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Cover story

Tactics aside, the Legion is growing

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Since his ordination in Mexico in 1944, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, has pursued passionately his vision to build a militant new movement within the Catholic church to ward off her enemies -- including communists, socialists, Masons, secular humanists and even Catholics considered to be “dissidents.”

The man known and called Nuestro Padre (“Our Father”) by all within the Legion of Christ modeled his religious order of priests explicitly on an army. It is highly disciplined, hierarchical and militant. He holds that dissent within the movement is a sin because it violates Christ’s prayer that “all may be one.”

“Unity is the supreme good of the movement, inasmuch as the movement is a body and an army at the service of the Kingdom of Christ,” Maciel advises in a collection of letters that circulates among his followers.

“The director,’’ he writes, “represents the authority of Christ the head, and the subject the redemptive obedience of Christ.”

And, he reiterates often, one should not doubt the Legion.

Whatever one thinks of the Legion’s methods, the order has grown.

Headquartered in Rome, operating in 20 countries, and enjoying the favor of Pope John Paul II, the Legion today includes 400 priests, 2,500 seminarians, a corps of “consecrated women” and many dedicated laymen and women banded together in Regnum Christi.

The Legion has a spreading network of activities in the United States, where a Legion presence was established in 1965. Its national headquarters is in Orange, Conn. In nearby Hamden the order has a publishing center for its fundraising operations and publications, including the National Catholic Register, a conservative weekly newspaper it purchased from wealthy California businessman Patrick Frawley in 1995.

The order has seminaries equivalent to the junior college level in Cheshire, Conn., and New Castle in Westchester County, N. Y.; and “apostolic schools” for middle school-age boys considering the priesthood in Centre Harbor, N. H., and Edgerton, Wis.

The seminaries are not without controversy. In 1996 three young novices complained that overzealous religious superiors psychologically intimidated them and held them against their will when they expressed a desire to leave. They grew so frustrated, they said, they actually “escaped” by running away. Fr. Anthony Bannon, the Irish-born national director of the Legion, denied that anyone has been held against his will.

The Legion runs a 264-acre education center for meetings of its members in Mount Pleasant, N.Y. It bought the center several years ago for some $30 million from IBM.

In Rhode Island, the Legion operates two boarding schools, one for Latin American girls in Warwick, the other for English-speaking girls in Greenville.

The network of private elementary and high schools affiliated with the Legion is the most recent development in the order’s expansion in America.

National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2000