Fr Neuhaus: Why [did the accusers] wait until now and with what intentions?

Concluding Dialogue with Fr. Neuhaus


By J. Paul Lennon, MA



Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
Subject: LC
From: ‘Richard John Neuhaus” <>

Mr. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

I thank you for your thoughtful response.

Not for the sake of argument, but because i would really like to understand: Why do you think the accusers have come forward at this time and in this way? If they had the access they seek in Rome, what would they say they think should be done with regard to Fr. Maciel and the LC, and why?


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus



Dear Father Neuhaus:

Thanks for the continuing dialogue. Am I right in believing that your defense of Father Maciel in First Things was a response the Renner-Berry article in the NCR in December 2001 and was based on your limited knowledge of Father Maciel and the inner workings of the Legion?

I will attempt to answer the questions you raised my previous letter. I take the liberty of doing so because you have not published my previous critique of your article in your magazine. I believe the answers I try to formulate are already somehow present in the accusers’ writings with which you are already somewhat familiar.

I would also like to mention there is at least one important document that has not been translated into English and therefore not available to the English speaking public. It is an ‘Open Letter to the Pope’ written in November 1997 when the accusers made a conjoint formal effort to reach the Pope and Vatican authorities with their ‘case against’ Fr. Maciel.

In following essay I stand corrected by the the ‘witnesses’ more precise knowledge of facts and circumstances.


Which ‘now’ are you referring to? The Hartford Courant articles of 1997? The continuous attempts to reach the Vatican? The short answer is: they have been writing and speaking for decades but nobody was listening or paying any attention. It was only after the articles appeared in the Courant thaT they started getting some publicity, credibility and attention. They despair of ecclesiastical action and want to pressure church authorities to do something to hold Father Maciel accountable for his past actions before Father Maciel dies, and/or before they die.

Accusations against or rumors about Father Maciel and his sexual behavior towards junior seminarians were known inside the religious community since he was in Mexico City with the first group of students [c.1940]. Another cluster of accusations/rumors stem from the time he was in Comillas, Northern Spain with his boys [c.1947]. These recent accusations that have reached the press and TV refer to behavior in the Collegio Massimo in Rome in the early 50s and are different in the sense that witnesses have come forward and given sworn testimony.These are described by Alejandro Espinosa in clear and lurid detail in his recent book, El Legionario.

Just like any ‘movement’ the accusers’ efforts have been long developing. We know that they probably did not discuss these issues among themselves while in the Legion. There was the private vow and even a more radical tradition about not discussing personal issues with confreres. Besides, Marcial Maciel had sworn each individual victim to secrecy and he was the supreme authority. Barba, vg, states that MM told him not to mention what happened to Father Lagoa, the rector in Rome at that time because ‘he would not understand’. Some of these students were in different stages of ‘formation’, that is ‘novitiate’ ‘juniorate’, philosophy student…and so did not speak to each other across community lines. Though several may have belonged to the same ‘community’ as Vaca reports that he was told to go and summon other brothers to the infirmary, and he would hardly do that across lines.

The investigation of Father Maciel and the Legion in 1955/56 and leading to the Vatican investigation did stem from his visible and unusual attraction for some of the junior seminarians and from other issues such as use of morphine, fund-raising and money… The Vatican ‘visitors’, sent by the S.C. for Religious, naturally questioned the students about Father Maciel’s behavior. The students were either too ashamed, immature, ignorant, afraid or felt a sense of loyalty to Father Maciel to mention any sexual misbehaviors. Remember that at the time of the investigations Father Maciel had been the father, sole provider, confidant, spiritual director and principal educator of the students since they were 11 years old or younger. When questioned they would not say anything to incriminate Father Maciel or to jeopardize the Legion and their vocations in it. They had been told that the visitors were coming to ‘destroy the Legion’.

Later, and at different times in the late 50s and early 60s, some ‘accusers’ left or were dismissed from the Legion individually. The leaving was usually orchestrated to be sudden and quiet, late at night, early morning, when the community was at prayer, in Mass, etc. One was not allowed to tell companions that he was leaving. And so each one went home to his town or village and was never heard of again and they did not speak to each other again. [That is the way it was, the way I witnesed it, and the way it still is.] Others stayed in the Legion: Juan José Vaca, Félix Alarcón, Miguel Díaz, Juan- Manuel Fernández-Amenábar…. Naturally, there would be absolutely no contact between the ones who left and those who stayed, and probably no intra-group confidences among each other in the group that stayed [that would be against the ‘private vows’ in a very serious way as it meant criticizing the Founder. Besides, to what superior would they reveal it, when the vow obliged them to voice their concerns to the top LC superior, and this would have been the perpetrator himself].
Juan Jose Vaca, an assertive type, is the one who probably demonstrated most awareness and courage in directly and formally demanding accountability. Despite having a prolonged sexual relationship with his superior and being MM’s ‘accomplice’ in procuring more victims for him, he questioned MM on several occasions about the morality of their actions. This would be almost apologetically along the lines of: ‘Father, I don’t feel good about these actions. I know you absolved me and told me not to worry, but…’ As he got older and more uncomfortable he began confronting Fr. Maciel as early as the 60s when the Mexican bishops were staying at the Collegio Massimo on the Via Aurelia Nova 677. He says MM minimized the issues but gave Vaca an interesting position [in charge of logistics for the 30 Mexican bishops, with freedom to move in and out of the community, do the shopping, go on errands to the Vatican…]. Vaca confronted MM again around the time of his priestly ordination [1969]. Soon after ordination MM made Vaca –who spoke English because he had spent some time in Ireland- superior of the Legion in the US. When Vaca was on his way out of the Legion in the 70s and threatened to expose MM the latter supposedly tried to bribe Vaca offering him any position he wanted in the Legion. After Vaca left the Legion and was in the diocese of Rockville Center he approached his pastor, later the bishop and sent documentation to Rome by courier [via de Vatican Embassy in Washington, 1978]. In the 80s Vaca got his dispensation and got married in the NY area and lives there with his wife and daughter. He never returned to his native Mexico and so did not have much contact with Legionaries of ex-Legionaries.

Barba, for his part, made a ‘good’ transition out of the Legion much earlier, around 1962. He had always been a ‘brain’ and ‘idealistic’ and after leaving was able to study at Harvard and get his doctorate. He returned to Mexico and kept contact with the Legion at that time even working as a teacher for a while at the Anahuac University. He was friendly with people inside and outside the Legion and had an encyclopedic memory for people and events. In the 70s, when he was married with children, he must have started to remember and face up to his own sexual abuse. At first he thought we was the only one. When he started opening up others told him that they too had been victims. Nobody was very keen on coming forward. They wanted to keep their secret buried and get on with their lives. He would not let it rest and found some echo in Alejandro Espinoza, Jose Antonio Pérez-Olvera and others in Mexico and in Jurado who was in San Diego. I believe that Vaca and Barba approached several others they knew had been victims but these did not want to testify and preferred to be anonymous and so are not mentioned in any public statements
Around the 90s the group must have started to gel when Barba and Vaca began making contact and discussing their efforts. Barba, for his part, in Mexico had started to write and approach ecclesiastical authorities. Barba was a personal friend of Amenabar who was ill at the Sanatorio Espanyol hospital in Mexico City. Amenabar told Barba about his abuse. There was a Mexican diocesan priest who heard Amenabar’s confession and confidences, Father Athié, who held a position in the Archbishop of Mexico’s curia. He became convinced that Amenabar wanted to tell his story before he died. Felix Alarcón, who was aware of Vaca’s accusations and had confirmed them to Rockville Center authorities, still an active priest, was contacted and was willing to admit his abuse.

I believe the witnesses agreed to speak to the press when approached by the Courant reporter who had previously picked up on some unusual goings on in the Legion’s novitiate in CT, i.e. novices ‘escaping’ over the wall of the novitiate. The victims spoke with the reporters because they were frustrated with not getting a satisfactory response from local ecclesiastical authorities in Mexico, being told to wait, to ‘leave it in God’s hands’, to ‘forgive and forget’ ‘wait until Father Maciel dies’ or sworn to secrecy…and by Rome’s silence.
When Father Maciel was called ‘a leader and defender of youth’ by the Pope they became particularly indignant and this galvanized their resolve to write an open letter to the Pope and attempt to lodge a formal complaint at the Vatican.


They wanted an independent investigation into the allegations. They accused Father Maciel of breaking several canons, of sexually abusing them and of absolving them after the abuse [‘absolutio complicis’ c. 1378]. The corresponding sanctions would cause him to be defrocked and excommunicated.

They wanted the Vatican to review the Constitutions and Traditions, to investigate and reform Legion practices. To have a ‘clean’ General Chapter without the ever- present pressure and control of MM.
Many ex-Legionaries and ex-Regnum Christi wish: that Church Authorities examine and investigate the behavior of Father Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, particularly the way it recruits, retains and controls members and later handles dissident and exiting members.

Because Father Maciel, the official church and the Vatican are stonewalling and avoiding accountability the victims are getting more and more frustrated and some of them have begun to write their individual memoirs as a last resort to redress their abuse before they die.

The testimonies of the eight living ex-members accusing Father Maciel of sexual assault must be read in the context of the founder’s charistmatic powers of persuasion and manipulation, and the Legion’s private vows of family secrecy, solidarity, and control. This control, during and after membership, limited the possibility of a conspiracy to a large extent. The youth, powerlessness and inexperience of the victims at the time of the abuse should also be taken into consideration.

J. Paul Lennon MA


circa 17/18 Septebmer, 2002

“Mr. J. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

Thank you for your further responses to my questions.

You have given me much to think about, and I will be

doing that.


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus


Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 16:49:19 -700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon” <>
Subject: Re: thanks
To: “Richard John Neuhaus” <>

“Father Neuhaus:

I appreciate your interest, time and the honest dialoque. May the Holy Spirit guide us in these delicate matters. Don’t think that I never question my own intentions and honesty in these very serious matters, and when I realize that I am a small minority among many who have greaT respect for Father Maciel. I think you referred to him as ‘venerable’ or ‘revered’ or something. But I, like many others who had him on a pedestal, lost respect for him over a period of years based on his behavior. Don’t forget that I was ‘educated’ as a Legionary for many years with the teaching never to speak ill of others. Unfortunately, I can tell you that when Father Maciel ‘lets his guard down’ with an intimate ‘petite comite’ around the table, for instance, with a glass of Johnny Walker in his hand, he does not alway practice what he so lavishly preaches. There is much talk of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ of the Legion, and the ‘enemies’ are fair game, no matter who they are. Regarding the sexual abuse, when I hear my brothers’ testimonies I continue to feel sad and indignant. Maybe I give them too much credence, but that is where I am and who I am.


J.Paul Lennon, MA

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