Fr. Neuhaus’ Feathers Of Scandal Molting
The body of the discussion, written in 2004, is prefaced and updated with the 2006 Vatican communiquÃ© regarding Fr. Maciel, Founder of the Legion of Christ Religious Order and of the Regnum Christi lay Movement, and Superior General of both until 2006; this is followed by Fr. Neuhausâ€™ May 2006 renewed allegiance to Fr. Maciel and the Legion. The body of the article consists of the authorâ€™s discussion with Fr. Neuhaus regarding his defense of Fr. Maciel regarding the sexual abuse of his seminarians.
One of our readers sent us the following note on 2/11/08, after the article was first posted:
“I noted the new articles today on the ReGain website. John Neuhaus was quite clear in his Sept. ’06 issue of First Things that he did not support the LC/RC “interpretation” of the CDF Directive. He certainly backs off his earlier defense of Maciel and is critical of the Legion’s Response to the Vatican CommuniquÃ©.
I think you should include that article in the interests of intellectual honesty.”
REGAIN refers visitors to the article mentioned by our reader so they can be better informed; a preliminary search led to:
under the heading: Person, Charism and the Legionaries of Christ
[Note: the present article is relatively complex, requiring time and concentration]
With reference to recent news concerning the person of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Holy See Press Office released the following communiquÃ©:
“Beginning in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 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 offence 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.”
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus writes
May 19, 2006:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), with the approval of the Holy Father, has decided, in the words of the official Vatican statement, â€œto invite [Father Marcial Maciel] to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.â€�
Fr. Maciel is the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and its lay association, Regnum Christi. He retired from active leadership in 2005. Beginning in 1998, a number of charges of sexual wrongdoing, related to events of five decades ago, were brought against Fr. Maciel by former members of the Legion. The CDF conducted an investigation of the charges but, because of Fr. Macielâ€™s fragile health and advanced age, did not conduct a canonical hearing. Since there was no canonical hearing, there is no canonical judgment regarding his guilt or innocence of the alleged wrongdoings.
The most precise statement of what has happened, I believe, is that, in the judgment of CDF and the pope, it is in the best interests of the Church, the Legion, and Fr. Maciel that he relinquish his public ministry and devote the remainder of his life to penitence and prayer. It should be noted that â€œpenitenceâ€� in this connection does not connote punishment for wrongdoing. The Vatican statement also says that â€œthe worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the association Regnum Christi is gratefully recognized.â€�
What to make of all this? Although I have no formal connection with the Legion and Regnum Christi, I have over the years been a strong supporter of both. They have in the past, do now, and, I am confident, will continue to provide vibrant apostolates in the service of Christ and his Church. When the charges against Fr. Maciel first surfaced, I studied the matter with care and had detailed discussions with knowledgeable people on all sides of the ensuing controversy. I said in First Things and elsewhere that I was â€œmorally certainâ€� the charges were false. Moral certitude, it should be noted, is a very high degree of probability that justifies action, but is short of certitude described as absolute, mathematical, or metaphysical. I do not know all that the CDF and the Holy Father know, and am not privy to the considerations that led to their decision. It is reasonable to believe that they think Fr. Maciel did do something wrong.
The official statement of the Legion says: â€œFr. Maciel, with the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him, has accepted this communiquÃ© 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 Legionaries of Christ and the members of Regnum Christi, following the example of Fr. Maciel and united to him, accept and will accept always the directives of the Holy See with a profound spirit of obedience and faith. We renew our commitment to work with great intensity to live our charism of charity and extend the Kingdom of Christ serving the Church.â€�
The Legion statement also says, â€œFacing the accusations made against him, [Fr. Maciel] declared his innocence and, following the example of Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way.â€� The venerable spiritual tradition being followed here is that of purification through suffering, in the confidence that Fr. Maciel will one day be vindicated. There is ample historical precedent of holy men and women who were unjustly treated by church authorities, St. Joan of Arc, for an obvious instance. Or the eleventh-century saint, Pope Gregory VII, whose dying words were, â€œI loved righteousness, I hated iniquity, and so I die in exile.â€�
It was hardly the only factor, but one of the many factors that entered into my moral certainty regarding Fr. Macielâ€™s innocence was my great respect for John Paul II and his repeated statements of support for Fr. Maciel. With similar respect for the office and person of Pope Benedict, I do not protest this directive implying that Fr. Maciel is guilty of wrongdoing. It is obvious that CDF and the Holy Father know more than I know with respect to evidence supporting the guilt or innocence of Fr. Maciel.
I earnestly pray that the magnificent apostolates of the Legion of Christ and of Regnum Christi will continue to flourish in the service of Christ and his Church.
REGARDING PEDOPHILIA, FR. MACIEL, AND THE LEGION OF CHRIST
A propos â€œScandal Time IIIâ€�, First Things, August-September 2002
Dear Father Neuhaus,
As a Legionary of Christ member for 23 years â€“15 as priest- and presently as a mental health therapist, I have a couple of points to make: the first about â€˜Scandal IIIâ€™; the second about Father Maciel, Founder and Superior General of the Legion of Christ. Because of your dim view of psychology and psychologists, and perhaps of ex-priests who have not followed your â€œfidelity, fidelity, fidelityâ€� precept, I hope you will not dismiss off-hand my person or my opinions.
What is pedophilia?
Let me begin by saying that I agree with you that pedophilia is not a result of celibacy and that marriage does not solve pedophilia, or lust. However, I also believe that pedophilia and homosexuality are two different things. Definitions may help clarify this statement. My point is that your article is lacking in a real knowledge of the nature of pedophilia and goes off onto theological and philosophical tangents that distract from the issue.
Beginning in The No-Mercy Route you pick up on journalist Goodsteinâ€™s image of â€œseventy-year-old Father Xâ€�. The Father X. hypothesis is that here is this nice old priest who had one â€œslipâ€� many years ago, repented and never did it again. Now the bishops are going to sacrifice him to their â€œzero toleranceâ€� policy. You come back to this image several times to show just how unmerciful the bishopsâ€™ policy is. However, in this instance and in others throughout your article you seem to ignore the true nature of pedophilia, tend to minimize its gravity, and even sometimes appear to â€œblame the victimâ€�.
At the same time you also seem to slide from the concepts of pedophilia and ephebophilia to homosexuality, placing them on some kind of a continuum of deviousness. You state that in the second installment (June/July, 2002) you noted how the pedophilia crisis “was now recognized by almost everyone as a crisis created by adult men having sex of various sorts with adolescent and older teenage boys.” I, however, believe there is a consensus among psychologists and moralists that Pedophilia is a peculiar form of sexual abuse involving deception and/or an abuse of power, authority and/or status. The only difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia â€“which are essentially the sexual abuse of a minor-, is the age and development stage of the victim: before or after puberty, erection and ejaculation. In other words, whether the offender prefers younger or older minors, and how sexually responsive s/he needs them to be to achieve gratification. I may have overlooked your working definition of pedophilia. A generally accepted definition [Porter, E., Treating the Young Male Victim of Sexual Assault, Safer Society Press, 1991] would be as follows:
â€œContacts or interactions between a minor and a person, usually at least five years older, when the minor is being used as an object of gratification for the more powerful individualâ€™s sexual needs or desires.â€�
Yes, Father Neuhaus, there is such a thing as â€œno-contact abuseâ€�. This would include contacts with exhibitionists and solicitation to sex, etc. In effect, the â€œsinâ€� is in the mind and heart of the beholder, as Jesus teaches (Matthew 5, 27-28). Let us remember: pedophilia is not about the actions of the minor but about the reactions and actions of the adult or older, more powerful individual.
The Father X hypothesis
I consider the Father X benign simile quite devious, especially the way you keep building on what began as a hypothesis. The good Father X takes on a life of his own in your article. Now just let us suppose that Father X had â€œonly one abusive incident with a minor, thirty years ago, that he had repented, that he has put his life back in order…â€�
That one offense was, nevertheless, very serious. Did he receive appropriate consequences and remedial treatment? Did he apologize to the victim? Did he make reparation as best he could? Did he take a serious look at his behavior and tendencies?
Do he, you and your readers realize that once is too much and that a victim can be scarred for life because of one invasion of boundaries, one -as you would put it- â€œimpure touchâ€� of Christâ€™s little ones.
There is a kind of â€œclerical privilegeâ€� that pervades the articles. It would seem you are saying: â€œLet the victim get his therapy and seek healing for being sinfully touched by Fr. X. while Fr. X gets back to the important business of touching the Body and Blood of Christ.â€�
Are we saying that Fr. X. was caught only once? Could there have been other occasions when he was not caught? Were there other accusations and this the only one that stuck? A pedophile is not content with a one time fix. Real pedophiles are â€œrepeat offendersâ€� and often have multiple victims.
Pedophiles are notoriously â€œslipperyâ€� and usually respond with blanket denial when first confronted. They will stonewall until they are convicted. Many offenses go undetected because the victim is silent or not believed. So offenders usually get a lot of â€œfreebiesâ€� before they are caught. How many â€œfreebiesâ€� did Father X. get?
Non-violent pedophiles usually need to lay elaborate plans and strategies in order to trap a victim. This is called â€œgroomingâ€� and it can take weeks or months. So in this sense there is no real â€œone time onlyâ€�. It is not a â€œslipâ€�, like the impulsive pinching you described so well. It is more like a pinching you were thinking about for some time. I would call it a â€œpremeditated accidentally-on-purpose slipâ€�.
REGARDING THE LEGION OF CHRIST & FR. MACIEL
â€œAll that glitters is not goldâ€� as regards the Legion of Christ. Years of experience as a priest and now therapist have led me to be cautious. When someone or something is
â€œtoo good to be trueâ€�, it usually is.
In your article you omitted mention of the sexual abuse allegations against Father Maciel, Founder and Superior General â€œfor lifeâ€� of the Legion Christ for whom you have a predilection. I was fortunate never to have experienced any sexual abuse while in the Legion. However I did experience Father Macielâ€™s absolute power in governing, his harshness, his public humiliation, his sarcasm and ridicule when commenting on membersâ€™ and â€œoutsiderâ€™sâ€� shortcomings. No one, who knows him closely, except his lackeys, would ever consider him â€œsaint materialâ€�. I did not want to believe the stories when they first appeared. Not until I had heard the testimonies of his accusers â€“some of whom I had known personally and had no reason to doubt- did I start to believe that something like that could be true. From my point of view, sexual abuse would simply be another form of the abuse of power I had come to associate with Father Maciel. You, in your trips to Rome, etc., have experienced the nice side of the Legion and Father Maciel. You are friendly to their cause. They â€�wined and dined youâ€�, â€œgroomedâ€� you and now they â€œcultivateâ€� you.(until you no longer serve their cause). You are of use to them. You have succumbed to the â€œMaster of Deceitâ€�. But you cannot say you know either Father Maciel or the Legion in a thorough way and on a daily basis. You have not lived in community with him for a prolonged period of time. You are impressed by the appearances, by the results, by the glitter…
Regarding the sexual abuse aspect; let me tell you a short story. In 1970, just after our ordination, a colleague of mine was sent as a new superior to the Apostolic School (junior seminary) in Ontaneda, Santander, Spain. Several boys approached him accusing one of the staff, another LC priest, of getting some of the little Spaniards into bed with him. The newly arrived superior knew that Maciel had previously sexually abused the abuser. As a blindly obedient religious, and according to his LC training, he immediately notified Father Maciel. Our Father told the priest in question not to worry; that he would take care of everything. Within hours, the Territorial Director, Fr. Rafael ArumÃ, was dispatched from Salamanca to Ontaneda. The offending priest was summarily sent packing without any process. At that time the Legion was starting a new apostolate: the Mission Prelature in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. The offending priest was sent there. He remains there to this day -if he is still alive. What about the indigenous Maya children under his pastoral care? Do they count?
Since originally drafting this letter to the editor some months ago (September, 2004) I have learned that another serious epidemic of pedophilia struck the Apostolic School in Ontaneda, Santander, Spain in recent years, causing the institution to be closed down. This is one of the reasons others and I are concerned that Father Maciel, because of his influence in the Vatican, is getting off Scot free and that, subsequently, sexual abuse is being condoned from generation to generation in the Legion. You do understand now how important it is for Father Maciel to totally deny the allegations and discredit his accusers! Otherwise, well-meaning people like you will, sooner or later, start to question…
I, for my part, will not consent with my silence to the continuous endangerment of innocent boys, no matter how apparently holy and worthy the cause.
Paul Lennon STL, MA,
FR. NEUHAUS’S RESPONSE TO ABOVE MESSAGE
(Fr. Neuhaus graciously replied to this letter with a short note, quoted literally):
â€�Dear Mr. Lennon,
I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.
I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from “having no reason to doubt” that “something like this could be true” to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.
If you have not already, you might search the FIRST THINGS website for the article in which I explain why I do not believe the charges against Fr. Maciel.
Thank you for writing.
(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus”
My personal first hand knowledge and impressions of Accusers and Fr. Marcial Maciel
Today, 9/30/04, reviewing my postings on the Regain discussion board (7/29/2003 at 05:08 PM), I found the following, which I now edit:
“My Days in Salamanca 1960s ”
Dear Arturo J.:
I received the videotapes you sent on Tuesday and started watching them last night [4/4/02], beginning with the first video, the ‘rough’ version of the testimonies of three brave ex-legionaries. I was able to see on the screen the face of Jose Barba whom I haven’t met for many years; and there he was, full of dignity, ruefully talking about his abuse. I was saddened and angry at Father Maciel by Jose’s story. I, who love to sleep in, did not sleep well. I got up at six, a record for me. As I continue with the second tape, the Mexican “Canal 40″ report, I continue to understand the nature, and grasp the reality and seriousness of this abuse. On hearing/watching Alejandro Espinoza talking about the recruitment of ‘pretty boys’, I had a weird sense of the wisdom of my own vague ‘intuition’ regarding the Founder. The realization of Maciel being an ‘ephebophile’, a ‘lover of handsome youth’ –in the Greek tradition, shall we say– seems to have fully dawned on me a few days ago when I shared some other reflections with the forum.
Memories and names from my own experience come to my mind. When I arrived in Salamanca in early September 1961, I do remember seeing an Arturo Jurado. He belonged to another community, already a Philosophy student in apostolic practices? From what I remember, although I could not talk to him, he did seem to be a particularly gentle and quiet individual. I do not remember crashing into him during one of our â€˜friendlyâ€™ intercommunity soccer matches. ”
 Reply to Fr. Neuhaus:
THE WEIGHT OF SEX ABUSE VICTIMS’ TESTIMONIES AND DEEPER KNOWLEDGE OF FR. MACIEL
-A Scholastic Response to: â€œYou are jumping to conclusions regarding Fr. Macielâ€�
By J. Paul Lennon, MA
Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 19:19:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon”
To: “Richard John Neuhaus”
Richard John Neuhaus wrote:
Mr. Paul Lennon
“Dear Mr. Lennon,
I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.
I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from â€˜having no reason to doubtâ€™ that â€˜something like that could be true,â€™ to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.
If you have not already, you might search the FIRST THINGS website for the article in which I explain why I do not believe the charges against Fr. Maciel.
Thank you for writing.
(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus”
HOW I REACHED â€“WITHOUT JUMPING TO– MY CONCLUSIONS REGARDING FR. MACIEL SEXUALLY ABUSING THESE SEMINARIANS
Thanks for replying so quickly to my letter to the editor. I appreciate your interest in the issues at hand and your willingness to engage in an enlightened discussion. Let me just make a couple of replies to your replies, which I will insert for the sake of clarity.
1- â€˜I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.â€™
Respondeo dicendum quod;
Primum: I believe you were the one who in your article referred to distinctions such as ‘pedophilia’ and ‘ephebophilia’. I pointed out before that when there is a serious discrepancy in age/power/authority/ knowledge between those engaging in sexual activities such behavior is generally considered ‘AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP’, and results, for treatment purposes, in one of the parties being considered ‘the perpetrator’ and the other ‘the victim’.
I did not use the term ‘sexual deviancies’, as it is nebulous, and belongs to a more academic, philosophical and psychological realm which would lead to endless intellectual discussions.. I believe I referred to ‘sexual abuse’ in my letter to you. This is more concrete, morally and legally.
2- â€˜I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from â€˜having no reason to doubtâ€™ that â€˜something like that could be true,â€™ to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.â€™
As regards Father Maciel’s sexually abusive behaviors,
respondeo dicendum quod:
When I was a Legionary I only heard about the investigations (1956-9) of Father Maciel in and through superiors who were loyal to him: Frs. Rafael ArumÃ, Octavio Acevedo, Alfredo Torres, Juan Manuel DueÃ±as, et al.. The nature and causes of â€œLa Guerra” [The War] – in Legion parlance of the early 60s – were never explained to members, except to attribute them to ‘enemies’, ‘trying to destroy the Legion’. I believe the term applied to the Vatican investigation has been revised since then to something like ‘La Gran BendiciÃ³n’ (The Great Blessing). Nothing of a sexual nature regarding the troubles of those years was ever mentioned within my hearing. We were told that a number of early Legionaries rebelled against Father Maciel because they were ill-intentioned and wanted to â€˜destroy the Legionâ€™. The gist of the story was that they had gotten too big for their boots and began to interfere with Fr. Maciel, the Founder. While inside the Legion – 23 years – I never heard anything about the true nature of the accusations against Father Maciel.
There was an informal list of ‘traitors’ which circulated hush-hush through the superiors and was gossiped in the community: names like the Isla brothers, Federico Dominguez, a certain Rizo, and others I vaguely remember. Jose Barba, one of the accusers, was from that same generation, but he was not considered a ‘traitor’ to Nuestro Padre. Later, in the 80s, I learned Jose had left the Legion on friendly terms and made a pretty good transition out of the Legion into the academic world. As a matter of fact, and I don’t know how we managed this, together with Fr. AmenÃ¡bar and another Legionary of the time, I visited exLC Jose Barba when he has teaching at a university (Universidad de las AmÃ©ricas]) in Puebla, Mexico.
I, personally, had no inkling of any sexual abuse in the Legion. But while a member, 1961-1984 I had personally known at least five of Father Maciel’s accusers: Arturo Jurado, Felix AlarcÃ³n, Juan Jose Vaca, Jose Barba and Juan Manuel AmenÃ¡bar, in varying degrees of closeness. I never had a personal conversation with any of them because I was younger and did not â€œbelong to their communityâ€�. And besides, Legionaries are so guarded in their interpersonal disclosure, that even if I had been their direct confrere, I would probably not have learned anything either. Legion norms would also preclude the accusers discussing their abuse among themselves while in the Legion. The Private Vow â€“never to criticize a superior in any way and to inform on whoever did this – was drafted just before the Vatican investigation began. I am not sure whether Fr. Maciel did this purposely to nip any criticism or revelations in the bud.
‘Knowing’ the accusers explains how, when I read the first articles in 1997/8, they were not just names to me, and I had to take them seriously. But I still doubted, or did not want to believe, that I had been so close to something as outrageous as pedophilia. On the other hand I ‘knew’ Father Maciel more than most contemporary members. He had been a part of my life since he traveled with the first Irish group to Lourdes in August 1961. He had heard my ‘general confession’ before taking the habit, my regular confession on several occasions; I had exchanged Spiritual Direction Letters with him on a monthly basis for about 20 years, and had face to face Spiritual Direction on several occasions. I had more frequent dealings with Father Maciel when he chose me to found and direct the ‘School of Faith’ in Mexico City 1975-82. I had some tussles of authority with him from the â€˜80s on. Finally, I had confronted him in Cotija, MichoacÃ¡n, in the fall of 1984 regarding the fate of those who disagree or leave the institution. We lashed out at each other.
[Not in original correspondence and added by the author on September 17, 2004:
AN ENIGMA TO ME
I had felt Nuestro Padreâ€™s verbal and emotional abuse of myself and other confreres over the years. More than that, I had experienced his leadership style which I knew could be ruthless and full of disregard for feelings and dignity, a kind of coldness and cruelty, which shocked me in a person considered a saint. I knew he would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Thus, I gradually lost my esteem for Father Maciel over the course of those 23 years. Nothing would surprise me about him. But I had no conscious experience or awareness of his sexual wrongdoing. The accusations of sexual abuse, for me, however, were not so much a purely sexual thing, nor a questioning of his holiness – I was sure he had none – but rather: was Father Maciel capable of misusing his power to this extent? Although I had never thought of Father as a sexual predator, I had always had questions about his psycho-sexual make up, his – to me – ‘strangeness’. He always seemed to be cut off or disconnected from his deep or tender feelings, from what I would consider ‘normal’ emotions. I had often heard him express himself with contempt about women. Because of my own very affectionate nature, I could never understand his affectivity: whether he had one in the ordinary sense of the word: whether he really ‘cared’ about anyone. It seemed like he ‘used’ people. And I had always been struck by Augustine’s: ‘Use things, love people.’ I had never met a person quite like Maciel before, and often wondered ‘what made him tick’. Or was he always ‘on guard’ around others, always calculating, scheming? Could he be so controlling of his own emotions, in all his human relationships and interactions?]
Last year when I listened to Barba and Vaca tell me their stories over the phone – separately and without the other knowing -, I was very moved by their undeniable pain, shame and honesty. I met them both earlier this (2002) year, together with Jurado, in conjunction with the 20/20 TV interviews in New York and became more convinced of the truth of their persons and testimony. I saw with my own eyes how they were re-traumatized by the harrowing lengthy TV interviews – which produced just a few moments of air time! I have read Alarcon’s letter describing his abuse and apologizing to the others for his collaboration with Maciel and it rings true. I met another accuser/victim called Alejandro Espinoza in April of this year (2004) who regaled me with the most horrific details of his sexual abuse (see ‘El Legionario’, his testimony). All the pieces fell into place without that having been rehearsed. The details of the places they referred to, of the others involved…all sounded real, all rang true.
I find it very hard to believe that these men would willingly deceive me. I find it even more difficult to understand why any man at their age, and without benefit to himself, should want to reveal such an intimate and painful part of his life, if it were not true. I find it even harder to believe that they would make up stories that in some cases ‘incriminate’ themselves as accomplices of these crimes (one admits having called other brothers into the infirmary to be fondled, masturbated and sodomized by Father Maciel) unless they were still struggling with the aftermath of untreated abuse and still needed to ventilate their trauma.
Your ‘incredulous’ response is common and does not surprise me. The spontaneous, ‘natural’, response to talk of sexual abuse is denial and minimization. Where a priest is concerned it makes it just that more â€˜incredibleâ€™ and â€˜impossibleâ€™. But we have to admit that some priests commit these horrendous crimes. I believe Father Bruce Ritter the Founder of Covenant House overstepped boundaries with some youth from Covenant House, though this does not prevent me continuing to support this worthy charity. I believe Father Maciel, despite his marvelous social skills and wonderful gifts as entrepreneur, also committed sexual abuse. But he gets off Scot free thanks to having powerful friends which he has cultivated so well and carefully over the years. Thanks also to the knee-jerk reaction of ‘it can’t be true!’ and other forms of unexamined denial from the public in general, and from the conservative right wing Catholic public in particular.
Not to make a big deal out of this, but in hindsight some things begin make sense to me. I was a witness to very clear favoritism of Father Maciel towards certain ‘brothers’, who happened to be good looking or with better social skills and graces in the communities I belonged to later. In the 60s and 70s we had much more exposure to Fr. Maciel’s presence in the community (consecrated religious living in the house). This was true specifically in Rome. Nuestro Padre had his own room on the 2nd floor and would be up and about the house, in the corridors and in the gardens conducting business. We could bump into him any time during the day.
[Added by the author on 10/18/04]
I remember very clearly that Raul de Anda, LC, a dark and handsome Mexican with fine features, was his personal secretary for a period in the 60s in Rome. Juan Manuel Correa, another Mexican, was another of these personal secretaries to Nuestro Padre. We three were students together at Via Aurelia 677. Padre Raul, – in the LC Theology students are called ‘Padre’ – is now Dr. Raul de Anda, thanks to a PhD in experimental psychology. He was never ordained, and after leaving the Legion remained on good terms with Fr. Maciel. He is one of the ‘psychologists’ to whom Legion superiors will refer suffering members. Raul, then –as now– a Legion employee, worked the LC Marriage and Family Center in Mexico City, ‘ALFA Y OMEGA’, in the mid to late 70s just as the School of Faith -my apostolate- was taking shape a few blocks away in the wealthy Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood. Fr. Juan Manuel Fernandez-AmenÃ¡bar, later an MM accuser, – because of his personal charm with Mexican upper class women, their husbands and purse strings – was appointed founder, chaplain, spiritual director and lecturer at ALFA Y OMEGA by Fr. Maciel.
The ‘favoritism’ I referred to above happened within my own group of candidates. Fr. Maciel did single out one or two in our group of eight co-founders and give them preferential treatment: more individual attention, confidences, greater access to his private quarters, special assignments, more travel, time with their family and the ‘privilege’ of traveling with him as his personal secretary. During these times of ‘accompanying Nuestro Padre’, the religious were totally unsupervised and ‘dispensed’ from the normal duties of the religious life, sometimes even neglecting their ‘Acts of Piety’, prayer life. These seminarians are now in their 50s and 60s. Some are still in the Legion and others have left. None of them have wanted to comment on the sexual abuse issue, except the odd one who allowed his name to be used in the official LC ‘conspiracy theory’ which pretended to discredit the accusers. ]
All that has been said up to now cannot strictly â€˜proveâ€™ Fr. Maciel is a sexual abuser or pedophile. But the least it should do is give you pause, Fr. Neuhaus, before foolhardily endorsing him without sufficient information. The accusers stand steadfast by their claims, despite the tepid response of the Roman Curia and some conservative right wing intellectuals. Though many active Legionaries and Regnum Christi members aggressively defend a Father Maciel they do not know personally. Several ex-Legionaries with up close and personal experiences give credence to the charges. I firmly believe truth-searchers, like yourself, should continue to question Fr. Maciel and themselves regarding these ‘questionable’ relationships with his seminarians. Because of the serious doubts that remain regarding these relationships, it is not unreasonable to seek another ‘injunction’ against him until these doubts have been cleared up. When such charges were made against the Cardinal Archbishop of Perth, Australia, he stepped down until they finished.
I have been able to read the testimonies in the original Spanish as well as in English and this can also have a bearing on their power. I have also personally met the witnesses and spoken with them in their native language. Perhaps there is an element of ‘faith’ to believing the ‘testimonies’ of the accusers. But that is precisely what ‘faith’ is all about: ‘believing witnesses’, ‘eye-witnesses’, ‘participants’, if possible. I do believe the testimonies of these confreres in their accusations against Marcial Maciel. In an almost blasphemous paraphrase of Saint John’s First Letter they state:
‘Regarding Marcial Maciel, we were there at the beginning, what we have heard with our own ears, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked upon, what we have experienced in our own bodies that his hands have handled… [See I John 1, 1]
Final note: my original letter to Fr. Neuhaus has been slightly edited for clarity, without altering the content. The previous paragraph was added 9/15/04,
WHY DID THE ACCUSERS WAIT UNTIL NOW?
WHAT DID THEY EXPECT FROM THE VATICAN?
Fr. Neuhaus’ response to previous message by author
Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
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 you say they think should be done with regard to Fr. Maciel and the LC, and why?
(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus
Concluding Dialogue with Fr. Neuhaus
Fr Neuhaus: Why [did the accusers] wait until now and with what intentions?
â€œDear 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 in response to 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 accusersâ€™ 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 â€˜Open Letter to the Popeâ€™ written in November 1997 by the accusers when they made a conjoint formal effort to reach the Pope and Vatican authorities with their â€˜case againstâ€™ Fr. Maciel.
In following essay I stand corrected by the ‘witnesses’ more precise knowledge of facts and circumstances.
I- WHY [DID THE ACCUSERS] WAIT UNTIL NOW?
Which â€˜nowâ€™ are you referring to? The Hartford Courant articles of 1997? The continuous previous 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) when the father of one of his boys confronted him (the boy was sent home but his brothers remained). 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, Major Seminary, 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 (not yet translated into English).
Just like with any â€˜movementâ€™, the accusersâ€™ efforts have taken a long time to gel. 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 â€˜he would not understandâ€™. Some of these students were in different stages of â€˜formationâ€™, that is â€˜novitiateâ€™ â€˜Juniorateâ€™ (Humanities), philosophy student, etc., and so did not speak to each other across community lines. Though several may have belonged to the same â€˜communityâ€™: Vaca reports that he was told to go and summon other brothers to the infirmary, and he would hardly do that across section lines.
The investigation of Father Maciel and the Legion in 1955/56 and leading to the Vatican investigation did in fact 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 â€˜visitorsâ€™, sent by the Sacred Congregation. for Religious, naturally questioned the students about Father Macielâ€™s behavior. The students were too ashamed, immature, ignorant, and afraid or felt a sense of loyalty to Father Maciel to mention any sexual misbehavior. 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 â€˜accusersâ€™ 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 witnessed it, and the way it still is.) Others stayed in the Legion: Juan JosÃ© Vaca, FÃ©lix AlarcÃ³n, Miguel DÃaz, Juan-Manuel FernÃ¡ndez-AmenÃ¡bar…. 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 while still a member of the Legion and a subject of Maciel. Despite having a prolonged sexual relationship with his superior and being Macielâ€™s â€˜accompliceâ€™ in procuring more victims for him, he questioned Maciel on several occasions about the morality of their actions. This would be almost apologetically along the lines of: â€˜Father, I donâ€™t feel good about these actions. I know you absolved me and told me not to worry, but…â€™
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 Via Aurelia Nova 677. He says Maciel 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 . Soon after ordination Maciel made Vaca â€“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 Maciel 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 â€˜80s Vaca greceived his dispensation from celibacy and was married in the NY area; he lives there with his wife and daughter. He never returned to his native Mexico and so did not have much contact with Legionaries or ex-Legionaries.
Jose de JesÃºs Barba, for his part, made a â€œgoodâ€� transition out of the Legion much earlier, around 1962 before ordination. He had always been a â€œbrainâ€� and â€œidealisticâ€�; after leaving he 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 for a while as a teacher at the Anahuac University. He was friendly with people inside and outside the Legion and had an encyclopedic memory for events. In the â€˜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 he 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 PÃ©rez-Olvera and others in Mexico and in Jurado who was working in San Diego. I believe that Vaca and Barba approached several others they knew had been victims but these did not want to testify; they preferred to remain anonymous and so were never mentioned in any public statements
Around the 90s the group must have started to gather momentum 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 had maintained his ties with ex-confrere AmenÃ¡bar who was ill at the Sanatorio EspaÃ±ol hospital in Mexico City. AmenÃ¡bar told Barba about his abuse. There was a Mexican diocesan priest who heard AmenÃ¡barâ€™s confession and confidences, Father AthiÃ©, who held a position in the Archbishop of Mexicoâ€™s curia. He became convinced that AmenÃ¡bar wanted to tell his story before he died. Felix AlarcÃ³n, 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. (Added 1/27/05: when I met Felix AlarcÃ³n in Pontevedra, Spain, in May 2003, he spoke of Juan JosÃ© Vacaâ€™s accusations in the diocese of Rockville Center. The bishop contacted AlarcÃ³n and questioned him about Vaca and these incredible accusations. AlarcÃ³n, who had kept silence until then, had to admit that the accusations were true. From then on, Fr. AlarcÃ³n began to accept his role in the abuse at Via Aurelia 677. â€˜If it were not for Juan JosÃ© Vaca â€“he told me- I would have carried that secret to my grave!â€™)
I believe the witnesses agreed to speak to the press when approached by the Hartford Courant reporter who had previously picked up on some unusual happenings at the Legionâ€™s novitiate in CT, i.e. novices â€˜escapingâ€™ over the wall. 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 â€˜leave it in God’s handsâ€™, to â€˜forgive and forgetâ€™ â€˜wait until Father Maciel diesâ€™ or sworn to secrecy…and by Romeâ€™s silence.
When Father Maciel was called â€˜a leader and defender of youthâ€™ by the Pope they became particularly indignant and this galvanized to write an open letter to the Pope and attempt to lodge a formal complaint at the Vatican.
II- WHAT DID THEY EXPECT FROM 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, Canon Law, number 1378). Corresponding sanctions would cause him to be defrocked and excommunicated.
They wanted the Vatican to review the Constitutions and Traditions of the Legion , and to investigate and reform Legion practices. To have a â€˜cleanâ€™ General Chapter without the ever- present pressure and control of Maciel.
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 (were) 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 charismatic 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
FR. NEUHAUS’ ANSWER
Circa 17/18 September, 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
(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”
I appreciate your interest, time, and the honest dialogue. May the Holy Spirit guide us in these delicate matters. Do not think that I never question my own intentions and honesty in these very serious issues, especially 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 â€œvenerableâ€� or â€œreveredâ€� or something. But I like many others who had him on a pedestal, lost respect for him down through the years based on his behavior. Don’t forget that I, too, was â€œtrainedâ€� as a Legionary for many years and taught never to speak ill of others. Unfortunately, I can tell you that when Father Maciel â€œlets his hair downâ€� with an intimate group around the table, with a glass of Johnny Walker -red label! -in his hand, he does not always practice what he so lavishly preaches. Then there is much talk of â€œfriendsâ€� and â€œenemiesâ€� of the Legion, and the â€œenemiesâ€� 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 â€“from your point of view- I give them too much credence, but that is where I am, what I am, and who I am.
J. Paul Lennon, MA
Article completed on 12/31/2007 in Alexandria, Virginia, USA