For years, the Legion of Christ has emphasized that being involved in the media is an “integral” aspect of its (once) ever-expanding mission. This thinking was borne out in the Legion’s 1995 acquisition of the National Catholic Register and Twin Circle magazine (whose name was changed to Catholic Faith & Family). Its in-house media arm, Circle Media, was established that same year to administer these two publications as well as publish books, promote Internet ventures such as Catholic.net, and the like.
But these days, since the sordid double-life of the organization’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, came to light in 2009, the prevailing winds are no longer blowing in a favorable direction for the Legion or its closely intertwined lay affiliate, Regnum Christi. Many young American Legionary priests have abandoned the order, most having transitioned into diocesan ministry. Thousands of disheartened and disillusioned lay members of Regnum Christi have likewise bolted. Donations to the Legion are down. Vocations are down. There are indications that both are, in fact, way, way down, which would explain why the Legion’s already determined belt-tightening has recently moved into high gear. It would appear that the belt has become a tourniquet.
The Legion’s U.S. publishing entity, Circle Media, is now kaput. Its abrupt disappearance fits the ongoing pattern of retrenchment taking place within the once far-flung and powerful network of Legionary owned and operated ventures. True, Circle Press, the Legion’s book-publishing subsidiary of Circle Media, still has an Internet presence, but that seems to be only because, with a load of inventory still sitting on the shelves and needing to be depleted, it only makes sense to try to sell product for as long as possible. Prices for their books have been slashed dramatically, some down to just $2.00.
Over the last two years, waves of layoffs have hit the lay employees of the organization’s many lay apostolates and business ventures. The wide-swinging layoff scythe has whickered remorselessly through the ranks of the Legion’s in-house lay staffers. The order’s real assets are also being downsized. Once-important properties in the Legion’s American holdings are being sold off. I am told that enrollment at their Center Harbor, New Hampshire, apostolic school for boys (grades 7-12) has been steadily dwindling. Three of my own sons attended that school in the 1990s, back when enrollment was booming and a splendid new dorm-gym complex was constructed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of boys who felt a call to become Legionary priests.
Now, however, at least one grade at the once thriving school is comprised of fewer than five students. I can only assume that if enrollment there continues to dry up, the Legion will be forced to do one of three previously unthinkable things: either 1) sell the school outright or 2) import students from other countries, such as Mexico, in order to keep the place operational or 3) convert the facility from a school to a retreat house or something of the sort. It’s unclear whether the same diminution in enrollment has affected other Legionary seminaries, but time will tell.
In the meantime, the cost-cutting scythe will swing twice more in a few days.
The next two strategic pieces on the Legionary chessboard to be eliminated are the National Catholic Register and Faith & Family Magazine. As will be announced in the next few days, both publications have been sold by the Legion and will be changing hands soon. Out of respect for the Register’s new owner, I won’t name names — you’ll know who it is soon enough — but I can tell you that the new owner is an organization run by good and dedicated people who are thoroughly Catholic and certain to ensure that the paper is faithfully Catholic and journalistically excellent.
Personally, I am very pleased at this new chapter in the Register’s saga. And as for Faith & Family, well, it has always been an exceedingly beautiful publication, perhaps the most lush and elegant Catholic periodical around on the American scene. (And I’m biased in this regard, because I publish Envoy Magazine, which I think looks pretty good, too).
You’ll be hearing the official news of these changes in the next couple of days. I have high hopes for both publications and encourage all of you to subscribe to them as a vote of confidence for their new circumstances and their new owners.