Recent discussions in which I was involved in the Mexican media regarding sexual abuse by a prominent Mexican priest inevitably begged the question: in such serious matters why had my companions and I waited until now to speak up after so many years of silence? This led you, kind magazine editor, to suggest I craft a response. Your personal and gentle request prompted me to write in the form of a letter that would let my memory play with the concept of silence. Reminiscing would bring back an intimate yet distant spectrum of silences. As I reflected I would realize how that particular form of freedom had vanished from my once happy life. Silence would no longer be a joyful experience for me due to a pseudo-religious experience of my youth that took my Christianity hostage for many years. Silence, once corrupted, turned oppressive.
FASCINATION WITH SILENCE AND FIRST YEARS WITH THE LEGION IN SPAIN
Though Mexican by birth, my adolescence, spent in Europe a few years after the end of World War II, and my early youth, were ruled, ethically, by the concept of Human Will and marked by several experiences of Silence. Even as a child I was fascinated by silence, like an intuition that led me into the essence of things: their stillness, immobility, and otherness. In my social and moral life I would always associate silence with its opposite, the word, and also with the feeling of freely chosen solitude. That is why, when my speech, my personal thoughts and the pursuit of company and friendship were taken away, for me silence became associated with force and imposition.
I believe that my early upbringing in a deeply religious home laid the groundwork for a love and admiration of silence. From the beginning of my religious instruction and practice I was always struck by the grandiose silence of God hovering over the obscure lifeless waters. Later, as a Humanities student, I was impressed by the many silences of Christ that I read about in writers such as De la Palma, Ricciotti, Hornaert, Papini, Daniel Rops and even in Gabriel Mira’s sensual Figures of the Passion. In my first encounters with Spanish poetry, inherited from the creative teaching of Luis Alonso SchÃ¶kel at the University of Comillas in Spain, I empathized with Enrique GonzÃ¡lez MartÃnez and the pure lyricism of his Silenter, simultaneously ethical and aesthetic. I listened to the poet Antonio Machadoâ€™s somber fountains which increased the quiet of luminous still evenings:
:only the fountain could be heard…: My soul became enraptured with the perfumed rhythm of Juan Ramon Jiminez’s Nocturnes:
The night was immortal, serene, transparent…
the trees are still, their quietness is so human they seem more alive now than when they move their branches…
Those wonderful days were also lively, full of walks and mountain climbing, while at the same time, moderated by the constant presence of an imposing gray-green sea. Like an ancient and sober mythical tutor the sea taught us depth, reflection and prudence. Ours was innocent adolescence, still free from deceit; ours too a spirituality without complications, a Christianity without sects or divisions. I was not aware at that time that I would be part of
the Church’s Special Forces. We had not yet been introduced to our future German companions, several of them members of Hitler Youth during the last years of the war: Joseph Hermann Schmidt Valkenberg (Solingen), Walter Lamertz (Dusseldorf), Hans Georg Beyler (Duisburg). Soon they would be introduced, with obvious pro-Nazi admiration, as examples of Aryan strength, in contrast to our Mexican
The quiet and harmonious monastic life of the Cistercians left its mark on us during our stay at the Colegio Mayor Mexicano in Cabreces, Santander, just a few miles from the Jesuit University of Comillas where Marcial Maciel’s follower studied during the first years in Spain. We were also close to the Cabuarniga Woods, at that time still inhabited by wild boar and wolves as described by Pereda in his novel Peas arriba. Nearby, the bells of the Cistercian Abbey of Santa Mara de Via Caeli -white and gentle as a lamb- tolled across the rolling green valley… The mysterious wordless walk of the Cistercians fascinated us and our minds and hearts fell in love with things medieval and chivalrous: Mount Saint Michel, Chartres, Bernard of Clairvaux who left his arms to become a spiritual troubadour. All these imaginings were reinforced by the presence of Father Fructuoso, the monastery bursar, who often came to our aid with food when the dollars changed on the black market or by Don Martin at the railway cafe in Santander were not enough to see us through. I remember this priest fondly because he was the one who authorized the Spanish translation of Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, which would later lead me to The Sign of Jonas and Seeds of Contemplation .
This idyllic period is full of still more pleasant memories: red sunsets on the cliffs over the Bay of Biscay; listening to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony under the apple trees across the road from the college; reading Horace at the beginning of Spring, or savoring Virgil at the gradual lengthening of shadows as the orange sun slipped silently into the piggy bank hill beyond Vega de Pas…
THE PATH TO ROME
One day, towards the end of September, we were headed for the Pyrenees on our way to Italy, through a France that
despite its defeat in Indochina– smacked of light clothing, relative wealth and freedom. It was paradoxical, I reflected, that as I left the world bound for religious austerity, life seemed to open up to me so brightly with fields of sunshine, shaded roads -as straight as the Ways of the Lord- along the blessed land of Provence redolent of harvest and wine press. Vineyards, orange groves and olive trees mixed with my memories of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Reddish Liguria received us with Italian Reconstruction. Quickly Genoa, Pisa, Livorno -with its large American military presence- sped by; then we left Grosseto behind in our hurry to get to Rome, a triumphant, open city more than ever in the early 1950s. The Ancient Via Aurelia we had taken from France came to an end. This early October evening was clear, warm, contemplative. Everything I had learned so enthusiastically about Imperial and Christian Rome came together as in a dream at the sight of St. Peter’s dome shining in the distance. This is what I had been seeking: Rome, art, virtue and holiness. One afternoon shortly after, in the glorious solitude of the Roman countryside, I would be struck dumb by the beauty of it all.
Vertical glass panes of silence? A few days after arriving in Rome at the college of the Legion of Christ, and as the long- awaited religious experience seemed right at hand, the time for letting go suddenly arrived. I was
given my knights arms by the superior. These consisted of a Latin prayer book called Manuale Christianum, a spiked metal band to tie around my right thigh on Mondays mornings, and a small knotted cord whip to scourge my back on Wednesday nights. During the daytime the spotless Travertine corridors of the modern Collegio Massimo coldly reflected the purposely restrained slow pace of vigorous young men. Doorknobs shone brilliantly, thanks to our strenuous efforts with Brasso. No fly stains could be seen on the spotless windowpanes that separated us now from the former free blue sky silhouetted by beautiful Roman pines. In the austere chapel a pale white Cross adorning the back wall focused our gazes, while in the conference room Warner Salmanna’s painting of Christ presided over our activities from above a shiny black concert piano.
As we began our Novitiate the cordial and friendly Spanish
ta from our carefree times of camaraderie was suppressed. In its place stood the contradictory formal and distant Spanish
Usted (Your Honor) during recreation, and the Latin Carissime frater (
Most Dear Brother) during
relative silence, i.e. other times we were allowed to speak the minimum necessary. Though our humanistic studies had familiarized us with the glorious concepts of Cicero’s De Amicitia [Friendship] from now on any
personal friendship was strictly prohibited. Was this a peculiarity of religious life in general? We would later learn it was not. We were not allowed to contact students from other colleges, especially from the Colegio EspaÃ±ol [Spain] or from the Pio Latino [Latin America]. These seminarians we were told- were lacking in the social graces typical of a Legionary; nor did they have
the style of Christ we were to
put on. We Legionaries were supposed to be
distinguished as princes and, at the same time, humble servants of all?. We were not as strictly prohibited from talking with students from the American or the Canadian Colleges; their buildings were modern like ours and the students projected a suitable image of modernity. Unfortunately, none of us could speak their language fluently. Though Latin was the
lingua franca at the Gregorian University we attended together, not many spoke it well enough to hold a conversation.
ABUSE, SILENCE AND CONTROL
Less than a year after entering the Collegio Massimo in Rome, Father Maciel, the Superior General and Founder, sexually abused me without warning on two separate occasions. I have described the ordeal in detail in my notarized deposition. As I realized much later, if we had been less innocent and docile we might have understood the dark motive behind those rules of silence and isolation. If we had been psychologically resiliant we might have been able to tell the superiors of the other students about what was happening in our college and perhaps, in their turn, they could have alerted their superiors or Vatican authorities.
Canon Law does allow religious to choose their personal confessor, even a priest from outside the community. Nevertheless, we were repeatedly told, as a number of Mexican bishops have stated recently- that
dirty linen should be washed at home. However, just to cover the letter of the law, we were all brought en masse to the church of Santa Andrea della Valle, not far from Chiesa Nuova, once a year for our confessions with an
outsidepriest. Needless to say, there was little danger of leaks. All those
extraordinaryconfessors were cloistered monks.
Nobody questioned the scrutiny by superiors of all incoming and outgoing mail. I know some companions who used codes to secretly transmit their true feelings. I, personally, once wrote a coded message in my own journal. A request for a copy of Canon Law would have been denied. Mention of
Human Rights would have been totally out of place. Nothing was ours. Neither our own words, and with time, not even our own thoughts. One particular night in my Roman life my eye caught a book title in the Saint Paul Bookstore window: No man is an Island by Thomas Merton, with the verse of John Donne, which in the 60s would inspire a Joan Baez song. But we, despite the appearances of Christian brotherly love, culturally and socially isolated, torn from family and country, were really an archipelago of solitudes, each one consumed by his own silence.
Was God a source of consolation and support? There existed according to our training an indivisible union, almost hypostatic, between God and the Superior. Scripture tells us that
The Spirit blows wherever it wishes, but in the Legion of Christ even the interior motions of the Holy Spirit are subject to the superiors’ suspicious scrutiny. I know the case of a Legionary whose English edition of Saint John of the Cross, a present from his father -a worthy poet in his own right- was taken from him. The spiritual director found it to be
dangerous material. Mystics such as Teresa of Avila and Sebastian de Orozco were limited to our Spanish Literature classes. The occasional visiting speaker might cite Catherine of Siena, Angela de Foligno, and Elizabeth Lesieur. Edith Stein, now a doctor of the church and already spotted in a Madrid philosophy magazine, would have been dismissed for being Jewish. Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and Jean Tauler were totally unknown to us. The richess of Greek spirituality, except for a collection of sermons by St. John Chrysostom, did not exist in our world.
Our inner nutrition consisted in memorizing some of St. Paul’s Epistles, programmed reading of the most boring of Spanish spiritual writers, Padre Alonso Rodri?guez’s The Exercise of Perfection and Christian Virtues, and the pious Dom Columba Marmion. Most of the recommended spiritual reading reinforced a high level of dependence on the superior: Father Colina’s The Worship of the Rule and The Worship of the Vows. Our Novice Master, Rafael Aruma? went as far as to praise some obscure nun’s work called Twelve Degrees of Silence, one of which degrees consisted in the trembling of the sanctuary flame. Fulton J. Sheen’s books, Life is Worth Living and The World’s First Love, well reviewed but rather light fare, were read to us at the refectory during meals. And, paradoxically, in this self-proclaimed
Christ-centered institute our principal food was
The Letters of Nuestro Padre (Maciel), for the most part spiritually insubstantial and apocryphal.
THE WOLF POUNCES
On very few occasions during all the years I knew and lived under the same roof with him did I see Father Maciel in silent reflection. I never once saw him praying alone contemplatively in a sacred space. Rarely did he say Mass when I was in Rome.
Don’t mention my illness either to Father (Rafael) Aruma? or to Father (Antonio) Lagoa, I remember him telling me, after shamelessly and harshly masturbating me for the first time. It was springtime and, not far away from the Infirmary -the principal theater of generalized and repeated individual torture- an almond tree was beginning to blossom against the cleanest blue sky. Later my companions and I would begin to fathom that sacrilegious contradiction: Feckless Dionysios wanted to hide his unbridled passion behind the perfect facade of Apollo’s rigidly ordered collective discipline. Why be truly virtuous when by pretending, in a world of appearances -everything
as if and always in the most opportunistic juxtaposition- by using powerful mind-control techniques and a clever cover-up system,
spectacular results become sufficient proof? Fr. Marcial Maciel well knows that “there is nowhere in the world a museum of evil actions”. Vladimir Jankalovitch, The Evil Conscience, would have so much to tell if we invited him in! But Fr. Maciel never dreamed we would dare to analyze his psyche with an independent mind and under the light of psychological theories like those of Henri Baruk.
From then on I, for my part, began to live
the silence of the innocent and started letting myself slowly die as I anxiously awaited more silencing. That initial astutely mastered silence became the first of a series of imposed silences. It was able to happen with the connivance of others in the institution. Now, a long time later and psychologically recovered, I clearly grasp the dynamics at play. For more information about mind control see the articles by Dr. John Hochmann of the University of Southern California, and William W. Sargant’s old book, The Battle for the Mind. [Translator adds: (1988) Hassan’s Combatting Mind Control (1994)Tobias-Lalich’s Captive Hearts Captive Minds (1996) M.T. Singer’s Cults in Our Midst].
I suffered the second assault by the same perpetrator on Holy Saturday 1955. It was in the evening of what was supposed to be Sacred Silence. God Himself and my confusion were my only witnesses. That is what I wrote in my notarized deposition. Though I know there are people who will never believe me. Those who doubt should comprehend that a man over sixty does not need this kind of hassle. I am at a life stage when, as Kazantzakis writes, ‘it is time to quietly pick up the pencils’. It is so disconcerting now to look back on how gratuitously and naturally the abuse occured; to realize just how absurdly improper it was: to sexually abuse a seminarian on Holy Saturday Evening. He did not attend that luminous Easter midnight Vigil. He had received his shots two hours before from those who had scrambled to find him his fix. In the infirmary darkness, very late, he said to me: “That’s the sound of Gregorian Chant in the chapel. Go upstairs, put on your uniform and join the community.” He didn’t need to tell me to keep silence. It was understood. The following day, a glorious Resurrection Sunday, he celebrated Mass, with great devotion. And he raised the Host holding it tensely between his fingers and staring at it intently- more than his usual prolonged performance.
THE HIERARCHY’S SILENCE
Despite being victims of abuse, my companions and I, because of our repressed fears and our deep psychological dependence, remained in the Legion for some time. Even after leaving we not only kept silence for many years but on occasions even returned to work for the Legion. During this gray period after exiting, Father Maciel astutely used different people and methods to keep us ex-members separated from each other. He would ever-so-discretely whisper to one that so and so
did not harbor good feelings towards the institution; thus suggesting we stay away from each other. Despite all this, some of us previous victims did later secretly mention our worries to prominent ecclesiastical dignitaries. We were always told to
leave everything in God’s hands. Other well-intentioned counselors told us to submit the testimonies in sealed envelopes to be opened after the abuser’s passing. We refused to do this for two reasons: as victims we needed to empower ourselves by confronting the perpetrator and we also wanted to give him the chance to defend himself.
Churchmen, as Hans Kung wrote a long time ago in an editorial for the Spanish paper El Pas, always demand secrecy. This way they can control both speech and silence. In mid-November 1956, during our questioning in Rome in the Maciel investigation when we withheld the truth, we had to swear not to reveal anything to outsiders. It took us so long to find out that others had been abused and were silent because we all felt bound by that original oath. Each one had to come to terms with the oath, with his emotional and spiritual health, his life situation, his profession and stage of recovery from abuse. Each one of us employed different isolation strategies for years until finally, during the late 80s and early 90s, some of us started talking freely to each other. Our common efforts to redress the abuse culminated on February 13, 1998. That day we hand delivered an
Open Letter to the Pope at the Apostolic Nunciature in Mexico City. Six months later on Monday, July 6, 1988, the Papal Nuncio, Justo Mullor GarcÃa, personally took my call, which had been arranged by Dr. Arturo Jurado the previous Friday. As I spoke I became aware that our conversation was being taped at the other end, even though the Nuncio interrupted our conversation several times to admonish me not to tape the proceedings. At the end of our talk he reminded me that
The Church has its own courts to deal with such matters and he ordered me
not to say anything about our conversation to reporters. On Saturday October 17, the same year, when we delivered our petition to the former Holy Office in the presence of ecclesiastical judge Don Antonio Roque, our canon lawyer Dr. Martha Wegan, and Father Gianfranco Girotti, undersecretary to Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, we were once again sworn to silence. We accepted it with the understanding that our complaint would be treated in good faith and following Canon Law guidelines. We did our part. Only when we saw how we were
contrary to the spirit and the letter of the law– summarily dismissed by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith did we decide to go public again. Thus on the morning of July 31st. 2000 Dr. Martha Wegan and I met with Father Girotti in person and openly told him we would not remain silent any longer. It seems to me the Vatican is so preoccupied with the purity of faith that it seems to neglect the purity of actions. Ratzinger himself, according to the brave revelation of Father Alberto Athie, told the bishop of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Monsignor Carlos Talavera, that silence was necessary in the
delicate case of Father Marcial Maciel. This fact has been reported several times in the Mexican media.
THE BURDEN OF SILENCE
We survivors also bear the weight of other silences: of the relatives who ignore us, of associates who have drifted away, friends who disappear, former companions who want nothing to do with us. The latter know perfectly well that we are telling the truth. They themselves were victims, even confidants; some were accessories and helped cover up; others have born false testimony against us accusing us of conspiracy. We feel for those who remain in the institution, some of whom grow old suffering from chronic depression and are in need of medication. These were the men who were supposed to combat Communism, Liberation Theology, New Age Philosphy, the champions of Bio-ethics and
Human Ecology -whatever happens to be the Trojan Horse in vogue to win over the current Pope-. These confreres, despite their philosophical and theological studies, remain prisoners of other captive souls; their sadness is deathly. They have not been able to break the chains that bind their own enslaved conscience. When will the moment come for them to salvage their dignity with the exercise of their last act of free will?
Other silences cause indignation: the silence of those at the top, of those that have so much to lose. This includes the spasmodic silence of certain media people who are under the control of interests and powers, even when some good individuals want to inform the public objectively and bravely. The latter, such as Ciro Gomez Leyva of TV Channel 40 in Mexico City, Carmen Aristegui and Javier Solarzano of Televisa’s suppressed
CÃrculo rojo have suffered in their professional lives for having given us space and voice on their programs.
Wherever there is grave injustice a Dreyfus case will surface. Who will be our Emile Zola?
Another silence overwhelms us. How could we forget? The painful silence of the Pope who seems to suffer from that old diplomatic trick of ambivalence: saying two different things at the same time. For those of us who grew up in the traditional faith this is the most disheartening silence of all.
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FORGIVE AND FORGET
Forgiveness, a sister of silence, is a social form of voluntary forgetting. But an individual may not appropriate the right to grant total pardon, because this is a prerogative of Society. Society is founded on the Law which, in this case, has been violated in our individual persons. Remembering, for its part, depending on how it is exercised, can either empower or create problems. For this reason truthful testimonies are necessary cultural instruments and vital resources in the fight against injustice, against oblivion, and against future historical distortion. Yosuf Yerushalmi has written with great feeling and with profound knowledge on this topic. For my part I am writing in support of certain rights and duties of Society and, ultimately, in favor of the Church Herself, despite the malice and arrogance of some people within Her ranks whom Baruch Spinoza referred to long ago in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In such a grave matter, if we remain forever silent, who would speak up later?
In order to write this letter, Eduardo, I went to the country. And I can now hear Alfred Brendel playing Franz Liszt’s
God’s Blessing in Solitude at the end of the room. I harbor no doubts regarding God’s silence because I know that our timing is not
His timing. At this moment I can’t help but remember with deep sadness our dear Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar.
Like my noble and generous companions, I have written what my conscience dictated. Their revelations, their sufferings- which I know so well- are more serious and painful than mine. I , for one, will cling to Ps. 38:
But I trust in you, O Lord; and you, O Lord my God, will answer me. And thus, generous friend and kind reader who has come this far, allow me to conclude -hoping against the odds- with this thought from Max Picard:
In every other place, besides prayer, man’s silence serves his word; but now, in prayer, the word serves man’s silence: The word guides human silences toward divine silence.
From a place in the Mexican countryside,
(Translated from the Spanish by Paul Lennon MA).