Scandal: the story of Fr Maciel

By Gerald Renner



The founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, revered by many as a saint, has finally been disciplined by Pope Benedict for sexually abusing seminarians. But why did he escape censure for so long?

He was a priest for 62 years and a respected church leader for half a century. Now Fr Marcial Maciel Degolladoâ€s ecclesiastical career has reached a most ignominious end. The 86-year-old cannot say Mass, give lectures, or give interviews to the media. He is instead to observe a life of penitence and prayer following the Vaticanâ€s request that the founder of the conservative Legionaries of Christ observe a series of restrictions on his ministry following a decade-long investigation into allegations of sexual abuse.

But the most puzzling question about these Vatican sanctions imposed on the accused paedophile is: how did he escape for so long? Part of the reason must be sheer disbelief, particularly among his defenders on the right wing of the Church. This is a man who for much of his life was respected as a charismatic figure and master fundraiser who built up a fast-growing religious order of Spanish-speaking priests, seen by the Vatican as a counter to the inroads that evangelicals are making in Latin America.

The order, which Maciel founded in Mexico in 1941 when he was a 21-year-old student, has a significant presence in that country, where it runs a number of schools for well-heeled children. Today its numbers include 650 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. It has 11 universities, including its first in the United States, the newly incorporated University of Sacramento in California.

Maciel was repeatedly praised by senior church leaders, particularly Pope John Paul II, who threw a protective arm around him from the beginning of his pontificate in 1978 and continued to shield him up almost to his death. He was used to smear campaigns against priests by Communists in his native Poland, and he was obviously convinced when the dynamic Mexican claimed that others were out to defame him.

Then there was the gratitude the Pope clearly felt for the way Maciel engineered the first foreign trip of his pontificate to Mexico in 1979. Maciel arranged a personal invitation to John Paul from the then Mexican president, José Lopez Portillo. It was considered a diplomatic coup in a country that had strong anti-clerical laws and a legacy of bloody persecutions of Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s.

John Paulâ€s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, harbours no such illusions of the saintliness of those working in the vineyard. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had been given charge of handling priestly sexual abuse cases from all over the world. It opened the eyes of the scholarly theologian to the extent that he complained in a widely reported Good Friday meditation last year, shortly before he was elected Pope: “How much filth there is in the Church and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him [Jesus Christ].â€�

In late 1994, as John Paul was steadily failing, Cardinal Ratzinger authorised an investigation into the long-dormant canon law case that Maciel had abused young boys and teenagers in seminaries in Spain and Italy. Rumours had long dogged the Legionaries†founder, with complaints as long ago as the 1950s that he had been involved in excessive control over seminarians and in drug abuse.

The complaints about sexual abuse first surfaced in the 1990s when nine former members of the Legionaries went public with their complaint that they had been abused by Maciel as seminarians and young priests as long ago as the 1940s. Maciel was also charged with having given persons with whom he had committed a sin absolution in confession, an excommunicable offence. John Paul never responded to formal complaints against Maciel made through official church channels in 1978 and 1989. The first exposé of the charges was published in The Hartford Courant in 1997 and picked up by others, but there was no response from the Vatican. A canon law case against Maciel was quashed without explanation in 1999.

After the case was reopened in 2004 on the order of Cardinal Ratzinger, more testimonies against Maciel were collected. The result of the investigation, concluded at the end of 2005, and announced last week, is in effect a life suspension as a priest, although the Vatican stated that it was “bearing in mind Fr Macielâ€s advanced age and his delicate healthâ€� to avoid a canonical trial.

Indeed, the restrictions placed on him are most gentle compared to what the penalty could have been had a canonical trial been held – defrocking (or “laicisationâ€� as the Church calls it), suspension or even excommunication. But the lack of a canonical trial leaves an ambiguity that Maciel quickly seized on. In a statement released by the Legionaries, Maciel, retired in his home town of Cotija, Mexico, proclaimed his innocence but said he would abide by the Vaticanâ€s decision. The Legionaries compared him to Jesus Christ, deciding “not to defend himself in any wayâ€�.

Canon lawyers and other church observers say that no sanctions would have been imposed had not at least some of the accusations against him been well-founded. But that does not matter to the Legion and its supporters, who can expect to continue proclaiming their leader to be saintly and heroically accepting of an unjust verdict.

Richard John Neuhaus, a leading American conservative who has been at the forefront in defence of Maciel and is editor of the magazine First Things, admits that “It is reasonable to believe that [the CDF and the Holy Father] think Fr Maciel did do something wrong�, but also compares Maciel to Joan of Arc, as someone the Church has unjustly persecuted.

Macielâ€s accusers are not entirely satisfied either. “We feel some element of vindication in that the Vatican recognised that he has been guilty and he has been condemned,â€� said Juan Vaca, 68, of Holbrook, New York, one of the nine who brought the canon law case. But “the Vatican is double-talking againâ€� in not clearly specifying Macielâ€s degree of guilt, he said.

Vaca said he joined the Legionaries from a small Mexican village when he was recruited at the age of 10 by Maciel, who began abusing him when he was 12 in a Legion seminary in Spain. Vaca came to be head of the Legionaries in the United States, but left the order in 1976 to join the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York. He and another priest who had been abused, Fr Felix Alarcon, sent letters to the Pope through official church channels accusing Maciel in 1978 and 1989 but never got a response. Vaca left the priesthood and is now a college teacher of psychology. Fr Alarcon, who established the Legionaries†US headquarters in Connecticut in 1965, is a retired priest in good standing in Madrid.

He sees the decision by Pope Benedict to take action against Maciel as significant. “The Church has for the first time put herself on the side of the victims. The other Pope [John Paul] wasnâ€t able to do this. This Pope will force them to keep their feet on the ground,â€� Fr Alarcon, 72, said in a telephone interview.

Bitterness at the way John Paul dismissed their complaints is a recurring theme among those who repeatedly tried to gain his attention. Saul Barrales, 74, who was fired from a Catholic school in Mexico after he publicly joined those who accused Maciel of abusing them, said, “I congratulate the Vatican in that finally the Pope did something. Pope John Paul II supported [Maciel] but I think he was deceived or he wasnâ€t totally informed of the truth. But the present Pope is doing the right thing.â€�

After the case was reopened in 2004, a year-long investigation conducted by Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, a Maltese priest who is “permanent promoter of justice� for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, led to other people surfacing who had not come forward before to say that they too had been abused by Maciel. There were still others, who knew nothing of sexual abuse, but who testified to what they called the psychological abuse and coercive tactics of the Legion and its mostly lay auxiliary, Regnum Christi.

In some parts of the world the Legionaries have suffered a major downturn in their fortunes following the scandal over Maciel. Recruitment of seminarians has fallen dramatically in Ireland in recent years, as many Irish bishops have refused to cooperate with the order. In the United States bishops have barred or severely restricted the Legion and Regnum Christi in five dioceses: St Paul-Minneapolis; Los Angeles; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Richmond, Virginia; and Columbus, Ohio – because of its secretive methods of operating. Archbishop Harry Flynn of St Paul-Minneapolis has accused the order of setting up a “parallel Church�. Those who were abused have voiced their disappointment that the Vatican had thanked the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi for their work when what is really needed is reform.

As José de J. Barba Martin, 66, a university professor in Mexico City and a leader among the former Legionaries who brought the canon law suit against Maciel, put it: “When the stem is corrupt so are the branches.�

Gerald Renner is a former religion writer for The Hartford Courant in Connecticut and co-author, with Jason Berry, of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, published by Free Press.


Gerald Renner Reports for the Hartford Courant and the Tablet on the Sentencing of Maciel

Gerald Renner, Special to the Tablet
May 27, 2006
Scandal: the story of Fr Maciel
click here for link to article on ReGAIN
click here for link to article on the The Tablet (UK) (external link)

May 19, 2006:
Legion Leader Faces Sanctions; Report: Vatican To Restrict Ministry Of Maciel, Accused Of Sex Abuse

click here for link to article on ReGAIN
click here for link to article on the Hartford Courant website (external link)

May 20, 2006:

Maciel Escapes Harshest Actions
But Sanctions Signal This Pope’s Resolve

click here for link to article on ReGAIN
click here for link to article on the Hartford Courant website (external link)

May 21, 2006:

Accusers’ Victory Not Complete; Sanctions Against Maciel Don’t Spell Out Guilt
click here for link to article on ReGAIN
click here for link to article on the Hartford Courant website (external link)


Cardinal Jorge Medina discusses the situation of the Legionaries of Christ Founder



By Sebastián Vásquez R.


A Cardinal in Rome, Prefect of Divine Worship, says the Pope had very serious reasons to take action against Maciel.

La Tercera, May 25, 2006,52,13


From Rome, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship endorses the resolution of Benedict XVI to retire the Mexican priest from public ministry after accusations of abuse.

However, he adds that this “is not meant to discredit the commendable congregation”. The measure that the Vatican took against Marcial Maciel (86), the founder of the Legionaries of Christ accused of sexual abuses by ex- seminarians, which invited him to resign from public ministry and to retire to a life of prayer and penance, has not left Cardinal Jorge Medina indifferent. From Rome, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship explained to La Tercera that he has a “very good relationship with the legionary fathers” and says that “the day before yesterday (last Monday) I sent a letter to the superior general, Father Alvaro Corcuera, and, later, I called him on the phone, to express my concern and my support for him, because I understand that for them
this is a painful moment.”

Medina is aware of the repercussion that the decision to remove Maciel from public life has on the Church. “There are many people who are worried and hurt”, he says, but he emphasizes that “there is no danger of revolt”, because the resolutions of the Pope are obeyed and respected. Going beyond discussions, the Chilean Cardinal – who has a long career in the Holy See, explains the sense of the measure taken by Benedict XVI. “I believe that it is a decision of the Holy Father that he must have taken after taking many precedents into account. I know that he is an extremely sensitive person in his judgments who does not act in haste, so that if he took action in this way, it means that he had very serious reasons”. He emphasizes that “this measure does not mean to discredit in any way the commendable congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. The distressing situation of the Legionaries†Founder is one thing, but that does not in any way signify mistrust of the congregation”.

Regarding the statements of Fr. John O´Reilly, spokesman for the Legion in Chile, who affirmed he was absolutely “convinced” of Macielâ€s “absolute innocence”, Cardinal Medina is concise: “I offer no comment in relation to Fr. O´Reilly”. The prelate goes on to describe the decision against Maciel as “an administrative, prudential and pastoral measure”, because from the point of view of Canon Law a process was not opened against the religious due to his age and health. In his opinion, “to show no mercy towards an aging person would not be in accordance with Christian charity”. Nevertheless, he insists: “the Pope would never have made a decision of this type without fairly substantial precedents”. Medina invites the followers of the Legionaries in Chile to adopt “an attitude of faith”.

“It is necessary to trust the Pope and to see that if he made a decision of this type, it is because in his conscience and before God he believed it was the best solution he could give to a public and consistent problem”, he adds. And he emphasizes: “when there is a serious deed that has good factual substance, well, measures must be taken, because nothing should prevent authority from being exercised”.


Father Maciel suspended: New allegations against other Legionary priests on the horizon?

By Brian Mershon


For the Wanderer, June 1, 2006 issue

May 25, 2006


“And He (Our Lord Jesus Christ) said that whoever receives one such little child in my name, receives me. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged around his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe to the world because of scandals. For it is necessary that scandals come: but nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandals come.” (Mt. 18: 5-7)

On the morning of May 19, the Holy See issued a short statement on the status of Father Macial Marciel, L.C., founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

“Beginning in 1998, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) received accusations, already partly made public, against Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, for crimes that fall under the exclusive competence of the congregation. In 2002, Fr. Maciel published a declaration denying the accusations and expressing his displeasure at the offense done him by certain former Legionaries of Christ. In 2005, by reason of his advanced age, Fr. Maciel retired from the office of superior general of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ.

“All these elements have been subject to a mature examination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and — in accordance with the Motu Proprio ‘Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela,’ promulgated on April 30, 2001, by Servant of God John Paul II — the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, authorized an investigation into the accusations. In the meantime, Pope John II died and Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the new Pontiff.

“After having attentively studied the results of the investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guidance of the new prefect, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, decided — bearing in mind Fr. Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health — to forgo a canonical hearing and to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry. The Holy Father approved these decisions.

“Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association ‘Regnum Christi’ is gratefully recognized.”

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the CDF’s promoter of justice, reportedly had received signed affidavits and/or conducted in-person, or telephone, interviews with more than 100 ex-seminarians and/or priests of the Legion of Christ, with essentially corroborating stories about alleged violations, including sex abuse, by Father Maciel.

News outlets from National Public Radio, The New York Times and the major network news stations have reported the news. There will be no public ministry for Father Maciel any longer. He has accepted a request by the Holy See to a life of penitence and prayer for the rest of his days. There will be no canonical trial, nor official ruling on his guilt or innocence.

New Accusations Against Other Legionary Priests?

However, one of Father Maciel’s original accusers, Paul Lennon, M.A., dropped the following bombshell in what may be yet another nuclear bomb for the Legion of Christ and its Regnum Christi apostolates in this exclusive interview with The Wanderer: Since the May 19 statement on Father Maciel from the Holy See, more alleged victims have come forward claiming sexual abuse, not only by Father Maciel, but from other priests of the Legion of Christ. He said that due to the stigma attached particularly to male sexual abuse, the new accusers wish to remain anonymous at this time. Lennon was with the first class of Legionary priests ordained from Ireland back in 1969.

What Does It All Mean?

“Among canon lawyers, there is an expression, where there is smoke, there is fire,” said Pete Vere, J.C.L. “As more and more allegations come forward, it is very difficult to believe that something may not have happened,” he said.

However, Vere added that while he personally believes that based upon the actions of the Holy See with Father Maciel, “many of the allegations have been substantiated,” he was quick to caution that that he “did not have access to the evidence.”

“Inviting Fr. Maciel to live the remainder of his days as a penitent, without the public exercise of his ministry has a twofold effect: it affirms that the Church takes the charges seriously, considers them to be credible and punishable; secondly, it attempts to affect the ultimate salvation of Fr. Maciel by urging him to repentance,” said Timothy Ferguson, J.C.L., a 38-year-old canonist from Clair Shoals, Michigan.

“It is more than a mere slap on the wrists,” he said, “as it affects the one thing most people hold very dear, his reputation.”

“Since this is referred to as an ‘invitation’ rather than an ‘imposition,’ it doesn’t fall under canon 1342.2, which forbids the declaration of perpetual penalties without a judicial process,” Ferguson said. As an invitation, there would seem to be no means for recourse or appeal against it,” he said.

In other words, if Father Maciel had refused the Holy See’s invitation to serve the rest of his life suspended from public ministry in penitence and prayer, Ferguson said he believed it “would necessitate the initiation of a penal process.”

“I think what we’re seeing with Benedict XVI’s papacy, he is standing for what is not popular, but what is right,” said canonist Vere. “With someone like Fr. Maciel and his stature, it is going to be cleared through the Pope, and this is just another example of him showing he will do the right thing even when it is very painful,” he said.

What does the future hold for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement whose “charism” is so tied to the person of “Nuestro Padre,” Father Marcial Maciel?

Repeated requests for an interview with Father Anthony Bannon, L.C., superior for North America, or Father Owen Kearns, L.C., publisher of National Catholic Register, went unanswered by the Legion of Christ.

So in lieu of receiving answers to specific questions, the official media statement by the Legion of Christ (found here ) reaffirmed that Father Maciel continues to deny any allegations brought forward by at least 100 accusers. However, the statement does make the following admonition, perhaps revealing more about the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi’s “spirit of obedience and faith” through their “spiritual” lens than perhaps they intended to reveal.

One particular part of the statement read: “Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way,” read the second point of the Legion’s media statement.

One Interpretation: The Church is Sanhedrin; Pope is Pilate; Maciel is Jesus

For those “with eyes to see and ears to hear,” it appears the Legion’s statement is at the least implying that Father Maciel is living a dry martyrdom, somewhat similar to the real martyrdom as Our Lord Jesus Christ, by not defending himself against made-up and false charges, except that one of the charges against Jesus Christ He was condemned for was true. He claimed to be the Messiah.

This analogy to Jesus Christ Himself is apparent upon reading the simple words of the statement. But who is the judge and who is the jury? Canonically speaking, due to Father Maciel’s “advanced age and frail health,” there will be no judge and jury. But effectively, based on the media statement from the Legion, who is Pontius Pilate and who is the jury, the Sadducees and the Pharisees in this “spiritualized” scenario?

“New Catholic” at wrote the following commentary on the Legion of Christ’s response to the Holy See’s ruling on Saturday, May 20.

“Now, the imitation of Christ is a duty of every Christian — but this proclamation of Christ-like qualities surpasses every measure of virtue. For here, the accusers are the victims (or even the supposed victims) of most horrendous crimes. Even if the accusations were false, which does not seem to be the case, is it appropriate to compare a man accused of these most grievous offenses to the Spotless Lamb? The Lord was accused of specific points of law, not of offenses committed against specific victims: and was convicted for the “blasphemy” of declaring that He was, indeed, the Son of God and, thus Divine.

“Yet, that is not all: By comparing Maciel Degollado to Christ under trial, the ‘official response’ makes clear the indirect reference it wishes to make. Maciel is Christ; the competent Church authorities — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Holy Father himself — are the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate (and Herod, the only one before whom Christ was actually completely silent).

“The man was accused of serious misdeeds. The investigations led to ‘results’ — this means (let no one be fooled by the Vatican’s diplomatic words!) actual results, tangible results, which could have led to much harsher measures. Yet, in his exercise of Petrine authority and Christian charity, the Holy Father guided his ministers “to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry” and gave his approval to this charitable measure.

“It is certainly fair to call this ‘invitation’ a ‘cross’: even fair punishments are crosses we are to bear. Yet, here once again, the ‘official response’ crosses the boundary of appropriateness: ‘He [Father Marcial Maciel] has accepted this communiqué with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.’ The troubling messianic aspects of this paragraph are evident.

“Instead of remaining silent (which one would expect from a “obedient” son) or of THANKING [emphasis in original] the competent ecclesiastical authorities for the unbound concern they showed for the health and age of the man, and for the future fortunes of the movements he founded, the ‘official response’ even presents the ‘suffering’ as a privileged means of grace for the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. This, while the Holy See itself was careful to distinguish the person of the founder from the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi.

“‘Salus animarum suprema lex’ (Can.1752): it was wonderful to watch the Holy See apply this overarching principle of law once again. What a misfortune that such a beautiful spirit had to be squandered by sectarian gall. This official response only deepened the links between the Founder and his movements, which the Holy See had been careful to separate; and instead of the spirit of a Saint Joan of Arc, was filled with the spirit of self-righteousness. There may have been Pharisees in this succession of events — but they were not in the Vatican,” New Catholic concluded his exegesis.

The influential Lutheran convert Father Richard John Neuhaus has previously strongly backed Father Maciel, the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement.

“It is reasonable to believe the CDF and the Holy Father that he did something wrong or it is nearly impossible to defend the decision,” Neuhaus said.

In fact, Father Neuhaus had previously written that he was morally certain the initial charges against Father Maciel were false.

“Moral certainty is not absolute or metaphysical certainty,” he said, while adding that he had been publicly supportive of Fr. Maciel and the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi.

Father Neuhaus said that he had read the Legion of Christ’s official statement regarding the suspension of Father Maciel’s public ministry and offered the following interpretation:

“Obviously, they view this as a cross that a holy man is bearing in a Christ-like manner, and they solidly affirm solid Catholic teaching that one is purified through suffering,” he said. “There are many instances in Church history where actions taken by the Church’s leadership turned out to be unjust,”

And seemingly offering Pope Gregory the Great as a possible analogy to the Father Maciel situation, Father Neuhaus, quoting Pope Gregory, said, “I loved righteousness, and I hated iniquity so I die in exile.”

“That is obviously the spiritual interpretation I expect most members of the Legion or Regnum Christi will have, with which I have no formal connection; that is their interpretation,” he said.

When questioned about whether a contrarian perspective might be that this suspension of Father Maciel’s public ministries might never have occurred under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, Father Neuhaus opined that it was “reasonable speculation” to hold.

He also admitted that this news would most likely not be beneficial to the robust and aggressive recruitment efforts and fundraising engaged by the Legion of Christ throughout the world.

Another prominent canon lawyer, who wished to stay on background, explained the real meaning behind the carefully worded Vatican statement. “The mere fact that the CDF assumed jurisdiction over the case is because there was sufficient evidence, approximating probable cause,” he said. Also, he continued, “There was enough evidence of probable cause specifically regarding the crimes against either the sacrament of Holy Penance [the absolution of an accomplice in a mortally sinful action] or the abuse of minors,” he said.

So many are still questioning whether the measure taken by the CDF, with direct authorization by the Holy Father, is essentially an act of caution with an undecided verdict. This indeed seems to be the interpretation given by the Legion of Christ’s media statement.

“As there is no full exoneration, it is presumed that Maciel is guilty of at least one delict reserved exclusively to the CDF under the instruction Sacramentum Sanctitatis Tutela since he has been ‘invited’ to fulfill penance as a result of a canonical investigation into heinous crimes for which there exists serious evidence of wrongdoing,” the canonist concluded.

What About the Victims?

One key perspective seemingly lost in all of this “spinning” of the facts is that a priest who has been entrusted by thousands of parents with the futures of their sons and daughters quite possibly sexually abused as many as a hundred of them. What about the victims?

Paul Lennon, M.A., one of the original accusers of Maciel, and the founding teacher at the Legion’s original School of Faith, said that the original eight victims “are disappointed with the Vatican statement as it seems to leave them hanging.”

“They are disgusted with the Legion’s attempt to cast Maciel, the perpetrator, as a martyr. Dr. Jose de Jesus Barba said that “by wrapping themselves in the flag of orthodoxy and hiding behind Pope John Paul II’s white cassock, in an astute juxtaposition of ‘holiness by association,’ Maciel and the Legion have been shielded against the legitimate complaints of their victims.”

“The victims hope the Vatican statement may reveal the true abusive nature of this pseudo-Catholic Movement and free more victims to come forward, tell the truth, and continue their healing and recovery,” Lennon said.

Extreme Secrecy, Psychological and Spiritual Coercion in Seminary

A young home-schooled high school graduate, who asked to remain anonymous, was excited about testing the call of God and his possible vocation when he entered the Legion of Christ’s seminar in Cheshire, Connecticut, in the autumn of 1989. He said he had to work all summer after graduating from high school in order to be able to afford to pay for a cassock prior to entering the order to “test his call” as the Legion literature dubs it.

He had experienced a visit from Father Anthony Bannon, and was impressed by the Legion’s orthodoxy and dedication to the Church and Pope John Paul II. But as the young man soon learned, orthodoxy does not necessarily mean solid human or spiritual formation, at least in 1989 based upon his experience.

He was at the seminary for 6 weeks “because they wouldn’t let me leave sooner,” he said.

“I was told repeatedly that I could not leave from Cheshire,” he said.

Now a devout Catholic husband and father, the former Legionary of Christ seminarian said the seminarians were exposed to daily psychological manipulation when he attended. He said the techniques were “powerfully psychologically coercive.” He relayed that the Legion priests opened all seminarians’ incoming and outgoing mail, as well as listened in on telephone conversations with family members.

“Absolutely,” he said. “They read all of my letters; they were listening to telephone calls; I have no doubt,” he said.

“I kept asking to leave and they wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I told them I didn’t feel comfortable taking the cassock, and I met with the novice master more than one occasion and said I didn’t understand why they did the things they did.”

After six weeks, in desperation one evening, he stayed up late and penned a 14-page letter of questions and presented it to his superior the next day. “At 10 a.m. the next day, they said I was lying about them and said I need to retract everything I said,” he said. After he refused to comply with their demands, he said they finally allowed him to go home the next day.

The elements of extreme secrecy were apparent throughout, he said. Although he said in his six weeks in the Cheshire seminary, he did not witness any sexual abuse, he did watch as one brother was on his way to a total mental breakdown, he said. “They preyed on some guys’ insecurities, but I did witness the beginning of the breakdown of one of the brothers,” he said.

“He was an eloquent speaker and a really good guy, but 10 months later after he left, he was a completely different guy,” he said. “Later, I found out he had suffered a total mental breakdown and had left,” he said. “The level of psychological pressure was always there.”

Advice to Current Regnum Christi Parents: Buyer Beware!

Lennon advises extreme caution should be exercised by parents when contemplating sending their sons to boys activities, camps, “test your call” weekends and/or the Legion’s apostolic school. “Catholic Kids Net,” summer camps for boys and girls, “Familia” and other such Regnum Christi apostolates are designed as “capturing” grounds for first parents, and then eventually their children, particularly boys for possible early “formation” in the Apostolic School.

Lennon said that if he were a parent with children, “I would demand that the credentials of all Legion of Christ priests working at these activities, including the Apostolic School, be made available to parents. and that they see these documents,” he said. According to Lennon, if parents decide to send them, this extra precaution is necessary because “the Legionaries lie through their teeth to a degree that Americans do not even suspect,” he said.

Lennon also cautioned against the Legionaries tactic of control at early ages through “spiritual direction,” so-called. “I would not allow my children to have ‘spiritual direction’ with people who are not trained spiritual directors,” he said. Especially in light of the fact that most young children, and even teenagers, are just learning how to pray, the actual need for spiritual direction is questionable, both spiritually and psychologically.

“I don’t believe children who are so young need spiritual direction,” he said. “Isn’t confession enough?” Lennon asked.

When asked what advice he would give to current members of Regnum Christi with sons in seminary, the apostolic school or daughters in the Rhode Island girls’ school discerning the consecrated life, the now father and husband, anonymous former seminarian said, “Legionaries don’t just leave their families, they [are taught] turn their backs on their families.”

“It broke down into disparaging comments about their fathers and mothers and their families,” he said. “It was shocking.”

Finally, the former seminarian said that some of the young men in seminary [often from Mexico] had been shipped off to Legionary school in Spain when they were 6 and 7, and when they came back to the U.S. seminary, “They hated their parents and their families.”

“These folks who are very invested in the Legion — they need to investigate how much the Legion is invested in them.”

[Editor’s note: Both anonymous sources quoted here asked not to be named due to fear of future reprisals from the Legionaries of Christ. Other potential interviewees who said they would like to be interviewed to relay their personal testimonials with the Legion of Christ, and particularly their seminary experiences, refused to be interviewed to avoid suspected possible reprisals from the Legionaries of Christ.]

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective. His trade is in media relations, and his vocation is as a husband to his beloved wife Tracey and father to his six living children. He attempts to assist his family and himself in attaining eternal salvation through frequent attendance at the Traditional Latin rite of Mass, homeschooling, and building Catholic culture in the buckle of the Bible Belt of Greenville, South Carolina.

© Copyright 2006 by Brian Mershon

Accusers’ Victory Not Complete; Sanctions Against Maciel Don’t Spell Out Guilt

By Gerald Renner


May 21, 2006


They finally feel vindicated by the Vatican’s imposing of sanctions on the high church leader who they say sexually abused them when they were young boys and teenagers.

For years they tried futilely to call to the attention of church authorities the indignities they suffered in seminaries under the man they called “Nuestro Padre,” Our Father, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

The former members of Maciel’s Legionaries of Christ are now old men who have made a success of their lives after leaving the legion.

But burning in their souls has been a desire to seek justice and a recognition by the Vatican of the wrongs done them in seminaries in Spain and Italy in the 1950s and ’60s.

That recognition came Friday when the Vatican announced, after a year’s investigation, that Maciel, 86, had been asked to give up appearing in public as a priest and to live “a reserved life of penitence and prayer.”

Still the victory is not complete.

“We feel some element of vindication in that the Vatican recognized that he has been guilty and he has been condemned,” said Juan Vaca, 68, of Holbrook, N.Y., one of the accusers who flew to Mexico City to be with his companions. At the same time, he said Saturday, “the Vatican is double-talking again” in not clearly specifying Maciel’s degree of guilt.

The Vatican’s statement, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, said it was “bearing in mind Father Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health” to avoid a canonical trial.

Canon lawyers and other church observers say that no sanctions would have been imposed had the Vatican not found him guilty of at least some of the accusations.

But the fact there was no canonical trial to reach a definitive judgment of guilt left an ambiguity which Maciel quickly seized on. In a statement released by the Legionaries, Maciel, retired in his hometown of Cotija, Mexico, proclaimed his innocence but said he would abide by the Vatican’s decision.

That hasn’t set well with some of Maciel’s accusers, eight of whom brought a canon law suit against him in 1998. Others who said they were abused are reported to have come forward to the church’s investigator, according to the National Catholic Reporter, an independent news weekly, which broke the news of Vatican sanctions against Maciel.

“We feel thankful to some extent. We feel a sense of trust and a new stream of air have entered the church,” said Jose de J. Barba Martin, 66, a college professor in Mexico City and a leader among eight former Legionaries who brought the canon law suit against Maciel.

Nevertheless, Barba said in a telephone interview from Mexico City, “Arturo [Jurado] and I feel this statement has left an opening for the Legionaries to say Father Maciel is innocent.”

Jurado, 66, recently retired as an instructor at the U.S. Defense Department School of Linguistics in Monterey, Calif., and moved to Mexico. He was with Barba and two others of the eight men who brought the Vatican suit in Mexico City Saturday. They were interviewed by the Mexican media.

The story was also big news in Madrid, where the Rev. Felix Alarcon is now retired after years of working in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Venice, Fla. He too was one of the eight accusing Maciel.

“The church has for the first time put herself on the side of the victims. The other pope [John Paul] wasn’t able to do this. This pope will force them to keep their feet on the ground,” Alarcon, 72, said in a telephone interview.

Barba and Jurado said they spoke to their Vatican-sanctioned lawyer, Martha Wegan, who was “very pleased and happy” with the verdict. But they said they are demanding direct recognition by the Vatican through her.

“We have asked our lawyer to demand we have a written communication [from the Vatican] to us,” Barba said. It wasn’t enough that the Vatican make a public statement, he said.

Barba said he and the others were very disappointed that the Vatican thanked the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, its mostly lay auxiliary, for their work when what is really needed is reform.

“When the stem is corrupt so are the branches,” Barba said.

Another accuser with the group in Mexico City was Saul Barrales, 74, who was fired as a teacher in a Catholic school when he came out against Maciel in the first public expose of the accusations in The Courant in 1997.

“I congratulate the Vatican in that finally the pope did something,” he told The Associated Press. “Pope John Paul II supported [Maciel] but I think he was deceived or he wasn’t totally informed of the truth. But the present pope is doing the right thing.”

Maciel founded the Legionaries in Mexico in 1941 and it has a significant presence in that country, where it runs a number of schools for children of the elite classes. It has grown to be an order of 650 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. It has 11 universities, including its first in this country, the newly incorporated University of Sacramento in California. It also has about 25 elementary and high schools run directly by the Legion or by Regnum Christi.

Its U.S. headquarters are in Orange, it has a seminary in Cheshire and a fundraising operation in Hamden. It has been barred from four dioceses – Minneapolis-St. Paul; Los Angeles; Baton Rouge, La.; and Columbus, Ohio – because of its secretive methods of operating. Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul accused the order of setting up a “parallel church.”

Throughout his reign, Pope John Paul II ignored accusations against Maciel, whom he repeatedly praised. Vaca sent letters to the pope outlining his charges against Maciel through official church channels in 1978 and again in 1989. He never received an answer.

John Paul made the first public trip of his pontificate to Mexico in 1979, after having been elected in 1978. Maciel paved the way, securing a personal invitation to the pope from the then-Mexican president, José Lopez Portillo. It was considered a great diplomatic coup in a country with strong anti-clerical laws and which endured bloody persecutions of Catholics in the 1920s and ’30s. Maciel became a regular member of the pope’s inner circle on subsequent trips to Mexico.

Coincidentally, the Vatican announced April 28 that one of Maciel’s uncles, Rafael Guízar Valencia, bishop of Veracruz, Mexico, who died in 1938, will be declared a saint. He went underground during a period of bloody persecution and ran a clandestine seminary, which Maciel attended when was 16. The day after Guízar died, the seminary administrator expelled Maciel in what Maciel later called a “misunderstanding.” He was later expelled from another seminary, in New Mexico, in another “misunderstanding,” but was eventually ordained in 1944 by another bishop who was a close relative.

No date has been announced for Guízar’s canonization, but as a suspended priest it is unlikely that Maciel will be able to attend.