The Case of the Legion of Christ: History and Current Status or The Legion of Christ Reformed from the Outside

Paul Lennon, MDiv, LPC, a licensed professional counselor and a founding member and editor of ReGAIN was asked to take part in special session entitled Are there Cultic Aberrations in the Catholic Church? at the ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) Conference in Barcelona in July, 2011.

Are There Cultic Aberrations in the Catholic Church?


Mr. Lennon will give a brief history of the Legion from its founding, describing how the founder, Marcial Maciel, was able to deceive Church authorities for decades, and how the perseverance of certain former members of the Legion ultimately resulted in the Church?s recognition of the correctness of their allegations and the need to reform the Legion.


Perhaps there are two questions contained in the above abstract, the first one being: How was Fr. Maciel, The serious and objectively immoral behavior of [whom], supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling, able to remain undetected and undeterred by popes and Church for sixty years? There is no easy answer. Such paradoxical reality may be explained by a paradoxical parable:
Luke 16:1-8 The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

The second question could be to use an image from the Wild West: how did the posse finally catch up with Fr. Maciel and what did they do to him – The posse being Catholic authorities. And even before, How did Fr. Maciel?s victims convince the posse to get moving? It?s a long tale.


The Legion of Christ, a Catholic Religious Congregation [in popular parlance, order] was founded on January 3rd, 1941 in Cotija, Michoacan, Mexico by a 21-year-old Mexican seminarian called Marcial Maciel.


Around 1955 one of Fr. Maciel?s aide-de-camps and the founder?s personal secretary brought concerns regarding the Nuestro Padre?s personal life and his use of donations to Vatican authorities. In 1956 a Visitation (i.e. investigation) was launched ordering Fr. Maciel to leave the order for a while. Before leaving he prepared the members for the investigation telling them that he was being libeled and that enemies of God wanted to destroy His Work. When the seminarians were questioned by the investigators nobody backed the accusations. Fr. Maciel returned triumphant in 1959. Those who did not see eye to eye with him or had doubts about their vocation left. His exile would be referred to as The War. (Later this would be changed to The Great Blessing).
Just before his 1956 exile Maciel had begun drafting a Private Vow, never to criticize the person or actions of a superior and to inform the superior as soon as you found out that another member was so doing. Upon his return the vow was immediately enacted.

Outside Legion confines a group of seminarians who left just after Maciel returned as superior general (circa 1960), got in touch with each other. In their conversations they serendipitously realized that several of them had been sexually abused by the founder in similar ways and with the same methods of deceit and manipulation.

Jason Berry found their testimonies to be credible and after much research by both reporters they decided to publish an article in the Hartford Courant. Thus, the first time Maciel?s abuses came to the notice of the outside world was during the 1990?s. The Legion threatened to sue the papers but valor prevailed and on Sunday February 23, 1997, their article Breaking the Silence, Head of Worldwide Catholic Order Accused of History of Abuse appeared lending a voice to the heretofore unknown and disempowered survivors.

Further research by Renner and Berry spawned their 2003 Vows of Silence book where they raised the specter of Vatican complicity in the silence regarding Fr. Maciel?s licentious life.
REGAIN [Religious Groups Awareness International Network] . Its goal was to help former members network, whereas the Legion ostracized and isolated- support each other, prevent premature recruitment and uniformed donations. The group also launched a webpage with information and articles explaining the Legion/Regnum phenomenon to unwitting Catholics and the general public.

The Legionaries, following the example of their founder, met these accusations with flat denial and by accusing the accusers of lies and defamation. They found stout defenders among some Catholic conservatives and intelligentsia. This defense was epitomized by the 2002 Robert J. Neuhaus? Feathers of Scandal articles in First Things.

Fr. Maciel was very adept at keeping the Legionaries despite their relatively small numbers- in the forefront of Vatican, Papal and American eyes. It was not usual to see Legionary seminarians assisting the pope in Vatican ceremonies. An Irish Legionary priest wrote the pope?s English-language audiences at the Vatican, and a Spanish Legionary priest took over the official paper, L?Osservatore Romano?s Spanish edition. A still greater coup for the Legion founder was organizing Pope John Paul II?s missionary visits to Mexico.


In Mexico since the 1960s Jose Barba and his team pursued the official church route in search of truth and justice re the Rev. Marcial Maciel. After many personal approaches, letters and petitions, including an open letter (never translated into English) addressed to Pope John Paul II , they brought their case directly to the Vatican courts. On Saturday, October 17th, 1998, they filed an accusation of absolutio complicis (absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the 6th Commandment, i.e. a sexual sin, and which had no statute of limitations) to the Vatican court.

Hypotheses abound about how or why Cardinal Ratzinger brought the case forward. What is known is that in early 2005, and as Pope John Paul II?s health deteriorated, it was announced that a prosecutor had been named to investigate the allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.


On May 19, 2006, the Vatican released a statement acknowledging the long-standing accusations against Maciel and ordering him to cease from public ministry and to observe a life of prayer and penance.
Maciel, for the most part, ignored the restrictions, continuing to live the high life of travel, hotels, and tributes until the day he died. A number of actions and event followed on the heels of the Vatican statement.
– Dec 13, 2007: New report offers confirmation that Pope dissolved secret Legion vows


News of the founder?s death in January 2008 was shrouded in mystery; the immediate cause of Fr. Maciel?s death was not clear nor was the precise place where he died: Florida, Houston or Mexico. Rumors circulated about a woman being at his death bed and there were contrasting reports about his last moments, whether or not he had received the last rites of the Catholic Church, made his confession, and gone to rest in peace.

    February 4th, 2009 LC Spokesman: News that founder fathered child causes Legionaries pain.
    CNS? Cindy Wooden quoted in what used to be the Legion?s National Catholic Register
    February 05, 2009, Legionaries of Christ founder led double life
    CN Catholic News blog
    On March 31, 2009, Vatican orders an apostolic visitation of Legionaries of Christ
    Pope Orders an Apostolic Visitation of the Legionaries of Christ
    By John Thavis Catholic News Service

    On May 1, 2010, Vatican releases the results of the Apostolic Visitation

Simply stated the Apostolic Visitors confirm the Legionaries worst fear about their Founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. In one paragraphs they state:
The Apostolic Visitation was able to ascertain that the behavior of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado has caused serious consequences in the life and structure of the Legion, so much so, to require a journey of profound re-evaluation.

The serious and objectively immoral behavior of Fr. Maciel, supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling. The large majority of Legionaries were unaware of that life, particularly because of the system of relations created by Fr. Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up an alibi, to gain the trust, confidence and surrounding silence and strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently the lamentable disgracing and expulsion of those who doubted his upright conduct, and the misconception of not wanting to harm the good that the Legion was doing, had created around him a defense mechanism which made him untouchable for a long time, thus rendering knowledge of his real life difficult.

    On July 9th, 2010 news was released (by the Legion):

Pope names Velasio De Paolis papal delegate to the Legionaries of Christ.


    On July 10th 2010 the Papal Delegate Addressed the Legionaries at a special Mass at their Rome headquarters.
    The papal delegated homily to the Legionaries was very paternal and pastoral, and full of encouragement. The letter he handed Fr. Corcuera was also very conciliatory as if he were trying to avert a general stampede of members. The following paragraph, recommending patience:
    October 10, 2010, De Paolis got down to the business of letter to the Legionaries. Despite being more concrete than his previous addresses the Papal Delegate dashed the hopes of many critics and reformers by confirming the present superiors in their positions:
    Establishment of special commissions:
    Commission for the revision of the constitutions.
    Commission to approach those who have in some way put forward claims against the Legion.
    Commission for financial matters.

    De Paolis staunchly defended the Legion?s charism bequeathed by Maciel: Another very delicate question is that of the charism of the Legion. The absence of a distinction between constitutional norms and norms of law has perhaps hurt efforts to specify the charism. But it seems undeniable that it is sufficiently clear and precise; and it is also more than ever for this time. There is the need to reflect and study this in depth.

    For the delegate the crisis is over; there seems no reason to continue to question, to doubt, to second guess, to leave: It seems to me that we can and must expect a positive path of renewal.


Following on the path he laid out for the Legionaries the Papal Delegate and his team continue to implement changes. The commissions already mentioned are established and begin to function. The new Legion of Christ is providing updates on the work of reform.

    Legion Creates Commission for Maciel’s Accusers

    Commission for Financial Affairs
    The papal delegate for the Legionaries of Christ, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, C.S., has created a commission for the study and revision of the congregation?s financial situation. The commission has a consultative function and will report to the papal delegate and the general director with their respective councilors.

    Fr. Ghirlanda presented the process for revising the Legionary constitutions, and informed the superiors about the details of the territorial commission that will assist in the process. The Europe based Superiors met in Rome on January 28, for the same purpose, with the papal delegate…

    Concrete Reform: Legionaries use of E-mail and Internet
    One concrete, if minor, reform instituted by the Apostolic Delegate was to review the norms binding Legionary students and seminarians. In a nutshell, they may have use to e-mail and Internet but in a very regulated and gradual way according to their state of formation. The new rules, in vigor until the Chapter General, are slightly less stringent than the previous.


How did Fr. Maciel go undetected and undeterred for so long may remain a mystery. Not a mystery of faith such as the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity but a mystery of human deceit, self-righteousness, negligence and pride in self and institution; a mystery of evil. Part of the answer lies in Fr. Maciel?s guile and other skills associated with a pathological personality. The truth regarding Fr. Maciel?s true nature surfaced only after his death (2008) and can be attributed to the perseverance of his victim/accusers, the diligence of a Vatican prosecutor, and because for some strange, mysterious, reason, in 2009 the Legion chose to reveal his dalliances with women and his fathering of children. Old and new scandals prompted Vatican authorities to intervene the order and begin a path of reform whose final destination is unknown.

The importance of the ten original accusers now reduced to eight – one died and one recanted – and of two Catholic reporters cannot be minimized.
During the past few months some important members have defected from the Legion; for the most part they have transitioned to local dioceses. They exit the Legion in the middle of the reforms and while the commissions are getting underway. As the papal delegate works with the Legion hierarchy to bring about the announced changes requesting a vote of confidence from the rank and file some important Legionaries are voting with their feet. But the vast majority is staying, hoping that the announced reforms will bring them a new, healthy, and vibrant Legion.

Paul Lennon?s Followup Interview With Cult Expert Steve Hassan

Following the international cult conference Paul Lennon was interviewed by top cult expert Steve Hassan and details of this interview are available here on ReGAIN at Click Here

Paul later commented that his presentation could have been entitled The Legion of Christ Reformed From the Outside. In his closing statements he questions why the Vatican Delegate has been so lukewarm and conciliatory to the current leadership and wonders if the Delegate has fallen under the spell of Father Maciel and his intimate disciples.

Another well informed former Legionary priest, Aaron commented on life-after-rc blog regarding (lack of progress in) the reform process that is being carried out by the Vatican Delegate (who is known to have financial expertise):

He has not taken the initiative in any point regarding the Legion reform. He is overSEEing it quite literally – we have put way too much hope into his office. That is not to say that he is negligent or doing a bad job: his job is to let the Legion manage itself and rubber stamp or not what the legion wants.

Prime example: the General Director and the General Council have consolidated the two North American territories and appointed Luis Garza as the TD of the new USA/Canada territory. Velasio de Paolis: I find no objection…
i.e. The LEGION decided to unite the territories, the LEGION decided to appoint Luis Garza. After the LEGION’s decisions, Cardinal DePaolis said: Yup that?s fine with me.

Aaron goes on to comment that the Delegate seems to have too much trust in the old guard Legion leaders and suggests that all the leaders should be fired and that the excessive control of peoples? every action (e.g. always eating bananas in a prescribed manner) should be relaxed.

Editor?s Note:

Every time I hear about an approved Catholic religious order or movement referred to as a cult by knowledgeable experts such as Steve Hassan or other recognized authorities with the International Cultic Studies Association, I cringe inside. As a Roman Catholic, I feel uncomfortable and I long to hear a Church Authority show that the Church really does understand that cults and mind control do not belong in the Church and that they have a definite plan to really clean the filth from the Church this time around.

Some of us had great hopes when the Vatican appointed a new commissioner with sweeping powers to take control of the Legion. Has anyone noticed LC priests or RC consecrated women tearing the peels off their bananas yet?

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