It was an act of reconciliation — a most suitable way to begin the Jubilee of Mercy. That’s not how we usually describe ordinations, but in this case, it was. Permit a personal explanation.
On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 2015, the Legionaries of Christ ordained 44 men to the priesthood in Rome. I had been invited to attend, as one of the deacons to be ordained, Sameer Advani, is a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, and had been active in our chaplaincy, Newman House, during his undergraduate years on campus (1999-2003).
Over the years, I had occasional contacts with the Advani family, but nothing regular, so I was touched that he invited me to the ordination to represent our chaplaincy, even though my ministry at Newman House only began after Sameer had graduated.
I accepted the invitation to go out of pride in Sameer and in gratitude for God’s goodness to Newman House in raising up a priestly vocation from our men. Yet there was a touch of ambiguity in my feelings, related in part to my work at the Register.
While Sameer was frequenting Newman House in the early 2000s, I was in Rome as a seminarian myself and serving as the Register’s Rome correspondent. The Register was then owned by the Legionaries, and so my relationship with the order grew during those years, and it was a happy one.
But a lot happened after 2003, when Sameer entered the Legionaries and I returned home to take up my duties as Newman House chaplain. In 2006 came the Vatican’s decision to impose upon the founder, Father Marcial Maciel, the penalties reserved for elderly clerics guilty of sexual abuse: namely, confinement to a reserved life of prayer and penance, without any public ministry.
In 2009, the extent of Father Maciel’s duplicity and depravity became known.
I felt we at the Register had to acknowledge that we had printed things that were false, based upon false assurances from the religious congregation’s leadership. I argued internally for that position, but did not prevail against the ownership. So I had my say elsewhere and decided to quietly end my work with the newspaper. The executive editor at the time, Thomas Hoopes, also left the paper. My relationship with the Register resumed happily when its ownership was transferred from the Legionaries to EWTN, but my disposition to the Legionaries themselves remained negative.
The 2012 news that my faculty colleague in an annual summer seminar, Legionary Father Thomas Williams, had been leading a double life of his own only reinforced my negative disposition.
Of course, I had noted the long path of re-examination and renewal undertaken by the Legionaries. Annual contact with my Legionary friends in the Holy Land reminded me of the goodness of so many Legionaries themselves. Yet Father Sameer’s ordination was something more, an invitation to consider the witness and example that he and his 43 classmates offered of fidelity and trust in the Lord.
Sameer Advani entered the Legion in 2003, and so the revelations about Father Maciel came at exactly the midpoint of his long priestly formation. He remained faithful to his priestly vocation in most distressing circumstances and, for that, one can — independent of one’s views about the Legion itself — only be admiring.
Every priestly ordination, no matter how simple, brings joy to the hearts of the priests present. All the more so the grandeur of an ordination of 44 men in the magnificent papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, during the first days of an extraordinary jubilee year.
My heart was not only joyful for the gift of the new priests, not only proud of our own new Father Sameer, but also softened by the graces of an internal reconciliation and an early jubilee gift of healing the painful memories of betrayal. The witness of the 44 new priests, all of them victims of a much graver betrayal — one that I suffered only at the margins, as it were — was the inspiration.
At his first Mass, Father Sameer preached about his early upbringing in the faith and said something remarkable: that even as a young boy the world seemed “too small” for him. He aspired to something much greater than the usual boyhood ambitions, even if he didn’t know it was the priesthood at the time.
For me, though, the words resonated differently. Perhaps the focus on scandal and betrayal was “too small,” a narrow focus on human wickedness rather than, as the old hymn puts it, the wideness in God’s mercy. Surely the new Legionary priests had to broaden their view, to entertain a more expansive view of how God might work in their lives.
Every new priest is a gift, as Father Sameer is to the Church. A large group of new priests is a gift larger still. And this group was a particular jubilee gift for me, the gift of reconciliation arising from the witness of these new ministers of the Divine Mercy.
is the editor in chief of Convivium magazine.
He was the Register’s Rome correspondent from 1998 to 2003.