Fr. James Manus McIlhargey, 1946-2005
Law and Order
The canonical issue was now pending: to be or not to be a Legionary of Christ, according to Church law. Advised by our friendly canonist, Manus was ready when Maciel played that card. Diocesan life was not his calling, while youth ministry in Concepcion, Chile seemed his vocation. Luckily enough, his family in Ireland had always been supportive and ready to accept him home should the worst come to the worst. Summoned to Santiago, the capital, Manus waited patiently for Maciel in Legion house’ visitor’s room. Aware of Maciel’s deliberate tardiness -Rev. John Devlin, Maciel’s secretary, had told Manus that Maciel was running late visiting with the consecrated ladies- Manus calmly informed him he was leaving for the airport in half a hour. Whereupon Maciel arrived five minutes later, demanding once more Manus return to Santiago: he argued that some Vatican official might ask why he was living outside community life. Manus didn’t buy that. Well he knew canon law allowed such situations and how the Legion practiced them for years on end with cases like Frs. Jose Maria Escribano alone in Zaragoza, Spain; Fintan Lawless in Illapel, Chile; Thomas Hennigan solo in Rye, New York; or Desmond Coates one his own in Queensland, Australia. Besides, he counted on the benevolence of his archbishop back in Concepcion.
The case ended with a second conversation at the end of what turned out to be his last visit to a legionary house. Manus asked Rev. Cardenas, legionary boss in South America, for a dispensation from vows (Can. 686, 1) by which he would legally leave the Legion to serve the Church elsewhere. Cardenas, known by some as Smiley Joe, denied such a possibility existed. By now unwelcome, Manus was no longer invited to legionary activities and never visited by a legionary authority until he was unconscious on his death-bed, seven years later.
A Priest in Conscience
Thus, Manus’ conscience was clear: work for the Church in Concepcion, while keeping a friendly relationship with all, including legionaries. He preferred to let people judge for themselves, saying nothing, neither good nor bad, about the Congregation. He did dedicate himself to a new Club Faro, chaplaincy at St. John’s School, the Universidad del Desarrollo, and building the chapel of San Patricio, deliberately registered in the name of Concepcion diocese. Besides, a host of families and friends from these institutions came to see Manus as a true leader in their Catholic faith. It was impossible for him to walk the streets of the city without someone coming up to greet and chat awhile with their spiritual guide. The last homily I heard him preach insisted on our personal love for Christ who walks with us, down here and hereafter.
My Little Ones
Like many others, I was absolutely shocked by accusations of pedophilia against the Rev. Marcial Maciel. During my 26 years in the Legion, I had never seen any improper conduct. On the contrary, on vocational promotion work, we were very careful to exclude known gays. What do you think? I asked Manus. The report in the Hartford-Courant he found credible. In 2003 he wrote me regarding the book-long account of Maciel?s pedophilia by former legionary and public accuser, Alejandro Espinosa:
I am reading Alex Espinosa’s book El Legionario; it is really heavy stuff; a lot of new data for me, and some other data I had already observed was filled in more; it is really a pathetic and somber situation. Have you read it at all, or heard of anyone who has? It is devastating for Maciel.
The Rev. Alvaro Corcuera was appointed Superior General during the Legion’s Third General Chapter in January 2005, as Fr. Maciel, prompted by the Vatican, stepped down. It would seem that Maciel had picked his successor. Manus, as well as another ex-LC priest, remarked how they had noticed a close relationship between the Rev. Maciel and the adolescent Alvaro at the Legion novitiate in Foxrock, Dublin, Ireland when Alvaro went to study English at Oaklawn Academy in 1969 at the age of twelve .
However, in our final analysis, we both considered such abuse as a consequence not only of Maciel’s character but also of the dominant control of members, especially teenagers in minor seminaries, by legionary so-called superiors. The problem, therefore, is not the sins and crimes of individuals, but the totalitarian nature of the group, following the dictum,
power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Both of us agreed that the majority of legionaries were morally sound, but the cult-like character of the congregation favors abuse of authority in diverse shapes and forms.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Manus James and I saw eye-to-eye on most matters as his life came to an end. Nonetheless, I personally found Manus final attitude towards legionary authorities incredible and irrational. Since 2004, it was clear a liver transplant was necessary. Under no circumstances was he willing to accept legionary money for his health, however precarious. Rev. John O’Reilly, lc, had offered financial help without answering from whom it came. Manus saw his evasive reply as being assertive, and presumed John, as a loyal legionary, did nothing without the OK from authority. My only explanation, if any, was that Manus was suffering from PTSD, common among survivors of legionary life and lies. In some cases, former members have nightmares for years after legionary bosses (Philadelphian William Brock, lc, is oft mentioned) -obeying supposedly divine mandates- make life unbearable for the member, as a way of encouraging their departure. In Manus’ case, after heart bypass surgery in 1996, the legionaries had paid the first two of twelve checks for his hospital bills, and then refused to pay the rest. Never again, would he accept their money.
The Last Lie
My final conversation with Manus was last September, 2005, when, thanks to the kindness of a faithful friend, he had a home in Santiago after surgery. Upon Manus’ demise, that same person gave me the official legionary story that Manus had reconciled with the group on his death-bed. I didn’t doubt Manus James’ capacity for forgiveness, but I did suspect legionary repentance. Moreover, as I finished this testimony, two members of Manus’ family assured me:
If they apologized, it was to my unconscious brother. His own request to us was:
keep them away from me.
During our last conversation in August 2005, — he oft repeated he had needed
someone to talk to- he wondered aloud: What was the mountain painting just inside the door? After a moment’s doubt, I remembered: Mount Errigal, Co.Donegal.
Right, he complimented:
I’ve gone back to my roots of faith and family; no one can take that away from me.
Kevin Fagan, PhD