Good And Bad Fruits In The Legion Of Christ Catholic Religious Order

Presentation by Paul Lennon at the International Cultic Studies Association Annual Conference in Montreal – July, 2012


The official Catholic Church stance on this issue is the following: The Legion of Christ Produces Many Good Fruits; therefore it is a Good Religious Order Blessed by God.The position was originally made clear at the end of the Vatican statement condemning the founder?s behaviors in May, 2006: Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association ?Regnum Christi? is gratefully recognized.
When Pope Benedict XVI was interviewed in 2010 and questioned regarding the clergy sex abuse scandal and specifically about the Legion of Christ founder and the viability of the Legion he explained: Naturally corrections must be made, but by and large the congregation is sound. In it there are many young men who enthusiastically want to serve the faith. This enthusiasm must not be destroyed. Many of them have been called by a false figure to what is, in the end, right after all. This is the remarkable thing, the paradox, that a false prophet, so to speak, could still have a positive effect.
The belief held by Pope Benedict XVI, by his Delegate to the Legion of Christ, and by the Leadership of the order can be formulated as followed: The Legion of Christ Produces Many Good Fruits; therefore it must be good despite the corrupt and harmful life of the founder.
The author will first describe some the Legion?s goodfruits, then explore them more in depth, and finally point out other, bador ambiguous fruits, which the Legion produces.


1- Rapid Growth in Members
Wikipedia describes Legion of Christ (LC) as a Roman Catholic congregation (order) of pontifical right (approved by the pope), made up of priests and seminarians studying for the priesthood. It was founded in Mexico in 1941, by Marcial Maciel, who directed the congregation as its General Director until January 2005. The Legion of Christ has priests working in over 22 countries, and had 889 priests and 2,373 seminarians as of December 31, 2010. In the U.S. it operates 9 schools (and assists at several others) and two of a small number of seminaries for teenage boys currently operating in the US.
Its lay movement Regnum Christi has approximately 70,000 members, and the youth branch ECYD has tens of thousands. The Legion has about 300 students in its own major seminary, Center for Higher Studies, in Rome, on the last stage of preparation to be ordained as Legion priests .

2- International Training Center for Priests
The Jewel in the Legion?s Crown of apostolic works, from a Catholic point of view, is clearly the International Training Center for Priests in Rome, Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum . This seminary accepts students from all over the world to prepare them for the priesthood. To be approved by the Pope and the corresponding Vatican departments to train priests in the heart of Christendom, Rome, is, perhaps, the greatest honor for a religious order; a fact that would not be lost on the Jesuits who traditionally had been the order of priest trainers. One of the Jesuits? claims to glory was that for centuries they were the priest trainers par excellence. As the Legion grew and gathered influence and prestige during the 1960s, 70s and 80s it began to be seen – although not said- by many to supplant the Jesuits as the Pope?s Battalion, his closest allies, and the ones entrusted with the training of priests. On April 4, 2002, the Regnum Christi website proudly proclaimed:
The growing student body of the Legion of Christ?s Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome began the school year with a clear message: prepare yourselves to take up the Church??s mission.
October (2001) marked the beginning of the ninth academic year for the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. This year the Athenaeum has a student body of 1,600, divided into three faculties: theology, philosophy and bioethics. The Institute for Religious Sciences, which is associated with the Athenaeum, is in its third year and now has 700 students. This year it will offer courses in Pedagogy of the Consecrated Life as well as Vocational Ministry.
Cardinal Camilo Ruini, the Vicar of the Holy Father for the city of Rome and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, presided over the Inaugural Mass of the Holy Spirit and offered a keynote address for the new academic year.?

3- Schools, Colleges, and Universities:
In Mexico, the Legionaries administer the Anahuac University Network which comprises 8 campuses spread throughout the country. They operate centers of education (minor seminaries, seminaries, schools and/or universities) in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Korea, Poland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, and the Philippines. In the U.S. they run 9 schools (and assists at several others) and two of a small number of seminaries for teenage boys currently operating in the US.


1.1 Members Defecting:

To begin with, the numbers of members given above are self-reported by Legion of Christ leadership. Although these statistics may be officialand appear in the books of the Vatican Congregation (Department) for Religious (Orders), and in the ponderous Annuario Pontificio, annual yearbook of the Catholic Church, there is no guarantee that they are faithfully reported. The Vatican exercises little if any oversight on reports submitted by the Legion. Statistics are not verified by independent sources and there is no access to Legion archives. The Legion, naturally, does not report defectionseither during training or after ordination. Numbers of exiting members leak out and can only be calculated anecdotally, through the grapevine, or come to the public?s attention when there is a majorscandalthat is picked up by the media. The real question remains, how many Legionary students and priests leave the ranks every year?

It is hard to gather statistics on Legion defections as this was information that was always carefully controlled by Legion administrators and it was the custom that members left under cover of darkness and in silence, in fear and tremblingwithout letting their companions know. The writer prudently calculates that in the past five to seven years at least 100 of the 800 priests have left the Legion. Since 2009, departures have been more visible and some members have publicly voiced their reasons for leaving. Such is the case of gifted Legionary priests such as Fr. Richard Gill , Thomas Berg, Stephen Fichter, James Farfaglia , and others who have made successful transitions to the diocesan clergy. Fr. Gill?s analysis of the Legion made the headlines. Titled, ?Can the Legion of Christ be Repaired?? it appeared on Sandro Magister?s blog as Legionaries, The Ten Questions of Fr. Richard Gill . Reflecting on the first stage of Legion reform enacted by the Apostolic Delegate, Fr. Gill formulates probing questions about the essence of the Legion of Christ. They cast doubt on the prevailing mindset and attitudes inside the order.

A big blow to the Legion was the defection en masse of over 30 consecratedfemale members of the Regnum Christi in 2011 to form their own new religious group, Totus Tuus . Around that time, a former RC member, Nieves Garcia , wondered in an article340 Consecrated Leave Regnum Christi in Three years, – Why?

2.1. International Training Center for Priests:

We should ask ourselves, with what right has the Legion of Christ set itself up as the training institute for Catholic priests. How has the Vatican allowed the Legion to attribute to itself such a mission? What is the source of the training method that it imparts to its students? Where does the Legion get the wisdom to transmit holiness to seminarians from around the world and to those in its own ranks? The spirituality of the Legion as a religious order would normally come from the example and writings of its founder. The example of the Legion founder has been totally discredited. The founder?s writings, the 12 volumes of the Letters of Nuestro Padre, have likewise lost value except to the most fanatical Maciel devotees inside. What was supposed to be the gem of the founder?s mysticism, Psalter of My Days, turned out to be plagiarized by Fr. Maciel from a Spanish freedom fighter in the 1940s. Through ghost writers Fr. Maciel authored Integral Formation of Catholic Priests , a cookie-cutter book full of trite formulas and outdated catchphrases still available on Amazon.
The writer wonders whether that is also the manual that guides the training of young adult students at the Legion run international seminary in Rome. The book presently figures as Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,035,792 in Books and the glowing description of Fr. Maciel and his works can still be read there. This is a classic textbook for the formation of seminarians, currently used in over 20 diocesan seminaries in five nations. The fruit of Fr. Maciel?s 50+ years of experience in forming priests of the Church, Integral Formation of Catholic Priests is an insightful look at priestly formation for the clergy of today and tomorrow.The author wonders whether Fr. Maciel?s methods may not be better described as The Integral Deformation of Catholic Priests.But Legion followers may be so dazzled by the appearances that they cannot see the irony.
Long time Legion critic, Jason Berry, reported on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 referring to the Legion?s elite seminary where it secretly trains its own priests:
Center for Higher Studies: Rome Concentration Camp

The atmosphere in House of Studies is bizarre, a Legion priest said glumly, sitting on a bench near the Tiber River, fearful of repercussions should his name be used. Even now, the brothers (seminarians) have not been told about Maciel?s pedophilia. Their mail is screened and web access restricted.
He considers the 320 seminarians brainwashed. They read the letters of Nuestro PadreOur Father,as Maciel, touted internally as a future saint, was called. Three years after the Holy Father punished him, they study his writings. (Although)Priests can spend time freely outside (the seminary walls). The brothers (seminarians in training) are in a concentration camp. We assume that things may be different after the Apostolic Visitation ordered by the Vatican in 2010. Some notable defections have been reported but news leaking from the inside regarding the atmosphere of control and fear is disheartening.

3.1 From High Schools to Hotels:

In recent years, beginning with the Vatican?s censure of Maciel in 2006 but especially after revelations of his double and disreputable life in 2009, there has been a falling off in contributions to the Legion and a decrease in the number of educational centers. REGAIN,INC webpage recently reported the Legion is ending its role in the Sacramento area following its decision in 2011 to close their only U.S Legion run university and their Immaculate Conception Apostolic School, a high school seminary in Colfax, California.REGAIN asked: Why Is the Legion Closing its Schools in the United States and Elsewhere? Why does the Legion have educational facilities in the first place? Were the schools in Sacramento and elsewhere established for a spiritual purpose to provide Catholic education? Or is it more likely that these institutions existed as a means to some other end?The article suggested the following explanation: So if you look at the situation from a perspective of following the money, the logical explanation for the Legionaries pulling out of an area is because they choose to remain in those areas where the profits are the greatest.
This writer suggests that Legion schools, like their other apostolatesare a means to less apparent ends: fundraising, visibility/image, and influence. For the order whose founder portrayed himself as a friend of Pope John Paul IIimage is a key factor. The Legion tends to position itself -Jose Barba, Maciel survivor and Legion critic, coined the phraseiuxta-position close to the Pope, the Vatican, holiness, and so forth. This may explain why the Legion is now turning its attention to the Holy Land. The Legion administers one hotel in Jerusalem, The Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center and is pouring money into another large hotel in Magdala in Galilee -Though let us be clear; the Legion is not necessarily investing its resources. It is requesting donations to invest Catholics? money in the hotel- But the iuxta-positioning is powerful. If the Legion can no longer associate itself with the Vicar of Christ, it will now associate itself with the land of Christ, portraying itself as a champion of peace in the Middle East, an educator of and host to pilgrims to the land of the Founder of Christianity. The Legion?s very appealing propaganda even makes it appear that the Legion is part of archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land!


Fr. Maciel?s accomplices:

Of course, the first really bad apple was the founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel . Researchers of the Legion also wonder how Maciel could have lived such a corrupt life-style for so long without help from others. Maciel was a master of deceit and control. He controlled a circle of sexual victims and procurers. He was also surrounded by a circle of collaborators who helped him stay in power for six decades. The Papal Delegate seems to have made a real blunder by not dismissing these accomplices. Such is the opinion recently expressed by very prestigious former Legionary, Fr. Thomas Berg, now Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph?s Seminary in Yonkers, New York
First, he has chosen to leave multiple longtime and close collaborators of Maciel in positions of governance in the congregation. Second, and more disturbing, the Cardinal has chosen to forego a thorough and independent investigation into whether any present or former members of the congregation knowingly abetted Maciel.

Not so holy priests:

The image of immaculate Legion priests became muddied with the 2012 revelation that the Legion?s knight in shining armor had fallen off his steed: a director, professor and author of books on moral theology, television personality, Vatican analyst, Legion spokesperson and apologist, Fr. Thomas Williams, had fathered a child as an active priest and he and his superiors had kept it secret for over a decade. The very orthodox and formerly Legion-owned National Catholic Register reported:
Legionary Priest Admits Fathering Child and Issues Apology
Father Thomas Williams is leaving public ministry for 1 year.
Father Thomas Williams, one of the most high-profile American members of the Legion of Christ, is leaving public ministry after admitting he fathered a child.
A number of years ago I had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. I am deeply sorry for this grave transgression and have tried to make amends, Father Williams said in a May 15 statement.
My superiors and I have decided it would be best for me to take a year without active public ministry to reflect on the wrong I have done and my commitments as a priest. I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation, and I ask for your prayers as I seek guidance on how to make up for my errors.
He also apologized to members of the Legion and the Church, since this scandalous news will damage them as well, at the worst possible moment.
The identities of the mother and child have not been revealed.
Father Williams also said that he is with his family in Michigan and is being treated for a form of cancer.

Other Legionaries priests sex abusers?

Ever since 2009 when the Legion itself revealed the corruption of its founder it has wished to repudiate him, attributing his crimes exclusively to him and maintaining that these cancers were not transmitted to his followers. Recently allegations of sexual abuse by Legionary priests were reported to the Vatican which then began another- investigation into the Legion of Christ.
VATICAN CITY The Vatican is investigating seven priests from the troubled Legion of Christ religious order for alleged sexual abuse of minors – evidence that the scandal over the order’s pedophile founder doesn’t rest solely with him, The Associated Press has learned.
The investigations mark the first known Vatican action against Legion priests following the revelations of the Legion’s founder, who was long held up as a model by the Vatican despite credible accusations (later proven) that he was a drug addict who raped and molested his seminarians.
The Legion, which is now under Vatican receivership, has insisted that the crimes of the Rev. Marcial Maciel were his alone.
But the Vatican investigation of other Legion priests indicates that the same culture of secrecy that Maciel created within the order to cover his crimes enabled other priests to abuse children just as abusive clergy of other religious orders and dioceses have done around the world.

The Whistle-blowers:

REGAIN, INC arose in the early 90s from the concerns of former Legionaries, their relatives and friends regarding the state of physical, psychological, and spiritual disarray of active and departing members. Statistics are not available but we can say that over the past twenty years there has been a steady stream of former members who feel they were mistreated, manipulated, and abused in various ways during their time in the Legion.
ReGAIN’s mission is to outreach, unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement. Past and present members and all those who quest for justice and truth, resolution and healing are invited to join in this endeavor.
ReGAIN has been the repository of many tales of woe, of wounded warriors seeking information, support and guidance as they recover from their Legion experience. While popes, bishops, and gullible Catholics have lauded the Legion, its methods, and its works, REGAIN has witnessed the devastation caused by Legion methods, and by spiritual directors and superiors who do not have the best interests of the members at heart. REGAIN has ministered to the angry and confused, to the disoriented and frustrated individuals and families who have been damaged. The Legion has even punished REGAIN legally and tried to prevent it from carrying out its mission of mercy.
In the last few years a new, vibrant, well informed, and interactive blog keeps the public updated on Legion and Regnum Christi happenings. REGAIN highly recommends the work of a group of Orthodox Catholic former members at
Other pages, in Spanish, also keep the Legion honest: and

Damaging Effects Caused by Legion Training:

In 2012 a group of young women who studied as the Regnum Christi Boarding High School in Rhode Island have taken to the Internet. They describe their blog:
This blog is an account of the experiences of former Pre-candidates of the Regnum Christi Movement. Many of us suffered real mental, emotional and spiritual damage in our years at Immaculate Conception Academy (High School Boarding). We share our stories here to warn parents of the very real dangers of handing your daughters over to this flawed institution. What you see when your daughters come home for a week at Christmas and two weeks in the summer is not what happens the other 49 weeks of the year.
They were called Pre-candidates, that is, young female high school students being groomed to consecrate themselves to the lay movement founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel. Some common threads gleaned from a smattering of their testimonies describe serious physical, psychological and spiritual damage:

1. Major Depressive Disorder with suicidal thoughts and attempts; Dissociation, etc.:

Letter from M. to Apostolic Visitor Bishop Ricardo Watty in February 2010: Your Excellency:

I have been pondering this letter for about a week since I knew I would have the opportunity to present this letter to you, and my mind began to fill with ideas and emotions. I have written so many stories about the pain and suffering Regnum Christi left in my life, an anguish so severe that I tried to take my own life. I?m sure you don?t have time to read the screenplay that I created to express in story form what I went through as a member of the Third Degree of Regnum Christi. Or the 150 pages I wrote about my ?vocation story> while I was recovering from my overdose. Zero was my clinical depression before joining the Regnum Christi. During my second year, we were given MMPIs (the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) and made to draw psychoanalytic images. Not surprisingly, I drew a weeping willow tree, a classic symbol of depression, and my MMPI scores were higher than I ever saw when working in a clinical practice. Seven is the number of days I spent under medications after my overdose while the doctors saved my life. My life was saved because as I was about to die from internal bleeding, I received a picture in my head that I could not die because there existed the possibility that I could have a family and a happy life as a writer. Because of that possibility, I was taken to the hospital.

2. Emotional and Psychological Abuse at the hands of inept, cruel and manipulativeSpiritual Guidesleading to Severe Psychological Damage: Former Consecrated wrote : I would like to share one thing with all the former pre-candidates, if you are trying to figure out why you were treated the way you were, I suggest you give up and remember the following – your formators had NO TRAINING WHATSOEVER on how to help you be a better person, how to respect your human rights, how to develop your personal talents or help you discern a vocation. The only training they were given was how to get you to comply with the ideals and discipline?.. So, if you feel confused because you don’t understand why someone treated you a certain way well, this might be 80 or 90% of your answer. No one saw you as an END, only as a MEANS to benefit the Movement and enlarge the numbers for the consecrated life. M wrote: Two, the number of people I told about how suicidal I was as a consecrated: my spiritual guide and my Mom. My spiritual guide continued to emotionally abuse me by constantly picking on every weakness I had. My Mom told me that I probably had an illness called depression and it could be treated with medication and therapy. My spiritual guide was very angry and since my Mom knew I was unwell, they told me they had to send me home. In retrospect, that person was probably trying to follow the rules of the Movement, but they were harmful to me and left deep wounds on my psyche for many years that followed. Eight the number of years I have spent in psychotherapy recovering from the Movement, beginning at 3 times a week and gradually going down to once a week when I could hold off my depression that long.

3. Anorexia Nervosa + Spiritual Abuse: One girl in our class was anorexic and the rest of the girls began to eat as little as possible. When she was in the hospital, I overhead the directress of the school telling the priest not to give her Communion unless she ate.

4. Physical Illness deriving from mental cruelty: Ten – the number of pounds I lost when I got the rotavirus after telling my spiritual guide that I didn?t understand how the Movement would fulfill its mission if all we did was work in schools and she told me that I was talking like an enemy of the Movement. My directress ordered me to gain back the weight over the next months but I was so depressed I was barely able to chew food.

5. Mind Control : Number Twenty Six July 26, 2002, the day I flew home from Monterrey, Mexico so suicidal I could no longer think clearly, but so integrated into what being consecrated meant that I could not help myself from recruiting members on the airplane. One hundred and fifty – the number of Aspirins I took on Sept. 11, 2003 when I could no longer bear the thought that happiness could never be mine as I was not good enough to be a consecrated (member of the Regnum Christi).

6. Pre-mature Recruiting: Number Nine – 9- the age at which they began to recruit me. Please note that I was not at an age in which children have yet developed complex reasoning. Thirty – the number of students that were in the 6th grade class I gave Spiritual Direction to in Monterrey as we started to recruit them to consecrated life. I feel guilty as I remember their names and their faces and afraid of what the Movement might have done to them in their futures.

7. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 2,921 the number of days in 8 years. How many nightmares I estimate that I have had since leaving consecrated life as symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder. I have one that I remember about once a week, so it would be safe to say that I have one every night during the other dreams that I don?t remember

8. Ignorance regarding Sex and Interpersonal Relationships leaving members ignorant, immature, and ill equipped for real life: Former Consecrated wrote: One thing I still can’t understand is that there was never any sex ed.! Perhaps this is why so many have had difficulties with sentimental relationships, emotions, dating and even husbands. Maybe you got that education later on – lucky you! Some left their home at 14 or 15 and went back at 18 or in their 20s. During that time many of your friends had their hearts broken, got sharper at dating, lost naivety and had helpful experiences regarding sexuality (some not helpful at all ha-ha-ha). And then the ex-pc arrives home and the whole guy thing gets complicated, she does not know how to handle it. I find the lack of sex ed. at the PC and even 3gf life to also be one of the damaging aspects, even if we didn’t clearly notice it. Some 3gf suggested to higher superiors to include some books on sex education during formation years. The answer was no, it was imprudent because, what if they got aroused while reading that information? (yep, my jaw dropped too when I heard the answer).

9. Rejection of one?s cradle Faith (of the Catholic Church): I still believe in Him. However, I cannot ever return to a Church that knew about the horrors within the Movement and chose to ignore it for more than fifty years, long before I ever would have joined, and could have prevented me from ever suffering what I did. I cannot return to a Church where the Pope praised the Movement and Marcial Maciel so many times in public, which was crucial to my entering and believing in it, when the evidence about the group was so craftily being hidden. It is too late to win me back to the Church, but if you act quickly and deftly, you may still be able to save the faith of others.

10. Spiritual Pride and Pharisee-ism: Frances writes: It’s been absolutely amazing and eye-opening to me to think back to the insane life that was the PC. Yet, there we were, tucked back in there, us Russian Princesses and Nuns of Narragansett, better than our peers because we had chosen to give our lives to God. Those other mere mortals were living flamboyant and sinfully pleasurable lives; because wasn’t life all about sacrifice and self-denial? For a group that preached universal Christian charity it’s amazing to think how much we judged any and all who weren’t doing exactly as we were. Oh, she must not be generous with God, she is going HOME. Oh did you hear? So and so had fun/danced/got pregnant/etc. etc. Seriously?! Who were we to judge or say what God’s will was for someone else? We were better somehow for giving our lives to God, others who were called to vocations such as marriage were lesser beings, not capable of the love and devotion we chosen souls were capable of. The hubris of those thoughts disgusts me even as I write it.

11. Loss of Humanity and Freedom
Frances states: How is it that 80 girls could live so close together, do absolutely everything together for years, and yet know so little about each other? I think we were only allowed to speak a total of about 30 minutes a day, maybe less. The rest of the time we walked about like drones, taking in what we were told we could take in, nothing more, nothing less.

The very essence of what it means to be a human, to have the freedom to choose was taken away and put inside the tightest of boxes: the schedule. Every minute of every day was planned out, to the point that if you got constipated, good luck. Your free time didn’t allow enough time to remedy that problem.

I remember one year after final exams, going outside and yelling FREEEEDOOMMMM (Brave-heart style) with a couple other PC’s. We earned an intolerably long lecture about the inappropriateness of such behavior. We were teenagers, for Christ’s sake.


Indignation, or maybe even bitterness, spontaneously well up on reading these stories, especially if one has been involved with the Legion/Regnum and has experienced abuse first hand. Another, well liked, former member of Regnum Christi, Nieves Garcia, has her own Spanish language blog, granito de verdad con amor , grain of truth with love. Herteachinghelps us digest these unsavory experiences, leading each one of us to take responsibility and seek resolution through forgiveness. The author hands the miketo Nieves for the concluding remarks.

She holds that no amount of good works can justify the bad works that have been done and continue to be done. Looking back over her twenty seven years in the Movement she tells us:
Once truth comes to light, it behooved us to review our way of life. When we did this, many of us realized that we, too, had done harm to others. Hundreds of good fruits do not justify bad fruits. We are human beings; we are not things, vegetables, sacks of potatoes. To justify evil by the amount of good fruits produced is to accept evil as a means to a good end.

I lived 27 years in this institution. I, too, have done harm to others without wanting to. And I ask forgiveness. But I cannot continue to deceive. What I want is for us to become aware, ask forgiveness, and open ourselves to the grace of conversion. We have to change. People are not just numbers or the fruits of my harvest; they are human beings, loved for who they are by God, and they deserve total respect. It is about service, not about appearances. God knows the reality: Don’t let you left hand know the [good] works your right hand is doing. Only in a state of humility will God bless those who love and serve others unselfishly.
There have been good fruits. Great! But we should never do harm to anyone, ever; much less in the name of God.
Nieves Garcia.


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