By ReGAIN editorial staff
An expensive monument to one man’s own earthly pride.
Early in the spring of 1996, writes our author, I was privy to certain letters which were generated in the Offices of the General Direction of the Legion of Christ in Rome in the Administration office. One of these letters gave the official response to a request to replace a decorative ball located on top of the façade of the minor basilica, Our Lady of Guadalupe, built by the Legion in 1958. The letter authorized an expenditure of $1,000.00 to replace the marble piece, rejecting a higher estimate sent by the Legionary pastor, Fr. Fidel Quiroz, for a more ornate piece at a cost of $2,000.00. The General Administrator explained that the Legion was going through a difficult financial situation at the time. The marble piece was then commissioned and the façade repaired.
Angeles Conde and David Murray chronicled the plans for building this same church back in the 1950s, describing the legendary fundraising efforts of the young founder, Marcial Maciel. The following is an extract from their book, “The Legion of Christ: a history”:
“In 1956, [Maciel] re-commenced work on the future Legionary novitiate in Salamanca, Spain. He also dedicated himself to fund-raise for the construction of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rome. The greater part of the Mexican bishops let him take up a special collection for this project among the faithful of their respective dioceses […] Mexicans are incapable of denying anything to Our Lady of Guadalupe, their “beloved Virgin of Tepeyac”, and with a great deal of sacrifice they succeeded in covering the costs of her new basilica in Rome. Those who could give more gave more: some pledged a monthly contribution until construction was finished. Those who could give less perhaps gave only once, perhaps only a small amount, but they gave their donation with an abundance of affection, digging deep into their almost-empty pockets. Poor fingers reached out to offer the Virgin of Guadalupe a token of their love.”
(Conde, A. & Murray, D.J.P. (2004). The Legion of Christ: a history. New Haven, CT: Circle Press, page 217)
Interior of Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Basilica
Location of Church
A few weeks later, I saw another letter. The contrast surprised even me, then a Legionary for eleven years. By direct order of Fr. Marcial Maciel it instructed the Legion’s financial manager to release millions of dollars for the construction of a tomb for Maciel under the altar of that very same Our Lady of Guadalupe minor basilica.
The funds were subsequently drawn upon an account with Pictet & Cie, Private Bankers of Geneva, Switzerland. The Legion hired an architect for the project and subsequently a construction company was contracted. The permit granted by the City of Rome to the Legion was for building a parking lot. Legion members were never informed of this project. When a construction fence was erected around the back and sides of the church, Legion superiors in Rome explained to the religious that the foundations of the building needed extensive repair work.
Before the barriers came down, I went down the construction ramp with another legionary brother to see the work. We did so covertly one day, as access to and knowledge of the project were strictly limited. Under the main altar, we entered an area, still in unfinished concrete, of approximately 150 by 70 feet, equal in extention to the presbytery above. The space was crowned by large arches, resulting in a height of about 20 feet: a truly impressive sight. The intention was to build it up into a fully decorated burial chapel after Maciel’s death. At that time the tomb would be presented as being totally constructed after the founder’s death. The entrance to the mausoleum was located on the back corner of the church on the west side. An arched walkway was added to provide covered access from the street side of the church. The entrance itself was bricked over, sealing the space from any outside access, and hiding it totally from view. On-site inspection provides little inkling of its existence.
A series of photos showing the entrance to the mausoleum from the back of the General Direction House of the Legion in Rome
Legionary religious know nothing of the tomb’s existence. When confronted with this, Fr. Anthony Bannon denied the existence of any subterranean tomb and asserted that a small open air burial place had been set aside for Maciel on the property of Our Lady of Guadalupe minor basilica.
After the construction project was finished, the Legion ran into many difficulties trying to get permission to eventually bury Maciel there due to the fact that the church is too close to the neighbors and, according to Roman law, a person cannot be buried within the city walls too near residential dwellings. The Legion then tried to pull a few political strings with Oscar Luigi Scalforo, then President of the Italian Republic, to have an exception made for them. At this time, I do not know whether the Legion was able to successfully complete that political maneuver with the help of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, as they have done so many times in the past.
Exterior of Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Basilica in Rome
The saga of Marcial Maciel’s efforts to construct his own secret tomb in Rome reveals some very disturbing trends, typical of the workings of the Legion of Christ. Maciel often states that he does nothing for himself, but only for the Church and the Legion; but his many eccentric habits show the real truth. A huge chapel tomb, built shortly after the creation and dedication of a similar structure following the death of the canonized founder of the Opus Dei, demonstrates Maciel’s unnatural attachment to his own glory. Large sums of money were spent in secret, without any knowledge of the many present day contributors to the coffers of the Legion. Would they have been so generous if they had known that the millions they had donated would be spent by a man accused of sexual abuse of minors to build a massive monument to himself? The rank and file Legionaries, those who work so hard to bring even more glory to their beloved founder were lied to when the construction was begun, and are clueless as to its existence. Many of these same priests and brothers have had to endure great sacrifices due to the “difficult financial situation” that they are constantly being told the Legion is passing through. The fact of the matter is that the Legion lied to the Italian government, lied to their own members, lied to their benefactors, lied to their prospective vocational recruits, and lied to the public at large.
Many hold that we must judge the Legion of Christ by its many fruits in both vocations and apostolic works. But among those fruits are the hundreds of broken lives of ex members, the hapless benefactors who are lied to and whose money goes to build pyramids to holy Maciel, and the many millions amassed in Swiss banks by and for the pharaoh. How would those rank and file Legionaries react if they knew the facts, if they could learn the facts, if they were told the truth, and if their founder were not protected from all criticism by a Private Vow of his own making?