the disciplinary level, there was a discernible mentality that did not distinguish the gradualness of the law, nor the importance of certain laws, and thus the “substance” of the discipline was indistinguishable from other rules that are useful—perhaps even necessary—but not “characteristic” of a congregation. There was a “sea” of norms, in which the charism itself was also watered down, or at least weakened, so as to make it difficult to remain in focus. This was the main task.

Fr. Lombardi: And how did you go about dealing with the situation, together with your team of collaborators?

Cardinal De Paolis: It started just by reminding the Legionaries what the Visitators said, because we had to start from there. In fact we presented the observations that the Visitators had made in several conferences to all those who were here in Rome. (In Rome there were 400-500 students and priests.) They recorded these lectures, which were then sent to the entire Legion, as well as to Regnum Christi, which is broader than the Legion. When we started, there was—you could say—almost a division into two groups: the first one emphasized the fact that the government of the institute was tainted. In some way, this group could not hope at all for anything new. There was another group, however, that could not grasp the news, because they saw almost everything as positive: they even thought that their characteristic quality—which had prevented them from falling into the defects of the other religious institutes—was the fact of being a well-ordered reality. In reality, they had fallen into a trap far more dangerous, that of the founder himself! We have progressed along this path, identifying the problems related to the consequences of the behavior of the founder with respect to the victims. We identified problems of a financial type. The Legionaries are not as rich as you might think: the economic situation had deteriorated, both because of the global financial crisis, and because of their institution. The loss of reputation caused a loss of students at their schools, and therefore also in financial revenue. Then there was the problem, above all, of the constitutions, and that is what we have worked on most. The main issue was how to review them, particularly regarding some key points. What were they? The clear distinction—clearer and more accurate—between internal forum and external forum, and between sacramental forum and—let us say—disciplinary, external forum. It was necessary, in particular, to reaffirm that authority is not arbitrary, but must operate within a council. Their authority was also organized in a way that was rather spread out and split in many parts, with many uncertain elements. In short, we have reduced the problem to the redaction of Constitutions according to the instructions of the [Second Vatican] Council, the post-Conciliar period and the Code of Canon Law. We made our greatest effort regarding this very topic. Then there was also the work needed to renew the leadership, which was very important. At the beginning we let the superiors remain in their positions. This was a necessary requirement, because those of us who came in could not operate and govern without knowing the situation. It seemed to us more useful and effective to maintain the superiors, but always under the control of our presence. Thus, we committed to being always present in their general council meetings. They could run their government, but they could not decide anything unless we were present. Thus, there has been this “osmosis” of continuous dialogue. We have held meetings of the two councils at least once a week: I had my council, and they had theirs. In this way, we started this discussion, where we dealt with all the major problems: the issues regarding the Founder; formation issues, issues regarding Regnum Christ. There were also disciplinary issues, regarding the cases of some priests who were tainted by Church crimes. (Although there were not very many cases, there have been some cases in the Legion, as has also been the case in many other institutes.) This is the general framework under which we have operated.

Fr. Lombardi: I believe that the Chapter now has two main tasks: to renew the government through elections and to adopt the new constitutions. But if the work of the constitutions has already been carried out, in way must the Chapter take action in their regard?

Cardinal De Paolis: This t
opic as such involved us only in part, because it had already been judged implicitly by the visitators and by other actions done later. If they had judged that the institute were inseparable from the founder, there would have been no discussion. Instead, by foreseeing that the congregation would move forward along with its charism, they implicitly acknowledged that perhaps it already had a valid charism. Nevertheless, it is also true that the Holy Father in the bull of appointment spoke of reviewing the charism in depth, which we have tried to do. We have inserted this charism into a larger reality, Regnum Christi, which already existed in the context of the founder. We also have identified a charism for Regnum Christi, which is lived out in different ways and according to various vocations: laity, consecrated lay persons and religious priests. It seems to us that the identification is quite accurate. However, following the Code of Canon Law, we have preferred—or at least I have preferred—to speak of “patrimony” or “patrimony of the institute,” by which I mean the institutional elements, rather than “charism,” since the latter is a somewhat problematic term. If we think of the “charism,” as the initial moment of spiritual wellspring, we will have difficulties. If, however, we think of the institutional aspects—that is of a charism as it is given to the Church and approved by the Church—we can identify, for example, “These are religious priests, laity, and consecrated lay persons who want to experience the mystery of Jesus as he announces the kingdom, with spirituality typical of the Kingship of Christ (Christ’s kingship, not from a triumphalist point of view, but from the point of view of Jesus, who triumphs from the Cross triumphs), with a very strong devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary and with apostolate (that is, with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Christ, especially through work in universities and higher education). If we think of all this, we feel that the “face,” the spirituality, of the institute is quite clear and precise.

Fr. Lombardi: In this way, is your assessment is that the majority of the Legion and Regnum Christi Movement in its essential aspects has reacted positively, with cooperation in this journey of renewal, so that now you can really have confidence? Or we are still only part of the way there…?

Cardinal De Paolis: I would like to point out that our work has been predominantly with the superiors, because this was the main task, the one that motivated all the discussion about the Legion itself, which was centered on its founder, who was a superior—an absolute superior! It is enough to affirm—as his former councilors affirm—that he would often act as he pleased, without making use of his council! So the problem was precisely helping the superiors to learn a form of government in which superiors are transparent, observant of the Church’s norms and respectful of her rules. In this regard, since we could not easily be present in all the territories, and since we had so many issues to deal with, we opted to cooperate with the superiors, or rather, sought to have the superiors cooperate with us so as to foster renewal, especially as regards the exercise of authority. We were convinced that, once the Legion was equipped with worthy superiors, the journey would be on its way and could make progress. I think that I can say that this has been the case. Many internal tensions have also been overcome. Of course, we have had such tensions, and they have not completely dissipated. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Legionaries have resumed being a tight-knit group. It seems to me that the Chapter begins auspiciously, because, although some will tend to be more open and others more closed, the basic trend is to acceptance of the draft of the Constitutions, as it is being presented. The key characteristic that must be emphasized is absolute obedience to the Church. I remember writing a letter at the beginning of this process, that if they kept this loyalty and obedience to the Church, the journey undertaken could not fail to be a positive one. It seems to me that there actually was obedience to the Church: I have never heard any grumbling against the authority of the Church, nor against those of us who represented her. Of course, there were a few people, but that is normal…. In this respect, I think we can hope that these constitutions will actually be suited to their purpose, will accompany the renewal and will produces good results. These constitutions, must, of course, then be approved by the Holy See, once the General Chapter has produced them.

Fr. Lombardi: In this Chapter, will we address the problems of the renewal of the Legion, or also of the entire Regnum Christi family, which is very large?

Cardinal De Paolis: In this regard, I think we have had to trace a new path, because before, Regnum Christi was like an extension of the Legion. Instead, we have come to realize that each group has its own autonomy, identity and discipline. However, together they form a “movement.” (Let’s call it a “movement,” since that is the common parlance, even though the word “movement” is difficult to define, because it is a complex group of people who want to be dedicated to Church within Regnum Christi, according to each one’s vocation.) Therefore, there is a great unity among laity, consecrated lay persons and religious priests, who are dedicated to working together closely. These are things that still have to be defined further. It is however, also important to point out that that what has, in a way, overwhelmed the Legion regarding its scandals not touched this great Regnum Christi Movement. Thus, there is a big “slice,” a great ecclesiastical reality that remains intact and has been serving the Church, especially in the area of religious education and Catholic and Pontifical universities. That is promising.

Fr. Lombardi: One last question. This case was initiated with a mandate given by Pope Benedict XVI, and now, in the meantime, a change of pontificate has taken place: now we have Pope Francis. Pope Francis has come to a full knowledge of this affair. Do you feel that he is on the same page as you are? Is he well informed about what is happening?

Cardinal De Paolis: In the three and a half years, I have met several times with Pope Benedict XVI, and have made some specific reports. The last report, however, was displaced, because Pope Benedict resigned soon after I delivered it. When the new Pope was elected, I felt the need to submit this report to him again. He immediately called me, and after a few days he wrote me a letter, in which he confirmed me in my work and approved the program I presented, which was precisely the calendar of dates for the General Chapter. He asked me to inform him regarding the process of preparation for the Chapter. At the end of November, or early December, I presented the preparation materials to the Holy Father. The Pope has been very attentive, very close, and he rightly wants to follow the journey we are undertaking taking, because—and these are his words—“he feels a great responsibility, as the Successor of Peter, to accompany religious and consecrated life.”

Fr. Lombardi: With the General Chapter, a new government is expected to be elected for the institute. We can already predict that, if everything works out well, the mandate of the Delegate will be concluded. Is it possible that the Delegate would then accompany the Legion further along its journey?

Cardinal De Paolis: The mandate of the Delegate, provided by Pope Benedict XVI, did not have a time limit. However, the term was linked to the celebration of the Extraordinary General Chapter. Once the Extraordinary Chapter has been celebrated, the mandate will be over.

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