Interview with Monsignor Pedro Pablo Elizondo, head of the Cancun Prelature
by Emiliano Ruiz Parra
originally published in Spanish on the Gatopardo web page, El Paraiso de los Legionarios
translated for ReGAIN by J. Paul Lennon
Hanging on the wall behind the bishop’s desk is a painting of the “Legionary Christ” by American protestant painter, Warner Sallman. Fr. Marcial Maciel, infamous Legion of Christ founder, liked this image very much and chose it for his Legionaries. For decades it has been hanging in Legion seminaries, houses and schools. It depicts a three quarter profile of a sharp featured, wavy haired Jesus, in a white tunic.
I interviewed Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo on September 23, 2015 in the diocesan offices, next to Cancun’s present cathedral, in the Green Belly Button. During our forty minute interview several of the well-known Legion themes were covered: the success story, the emphasis on the Legion’s spirit of enterprise, the abundance of material fruits, his bristling at the uncomfortable issues of pedophiles, Maciel’s double life, and climaxing with the threat to sue me if I did not report his words faithfully.
Below, I present a summary of our conversation.
-What has it been like to face the challenge of a population explosion where the number of faithful increased ten-fold in forty five years? –
—Explosive growth presented great challenges to our evangelization. As a tourist destination and possessing such a beautiful natural environment it is really attractive and pleasant living here, almost a paradise. Many come to visit and stay. The beaches, the sand, the turquoise waters, the sun, the gentle breeze.
-What is the Legion’s manpower right now here in the prelature?
—When we arrived we had five priests to staff five parishes. Now we have 115 priests and 53 parishes. We have had two stages of growth. The first began with the previous (Legionary) bishop, Monsignor Jorge Bernal. When I was made bishop in 2004 I inherited 52 priests; now there is double that number and the number of parishes had doubled too. How to you make a parish when there is nothing there, where it is a forest a wilderness? From the bottom up: you begin by clearing the area, building a church of trunks and sticks. That’s what the hotel looked like when I arrived. And little my little start building a church which is dignified, large, sacred, welcoming and that is the charism the Legionaries of Christ brought with them to this region: an enterprising and missionary spirit which led them to build many churches. We are still building our cathedral, our basilica and our seminary.
-Of the present 115 priests, how many are diocesan and how many Legionaries?
—We have 70 Legionaries and 35 diocesan priests, and a few more from other religious orders. We have a great need of priests
-The basilica is very striking being 110 meters high. I imagine it’s the highest building in Cancun. Why so monumental?
—We began with a meeting with President Fox and with later presidents. There is a place called Melecón Tajamar (Tajamar Sea Walk) which became Cancun’s most important social center. Providentially, this land was donated by Fonatur to the Catholic Church. This precious location will become the religious center of the city and at the same time it will become an icon and a landmark for tourists. We want it to be something like the Cologne Cathedral or Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia or Notre Dame of Paris where people go to pray and where tourists can have an encounter with the mystery of Guadalupe. We can use the latest audiovisual and interactive technology to show the story of Guadalupe to the fourteen million tourists who come here yearly. It is religious tourism and a tourist project.
-Any schedule for budget and building?
—First, permits. We have been working on this for years. Tomorrow I have an meeting with the secretary of tourism to see if we can finally move this forward.
-I would like to have the official version of the bishop, of the Prelature, regarding the case that has been in the newspapers about two Legionary priests, Eduardo Lucatero and Jesús Martínez who lived here and who were pointed out or accused of sexual abuse. It was said that the Prelature covered them up, protected or hid them away.
— These are old hat, twenty, thirty or forty year old events. A couple of worn out cases which could have happened here or anywhere else. They are now retired. One of them is sick, in a wheel chair, being taken care of very charitably, he has nothing against him [Tr. Ambiguous Spanish: que no tiene nada pendiente], his ministry is very restricted or even null; that is Lucatero who is seventy five or six. The other is eighty years old. He is over the age. He is not exercising his priestly ministry at all and is being taken care of very charitably as is due to people who have served the church for years; and the Legion is under the obligation not to throw them out like dirty old rags but to treat them decently and respectfully as human beings and servants. That is all. Anything else?
-How did the Prelature live that very critical period, the revelation that the founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had a daughter?
—It was a very embarrassing time, very sad, and with a lot of respect not to judge; only God can condemn. We believe the Jesus Christ is the only judge of all; that he also judges those of us who judge others, in a shallow and flippant way, without knowing the facts. With respect because it is a mystery, a mystery of how a person with a disorderly life creates a religious congregation so well organized. That is what Pope Benedict said: it is a mystery for me. Before a mystery the least you can do is be respectful if you are balanced. If not, you say whatever you want to take advantage and sell your newspaper. Sure, everyone has the right to earn a living. Right? You might as well. But here in Quintana Roo people did not lose their trust.
-What about the invasion of Supermanzana 30, and of an elementary school where they are building churches on public land, on public parks?
— The latest is in Playa del Carmen and it is called Villas del Sol. It is in the middle of the jungle. The Catholic faithful insist they be given space, as everywhere else on earth, in the facilities’ space. This facilities space is 15% of the development and it includes school, church, hospital, market, fire-brigade, police and other public services. The township leader in charge of Religious Affairs tell them: If you want to have your Holy Week ceremonies then clean your piece of land. That’s what they did: they cleared off the land, the put the cross up and then the newspapers come along. “The bishop is invading public lands; he is the richest man on earth.” I didn’t even know about this; I hadn’t the slightest idea. Here (Cancun) it is much larger and there are times nobody notices anything. The faithful simply say: “We are going to build our church.” And why not? And they begin and put up a little shed, and after a while they ask a priest to come, and then they begin saying the rosary under a tree, and they get together. And I say: Don’t they have the right to a place where they can worship God, grow in virtue, become brothers, build a community; they are alone; one comes from Tabasco, another from Campeche, and a third from Veracruz and the neighbors want to gather and get together for a while?
-With the growth of Quintana Roo, the increased demographics and improved infrastructure is a prelature still justified?
— That is the big question all the (Mexican) bishops are asking me. The reason why it needs to continue being a prelature is precisely the population growth and the slower pace of the increase in local clergy.