Thursday, September 18, 2014


 A year ago I began my three month sabbatical in wonderful, aroma filled Roma. I also hurt my knee at precisely the same time but experienced a miracle from St. Januarius which I will describe in more detail tomorrow since it is his feast day and he is my new hero. But I digress.

When in Roma we had a wonderful tour guide. Her name is Liz Lev. She is the daughter of the former US Ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann McClendon. She is an excellent tour guide and knows her Catholic history in Roma.

After I returned to the USA I learned that she had married a well known former Legionary of Christ priest, Thomas Williams. Their marriage was in the Church and is recognized by the Church. However what led up to his laicization and marriage was another huge scandal for that scandal ridden conservative order, he had father a child with Liz and this child was born with downs syndrome.

Here is his story as connected to annulments and laicization. Often we call it being defrocked, although that term really is a protestant term for ending the ministry of a protestant minister who wears a frock.
However, Mr. Williams explains what an annulment is and isn't and what laicization is and isn't.

The Macon area, beyond just my parish, but to include members of my parish, has about 8 laicized priests. The former pastor here who is now in a nursing home is one of three priests there, the two others are laicized.

As the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family approaches, one much-discussed issue is the process for annulments, a declaration from a church court that a marriage never existed because it didn’t meet one or more of the tests for validity. Many believe the process ought to be sped up, while others think it’s already too easy.

As a former Catholic priest who’s now married, it’s a topic I approach from a fairly unique angle.
I was granted a dispensation from my vow of celibacy in order to marry in record time, less than a year, which prompted a number of friends to compare my process to that of annulments. One such friend, who was going through a painful annulment just as I was in the process of what’s technically known as laicization, was especially vexed at what he considered the “preferential treatment” I received as a cleric.

It’s true that my process was remarkably fast, though the situation may not be representative. I was fast-tracked especially because of concern for the welfare of the disabled child I had fathered several years prior, while I was still acting as a priest. His need for a father’s care put my case in a special category.

More importantly, I was not seeking an annulment of my ordination — an extremely rare occurrence — but merely a dispensation, which is freedom from the discipline of celibacy so as to be able to marry in the Church. This is a much simpler process.

According to Catholic theology, the Church has no power to dissolve a sacramental marriage, or to dissolve the sacrament of holy orders. The annulment process does not break apart a marriage or unmake a priest. It is a formal investigation into the validity of the sacrament to see whether the sacrament actually took place or not.
When granted, annulment is the Church’s declaration that the sacrament was never valid. This investigation tends to take a long time, since the benefit of the doubt goes to the validity of the sacrament, and, in the case of marriage, there are two parties involved, and they don’t always see things the same way.

In my case, my ordination to the priesthood was valid, and I will always be a priest in the eyes of the Church. But I will not be actively practicing my priestly ministry. The Church has dispensed me from my vow of celibacy and so I will no longer present myself as a priest or administer the sacraments, but I still am, in essence, a priest.

I am very sympathetic to the many Catholics who suffer with separation and broken marriages. I worked for several years with divorced and separated Catholics and saw up close the incredible suffering and often the sense of existential failure they face. This is undoubtedly one of the most painful pastoral issues that the Church has to deal with. Divorce is very common among Catholics, nearly as common as for the rest of society.

But for a Catholic who wishes to remarry in the Church, an annulment is necessary, and this can be just as agonizing as the initial separation. It means digging into sometimes horrible memories, embarrassing questions of a very intimate nature, and sometimes exposing oneself to the hostility of the other party.

People can even feel that the Church is working against them, or at least not actively helping them to find the happiness they seek. Obviously, something needs to be done here.

Pope Francis has shown particular sensitivity toward those living in difficult situations, and those who feel marginalized from the life of the Church. The upcoming synod will furnish a good opportunity to study this question in the light of the pastoral experience of those who work with divorced and separated Catholics, and the Pope will surely be looking for creative solutions to streamline the annulment process and assist the faithful who live in “irregular” situations.
Moreover, the central thrust of the synod won’t be how to make it easier to get out of a bad marriage. The Church will want to send a message to young people that she still believes in marriage and that lifetime commitment — with God’s help — is still possible.

How to combine a robust affirmation of marriage with a renewed commitment to compassion is the Herculean task that awaits the bishops.

Thomas D. Williams, a former member of the Legionaries of Christ, is a Catholic theologian and author of “The World As It Could Be: Catholic Social Thought for a New Generation” (Crossroad: 2011).


Gene said...

A pretty good explanation on the part of Williams. What a mess...

Anonymous said...

And the purpose of sharing this article is.......what? Are you trying to show us a "good" side to immorality?

JusadBellum said...

One of the unspoken but present issues is that of cultural 'elan' - who is driving Western Culture?

If the Church accepts the status quo of the Western, Post-Christian culture which includes the practical atheism and sexual revolution as key cornerstones to the world's idea of "progress", then we will be striving to simply carve out some Amish like niche in the wall. Some sort of 'non-aggression' pact whereby the world will eat us last.

Instead, why not reject in toto the majority's bed rock presumptions about reality and begin inspiring our people to reject them as well as part of their Catholic identity?

But I get it... the low hanging fruit is to tinker with the annulment process and streamline it. So that's what will be done. We'll accept our place in the wider world, which has the cultural initiative and coercive power of state and finance.... and continue to soft pedal the truly revolutionary Christian message about sexuality and marriage.

So annulments will be easier. But after the flurry of regularized marriages subsides will the new normal be on a trajectory to a more Christ-centered culture or just a further slide into an anti-Christ culture?

Always taking the reactionary, "antithesis...synthesis" tact...always opting for the low hanging fruit....always giving way to placate the feelings of the Zeitgheist (the poor dear) while running rough shod over the feelings of erstwhile 'faithful' Catholics experiencing a white martyrdom in their communities.... will bring us to the red martyrdom.

Is that the objective? So botch our evangelization of the world that we maneuver the world into blood persecution as 'final solution' to the Catholic problem? It's the Good Friday option - corner the world into a blind alley so they opt to crucify any faithful Catholic minority that's left with the sneaky goal of provoking the miracle of Easter Sunday?

I'll grant that this is the historic norm for the Church and that it DOES seem to work when viewed over centuries....but at what a cost to lives and souls!

Is there no other way?

Anonymous said...

Are they caring for their child?

JusadBellum said...

Yes. they are caring for their child.

It wasn't the Legion's 'conservatism' that led to their disaster but a lack of conservative (i.e. faithful) spirit from the top. In Fr. William's case, this started with the age old rule of sending men out in pairs being discontinued for top brass.... so he began to wander Rome solo... all for "ministry" of course. But it's when he was solo that the first flirts and suggestive trains of thought started moving down the rails....

Now, properly "hip, cool, and progressive" theologians will always opine that we need to treat men as adults and let them sink or swim on their own. To a degree I agree. BUT....BUT religious are to live in community for a reason. Community life and going in pairs 'into the world' has evangelical roots in sound human anthropology. Wearing distinctive uniforms or wedding rings are all tried and true tools towards the end of maintaining one's state in life and not falling into temptation.

So despite the Legion's clear doctrine and rule book which did spell out the need for priests and religious to go into the city in pairs.... he (*and others) gave themselves permission to go in solo....and it was thus that he fell in love and then decided to pretend to be a husband while not actually being a husband.

He finally did the honorable thing and he is (as far as I know) a decent and faithful Catholic who sought forgiveness, has made amends as he can, and is working to support wife and child. We can't ask anything more of him or anyone.

But it all started from disobedience, not some weird LC crazy pants rule.

Anonymous said...

Jusad, I imagine you'll tell me if I'm wrong, but you sound to me like somebody who (paraphrasing an old hero of the political right) is now or has been a member of the Legionaries of Christ.

I believe that the responsibility, the blame for the tragedy that is described here lies squarely upon this cult organization, begun by an evil man. It lures in teen aged boys, brainwashes them and pressures them at an early age to make a vow of celibacy, which many, no most of them are unable to keep.

Your two postings here make me think of words that might have come from Jim Jones or David Koresh.

JusadBellum said...

I have a relative who is still a member.

Similarity is not identity. Christianity and Mithrasism share many similar features but are not the same religion.

So too, the Legion and Cults also share some superficial similarities but also major differences.

The first big difference is that while Cults believe there is no authority higher than their chief poohbah, the Legion always taught their men to obey the Pope. Maciel was never considered higher than the Church or Pope.

Secondly, both Cults and religious orders have unique rules and customs that separate them from outsiders. But again, in the Legion's case, those rules were accepted by members on the say-so and approval of a higher authority (the Church).

The gung-ho kids who joined the Legion did so out of love for the Church, the Pope, Jesus and Mary. They went off to serve in a 'shock-troop' style missionary crusade not join a creepy Uriah Heap creature who arrogated to himself all authority.

My relative didn't join to escape the world or Church but to serve the Church and save the world in Christ. That's not the behavior of cultists.

In my experience, Legionaries tended to be far more well read of Vatican II than others and on the cutting edge of lots of practices vs. hidebound traditionalists only doing what's always been done... and they tended to have an openness of spirit.

Given my personal experience with my relative and others, I don't accept the caricature others heap on them. They're not perfect (no one is) but neither are those guys 'brainwashed' or zombies. Most of them have been utterly devastated by the revelation of Maciel's behavior.

JusadBellum said...

Oh, and I checked some statistics...

Every seminary varies from year to year. The LC is no different. Some classes of seminarians have almost no attrition rate from novitiate to ordination 12+ years later...whereas some have up to 80% attrition rates. Meaning guys discern the priesthood is not for them over the course of a decade or more of seminary life.

That's hardly a priest factor, number for the sake of number cult thing.

And many of the former Legionary priests or seminarians are now serving as diocesan clergy... so these guys didn't exit the Church to follow Maciel to hell, they very much joined and left the LC to serve the Church.

My relative's class of men is about 50/50. About half were college age or older. They're not all minor seminarians.

But I get it. There are either haters or apologists. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground when the LC is mentioned. Far more Jesuits have gone to jail for pedophilia than Legionaries but the hatred runs white hot for Legionaries and not for Jesuits. I don't quite know what to make of it.

Anonymous said...

Former or current Legionary priests or seminarians make me very uneasy.

Gene said...

A visiting Legionaires Priest recently said the OF at the Church I attend sometimes when away from St. Jo's. It was the only time I have seen the OF performed with any dignity or reverence in that particular Church. His homily was on "meaningful social action." But, he fooled all the libs in the congregation…his message and final statement: "The only truly meaningful social action is to encourage others to repent and believe the Gospel of Christ." I want this guy to be Pope!

JusadBellum said...

Anonymous, can you elaborate as to why they make you uneasy?

I believe that as Confirmed Catholics we do indeed have a faculty of soul for counsel and this often is experienced in strong feelings for or against someone who "on paper" may look nice but feel 'off' or look bad but feel 'ok'.

So in all seriousness, what about them makes your 'spider' senses tingle? Too good to be true? Too white bread? Too gung-ho? Too much testosterone?

First impressions often say more about what we're struggling with than about the other person. But often our crosses give us insight into possible fakes or conmen or fellow sufferers in others.

For example, men in recovery from addiction can often spot a fellow addict immediately from subtle 'tells' in their behavior.

Gay men claim there's a type of 'gay-dar' where they can spot a fellow traveler from other hints.

So what about Legionaries sets off your 'uh oh' meter?

Anonymous said...

I suppose it may be that people who I perceive as members of a cultish group of any nature set off something...Legionaires, Moonies, Jehova Witnesses ...Morman Missionaries, etc...born again Christians..
They usually seem to exude an aura of certainty...of black and whiteness...but of having hit the "pause" button on their brains... mixed with a dash of superiority.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for somebody to tell me that by saying what I did, I'm exuding an aura of superiority....

JusadBellum said...

Yes, the LC do tend to have an attitude of 'can do' optimism.

But then so did the Apostles, do did the Jesuits, so do most young and ambitious people part of a growing organization.

In 2008 half the country had a euphoric 'hope and change' mentality and spoke openly of changing the world, lowering the seas, etc. would you say half the country fell into a cult of Obama or just the typical excitement of a mass movement?

The point is... having some similarities with cults does not make some group a cult. Otherwise everything is reduced to 'nothing more than a cult'.

Being fair, we have to say that taken to an extreme any group can become a cult. But merely having a certainty or optimism is no fool proof guarantee that a person is cultish.

Anonymous said...

Mr once-father Williams has the audacity to continue giving us 'his angle'. Thank you, but no - thank you.

JB said...

I am very confused as to how to judge the situation of Elizabeth Lev and Thomas Williams. Ms. Lev has two adult daughters from either a previous relationship or a previous marriage. It is unclear whether Mr. Williams would have owned up to having fathered his son had he not been outed by a fellow priest. They both remain very prominent in Catholic circles. Mr. Williams as a research fellow at Dr Scott Hahn's St Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Ms Lev at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. This past August 2015 they were the featured speakers on a pilgrimage hosted by EWTN's Teresa Tomeo called Wine and Spirituality. Am I being judgmental to think their behavior scandalous and that the proper response on their part would be to remain out of the public eye? Of course I believe that when people confess their sins they receive forgiveness, but then is it proper to expect us to respect them as experts on ethics and theology? It seems to me that on the one hand we are in a fight to the death for traditional marriage when it comes to the wider culture, but when one of our own violates the very positions they have advocated for others we quickly smooth it all over. I do not want to hear what Ms. Lev and Mr. Williams have to say about spirituality. It is probable that their illicit relationship was known to their students and their circle of friends. What message does it send to those they influenced by their scandalous behavior that everything is so quickly smoothed over?

Anonymous said...

Everyone stand up and look around you. Find something heavy and hard and go ahead and throw it a these two human beings...but first lets remember the prerequisite of such an action.."Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Ok so put the stones down, and take the planks out of your own eyes before you ask someone to remove the speck in theirs. "Go, and sin no more." Jesus said, and only Jesus can judge. Don't glare upon what a person did or didn't do, just look to what they have to offer, then you will know true Mercy and be better for it.

Lee said...

Elizabeth Lev's mother is Mary Ann Glendon, not McClendon. I'll not say anything else about the situation. I only just discovered it tonight and plenty has been said here already. God bless.