A THINKING MAN’S MEMOIR OF THE LEGION OF CHRIST
Recollections from 1972
I suppose like many people I am still almost in disbelief at the revelations surrounding Marcial Maciel (MM) and the Legion of Christ (LC). I left the LC in 1975 on more or less amicable terms, and for most of the past thirty years concentrated on building my career in finance. Now and again I would hear stories about the bizarre misbehavior of Maciel, but attributed them to embittered alumni. Indeed, a good friend of mine, N.S., who had been a successful fundraiser in the Legion, many years ago told me he accompanied Maciel on a trip to Washington. MM was in bed with a bad cold, and asked him to get some medicine. When N.S. came back he found MM with a fever in the hotel room. On approaching him to deliver the medicine and a glass of water he was accosted by MM under the guise of semi-consciousness, but managed to withdraw gracefully. At that time, I thought both of us had taken too many whiskies, so I took it as a tall story.
Of course, this all changed when about eight years ago I met another good friend, Salvador Munguía, who had been in contact with José Barba and the other ex-Legionaries who had experienced serious abuse by MM, and he filled me in a little more on the details and proceedings of these people. Then, when in 2005 the Holy See basically defrocked MM, I took an entirely different view of both MM and the Legion. I was very disappointed to see what I considered a poor reaction by them to a very severe judgment handed down not by some disgruntled alumni, but by the Holy See itself. Their reaction of denial and minimizing the facts smacked to me of disobedience to the Pope. Indeed, a few years ago even a senior Mexican government official wrote an editorial in a widely-read local daily asking the Legion to quit practicing damage-control and face the facts. A breakfast meeting with Paul Lennon about three years ago before all the rest hit the fan filled me in on some less savory facts I had not known.
My experience in the Legion was not as negative as that of others. I acquired a personal discipline while there, which perhaps otherwise might not have crystallized, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. I did not like the authoritarian “management” style from some truly left-brained superiors I encountered, and of course, the fact that anything resembling critical thinking was strictly verboten. For me the Regnum Christi was a turn-off because my view of the Catholic Church is perhaps old-fashioned and highly parochial. This attitude, stigmatized by the Legion as “lack of integration” eventually led to my being politely ousted three years later. Perhaps because I was still relatively young when I left and enthusiastic about a new career I did not feel so bad about the experience: OK while there but glad I left.
I, like many others, was attracted to the LC because of its unusual combination of Prussian army discipline, and an uncommon apostolic zeal. Maciel was certainly a charismatic man who could be charming and seductive, with great organizational talents and business acumen. At the same time, he was a very manipulative person, and I think the basic flaw in the congregation, and which has come to light even more since the recent investigation began, is that he designed it around himself, with little or no leeway for the input of others. We know that every organization, whether spiritual or secular, has to have a strategy, a mission (the founding charisma), goals and procedures, and the members or employees have to become aligned with these. Yet, this alignment must be achieved within a context of respect for individual personality and basic human aspirations. An excessive regimentation designed to produce a robotic uniformity, a sort of human “copy and paste”, as practiced by the Legion, is oppressive and in the long run can be detrimental to the very goals pretended ( especially when the founder dies ). No organization can thrive without looking at itself occasionally in the mirror, and accepting healthy self-criticism, even of its basic goals and procedures: it must change and adapt to its milieu, and I think it is no secret that the LC is singularly ill-equipped to handle this kind of critical introspection. This is especially difficult when there is a top-heavy structure manned by people many of whom may have been promoted because of their spiritual depth and leadership skill, but where one suspects the main yardstick was unquestioning and well-tested loyalty to the man at the top, and with the whole structure buttressed by a an unconventional, even illegal, vow. Others have documented extensively the overzealous and overbearing methods of recruitment and training, and a high level of attrition and disaffection with the congregation by once-enthusiastic alumni. This should be of particular concern when the numbers run into the hundreds, and when they include many outstanding men and women! The LC certainly has many good works and significant achievements to point to. However, it is possible that much of this could have been obtained in a fundamentally flawed manner.
The denouement of the Legion’s recent saga is not yet fully apparent, but I would be happy to see a good outcome, above all for the benefit of the many men and women who in good faith have committed their lives to the congregation. Meanwhile, I am intrigued by the fact that Marcial Maciel could have perpetrated such foul deeds over a 65 year period, and come out unscathed right until the very end, almost like the reincarnation of Rasputin! Yet I cannot believe that the upper echelons of the congregation were so naïve or blind as not to have had at least some inkling of his un-priestly behavior. We all knew that Maciel was not a man to be crossed: his reaction could be vehement, and I for one witnessed a fierce tongue-lashing to Fr. Jose Maria Sanchez, a slightly eccentric, but decent Legionary priest , who dared disagree with him on one occasion. He also effectively ostracized those not fully aligned with his goals, and dispersed any potential unity of purpose in those he detected as more perspicacious by deporting them to far-off places. Yet, I believe some people should be held accountable for his goings-on, because anyone close to Maciel for a few years had to notice that his behavior was not in accordance with those of a good priest, let alone that of the founding superior general of a congregation, much less of a saint, which he was purported to be. In evidence of this I will relate some details I noticed during a year I had the opportunity to do so. I was very young, immature, and held Maciel in awe, so I did not question his actions at the time, only on reflection later on.
I had been a few years in the Legion when, in 1971, I was sent for a year to Woodmont, Ct., and after that, for another year to the Escuela Apostolica in Mexico City. My duties were to teach some classes in the school, teach English to the son of Don Santiago Galas, a wealthy benefactor of the Legion, and on weekends, accompany Fr. Santiago (“Jimmy”) Coindreau on recruiting sessions for new vocations. My superior was Fr. Angel Llorente, a congenial Spaniard, and almost everyday we would have lunch together with Brs.Higinio X and Javier Martinez, two other Spaniards who were in charge of the kids at the school. Fr. John Devlin, “Il Consigliere”, also lived there. At the end of that year I was shipped off to Saltillo, where I worked in the Instituto Cumbres as Prefect of Studies; from where I departed the Congregation .
Maciel´s house was within the grounds of the school (about 2.5 Has.) just behind the chapel. The house was simple, basically a cube with a small patio, in the modern Mexican style. The dining room was right at the entrance, after the kitchen; behind the dining room were the living quarters, and two small offices. Maciel would come and go a lot when he was there ( he spent many weeks in Europe or the US ), and once or twice a month I was allowed to drop in to either attend table, be given some errand, or simply take a cup of coffee and listen to the conversation. I remember some of the Legionaries invited to lunch or dinner: Fr. Faustino Pardo, rector of the Anahuac University, Fr. Francisco Navarro, one of the original Spanish legionaries recruited by Maciel in the forties. Others were involved in the new mission territory of Quintana Roo, or priests in charge of other pastoral activities, such as Fr. Alfredo Torres. They consulted Maciel on some important matter, and general conversation ensued.
Conversation normally revolved around some major achievement: those I remember are how he bought the Escuela Apostolica with the financial help of Agustín Legorreta, the president of Mexico’s biggest bank, or how he managed to close the deal on the land of the Anahuac University. One night after supper he commented extensively on the transgressions of a priest who had been expelled from the congregation for getting involved with one of the consecrated female members of RC. I was shocked to hear this, because the particular priest was held in high esteem, and Maciel seemed to be more concerned about the fact that the female was “saved” (as he put it ), rather than the priest being rehabilitated. However the following three occurrences caught my attention.
One morning I happened to be in the dining room for some reason as Maciel was having breakfast, which was being served by one of the young apostolic boys. I had my back to both of them but suddenly turned around and saw Maciel smiling and patting the young boy on the backside. It was an affectionate gesture, one typical of a man to his small son or daughter: OK for a married man perhaps, but certainly not appropriate for a priest.
On another occasion I rambled toward his house around 11.00 in the morning, when usually nobody was around. Suddenly I stumbled into Maciel who looked dressed to kill. He was not in the standard-issue double-breasted, loose-fitting grey suit we all wore in Mexico at the time: this was a tight-fitting well-tailored blue suit. He looked like a film star, and when he saw I was a little surprised he explained almost apologetically that he was going to see an important man in politics, which required him to dress a little more fancily. To me he looked like someone going on a date.
What stood out at the table was the number of different medicines he had to take: Metamucil and Mucaine were just two I remember among many others. However, what really called my attention was the bottle of Phenobarbital. I knew this was a strong barbiturate because my mother had been prescribed it when she went through a brief period of nerves. I do remember asking myself at the time why a strong, saintly man would need such a pill. Also, one would have expected that such a saintly man, in the midst of his many activities, would look for a quiet time to pray, especially with a chapel right next door. Yet I do not recall ever once having seen him in the chapel, except to celebrate the Easter Mass. (One of the most famous photos of Maciel is the one taken of him kneeling at the front pew precisely of that chapel).
These were just some observations of a young Legionary with only occasional contact during a year when Maciel was at the height of his capacity and his career. I have no doubt that some of these, although seemingly insignificant, would have raised eyebrows to someone more mature and circumspect. It has been commented, even in the conclusions of the investigation conducted by the Holy See, that Maciel was adept at concealing his tracks, and of course, of using the now infamous vows of secrecy and avoidance of any form of criticism of a superior’s actions, with this very intent.
I am sure that his closest collaborators, those who really spent serious time with him, had to be aware of many more details which, to a person devoted to a life of prayer and aspiration to sanctity but with moderate intelligence and powers of observation, would have appeared highly questionable. Yet instead of confronting this possibility, they devoted their energies to demeaning his detractors and defending him in syncretistic fashion. If such is the case, those Legionaries must certainly bear on their conscience the burden of the sin of omission: not having done something to curtail his scandalous behavior. If they had acted, they may have prevented him from precipitating into the reckless finale of a life which has brought so much shame and embarrassment to the Church, to his country, and to his own family. Some of these Legionaries must now certainly feel guilty. The least they can do now is contribute toward the complete elimination of this man’s image and legacy, and the total reformation of the congregation he helped initiate. They must also come to terms with his original accusers, whose persistence and quest for justice has finally been vindicated.
I am glad that Regain network has taken a positive and proactive approach since the Holy Sees intervention, and manifests itself open to the possibility that the Legion of Christ will rid itself of the shadow of Maciel and perhaps rise up from the ashes. I would like to see most of his accusers take this same attitude.
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