By ReGAIN Staff
Sunday, December 18, 2006
Click here to see accompanying Photo Gallery
The Night the Seminarians Finally Smiled
At 8pm on September 26th,2006, the Marcial Maciel debacle came to a preliminary conclusion in Mexico City. Marcial Maciel, the Legion of Christ, Unpublished Testimonies and Documents could be the definitive study of his person and work. At the presentation author Fernando Gonzalez was flanked by Jose Barba-Martin, PhD, representing over a dozen Maciel sexual abuse survivors there present. Carmen Aristegui, a Mexican journalist, reporter and TV host, and Alberto Athié who had been a prominent member of the Mexican Archdiocese clergy before his demotion for espousing the cause of Maciel’s victims were also members of the panel.
Fernando Gonzalez’s “Unpublished Testimonies and Documents” prove beyond a reasonable doubt, to any reasonable reader, that Legion of Christ Founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, was guilty of the sexual abuse of his seminarians, that he was/is addicted to a form of morphine called Dolantin (demerol, meperidine, isonipecaine, dolantol), and that he did indeed abuse his power to control all those beneath him in order to carry out his plans. It also demonstrates just how successful the Maciel Myth –perpetuated by the man himself- has been over the past six decades in the Vatican and in some gullible Catholic enclaves. It only remains to be seen whether this ground-breaking book will have any effect on the thousands of Maciel devotees, specifically the hard-core American, mostly female, membership of his Regnum Christi Lay Movement. Will these well-meaning Catholics be able to see through the dazzling vestments of their leader, creator of the greatest recruitment and fundraising machine in Catholic history, to discover the flesh of a Mexican Elmer Gantry?
[A free-lance translator remarks on reading Gonzalez’ book]
One of the more interesting passages I found was this quote from an early legionary, Jose-Antonio Perez-Olvera, who described the internal psychological conflicts caused by the contradictions of living in an environment where an obsession with “purity” coexists with a secret undercurrent of sinful sexuality:
“It seemed that nothing mattered more than the virtue of purity. We were wholesome boys, but they drummed the idea of purity into us to such a degree that we ended up being fixated on it. For us everything was a sin. The obsession with offending God was so great that I couldn’t even touch my penis when I went to the bathroom. I ended up going to a Trappist monastery next door to confess. This from the time I was a boy, from the time I entered at age eleven. And I want to tell you that in Rome we were surrounded by paintings of nudes. A virgin breast-feeding a child was a sin. It was aberrant. The hypocrisy got to the point that they would put little pieces of paper on art book pictures so that things would not be seen [which produced the opposite effect]. I lived in anguish. One could never feel serene. It was as if God had not created sex. And to top it all off, Fr. Marcial was a total hypocrite; it did not matter to him that he had destroyed us.”
Vatican Investigators recommend banishing Fr. Maciel in 1956 just as in 2005
Most of the Legion’s defense of Fr. Maciel rests on his coming through the “first” investigation with flying colors and the fact that those who later accused him were then silent. Fernando González struck it rich when he got his hands on three heretofore hidden archives: the Fr. Luis Ferreira archive (Maciel’s closest collaborator during the foundation); the Widow Flora Barragán archives (one of Maciel’s earlier and closest benefactors); and the 1956 Vatican Investigation archives. From the latter we have access to secret reports by then Vatican Investigators, some of whom belonged to the Carmelite Order. These documents demonstrate that the investigators/visitators did much more than question the seminarians.
Editor: please note that the accusations against Fr. Maciel are consistent and essentially the same, but that the public recommendation of the Holy See in May 2005 is only a faint echo of those made in writing by the visitator cited below. At the same time, the 1956 investigator also spoke of “silence” regarding measures to be taken by the Vatican. This has led some to speculate that as of April 2005 the Vatican is implementing “silent measures” -unknown to the media and the public- inside the Legion. In this case all involved could be bound by a special promise of silence imposed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or by the pope in person under pain of excommunication.
In the mid-1950s the Vatican suspended Maciel as superior general while it sent visitators to investigate charges against him. One of the visitators, a Carmelite friar named Anastasio Ballestrero of the Most Holy Rosary, sent a report recommending serious restructuring of the Legion as well as the removal of Maciel. Fr. Anastasio writes:
“[Pg. 15] Fr. Maciel, with whom I had hardly met, began to defend himself in an animated manner, without my even mentioning the accusations, indicating that he was well informed about everything while at the same time accusing Fr. Ferreira and especially [Brother] Domínguez of falsehoods and ambition. . . (Translators’ Note: Ferreira and Domínguez had submitted scathing written affidavits to ecclesiastical authorities which were highly critical of Maciel.)
“[Pg. 16] In response to the specific accusations regarding violations of the sixth [commandment], I have not received confirmation of anything. But it is worth mentioning the fact that, as has been already noted, the founder has complete control over [spiritual] direction in matters of purity and that he made a declaration, unsolicited, assuring me that none of his religious had ever committed a single sin of this nature [against purity].
“[Pg. 18] Conclusions:
“1. The Institute in question, in spite of the appearance of splendor and grandiosity, is in reality very fragile in its legal and spiritual structure. Additionally, it lacks mature and experienced personnel who can guarantee the level of development expected.
“2. The group of young novices and students, who make up nine tenths of the institute, have become fanaticized by the founder and his enterprise. However, this group is substantially healthy and shows good will. There is some hope of its being able to free itself of this fanaticism, although this appears doubtful.”
His suggestions and remedies were as follows:
“1. In order to reduce appearances to the limits of reality:
“a) [Instal] the seat of administration in Mexico
“b) The Apostolic School and the Novitiate exclusively limited to Mexico
“c) A prohibition ad nutum S. Sedis [under the direction of the Holy See] from admitting new students into the Apostolic School and the Novitiate
“d) A prohibition . . . against new foundations
“2. In order to guarantee more effective control over the Institute:
“a) Appointing someone from the Mexican episcopate with a special mandate to conduct oversight and provide assistance
“b) Naming a Superior General from outside the institution, but who belongs to a modern institution with an affinity for structure and spirituality. . .
“3. Fr. Maciel should be removed from his office on the basis of his exclusive and sole responsibility for the multiple serious legal irregularities and for the abuses committed in his administrative capacity. Keeping silence on the other matters seems prudent for reasons both internal and external, at least for the time being. The irregularities and abuses by themselves provide sufficient legal reasons for proceeding. [page 19]
“4. After a penance of a month of [spiritual] exercises, the priest in question should be obliged to live in a house in Mexico under the supervision of a bishop appointed by the Holy See. The Superior General should prohibit him from making trips of any sort and from interfering in the affairs of the Institute.
“5. The current constitutions should be radically modified with particular attention to the goals of the Institute and to the abolition of three vows.
“6. Finally, it would be desirable to discreetly notify, at the appropriate time, the Mexican episcopate and the Spanish ordinaries [bishops], as well as other interested prelates. Even more delicate is decision regarding how best to inform the Spanish Government.
“7. In the matter of granting secularization [Ed., i.e. return to diocesan priesthood out of religious life in the Legion] to the current vicar, Fr. Ferreira, I believe it would be opportune to do so, especially considering that there is absolutely no possibility of his being able to govern or to be of further use to the Institute.
“Rome, February 11, 1957
Weaving the Web of Secrecy
At the same time that Fr. Maciel, using his unquestionable skills, set up the Legion’s foundation system, he spun an elaborate and intricate web of secrecy around himself. In order to protect his unmentionable motives he surrounded himself with concentric circles of confidants. Because Fr. Maciel had three secrets: he preyed on his seminarians’ sexual innocence, he craved morphine, and he wielded absolute power inside the Legion. How Fr. Maciel was able to simultaneously balance these two contradictory worlds, the public and the private, will continue to baffle historians, Catholics, and the general public.
One of his closest collaborators, Fr. Luis Ferreira, a priest from the diocese of Morelia, Mexico, was “loaned” to the Legion to help with the foundation. Fr. Ferreira had one thing in common with Fr. Maciel: he, too, was a pedophile who preyed on seminarians. He had begun to abuse children at the LC Apostolic School in Tlalpan, Mexico City, in the early 50s before joining Maciel in Rome. Spider Maciel found a way to control Ferreira: “I won’t tell anyone about your terrible affliction if you keep quiet about me.” This manipulation is clearly revealed in the Ferreira archives when he cracks under pressure, reveals his sins to the Vatican investigators, and asks to be sent back to his diocese of origin. For him, this was paying the price of truth. The fact that he did go back to his ministry in Mexico is a reflection of the sad state of affairs in the Catholic Church of that time.
Berry & Renner in Vows of Silence, have already explained how Maciel was banished so as not to interfere with the 1956-8 investigation process. But he did interfere. Silently and swiftly before the investigators intervened he had forewarned and steeled all the members against the visitors, “ill-informed people doing the Devil’s work of ‘striking the Shepherd and scattering the sheep’”. Faithful allies were his newly ordained Spanish seminarians poached from Cobreces inter-diocesan seminary: Rafael Arumí with “the gift of tears” and Antonio Lagoa with his fierce bite. They would be the direct superiors of the Legion members while the Vatican would appoint interim rectors and overseers. Maciel, supposedly banished to Madrid, continued to pull the strings from far and near –even occasionally boarding the Legion seminarians’ coach as it sped through Rome, and secretly and defiantly meeting with the community at Fregene, Lazio, outside city limits. This control, together with well oiled influence inside the Vatican, stymied the visitation.
The number of aberrations documented in Gonzalez’ book is legion. Hopefully, it will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fr. Maciel is indeed a very flawed leader; in the words of Hamlet, “a king of shreds and patches”. The victims will be vindicated as tellers of the truth. For them, traumatized forever by the face of an incestuous father, he will always be “Bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 3)
But the book, and the truth and justice of men and women of good intention, will go a long way to redressing the wrongs.
A reception after the book presentation was held at Librería Gandhi hosted by the manager and her husband. Around twenty ex-Legionaries from the 40s-60s were present. The book-signing was attended by over 300 hundred people, many standing, who later pressed around author Gonzalez, Carmen Aristegui, Alberto Athié and several ex-Legionaries to show their appreciation and support. When the bookstore closed at 10:00 pm, a more intimate group joined Fernando Gonzalez, Florita Garza and her daughter, Alejandra, the Maciel survivors, the Tusquets publishers’ team, members of academia –Professor Mansferrer, Dr Cesar Mascareñas- and the media at a more intimate rendezvous. Graceful hostess, Carolina Lozoya, and her generous husband invited us into their lovely colonial style home to relax and mingle. The Gonzalez-Zataraín couple, whose testimonies recently appeared on REGAIN, continued to meet new “old friends”, together with several other ex-Legionaries, such as Luis-Alfonso Buenrostro who traveled from afar to show solidarity.
The Mexican eyes of Barba and Jurado, who for over a decade had spear-headed efforts to vindicate their testimonies before the world and bring this notorious case to the attention of the Catholic Hierarchy, on seeing themselves warmly reflected in friends and confreres, were finally smiling.