Bishop Farrell’s “Differences of Opinion”Kevin Fagan, Ph.D.
In a recent press conference before his installation May 1 as Catholic Bishop of Dallas, former Legionaries of Christ member Bishop Kevin Farrell states “differences of opinion” as the cause of his departure from this Catholic religious group. Farrell’s stated reason for his personal exit clearly implies that he disagreed with the Vatican-approved organization after having been there for 20 years and having to start a new life in an unknown setting. A logical implication of this view is that he left because a “difference of opinion” was not acceptable within the organization, a stance that blends with what many of us legionary survivors describe as the cult-like characteristics of the group (www.regainnetwork.org).
Farrell, like most of us Irish, joined the Legionaries in the 1960s to be a missionary in Latin America, not to be “strongly conservative,” as this religious order is oft classified today. In those times, having a native Mexican priest appeal to our senior-class idealism seemed authentic. Besides, there was the Irish tradition of seminary studies in Spain and Rome, which the Legionaries offered.
The “strongly conservative” legionary label is part of traditional Catholicism—Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotion, papal fidelity, clerical dress, Jesuitical retreats, blind obedience, strict discipline, separation from worldly pursuits and family ties—all given a strong spin in the United States during the liberal 1980s to attract vocations and finances from conservative Catholics nostalgic for the established Church they loved. Like most of us, Farrell probably stayed in the Order because he was happy with community life and the challenging ministry in Latin America. Besides, if the congregation was okay with the Pope of the time, such a way of life was okay for us as well.
When I was a legionary priest in Chile, I received constant calls for Fr. Kevin who had been in Monterrey, Mexico. It turns out that I had been in Monterrey, too, but I was not the Father Kevin the callers were expecting. The official legionary line—that Farrell had gone to Chile—highlights the organization’s discomfort at his departure. The deeper problem, however, is that such groups don’t offer members liberty of conscience, including factual freedom to leave. Besides, Bishop Farrell’s explanation of “differences of opinion” implies that he does value such differences but is unwilling to accept a group that doesn’t. Farrell paid a high price to follow his conscience, and I bet he’ll respect all who do likewise. All of which further emphasizes his disagreement with those, such as the Legionaries, who berate dissent—but not because of their “strong conservatism” (which, I’d say, he’d respect as “a difference of opinion”), but because of their disrespect for personal rights and responsibilities.
To suggest, then, that the Legionaries and similar groups promote “doctrinal orthodoxy” is therefore false: They do not respect (given that they are cult-like) the “doctrinal orthodoxy,” as I understand them, of both Christ and Christianity, which reveres conscience. The notion that they encourage “doctrinal orthodoxy” also plays into their tactic of attracting members and dollars from naively generous “orthodox” Catholics and “conservative” Christians.