They call it the â€œfourth vow.â€� For those ordained as priests, it complements the three canonical promises of chastity, poverty and obedience. It allowed for the construction of a hermetically sealed world of the religious order known as the Legion of Christ â€” a type of secret society, created in 1941 by Marcial Maciel, who died on January 29, 2008.
This â€œprivate vow,â€� as it is also known, creates a religious obligation not to criticize the organizationâ€™s directives and to snitch on any member of the organization who does so.
Macielâ€™s drive came from a family with deep Catholic roots â€” one which included three bishops, one of whom, Rafael GuÃzar y Valencia, was canonized. Born in 1920, he witnessed the Cristero Revolt (1926-1929) as a child. He had an undeniable gift for captivating popes (no less than four), cardinals and especially wealthy men and women. This gift allowed him to create an empire, which today includes 17 universities, 127 centers of higher education and 175 schools in which more than 120,000 young people are educated and indoctrinated. In addition, there are 20 seminaries, 9 novitiates and 4 centers devoted to the study of philosophy and theology. It operates in more than 20 countries, but its most obvious power base, its social and economic food source, can be found in Mexico.
Out of the Legionariesâ€™ ranks have come three bishops, 750 priests, and 2,500 novices and religious, who work in 40 countries around the world. Its most powerful social arm, â€œRegnum Christiâ€� (the Kingdom of Christ), is an elite entity within the Legion. It is marked by the strictest secrecy and includes high-ranking officials, directors and important Mexican business owners, representing fields such as government, construction, banking and communication media.
Not bad for a man who is continuously described in testimonies as a charismatic and visionary priest, but also as a man of mediocre academic training, a pedophile, morphine addict, money chaser, hypocrite, devious schemer, corrupter of high church officials, prevaricator, manipulator. . .
He boldly led the Legion â€” which he originally christened the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Virgin of Sorrows â€” for 67 years, during which time he played the roles of founder, father superior and perpetual virtual saint. His path to canonization, which involved his mother â€” MamÃ¡ Maurita, spiritual progenitor of all things legionary â€” is now so very uncertain, however, that it could even derail the cause for beatification of his principal protector, Pope John Paul II.
In addition to a large number of writings, which emphasize only Macielâ€™s exemplary traits, various works have been published which cast a critical eye on his life, the most rigorous being perhaps â€œMarcial Maciel, the Legionaries of Christ; Testimonies and Unpublished Documentsâ€� by Fernando M. GonzÃ¡lez.
The debate, however, has been focused on the complex personality of this priest without delving deeply into the methods, which continue being applied within this type of religious cult.
The sexual practices of priests have become a common topic for the entire Catholic church and a review of the Maciel issue would force the hierarchy â€” finally â€” to send a healthy message of repentance and correction, not only to seminarians, who for years were victims of Maciel, but also to the followers of his movement and to society at-large, which remains concerned about the possibility that this pattern of abuse might continue.
The same goes for the almost coercive process of recruitment â€” whose dimension is being ignored â€” which the Legionaries follow, especially the recruitment of young people who attend their schools, a number of whom are incorporated into Regnum Christi and a subsidiary, Missionary Youth. This quite possibly includes thousands of boys and girls pushed to â€œconsecrate themselvesâ€� in the service of Christ.
In the case of one of the Legionâ€™s novitiates located in Monterrey, young adolescent women are recruited with or without the consent of their parents, who are permitted to see them only a few times a year for no more than 30 minutes. The families of these â€œconsecrated womenâ€� receive constant exhortations to contribute large sums of money so that these youths might â€œcircle the globe,â€� serving God in other countries.
Juan JosÃ© Vaca, one of Macielâ€™s accusers, sent a letter to the priest more than 30 years ago, in which he deplored the way things were being done. To judge by the evidence, little has changed.
In 1976 he wrote, â€œYou know quite well that the way of life you are forcing these young women to live is, first of all, taking place behind the back of the Holy See, and is devoid of any canonical status or any ecclesiastical approval. The Regnum Christi Movement, with its methods of secrecy, absolutism and systems of mentalization, more closely follows the practices of secret societies than the open ways and evangelical simplicity of our Holy Mother Church. . .â€�
This entire situation, therefore, calls for the Legionaries to decide what they want in the future for their institution. But it also imposes an obligation on the Catholic hierarchy and on the Mexican state itself, which through omission or infiltration have failed to listen or have actively looked the other way. The death of Maciel should offer the chance for a historical correction, for the good of all.