Despite the “no friendships” rule and prompt obedience, Legionaries’ paths sometimes cross, allowing spontaneous friendships to spring up like daisies through the asphalt.
Fr. James’ Legionary priestly ministry, his various assignments and how they were made, false accusations and
misunderstandings, his path criss-crossing with the author.
Busy in Santiago
After ordination, Manus returned to Ireland briefly before being posted to Mexico. In Dublin, he had
recruited Declan Creighton to the Congregation. Hence the request he mentioned to me in an email last Jan. 30th, 2005:
I told Fr. Cardenas by phone personally and directly that I needed another priest with me for two reasons: to keep me company, and to take over my work at least until September; but the only priest I could accept was Fr. Declan; all the others would cause me stress, etc. This was on the 27th Dec. and I’m still waiting for a reply. Typical.
“All the brothers are too busy in Santiago, (Chile)”, was the delayed reply from Rev. Jose Cardenas, legionary authority in Chile, through his envoy Rev. Donal O’Keefe, lc, who had previously spent 20 minutes visiting the sick priest. One positive outcome is that at least Fr. Declan preached movingly at Manus’ funeral. In Monterrey, Mexico, Manus had witnessed the enormous amount of money transferred from legionary schools to General Headquarters in Rome, giving the lie to theft accusations against Pedro Martin, the exiled former school principal.
Manus soon saw where some of this money went. Absolutely shocked and scandalized is how he described his reaction upon later meeting Maciel living the life of a king at the most luxurious hotel in Valencia, Spain.
At the Cumbres (Highlands) School in Valencia our roads crossed again. After six years of blind obedience on vocational work in Chile, I was rewarded with the position of principal of that school, switching places with Manus who was to go to Concepcion, Chile. With typical legionary trickery, Manus was informed, not in Valencia but during a family visit to Ireland, about his change. In Ireland he was simply told to go to Rome and meet Superior General, Rev. Maciel; arriving in Rome he was informed that God wanted him to go to Chile immediately. By then, however, Manus didn’t believe in the same god as Maciel and, without arguing, simply went back to Spain to pack his bags. Back in Valencia he gave me the inside scoop on how the school was founded and developed. The main problem was the Rev. Alfredo Torres who had broken promise after promise to parents and teachers, specifically regarding its co-ed features and administrative structure. Manus was left to head the school and face the disgruntled parents. Here we have another example of typical legionary tactics: one member giving orders and another being left to face the public (“music”). Manus suggested I request Fr. David Owen as spiritual mentor in Valencia. A former principal of a similar school and situation in Madrid, Everest Academy, Owen knew how to handle Torres. I daily pray for dear David, wherever he may be, for the kindness and patience he often showed as we strolled the Cumbres patios and Mediterranean sands.
A Good-looking Secretary
Meanwhile, Manus and I promised to stay in touch. I suggested he concentrate on Concepcion in Chile, a colonial city by the sea, where previously I had been favorably received by the archbishop, Mons. Fernando Moreno. Little did I know that such was Divine Providence for Manus to achieve pastoral happiness and independent living during his final years. After some time in Valencia, a new arrival in the form of Rev. Bernardo Skertchley, former personal secretary to Rev. Maciel, arrived. On my commenting on certain pathetic behavior on his part, Manus remarked,
have you not noticed how all Maciel’s secretaries are good-looking blondes? Only years later did I understand the meaning of that rhetorical question.
Conscience and Cardinals
As agreed, we stayed in contact and continued communicating. Manus gradually opened doors in Concepcion, dedicating himself to youth ministry in high schools and colleges, just as I was moving out of the Legion into the diocesan clergy at Ft. Worth, Texas. I was content to mail him books for his library and supplies for his new chapel, San Patricio. Both of us were happy to see Rev. John O’Brien leave the Legion and return to priestly ministry in his hometown of Port Laoise, Ireland.
So, it was no surprise when Manus wanted to book his flight to Dublin in 1997, passing through Dallas, Texas.
I’d like to share stories and compare notes, he insisted. I also was interested in his view of my doctoral dissertation on freedom of conscience in Cardinal Newman, inspired by my experience of its absence in the Legion. I had also spoken with Cardinal Arinze about papal approval of the seemingly non-canonical Legion Constitutions. I drove down from my parish on the prairie in my old Oldsmobile, dressed in shorts and Texan hat, a most un-legionary outfit. After pick-up at DFW airport, I considered the cafeteria at the University of Dallas,
a Catholic university for independent thinkers, an appropriate venue for our fraternal get-together.
Reform or Collapse?
I was overjoyed at his success story in Concepcion. Well, I thought to myself, I’ve been the legionary founder there, and who better than Manus to fit the position? Manus wanted to know about my experience in a diocese. A totally different life-style, I confessed. Stay where you are, I suggested. We’re not trained to be parish administrators in a new environment, though both agreed we should have left the Legion years before. In my analysis about freedom of conscience with the Legionaries, I asked him whether the Congregation could be reformed from within to come in line with Catholic Vatican II teaching and canonical law: allowing freedom of choice of spiritual directors, freedom of conscience to leave the group, and freedom of communication with local bishops. Manus answered:
if you take one brick from the totalitarian wall, the whole cult-like edifice collapses. One of my last memories within the Congregation was a lunch with former Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford, CT. I guess His Grace, like so many Church dignitaries, hardly dreamt his visit to the LC house at Cheshire, CT, was orchestrated to the last detail with only a few hand picked members allowed speak with him. Cardinal Arinze, on the other hand, had told me that the Pope never personally approves any constitutions and much less those with non-canonical elements.
A Missing Photo
On a personal note, Manus wanted the advice of a canon lawyer, who was also a religious. I was happy to pass on details of one I knew well and who understood Machiavellian methods. There and then, we called the lawyer on my cell phone. Later, Manus wanted to share notes, or rather two letters from Rev. Maciel, one typed, the other hand-written. The first told Manus to leave Concepcion immediately and go back to Legion community life in Santiago, Chile. The second, handwritten, said the Archbishop of Valencia, Spain, received a complaint that Manus had intimate relations with a female teenage student while acting as school principal. Maciel purported that he had photos of the event. Manus then recalled photos of himself in a bathing suit disappearing from his room at the Legion’s minor seminary (Escuela Apostolica) in Moncada, Valencia, no doubt performed during secret room inspection by the local legionary boss, Rev. Salvador Gomez. However, the fact of the two letters coming together felt suspicious to Manus. I also had knowledge of the same scare-tactic used with Paul Lennon and another Legionary priest. So, we decided to check out the story. Luck would have it that I personally knew the alleged victim and her parents, since I had been Manus’ successor in that position. Manus called the Chancery office of the Archbishop of Valencia and I contacted the parents. We found no information in that regard, no corroborating evidence. The story was patently false, concocted by … Weeks later Maciel phoned Manus at 2 a.m. one night, out of the blue, to explain there had been some
misunderstanding (un malentendido) in his previous information.