WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a letter made public by an Internet posting in December, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis informed parish heads that the Legionaries of Christ are “not to be active in any way in the archdiocese.”
He also instructed them that the Legionaries’ lay associate movement, Regnum Christi, is to be “kept completely separate from all activities of the parishes and the archdiocese.” The lay organization should not be allowed to use parish or archdiocesan property for any meeting or program, he said.
The St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese is not the first to bar the Legionaries, a religious order of priests whose approach to ministry and methods of vocations recruitment and seminary formation have been a source of controversy. The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, has had a similar policy toward the Legionaries and Regnum Christi since October 2002.
With his Nov. 23 circular letter to pastors and parish life administrators, Archbishop Flynn enclosed a copy of a letter he wrote the previous month to Father Anthony Bannon, national director of the Legionaries of Christ.
In that letter he expressed concern that, in meetings and correspondence with Father Bannon over several years, his efforts to learn more about the Legionaries and Regnum Christi and their ministry in St. Paul-Minneapolis brought responses that “tended to be vague and ambiguous, characterized by generalizations about intent and policy.”
While the Legionaries’ written materials speak of cooperation with local churches, he said, in his archdiocese “practice has not seemed to match theory in that regard. … Our pastors continue to sense that a ‘parallel church’ is being encouraged, one that separates persons from the local parish and archdiocese and creates competing structures.”
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“As a result,” he wrote to Father Bannon, “I have decided that Legionary of Christ priests are not to be active in any way in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.”
The October letter said lay Catholics “have a canonical right to join associations of the faithful, such as Regnum Christi, (but) not all such associations are officially approved or supported” in every diocese.
Since the organization operates outside normal church structures such as parishes and schools, “there is no opportunity for me to exercise appropriate vigilance in their regard,” the archbishop wrote.
He said the archdiocese therefore “does not endorse or support Regnum Christi itself or activities sponsored by that movement.” To prevent any confusion on the matter, he added, Regnum Christi activities must be “completely separate” from any parish and archdiocesan activities and cannot take place on any parish or archdiocesan property.
Legionaries spokesman Jay Dunlap told Catholic News Service Dec. 21, “We wish to continue communicating with the archbishop, to listen to him and continue to dialogue.”
He declined further comment, saying the Legionaries’ primary concern was to keep lines of dialogue open.
Dennis McGrath, archdiocesan spokesman, confirmed the authenticity of the archbishop’s letters. They were posted on the Internet at: www.regainnetwork.org, a Web site whose stated purpose is “to outreach, unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi.” “Legion of Christ” is an alternate name the order uses.
Also posted on the Web site are copies of a letter from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, La., warning parents about the Legionaries and a 2002 church bulletin from St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio, announcing a diocesan policy of barring the Legionaries from the diocese and barring Regnum Christi from the use of diocesan or parish facilities for any of their activities.
The Legionaries have a Web site, www.legionaryfacts.org, which is devoted to countering negative claims about the order and its lay movement. Many of the criticisms come from former Legionaries priests or seminarians.
Robin Miller, Columbus diocesan spokeswoman, confirmed by telephone that the 2002 policy remains in effect. She said the restrictions on use of church facilities by Regnum Christi also apply to Familia, the Legionaries’ family life apostolate.
Dunlap said that as far as he knows the nearly identical Columbus and St. Paul-Minneapolis policies are the only ones of the kind in the country.
Father John Carville, vicar general of the Baton Rouge Diocese, was cited as a diocesan consultant in the letter from Catholic High School last June to its students’ parents.
He told CNS in a telephone interview that when Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans was bishop of Baton Rouge in the 1990s he had concerns about the Legionaries that were similar to those expressed by Archbishop Flynn.
He said that after discussions with Father Bannon then-Bishop Hughes established a protocol that if the Legionaries wanted to operate in the diocese “they had to keep us abreast of everything they did.”
“Frankly, they didn’t adhere to it,” he added.
He said Bishop Robert W. Muench, who became bishop in 2002, also had concerns and met with Father Bannon and Father Patrick Murphy, a Legionaries priest from Atlanta who visits the Baton Rouge Diocese at times.
Bishop Muench recently established a “stiffer protocol” requiring written quarterly reports from the Legionaries on all Legionaries and Regnum Christi activities in the diocese, he said, and the Legionaries have complied.
Asked to describe the concerns of the two Baton Rouge bishops, Father Carville said, “The problems we have found with the Legionaries specifically are that they seem to hide their identity, they somehow convey to their followers that what is being taught in parishes in the diocese is inadequate Catholicism and they have an adverse effect on the morale of local clergy, who are then badgered with questions” suggesting that they aren’t doing their job right.
The Baton Rouge priest also raised the “parallel church” issue, saying the members of Regnum Christi, under supervision of the Legionaries, have organized various ministries, such as youth ministry and small faith communities, that parallel the ministries of the local parishes.
The Legionaries of Christ was founded in 1941 by a Mexican priest, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. Its U.S. headquarters are in Orange, Conn. It has about 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide, including 75 priests in the United States and a seminary and novitiate in Connecticut.