History of the Accusations Against Marcial Maciel

El Legionario (excerpt)


By Alejandro Espinosa


Grijalbo, Mexico City, 2003, pp. 22ff


1945. When he was 25, in the year of 1945, accusations against the licentious life of Marcial Maciel began to arise; accusations that the Catholic Hierarchy has systematically ignored. Mr. De la Isla handed his preadolescent sons, Carlos, Francisco and Luis over to Maciel to become part of the new order. Luis, the youngest, left after only two years. Concerned about his son’s constant sadness, the father questioned him. When the boy confided to his father that he had been the victim of sexual abuse, the father took a taxi from Querétaro to Cuernavaca to make a complaint to Bishop Francisco González Arias, the very person who ordained Maciel. The bishop punished Maciel with a ‘suspensio a divinis’, i.e. withdrawal of priestly faculties, a censure Maciel never heeded, alleging that it was only a prohibition against hearing confessions; he never bothered to heed this prohibition either, and to this day has never bothered to resolve his canonical status. I will return to these facts in part 3.

1948. Two years after the students arrived at the University of Comillas, the rector, Fr. Francisco-Javier Baeza sj, and the spiritual director, Lucio Rodrigo sj, heard about Maciel’s devious conduct through spiritual direction and confession but they felt sworn to silence because of the seal of confession and confidentiality. Worried, nevertheless, by the influence he could have on their students, they prudently advised him to reform his behavior.

The university authorities felt a moral obligation to find canonical ways to curtail Maciel’s bad influence. Maciel rose to the challenge. Instead of feeling trapped he thought up the best defense: three seminarians from Comillas, theology students about to be ordained, had just come over to join his band; they would be a great help to his order. The reality of the desertion of Comillas students to join the new order was going to be his trump card against the accusations, if they ever reached the Holy See. He would say the Jesuits were against him because his work had enthused the students to such a degree that they had gone over to his side; that Maciel was stealing vocations from the Jesuits. Thus, the ‘defamations’ regarding his drug addictions and sexual deviations would only prove the Jesuits resentment [‘we have worked all day under the sun and, ‘behold’, here this laborer comes at the eleventh hour…’]. That is why they would defame and back-stab him before the authorities of the Holy See.

The falsity of such an explanation was obvious. The students at Comillas were not Jesuit seminarians but rather seminarians for the diocesan clergy. So the Jesuits never complained of robbery or betrayal, nor were they moved by resentment. On the contrary, they proved their support by allowing Maciel’s students to continue their studies at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome. In this way Maciel created the myth of Jesuit animosity against his work. Father Lucio Rodrigo was simply a Jesuit teacher who, as a individual and from a sense of duty, sent a letter to the Vatican criticizing Maciel, not his order. But that document was intercepted by the postmaster in Comillas, bribed by Maciel, and never got to Rome. Gabriel Cortés �vila, a young Legionary student at the time, witnessed the bribe. He saw Maciel pay the postmaster off for passing him the incoming and outgoing mail for Comillas. This way he could review at his ease all the correspondence between Fathers Baeza and Rodrigo with the Vatican. This practice, of course, was common law in the Legion. The superior checked the outgoing and incoming mail of all the religious, except the Superior General. We never received a closed letter, nor could we close the letters we sent to our family.

Maciel used the supposed opposition of the Jesuits to his advantage, ignoring the reality. The Jesuits were not interested in recruiting the men that joined the Legion. Au contraire, their mission had been to recruit vocations in Latin America, train them in their universities and send them back to the diocesan priesthood. This was their strategy to resolve the lack of priestly vocations in a Mexico, still devastated by Calles anti-Catholic persecution.

Maciel always held that his enemies were constantly at his back, like a malevolent shadow, trying to poison him. His vices did not allow him to acknowledge that loving wings protected his children, adolescents and youth, educating them with magnanimous care. His self-imposed amnesia led him to believe that everything depended on him and he owed nothing to others. Later a blanket of obscurity would envelop the past. Once he had power he would create a smoke screen behind which the hardworking Fathers Lucio and the rector of Comillas University, Francisco-Javier Baeza, would disappear into oblivion. Did the Vatican ever learn about the accusations? Marcial Maciel refers in his letters on several occasions (May 1947, May 1953 and October 1953) to accusations and defamation against him, without ever describing the nature of the accusations or the names of his accusers.

1954. New accusations from his disciples forced the Vatican to supervise the conduct of the Founder more closely. But it was not until after Cardinal Valerio Valeri found him in Rome’s Salvator Mundi hospital frothing at the mouth from a morphine overdose did the Pro Secretary of the Holy Office, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, order an investigation. As a result of this on Thursday October 11, 1956, Maciel was exiled from Rome and deposed from his position as Superior General. But by then he had powerful allies in the Roman Curia: Cardinals Clemente Micara, vicar of the diocese of Rome, Guiseppe Pizardo, Prefect of the Congregation for Seminaries and Universities and Chancellor of the Gregorian Pontifical University, and Nicola Canali, Vatican Governor. All exercised their influence to block the proceedings and allow Maciel to come back to Rome two and half years later without a canonical definition of the case.

1963. The writer. A year after leaving the Legion in August, 1962, I could not find peace of conscience. I felt I was obligated to alert the authorities to the abuses, to denounce the illicit actions. On the one hand, I never considered approaching civil authorities, which I have never trusted. When people asked me about why I left my priestly vocation my excuse was the heavy burden of celibacy, although I inwardly reproached myself for this lie. I began to seek spiritual help. I approached the Episcopal office of the diocese of Mexico. I spoke of the problem several times in confession. The invariable advice was to ‘leave it all in the hands of God’ and his justice. This advice gradually frustrated me to the extent that I began to withdraw from clergy and Church until, five years later, I lost my faith.

1976. Juan José Vaca. Depressed by his sinful relationship with Maciel, he left the Legion in 1976 and entered the diocese of Rockville Center on Long Island, New York. As an active priest, in 1976 he made a statement following canonical protocol, through official channels and the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, regarding the experiences that tortured his soul. He went as far as to ask for a leave of absence from the priesthood.

He swore that Maciel began abusing him in 1949, when he, Vaca, was 13 years old. The assault not only attacked his body but also damaged his immature psyche, too tender to resist the attack. He showed his bishop, Msgr. John R. McGann, the 12-page letter addressed to Maciel, which he stated he handed to Maciel, explaining the reasons why he was leaving the Legion. For thirteen years, full of anguish and confusion, he had been Maciel’s ‘concubine under obedience’. ‘What you did contradicts the faith of the Church and the Order […] Numerous nights you abused my innocence; nights not only of lost sleep but of danger to my mental health.’ [I thought] This was the reason Vaca looked haggard during the day, falling asleep during his acts of piety in community.

-‘You sleep like a horse, on your feet!- Maciel would joke, amid the cascade of laughter of the community. Juan José was in no position to explain the reason he was so tired.

Despite the seriousness of his allegations, the Vatican did not respond. He never even received a bureaucratic response when his complaint was lodged according to Vatican protocol: his bishop sent the letter by diplomatic courier to the Vatican. By that time Maciel had become a friend of Pope John Paul II. The Pope must have heard by then the accusatory rumors of ex-legionaries trying to open an investigation, or, at least, trying to alert authorities to the sexual deviations of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. It was to no avail. Maciel’s power was firmly established and the Holy See appeared to prefer to protect his image.

1976. Félix Alarcón. The priest Félix Alarcón Hoyos, born in Madrid, Spain, joined the Legion at an early age, 16, in 1949. He left the Legion in 1966, already an ordained priest, and he joined the diocese of Rockville Center, New York, which would later welcome Juan José Vaca. In 1976 a letter from Félix was sent in the same diplomatic briefcase, corroborating Vaca’s accusations. Félix had been the most assiduous servant of the Superior General; and the most efficient, as personal secretary, narcotics supplier, letter writer, carrying out many other administrative tasks that lightened Maciel’s burden. It is natural that his close collaboration allowed him to witness Maciel’s double life. In 1978 Bishop Mc Gann transferred him to the diocese of Naples, Florida, where he retired in 2001 in excellent standing. The Vatican did not answer his letter either, as is always the case regarding the powerful Maciel. It did, however, send a receipt of both letters to the diocese of Rockville Center. But it never initiated an investigation or tried to contact the accusers. It was as if the 1956-58 investigation had bolted the doors against further ‘calumnies’.

1983. Juan José Vaca made another attempt with all the means at his disposition in order to find inner peace. Receiving no response from the Church to his petitions, or any consolation for his troubled soul, he decided to leave the priesthood. In his petition for dispensation he wrote a shorter, seven-page letter, in which he stated he had not been properly trained for the obligations inherent to the priestly life. With great personal courage and humility he went as far as to say that the sexual abuse of which he was a victim had left him vulnerable to impure impulses to which he had fortunately never given in. The Vatican again did not answer his accusations but did grant him a dispensation from celibacy. He was thus later able to be married in the Church, and now teaches psychology at a college in Jamaica, New York. He has one daughter and is a practicing catholic.

1989. José Barba. This is the year José reconnected with Juan-Manuel Fernández Amenábar, a patient at the Sanatorio Español in Mexico City in 1990. Fernández-Amenábar was suffering from a stroke that affected his speech and lead to partial paralysis, and also from a spiritual illness that led him to lose his faith. These were the first contacts of men who were later to be called ‘conspirators’ by the official Legion of Christ. Barba left the Legion is 1962 weighed down by his own sufferings and those of others. José left the same year as I. There was no agreement between us regarding the time or the reason. We never talked about our difficulties while in the sacred precinct: it would have been against our Private Vow, and this would have led to our expulsion ipso facto, and, we believed, to a falling from grace.

Maciel held onto José two years in Mexico City with promises of a scholarship to a foreign university. I tried to dissuade my friend Barba on several occasions, as Maciel himself had told me he would string José along until José got tired of waiting. José eventually was able to register at Tufts University and got an MA in Romance Languages. Then he taught school while doing his doctorate in Latin American Studies at Harvard. He has had a brilliant career. At present he is a professor at the ITAM Institute in Mexico City, having previously been a respected professor at the Universidad de la Americas.

The conversations between Barba and Amenábar [as he was called in the Legion], for his part a retired chancellor of the Anahuac University, led them to compare notes. They came to the conclusion there was a pattern and they should take their case to Church authorities. Psychologist Francesca Tófano encouraged them. From this moment on they would only have to remember who else had been victims and let them know of their decision to denounce Marcial Maciel. Without any formal invitation, those of us who signed the accusation all joined in our plea for justice, not to vindicate ourselves but essentially to inform Holy Mother Church about this impostor.

Naturally, some of the accusers knew nothing about our intentions until Jason Berry came to Mexico to interview us, months after the death of Juan Manuel, and after conversations with canon lawyer Antonio Roqueñi and sociologist Alberto Athié.

1991. Juan-Manuel Fernández-Amenábar: For a very long time Amenábar hid his conflict with Maciel because of the prestigious positions and honors with which Maciel showered him as a way to win his silence.

He had become aware of my accusations against Maciel before the local Church authorities in Mexico City and he mentioned this when I visited him as principal of the Irish Institute in 1971. He did not want to talk to me. He pretended not to recognize me until I pronounced his name out loud several times, ‘Amenabár’ [which is what we used to call him in the Legion]. Then he smiled; he was still under the ‘brainwashing’ to which we were all subjected; but he had already begun to notice the contradictory ethics of his superior.

Amenábar was not the only one who had received my 1963 accusations with skepticism and even with disgust.

-‘Alejo, you’re just a miserable vulgar calumniator!- was how Mario Lucatero-�lvarez, the lawyer, responded. -‘and even worse; you’re a filthy swine!’

They didn’t know about the others. I felt disconsolate. I felt full of rage. Those who had been victims were still silent, impotent to reveal their abuse. We ourselves could not believe it -even after suffering such abuse- of a person whom we all considered a saint.

After leaving the Irish Institute, I noticed a dramatic change in Juan Manuel. While on that occasion he pretended not to recognize me, afterwards I came upon him playing dominoes in Chapultepec Park –maybe to take his mind off his troubles- and we talked like old friends about that mission where the ‘Love of Christ’ had joined our lives. We bumped into each other again around the end of the 70s. We met again, probably around 1978, at the home of Amparo and Julio Serrano, where Father Amenábar baptized their son, Manuelito, the youngest of their children. This was the last time I saw him until I visited him at the Sanatorio Espanol many years later: we never touched the issue of the accusation.

I had left Mexico City for the state of Tamaulipas and lost contact but I learned Amenábar had left the Legion in 1984, abadoning his position at the Anahuac and the priesthood. I understood his crisis: I myself had lived it to the point of losing my faith; the same thing happened to him. The friends who were close to him spoke of the terrible conflict caused by the sexual abuses of his superior. He immigrated to San Diego after getting married in Mexico City. Separated after five or six years of married life, he returned to Mexico City. In 1985 we heard the rumor spread by the official Legion about Juan Manuel having died in Houston, Texas, where he had gone to get his pacemaker replaced [he actually did have one]. The Legion thought that this way the people that knew him would stop asking about him, particularly those friends of the Legion who loved him, among whom he had prestige and influence, and who wanted to know why he left. They knew nothing of his interior struggle.

In 1991 he had suffered the thrombosis that prostrated him and led him to the Sanatorio Español where he would die five years later. A Father Alberto Athié visited the sick patient, trying to revive his faith and alleviate his suffering soul. It was hard for Amenábar to open up, not only because of the shame involved but also because of his lack of faith and rejection of priests who he felt had done him so much damage. Athié’s perseverance managed to pry open Amenábar’s tightly sealed soul to bleed the poison. [This had happened to all of us. We lacked the courage to reveal the shame that bound us]. Athié became Amenábar’s ally in his efforts to bring his complaint before Church authorities. Through it all, Amenábar found it very hard to forgive Maciel.

The one-time chancellor of the Anahuac University, suffering the consequences of a stroke, worked hard on his rehabilitation with the help of Dr. Gabriela Quintero-Calleja who watched his progress in language and movements. That is when he began to write a serious accusation against Marciel Maciel regarding the sexual abuse suffered during his childhood and adolescence.

At the end of his life he made Athié promise that he would make his accusations known by all possible means and that, thought he wanted to forgive his perpetrator, he also demanded justice. With the hope that Athié would be his spokesperson he ‘feel asleep in the Lord’ around lunch time on February 5, 1995, in unclear circumstances. Athié celebrated the funeral Mass in the Hospital chapel and he referred to the harm done by Maciel –without mentioning his name- to the deceased. His homily reached its peak when he repeated Amenábar’s phrase: Let there be pardon, but let there be justice! I do not share the other aspects of Amenábar’s idyllic passing. I see too many sinister machinations around Juan Manuel’ death by Legionaries under strict order of their boss, Marcial Maciel.

Athié himself was aware of the climate of fear among those who dared accuse the founder, even before he knew the players personally. He stated to the National Catholic Reporter that ‘Amenábar was very vigorous in his rejection of Maciel. He refused to forgive him.’ From this point on Athié became the voice of Amenábar before authorities, even when his zeal led to Cardinal Rivera-Carrera demoting him from his position, while asseverating: ‘It is a conspiracy against Father Maciel. There is nothing more to say!’ He forbade Athié to bring up the issue again. The final repercussion of the denunciation against Maciel before the Cardinal Primate of Mexico was ‘I was sidelined from my position in the Church’, as Athié said to the Chicago Catholic Theological Union. Although he was never officially dismissed, he kept finding barriers wherever he went. There was a silent message. His involvement in this issue sealed his fate. He had held a position contrary to the cardinal and the majority of bishops aligned with the Church’s strong man.

1994. Contact begins. José Barba called me on the phone. Obviously, in his talks with Amenábar they had decided to alert the Church to the danger of this ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Then wanted me to give my testimony too about the abuses. I became overwhelmed once more with hopelessness and anger, and I refused. José was patient and just kept in contact. A few months later I learned of the case of children who were abused in the 80s at the Legion’s Instituto Cumbres. I never heard about in the press at the time it happened. The Maciel theme was taboo then, thanks to the protection of several powerful newspaper owners, alumni of his schools and universities. But I became aware of the terrible suffering of Elsa Hemkes, the mother of one of the young boys, in her efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, and how she lost her fortune to lawyers and court costs. This experience revived the memory of my own experience and awakened my soul.

A lady friend of one of the abused children and lawyer José Antonio Pérez-Olvera mediated to reach Jason Berry, the reporter. At that point, without believing that Church authorities would pay attention –I already knew how useless that would be: ‘leave it all in God’s hands’, and without any faith in civil authorities either, I began to write the nucleus of the my forgotten history, as a catharsis, to encourage my companions.

José Barba and other companions visited Juan Manuel at the Sanatorio and they told me about his condition. I got the idea of visiting him the next time I went to Mexico City. The first time I saw him was in October 1994 and afterwards I visited him periodically, bringing him medications from the States that were hard to get in Mexico. I was close to his physical suffering, the pacemaker he had installed in Houston. But above all I became aware of the incurable uneasiness which made him depressed and which would not let him rest as long as he remained silent.

1995. Cardinal Daly’s Letter. Soon after this we heard about the valiant declaration of Cardinal Cahil Daly, Primate of Ireland, stating he would not cover up for priests who had committed sexual abuse. On February the 5th 1995 we sent him a letter through a well-trusted friend. The plan was that this person would hand deliver it to Cardinal Daly, or return it to us. In this letter we expressed our concerns in a moderate tone. He never answered our letter while Primate of Ireland; nor afterwards. We learned his answer through Berry who, almost two years later, called him to check about the letter. The cardinal’s secretary responded that ‘His Eminence had received the letter, but that, because it was such a delicate subject….’

1996. Accidentally, without a conspiracy or anything like it, Jason Berry tracked down several of the first ten accusers. Despondent as we were because of the same lack of response, he had to find us one by one, helping us rise from our individual ruins of formerly chosen souls. Gerald Renner, his colleague, knew about Juan José Vaca’s accusation and he interviewed him in New York. He shared the results with Berry and asked him to fly to Mexico to gather further information. To his surprise, Berry told him he already knew about the problem. In August Berry arrive to interview us. José Antonio Pérez-Olvera, José Barba-Martín and I went to the appointment and told him about other victims he could contact. Many names were mentioned and Berry conducted the corresponding interviews. I gave him the name of Father Félix Alarcón-Hoyos, then living in Naples, Florida. The phone interview was unusual in the sense that, even though he was still a priest, after he confirmed our revelations regarding drug-addiction and pedophilia, Félix added his own confessions about his experiences over several years as Marcial Maciel’s secretary, personal valet, concubine and drug supplier. Most worthy of note is a letter, hand-written after the publication of the Hartford Courant’s August 4th 1997 article, where the priest reveals his profound and prolonged pain: ‘He must ask our forgiveness on his knees begging us to forgive him as Christians’. In another paragraph he refers to the investigation in Rome carried out by the Carmelite Superior General, Anastasio Ballestrero [del Santísimo Rosario], and by his assistant, Father Benjamin Lachaert: ‘We all lied during the Apostolic Visitation so as to save him; so small was our world and so limited our options. My greatest suffering, due to our iron discipline, was the psychological torture of not being able to talk about this with anybody […] The horrible spiritual distortion presented to us as if it were the God’s Plan when it was its opposite, the brainwashing, and the curse on anyone who dared think for himself […]’.

[El Legionario, pages 22-32; to be continued]

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