When I was in college, and still a Protestant, I was for a short time a member of Campus Crusade for Christ. I attended the weekly meetings, evangelized with the Four Spiritual Laws, and attended a small-group bible study. After about a year of this, I decided to leave the group: there was too much of a “cult” vibe for my liking.
Shortly after I left, I remember being visited by one of the leaders (the cool former sports-star who was the envy of the whole group and who I had never met previously). He brought one of his student helpers with him, and they proceeded to see if they could convince me to return. At first I didn’t mind, as it seemed to me that they were simply wanting to make sure my needs were met in the group. However, as the conversation progressed, one of them implied, not very subtly, that he believed that my salvation was in jeopardy, as leaving Crusade clearly meant (to him) that I was leaving Christianity. I strongly resented the insinuation, as I was having no crisis of faith, I simply didn’t want to belong to their particular group (and in fact I soon after this joined the Navigators, another evangelical student group). But it was clear that they saw my leaving Crusade as leaving the Christian Faith.
That encounter crystallized in my mind the potentially destructive nature of human groups within Christianity. It is true that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there with them, but forming a group also means that the effects of the Fall are multiplied as well. And yet our Lord made it clear that our salvation would be worked out not individually, but as a group. He gathered 12 men together to represent him after his Ascension (a grouping not without its own problems), and as Acts makes clear the first Christians were not a collection of individuals, but a united Body. St. Paul beautifully writes about the corporate nature of the Church and the need for all followers of Christ to be united to each other through Christ.
That is the beauty of the Church: it is the one human grouping in all of history which has the protection of the Holy Spirit to keep it from completely failing under the weight of sin. No other religious, political or social group can say that. That does not make the Church perfect; history makes clear that the Church’s foundations can be bent, but they cannot be broken. Other human groups might be beneficial to some people for a time, but only the Church has Christ our Lord as Head and is thus beneficial to all for all times.
Any Catholic who hasn’t had their head in the sand the past few months knows why I bring this up: the ongoing self-destruction of the Legion of Christ, a group that at least outwardly was supposed to help Catholics deepen their faith and lead them closer to Christ. Yet due to the diabolical actions of their founder Marcial Maciel (and I can think of no other word to represent the depravity of his crimes), its entire existence has come into question. This questioning has caused major heartburn for those who would still defend the Legion, but, quite frankly, no human group, no matter how much good it might have done, no matter how influential it is within the Church, is irreplaceable in the grand scheme of Salvation History. Only the Church is absolutely necessary, and the Church does not need the Legion to survive; if the Legion is not beneficial anymore, it should be removed from the Body like any cancerous tumor would be removed.
If the Legion were to be disbanded, that in no way would impinge on the truly good works that have been done by Legion priests or Regnum Christi members over the years – any faithful service done by them will be rewarded in the next life by our Heavenly Father (just like the dastardly deeds done by those within the Legion will be punished). But the good deeds of some do not justify the whole; history is riddled with cult-like groups which have performed good deeds (why else would anyone join them?) yet were destructive to the human soul.
When I was more involved in pro-life activism, I was dismayed when I realized occasionally that a pro-life group had outlived its usefulness. Even after the original charism of the group faltered, there would be those who believed that a group must survive no matter what. I do not subscribe to that view. Only the Church must survive; we must be willing to abolish any group that does more harm than good to the Church by its existence.
Should the Legion be disbanded? I will leave that up to the Vatican to decide, but any argument that they should continue for “the good of the Church”, i.e. that they are “too big to fail”, should be soundly rejected; the Church herself is the only grouping of people that can make that claim, and that is because her founder is too big – and too merciful – to let her fail.