Betty Duffy

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sinners, celebrities, and the Internet

So, I was a member of Regnum Christi, the lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ, for a very long time. I joined in college, in Rome at Easter time. After college, I lived at Mater Ecclesiae for a year, which is a Regnum Christi house of formation for their Consecrated members. I was a co-worker, which is a lay position, in which an unmarried person can commit up to three years to working full time for the Movement. I met my husband through Regnum Christi. We were married by a Legionary Priest. Some of my closest female friends, I met through the Movement. After marriage and kids, I continued to participate, up until shortly after the allegations against Father Maciel were confirmed. And then I couldn't participate any more.

I didn't know instantly that I could no longer participate. My entire adult life was predicated on a faith and Charism that I learned in the Movement. I started out just taking a break, to think things through.

Pedge and I had brought together a large group of women who were all ready to begin a study course in which they would discern if they wanted to join Regnum Christi too, but the night before our first meeting, the news of Father Maciel's transgressions broke.

We informed the ladies that we wouldn't be doing RC stuff after all. Instead, Pedge and I went to a local Catholic book store, and picked out a Bible study course that had many copies of the book in stock, so we could begin without waiting for an order to come in.

The book wasn't very good, and after the first few meetings, attendance started to drop. Pedge and I kept discussing the group--what are we giving them, if not Regnum Christi? All I had to offer them was this charism I had learned through that group, and if that's not what we were doing, why were we doing anything? Anyone can read a book about Women of the Bible.

The group dissipated, but Pedge and I, and some other women continued to meet to have coffee, and read the upcoming Sunday's Gospels. We say a Come Holy Spirit prayer. We read. Then we reflect on the Word, and on what's going on in our lives. When the chat becomes shallow, we know the Gospel reflection part of our meeting is over. We talk about our kids and spray tans, and then we might have lunch and go home.

We don't worry about adding anyone to our group.  A few women have come and gone--but it's been more of a social connection rather than a spiritual one. "Recruitment" is a word we have expunged from our vocabulary, and we've been surprised by how liberating it is to see other women, not for what we can offer them, or for their potential to enrich the Movement, but just because they're Christian women who might want to pray with us, or they might not. Doesn't matter.

Only in hindsight does it occur to me the arrogance with which I used to approach other women (I'm about to offer you a guaranteed and approved method of becoming Holy, a method you clearly need), also the ways in which I used to objectify them as "RC material," someone having the leadership skills and attractive qualities necessary to entice even more members to the Movement.

I've also been surprised by how much the Church has grown in my understanding, since I no longer participate in Regnum Christi. I had developed a habit of measuring every liturgy, every Parish, every priest by how they compared to Regnum Christi and the Legion, which meant that parishes, priests and liturgies were always disappointing me. Liturgy and reverence for the Eucharist are things the Legion does very, very well.

Slowly, my perspective has changed, and Parishes, priests and liturgies of all kinds have become a source of joy and wonder to me--the bigness, the diversity of charisms, the universality of Catholicism. And every year, I become more and more disappointed with what has been uprooted in Regnum Christi and the Legion--more scandals, more abuses.

This morning, in my inbox, I had another email from RC (I'm still on the mailing list) that Father Thomas D Williams had fathered a child "a number of years ago," while he was a priest. This comes after the Vatican has opened another investigation in response to more abuse allegations from other Legionary priests. The blogs are talking about the fall of "Another Celebrity Priest." And frankly, I'm sort of bored.

I'm bored with celebrity priests, first of all--a feeling that began with the canned adulation that opened up any time Father Maciel used to enter a room. I remember so vividly the confusion I felt about it--why does he have body guards? Why are people cheering for him? Why am I cheering just because everyone else is? All of this goes so completely against the grain of my understanding of the priesthood--of Christ, of being the Least. It goes against my understanding of Christianity, to seek out and encourage popular admiration.

I'm bored with celebrity, second of all. Who, in this age of stats, and pageviews, and followers, and "likes," turns down celebrity of any kind? There but by the grace of God go I. I blogged my way out of Regnum Christi, as I began this blog just as I was leaving the Movement, and found my way into a new cult of celebrity to which I am surely not immune.

Would I say no if Fox News called today to ask for my opinion on something? Would I turn down radio interviews, television appearances, a book deal? Probably not. And why not? What is it in me that just can't say no? I wonder if it isn't that same sort of arrogance that led me to believe I had something life-changing to offer the sinful "other" that is not me. Of course for Christians in the media, it could also be a kind of humility that's willing to weather criticism for voicing unpopular ideas. It could be both arrogance and humility wound together in one complex soul.

So the last boring part of this story is when a media Catholic--priest or not-- turns out to be a sinner. Because who were we kidding, ever, at any time, that someone in the spotlight would not eventually fall from its grace, and in so doing, also not potentially fall from God's grace as well?

Fortunately, there's always a way back.


Julia said...

Sometimes we make that narrow road narrower than need be, no? Especially when we focus on what kind of pavement it's made of, or what the scenery is supposed to look like, or which kind of walking shoes we're using.

I have a piece up over at Guideposts about a Mother Angelica prayer that's been helping me immensely lately. FWIW, and because I think you'd like it:

Dwija {House Unseen} said...

I didn't find this story boring at all. My husband and his brothers all went to an LC boarding school- my husband for only a few months, but his brothers for longer, and so it's from them only that I've learned about it, and by extension, RC.

It's remarkably interesting for me to hear the reflections of someone like you, whom I admire so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. You seem to get at two truths at the heart of ecclesial movements----they can nourish members and ground them in a disciplined path to Christ and they can also create unecessary boundaries with others who, though not members, may also be on a sound path to Christ. More please on this topic! It's so rare to find a thoughtful perspective on this and on the beauties and hardships to be found not being in RC now.

Connie said...

Your RC post really resonated with me. I went through a similar anguishing, disorienting paradigm shift. I even kissed Fr. Maciel's hands when he 'incorporated' me. Makes me ill to think of it now. So much harm done in the name of holiness. Sigh. We have our Lord's promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against our Church. I'm REALLY holding Him to that.

Anonymous said...

I have a personal problem with collegue of mine. I can hardly stand her. She is neocathecumen, and she constantly preaches & teaches, tries to recruite us in her movement, looks upon us with scorn like "you are not a real believer if you are not with us". Everything she tells and does has some flavour of cultic behaviour. Like she is brainwashed.
And she works very little. It doesn't help promoting her cause, but surely helps promoting her as a lazy hipocrite.
Can you recommend me a way to get rid of my anger? 'cause I've lost hope she'll change her attitude.
The prayer didn't help much. Yet.

BettyDuffy said...

I don't think there's a way to convince your colleague that she's in a cult, if indeed she is. Have you tried just telling her point blank, but with as much kindness as possible, that you have no interest in joining the movement she's in and that you think it might be harmful to people of good faith?

Your anger about her behavior, on the other hand, is your problem. Try to see your feelings as your own responsibility, and without blaming this other person, beg God for deliverance from destructive feelings.

That's the best I can do. You're in my prayers.