The Untouchable Paradise
Original in Spanish on Gatopardo web page, El Paraiso de los Legionarios de Cristo by Emiliano Ruiz Parra
Translated and illustrated by PablitoCalvo S.A.
The Legion of Christ is not only a religious congregation (order) but also a veritable religious, entrepreneurial and financial holding;
an ivy network that extends to associations of thousands of youth belonging to the Regnum Christi Movement –some of whose members, especially women, work full time for the Legion; it is
an educational emporium with schools and universities in over twenty countries;
it includes Banco Compartamos (ironically called: Let us Share Bank), fundraising organizations such as Kilo de Ayuda (One kilo to help) and the controversial Mexican mega TV show Teletón (raising funds for the handicapped);
besides these the Legion has forged strong alliances over the years with some of Mexico’s richest businessmen, including Carlos Slim (Maciel officiated at his wedding to Soumaya Domit, 1966) and with Emilio Azcárraga Jean, son of Emilio Azcárraga Milmo -alias El Tigre- and his third wife, Nadine Jean, a French citizen (Maciel celebrated the father’s funeral, April 1997, even after being accused of pedophilia).
Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in February 2013. His successor, Argentinean Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis, designed a popular and progressive pastoral program, the opposite to the Legion of Christ’s. But he didn’t dare touch the empire founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel. He even allowed the religious order to return to its regular life without any further Vatican interventions.
Neither has the Vatican punished one of the most inefficient pastoral programs in Mexico: the Cancun Prelature’s. In Quintana Roo, according to the 2010 census, 63% of the population professed Catholicism. This is far below the Mexican average of 82%. While the Legionaries frenetically build churches, 14% of the people of Quintana Roo consider themselves Non-Catholic Christians and the other 13% say they have no religion.
In Quintana Roo, Mexico, South East Mexico’s tourist Mecca, the Legion of Christ has had free rein to do whatever it pleases, ident priest) passionately declares that since 1970 the state of Quintana Roo has been a Paradise for the Legionaries of Christ.
The Legion of Christ wields almost limitless power in Cancun and all over the state of Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The Cancun-Chetumal Prelature (quasi diocese), under the Legion’s direction since 1970, has enabled the religious order to harbor pedophile priests and to exile their priest and brother members who are critical of or unhappy with the organization.
The present article also highlights how the Legionaries have taken possession of public lands on several occasions and now plan to build a mega basilica which could have major negative ecological impact on this pristine area. And all this is happening with the complicity of state officials and under the sinister influence of their deceased founder, Marcial Maciel.
TEXT BY EMILIANO RUIZ PARRA / FOTOS DE WACHO ESPINOSA
A City of Two Tales:
Two versions of the Legion of Christ
There are always two versions of the Legion of the Christ: the official story –full of divine interventions-and the other story, told by those who are not happy with it. For sixty years the Legion maintained –even threatening dissenters- that Marcial Maciel, their founder, was a living saint. But at the end they had to acknowledge the truth: he was a pedophile, drug addict, conman who even abused his own children.
The quasi-diocese of Cancun-Chetumal under the Legion’s care is no different. This territory, placed under the Legion’s pastoral care in 1970, also spawns two stories. The official story which describes the Prelature as the Legion’s self-less evangelization of the Maya people and of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who flocked to the area to work as laborers and in the tourism industry.
They began with five priests, Mexicans and Irish, and now, forty-five years later, there are seventy-five priests. They began staffing seven parishes and now, five decades later, have over fifty. And they have been able to cope with the demographic explosion of the state of Quintana Roo which has grown from 90, 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 1,600,000 in 2015 . There is no denying the numbers and the Legionaries have gained prestige among the people. Some of the priests have worked hard and long, both with the indigenous communities and in working class neighborhoods.
But there is another story that runs parallel, told by the dissidents, some of whom are former Legionaries who, having gone beyond the appearances of the religious order, have become their harshest critics. According to them, this hot and humid area was used by Fr. Maciel as a kind of “Tropical Siberia” where he could exile some of the organization’s undesireable elements: be they priests accused of sexual abuse or those who assumed a critical posture vis-à-vis the Legion’s modus operandi. They are quick to point out, among other things, how Cancun has become a great source of income for the Legion as handsome fair-skinned priests celebrate weddings for the rich and famous in luxury hotels.
According to the official story the Vatican asked the Legionaries to take over sparsely populated Quintana Roo in 1970 and “even the wisest prophet could never have foretold the demographic explosion.”
According to Legionary priest on a limb, Fr. Pablo Pérez Guajardo, a native of Saltillo, Mexico, Fr. Maciel, the astute founder, secured the Prelature for his Legionaries because he had insider information, thanks to his relationship with the then Minister for the Interior and later president, Luis Echeverría, that the Mexican government would invest millions of dollars in creating this huge Caribbean tourist paradise. “The Legion- according to the official version-“launched a frenetic crusade to provide the Prelature with dignified churches”
The alternative version accepts this fact but accuses the Legionaries of invading green areas and taking over public spaces to build their churches. In their ruthless expansion the Legionaries have been aided and abetted by en enterprising hotelier, Fernando García Zalvidea; said collaborator had been imprisoned on charges of money laundering for the Juarez drug cartel. (As is not uncommon) he was released after serving thirteen months of his sentence.
On November 21st, 2015, the Cancun-Chetumal Prelature is celebrating its 45th anniversary under the direction of the Legionaries of Christ, the order founded by Marcial Maciel on January 3, 1941 in the basement of a house in Mexico City’s Colonia Juárez. On this festive occasion the Legion is launching two monumental projects: the Basilica of Santa María Guadalupe del Mar, with a 350 feet high cross, which will become the Catholic icon for Cancun, costing approximately 12 million dollars. The second project is a large seminary which will run into 57 million Mexican pesos (about five million US dollars) and will have an Olympic size swimming pool, soccer pitches, basketball courts, housing up to a hundred seminarians.
Four minor seminarians, 11-14 years old, reach out to Fr. Juan José Vaca, who has just come to the seminary in Ontaneda, Cantabria, Spain, as their new spiritual director. They reveal to him that Fr. Jesús Martínez-Penilla, the rector, had taken them to bed to masturbate them. Their stories implied that the abuses had been going on for two or three months.
As a good Legionary, Fr. Vaca called Fr. Maciel immediately. “Don’t worry, Juan José. Talk with those junior seminarians and calm them down. “Tell them not to tell their parents.”
Within three hours Martínez-Penilla was on the train to Madrid. From there he flew to Mexico City and immediately headed for Chetumal where Monsignor Jorge Bernal, the Legionary of Christ apostolic delegate of the prelature, appointed by Marcial Maciel, was waiting to give him his next appointment, the Parish of Isla Mujeres.
Thousands of miles away from his victims, Martínez-Penilla was front line in all the most important religious celebrations of the Prelature. On March 19th, 1974 he accompanied Bishop Bernal through the streets of Chetumal as Bernal was consecrated bishop head of the Chetumal Prelature. Four other bishops follow in procession behind the newly consecrated bishop.
Martínez-Penilla continued his ecclesiastical career in the prelature as a pastor. The church directory of 1991 has him as pastor of the St Joachim Parish, Bacalar, Quintana Roo. In 2007 he is pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in José María Morelos township.
In the Anniversary brochure published by the prelature in 2010 “Fr. Penilla” appears surrounded by the parish leadership group at Immaculate Conception parish in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
In his deposition as part of initial investigation, Mr. Villafuerte accuses Legionary of Christ, Eduardo Lucatero Alvarez of “having known the facts and having limited himself to sacking a predatory gym instructor at the Instituto Cumbres in Mexico City”. Lucatero was accused of advising the abuser’s family to leave the country because he was going to have problems. According to Villafuerte, the gym instructor was not the only abuser in the school; he names Guillermo Romo, Francisco Rivas and Alfonso NJ, other Cumbres employees of ‘touching children.”
“He also knows and saw that sometimes the assistant principal, called Eduardo Lucatero, LC, while hearing the children’s confessions; that said person also took the little girls, the boys’ sisters, and caressed their intimate parts obscenely.” But when the case came to court Fr. Lucatero was only sentenced for covering up the abuse.
Before going to legal authorities, one of the victim’s mother approached the Instituto Cumbres administration directly. It was a huge mistake. “My life turned upside down. I lost my work because of them. I lost my lifelong friends. I lost my condominium, and overnight I was swallowed up by a huge hole in the ground. They are very powerful people. They threatened me. They tried to ride me off the beltway (periférico) more than once with a Mustang to frighten me out of going to court.”
Lucatero-Álvarez also ended up in the Chetumal (now Cancun-Chetumal) Prelature where his presence was never hidden. On the inside back page overlap of A Missionary Church he can be seen in the second row of active clergy, vested in priestly robes and praying. The group is headed by the present bishop of the Prelature, Monsignor Pedro Pablo Elizondo, another Maciel appointee.
The brochure describes Lucatero-Álvarez as belonging to Holy Trinity Parish in Cancun. On page 85 he appears in a group of twenty posing in front of the Cancun cathedral church. He is tall, with glasses, wearing a white guayabera and a cross on his chest, smiling.
The Prelature’s 2014 church directory describes him as a religious (LC) priest, head of the Doctrine of the Faith in the office for Prophetic Pastoral Ministry. In other words, he is in charge of protecting the discipline and dogmas of the Church in Quintana Roo.
Part 3 Legionaries Paradise
The Dog, the Wine and the Psychiatrist
Fr. Pablo Pérez-Guajardo was in a stupor all day every day.
His “depression” did not get better despite taking medication.
Until he decided to stop taking his Legion prescribed medication, Diazepan , and gave it to one of the guard dogs in the mother house at 677 Via Aurelia, Rome. Pablo gradually became less drowsy. The dog, for its part, slept all day and lost its zest for life. “The superiors became very concerned about the dog. More than about me,” he recalls testily.
Once fully awake, Fr. Pérez-Guajardo became one of the Legion’s harshest critics. He never was a superior in the order but during his time at the mother house in Rome he was close to the Legion’s leadership cadre and to Fr. Maciel, the founder. From 1986 until 2006 he belonged to the community that lived at the mother house, first as a seminarian and later as an ordained priest.
One can find Fr. Pablo portrayed the old photos of the Legionaries at St. Peter’s Basilica from January 3rd, 1991. To celebrate he Legion’s 50th Anniversary (it was founded in 1941), Fr. Maciel orchestrated having 50 Legionaries ordained to the Catholic priesthood by Pope John Paul II. Fr. Pablo appears with prayerfully joined hands, scarcely a few steps from the pope He was being ordained a priest after 15 years of Legion training.
He is pictured again in Una Iglesia de corazón misionero, libro de nuestra historia, the booklet the Legionaries published to mark the Chetumal-Cancun Prelature’s 40th anniversary. He is pictured three times in the booklet: inside the back cover with all the other Legionaries in Quintana Roo, and on pages 132 and 133. We find him in a panoramic view surrounded by scores of people, mostly children, his community at the chapel of San José in the working-class Colonia Guadalupana, Playa del Carmen. On the next page he appears microphone in hand as he approaches a little boy.
These images portray the years of his close attachment to the Legion. But on September 29th, 2011 he sent a scathing, “Carta de Fuego” letter to the then superior general of the Legion, Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, in which de demanded the Legion cut all ties with the founder, Marcial Maciel.
“A drunken, pedophile womanizer dressed in priestly garb. (…) Not only did he mock God, the Church and us, the members, but you and many other superiors have mocked the pope’s authority by accompanying our pedophile founder on trips with his concubine and his sacrilegious daughter. (…) Your lips have kissed the corpse of a false prophet which you and the major superiors have presented to us as Another Christ while he was in reality an Anti-Christ.”
Another dozen letter followed after in which he denounced money-laundering, systematic cover-up of pedophile Legionaries, the cult of Maciel’s memory, the financial exploitation of the Legion’s educational enterprises and many other abuses.
Slightly built, with green eyes, pointed ears and scant hair, Fr. Pablo Pérez-Guajardo was officially expelled from the Legion in May 2015. They had already expelled him from the San José chapel in Playa del Carmen in September, 2012, after which his lifestyle became nomadic. When he was interviewed by the reporter in September, 2014 he had transformed a garage in a poor neighborhood into a chapel. “The bishop (Monsignor Pedro Pablo Elizondo, LC) has forbidden me from entering Catholic schools and hospitals” (to perform my priestly duties).
The interview lasted three hours. Fr. Pablo’s most traumatic stage of Legion life was in Rome. In 1986 he had been posted to the mother house in Rome.
Legionary life took a heavy toll on Fr. Pablo’s emotional state. He became very depressed. The Assistant Superior General at the time, Fr. Luis Garza Medina, asked him to go visit Dr. Francisco López -Tibor, son of the very famous Spanish psychiatrist, Juan José. Pablo refused. But later, founder Marcial Maciel himself suggested Fr. Pablo see the famous psychiatrist. Fr. Maciel’s suggestions were order for a Legionary. Fr. Pablo obeyed -though he was unaware at that time how Maciel was in the habit of sending problematic Legionaries to the Madrid clinic. There Pablo was evaluated and put on medication. Every four months he would obediently travel to Madrid to have his prescription refilled: The meds kept him drowsy, listless and lifeless.
In Rome Fr. Pablo was able to get on the Internet. Surfing the net he found that his dose of “antidepressants” was heavier than needed and he realized his despondency was due to stresses of the religious life, loneliness, long term separation from his family of origin (he hadn’t seen them since he joined the Legion aged 18), and lack of incentive. That was what prompted Fr. Pablo to start giving his meds to the German shepherd zealously cared for by house superior, Fr. Juan Manuel Dueñas-Rojas.
Stopping the meds, he gradually became more energetic and alert. But this had a price. His emotions awakened with angry outbursts and bouts of deep sadness. His parents were getting old and ill and he wanted to spend their last years with them. He never reached his father in time. When Pablo’s plane touched down in Mexico City the family was already mourning his passing.
Memory of a particular Legionary life scene provokes Fr. Pablo’s indignation during the interview. Regular priest members were allowed to drink only one glass of wine with dinner in Rome. The superiors had two or three “because they had special permission from Fr. Maciel.” Pablo’s anger got the upper hand and he decided to raid the wine cellar and hide bottles of wine in the bathroom or in the air ducts.
One evening a superior called Fr Pablo to his quarter to rebuke him. Padre Pablo had been expecting something like this. When he entered the office he was hiding two bottles of uncorked wine under his cassock. To the superior’s surprise, Pablo began pouring the two bottles over the superior’s desk.
-“How dare you!, fussed the superior, you know there are Letter of Nuestro Padre [Maciel]!” (And what if there were, muses Fr. Pablo many years later! When most of these Letter of Nuestro Padre were plagiarized or written by others –Maciel was such a fraud!)
Tired with Fr. Pablo’s insubordination, his superiors allowed him to live in a Mexico City house, where he would be closer to his mother who was suffering from cancer.
Spilling the wine was the beginning of Fr. Pablo’s lack of obedience. Looking back he sees it as a calculation action to get his superiors’ attention and prompt his transfer. In perspective, it could even be considered a prank. His real opposition came later when he began to publicly denounce the Legion in hundreds of pages and when he opened up in his “Confessions”, flood of memories which gradually put together the jigsaw puzzle of the Legion’s frauds and abuses.
The evening he spoke with the reporter, some of those scenes popped into Fr. Pablo’s head:
The night before Fr. Pablo took his vows, Fr. Maciel called one Pablo’s companions to his bedside and spent the whole night with him! Once ordained, this priest was sent to the Chetumal-Cancun Prelature. After it became public that Maciel had a daughter, the abused priest –now aged fifty- could not stop telling the story of his abuse to anyone who would listen.
Or about the time Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, told a group of Legionaries: “Blessed are you because there are many bishops and cardinals but there is only one founder!”
Or when he learned that Assistant Superior General, Fr. Luis Garza-Medina –a brother of Don Dionisio Garza-Medina (Monterrey, Mexico, Alpha Group) – had hatched a plan to get full control of the Legion and how he had hired a group of private detectives to trail Maciel; once he had the dirt on Maciel’s double life he planned to blackmail him to hand over control of the Legion’s finances.
During his forty years in the Legion, Fr. Pablo Perez has seen and heard hundreds of stories but he kept silent because of his Private Vow
After his assignment to the religious house in Mexico City his superiors sent him to the Chetumal-Cancun Prelature. According to his story he was told to live at the Church of the Sacred Hearth, at that time the cathedral, residence of Legion bishop emeritus Monsignor Jorge Bernal. He revitalized morning Mass and went out into the streets to offer baptisms “free of charge” to the poor. When new bishop Pedro-Pablo Elizondo saw this he called Fr. Pablo to Playa del Carmen to take charge of a working class neighborhood.
Fr. Pablo has many pleasant memories of his time working at the Colonia Guadalupana in what he calls, using a Mexican play on words, la zona atolera (referring to the simple native corn drink, atole) in contrast to the zona hotelera (hotel zone). In this article we will focus on his remarks on the Chetumal-Cancun Prelature.
He first formalized impressions of the apostolic work of the Legionaries in a letter he wrote to Bishop Pedro-Pablo Elizondo on September 24, 2012. In it he states that Legion founder, Marcial Maciel, used the Prelature from its inception as a place to warehouse undesireable members of the order; meaning those members who did not buy Maciel’s vision, either because they did not want to work in schools for the rich or, in the case of the Irish, they had joined the Legion to become missionaries and did not savor being chaplains for the upper classes.
The Prelature had espoused three causes/businesses, according to Pérez:
The glamorous weddings celebrated in the luxury hotels: he accused the Legion priests of becoming the “escorts” to rich and famous Catholics: always impeccably dressed, with the hair always cleanly parted to the right, so as to adorn the weddings of the well-to-do. Pablo notes that hotel employees, the proletariat, were excluded from theses Masses.
The second favorite project was The City of Happiness (La Ciudad de la Alegría), a complex housing orphans, seniors and terminally ill patients. According to Fr. Pablo it is used to furnish some local businesses/benefactors with tax free receipts. Fr. Pablo refers in particular to the businesses owned by one, Fernando García Zalvidea, a Legion favorite and protégé.
A third source of income for the Prelature are the donations from the United States and Europe which are spun as “for the Missions”, the evangelization of the Maya peoples. “They have never received these moneys – complains Fr. Pablo- Most of these poor areas and colonies lack medical dispensaries, Catholic schools, churches, parishes and social services.”
When he was expelled, Fr. Pablo left the Prelature. He sought support in his home diocese of Saltillo, under Bishop Raúl Vera-López, a promotor of human rights and antagonistic to the Legionaries. The firebrand from Playa del Carmen clashed with the charismatic bishop –accusing him of using the poor to his own benefit, Vera-López, for his part, accusing Fr. Pablo of being a plant- and after only eleven months their relationship came to an end.
“Where could I go now that I was sixty?” the priest asked himself. So he traipsed back to Playa del Carmen, to the working class neighborhood, setting up a chapel in a garage of a house under construction. When the reporter met him Fr. Pablo was going around in an old dirty Chevy, with the seats falling apart. He was living with a family, surrounded by bags of cement and dust curtains. The Legion had expelled him in 2015. “In canonical terms I do not have ministerial faculties, although I am not sanctioned for any reason nor do I have any canonical censure against me because I have not committed any ecclesiastical crime (pedophilia, sexual partner, fraud, doctrinal problems or errors in moral or doctrinal teachings).”
As they spoke the reporter noted the Padre’s fatigue after four years of accusations and no success except to keep trudging along performing baptisms and building his chapel. When asked why he had spent so much energy writing the hundreds of protest pages. He had hope, hope that the Vatican would hear his plea and would depose the Legion of Christ from the Prelature. “Quintana Roo needs a Franciscan, Jesuit or diocesan bishop who will dress in sandals and jeans, carry a backpack and rub shoulders with the workers and native peoples of the interior and not with the hotel zone magnates.”
The Legend of the holy money launderer
Fernando García Zalvidea was one of the thousands of immigrants attracted to Cancun tourist growth. Driving his limousine he would offer excursions to gringos fascinated by the Caribbean paradise. One of them exclaimed to him on a certain occasion: This is my best day! Fernando liked the phrase and he made it his. Cancun was growing in leaps and bounds and it was fertile soil for an entrepreneur such as García Zalvidea who with his meteoric rise as a hotel baron created a public relations network of public, political and religious relations with the Quintana Roo elite. His savvy made him owner of a whole chain of hotels, Real Caribe, and Best Day, pioneering all-inclusive travel on the web.
But came the day in 1998 when his empire began crumbling. The Mexican Attorney General named him in association with “Maxiproceso,” an investigation into drug smuggling and money laundering for the Juarez Cartel in the state of Quintana Roo. State governor, Mario Villanueva-Madrid, nicknamed El Chueco (the crooked one), stood accused of having placed the state prosecutor at the service of drug boss, Ramón Alcides-Magaña, alias El Metro (One Meter). García-Zalvidea was accused of money laundering for the cartel in the purchase of the Gran Caribe Real hotel. He was detained and sent to the infamous Reclusorio Sur in Mexico City.
The investigations results were ambiguous. Former governor, Villanueva-Madrid was detained, imprisons and extradited to the USA where he is still incarcerated.
His punishment was unusually harsh by Mexican standards. Most of the accused were absolved of their crimes. García Zalvidea was released on March 4th, 2000 after only fourteen months.
Three years later, a magazine called Contralínea published a series of phone conversations between former Attorney General Antonio Lozano-Gracia, ex presidential candidate for the PAN party, Diego Fernández de Cevallos, and García-Zalvidea’s lawyer, Germán Rangel-González in which the PAN members discussed “political moves” to free the hotel owner and eventually have his case closed by the country’s attorney general.
Upon his release Fernando García-Zalvidea became the Legion’s greatest benefactor in Quintana Roo. He helped to build the City of Happiness in 2000, the largest social work of the Prelature, a center embracing schools, retirement home, homes for orphans and the terminally ill and a center for addiction treatment.
But the man in question went far beyond that, extending his political network through his brother, Juan Ignacio, El Chacho who became a member of the house for the PAN party in 2000 and later jumped ship to the Green Party. Under the green banner he won the election for Lord Mayor of the Benito Juárez Delegation (which includes Cancun) in February 2002. He was the first major of the opposition party (not from the PRI) in the city of Cancun. In 2004 El Chacho approached the leading candidate for the Mexican presidency, leftist Andrés Manuel López-Obrador.
Juan Ignacio proclaimed that he wanted to be a candidate for governor of Quintana Roo state representing the opposition. A few months after making his aspirations public he lost his seat in congress and later incarcerated on charges of over-spending the Cancun treasury. He was incarcerated for over a year until his brother, Fernando, paid a bail of 71 million Mexican pesos (five and a half million dollars.)
The García Zalvidea were one of the most powerful families in Quintana Roo state. El Chacho demonstrated his allegiance to the ruling party, PRI’, by participating in the present governor, Roberto Borge’s, campaign. While on the other side, Fernando was supporting the PAN party in 2012, organizing fundraisers for the PAN presidential candidate, Josefina Vázquez-Mota, among hotel owners. Bishop Pedro-Pablo Elizondo was invited to one of these events.
Legion of Christ: Invaders of Cancun’s Green areas
From Legionaries’ Paradise
By Emiliano Ruiz Parra
In city block (Supermanzana) number 30 the Legionaries appropriated part of the park. They invaded it little by little. Seven thousand square meters of space had been allotted to the local community. They divided it in four: one for the pre-school, another for the elementary school, a third for the bandstand (kiosco) and the last was a green area. In the green area the Legionaries started building a small church (capilla). Whenever the padre –a Legionary of Christ- came to say Mass, one of the neighbors would open the gate for him.
One day, that neighbor, Mario Cortés, had to leave town and he loaned the keys to the padre; loaned them until his return. Mario never saw those keys again. The chapel passed into Legion hands and a year later so did the 1,000 square meters of green area it stood on.
The central location of the chapel attracted hundreds of people from the surrounding blocks. Surrounded by parkland it became one of the favorite places for weddings and baptisms. When Juan Ignacio, El Chacho, García Zalvidea became mayor of Cancun he attempted to legalize the Legionaries’ invasion, attempting to grant the Prelature an “order to take possession” of the park.
This provoked a long drawn out battle between the Prelature and some of the locals. Two of them spoke with the reporter: Herminia Peña and Luz María Elguero, who live right on the edge of the park. With the go ahead from El Chacho, the Prelature began to fence “their” lot off. The neighbors, in turn, smashed down the concrete pillars. The Prelature sent in heavy machinery to excavate foundations; the neighbors blocked their access. The Prelature had local authorities on their side.
The Prelature sent in its workers during the night when people were asleep. They intensified their work during Holy Week and other holidays when people were away on vacation. One Wednesday in Holy Week the neighbors were on guard to prevent the pillars from being built. The police came along and arrested them. They were set free a few hours later. One person was always sniffing around block 30: Fernando García Zalvidea. The neighbors got used to seeing his Porsche SUV prowling around the building site.
When El Chacho became governor, the Prelature tried to gobble up another 4,000 sq. meters. They had plans and a model for a church, child care center, dorms and basements. The neighborhood president at that time signed the plans and with this approval the Prelature was able to finish enclosing the property and began the foundations. But then El Chacho fell from grace when he tried to join López-Obrador’s PRD leftist party and the mayors that followed were not as supportive of the Legionaries. One of them, Gregorio Sánchez of the PRD party, sought a quick solution: he cancelled the Prelature’s occupation grant but he left them the 1,000 sq. park meters.
The above is a summary of the events. But for Block 30 neighbors, most of them women, it meant hundreds of hours knocking on doors, getting signatures, standing in line in government offices, gathering complaints, reviewing stacks of obscure documents, studying laws and guidelines, phone outreach, meetings, etc. while having to put up with the priests’ ugly looks or their threats from the pulpit every Sunday accusing them of being possessed by the devil and planning to burn down the church.
City Hall gave in again on May 17th, 2013 when the director of public works, Humberto Aguilera, signed off on a permit to build with work number 66,231 as the Parish of the Holy Family, ordering the Prelature to finish it before November 16th, on 1,200 square meters.
In despair, the dissident neighbors lodged a criminal complaint: They accused Bishop Elizondo, impresario Fernando García Zalvidea and the cleric, Luis Alberto Chavarría, LC (the Prelature’s legal representative) of land invasion and crimes against urban development. The attorney general’s office received the accusation, opening case number 4819/13 on September 17th, 2013. The complaint sleeps peacefully in the attorney general’s office since then. No steps were taken to act on it.
The Prelature prevailed. They have a luxury high-vaulted church: mosaic altarpiece, two large flat screen TVs and twelve fans. The paths were widened –chopping down trees- to make way for a parking lot. One of the parking spaces is marked: “exclusively for clergy”.
Supermanzana 30 was not the only land to suffer under the Prelature. On September 22, 2014 the reporter visited the neighborhood called Hacienda Real del Caribe de la Region 2000. The neighbors showed him a lot which was planned as one of their green areas; car tires hung from the trees acting as swings for the kids.
First a cross appeared; then a fence and a sign announcing the “Chapel of Our Lord of Divine Mercy”. “If the kids break in to play, the church people kick them out” a woman from Mexico City who had moved to the neighborhood, told the reporter.
Not far away in Supermanzana (Block) 117, the Prelature carried out another land invasion. The same method: first a cross, then four wooden stakes in the ground supporting a nylon cover, and finally bricks: St. James Apostle chapel encroaching on the park facing the Raza de Bronce elementary school.
Once more this invasion provoked reactions in the community: Lourdes Ibarra and Alicia Vázquez headed the group opposing the takeover. Other neighbors supported the padres. The first leaders were Evangelicals. The second pair were Catholic. Both were in agreement about one thing: this was an invasion of a public space. They partially agreed with the Legion’s move because now the vacant lot was cut and clean.
We have just described three examples of public land invasions by the Legionaries of Christ. By the time PRD member Julián Ricalde became mayor of Cancun the number of invasions had risen to thirteen. According to Tulio Arroyo, it is hard to find a Catholic church in Cancun which is not the result of an invasion. The Legionaries have created their own modus operandi: identify a vacant lot and make it theirs using priests, Masses and fences.
Tulio Arroyo is a man on a mission: to defend Cancun’s green areas. His stance has put him on a collision course with the Legionaries of Christ who are accustomed to getting their way in Quintana Roo state. Mr. Arroyo is an engineer specializing in alternative energy. A native of Mexico City with studies in New York, he became the defender of the environment when city hall planned to cut down the last green area in the center of Cancun. The park was called The Green Belly Button (El Ombligo Verde). The mayor of Cancun, PRI member Magali Achach, planned to donate a lot to the Prelature for a cathedral.
Mr. Arroyo-Marroquín and his wife, Bettina Cetto, spearheaded the Defend the Green Belly Button movement. They became experts in administrative law and supported the first protests sprouting up here and there against the church invasions. Arroyo helped them organize press conferences, write communiques and navigate the complicated legal system. He was able to save the Green Belly Button from total deforestation. But he could not prevent the Legionaries from building their cathedral. Ironically, Tulio and Bettina lived opposite the park. The cathedral began to take shape literally under their very noses.
Notre Dame of South East Mexico
Legionaries love the grandiose.
Their network of schools is called Semper Altius (Latin for “higher and higher”), with names such as The Heights”, Himalaya, Everest, Alps, Highlands, etc. The Cancun-Chetumal Prelature (the translator notes that the prelature began as the “Chetumal Prelature” but this was eclipsed by its later title which underlines Cancun as the bishop’s place of residence) is no exception to the Legion’s grandiose dreams. It plans to build the most impressive religious monument in South East Mexico, the Basilica of Blessed Mary of Guadalupe of the Sea (La Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe del Mar); its cross will rise to an impressive 110 meters; the church will seat 1,500 worshippers and the total cost is estimated at 12 million dollars.
Once more the Legion’s good intentions are met with “misunderstandings”. This time it’s the ecologists. The cathedral would face onto Laguna Nichupté, a mangrove area hosting many endangered species. One of the opponents is Pedro Canché, a native Maya who spent nine months in prison accused of sabotage. The false accusation was just a way to shut him up. The Quintana Roo authorities had to release him because he became a freedom of speech symbol.
According to Canché –in a document addressed to city hall- the Tajamar Project (of which the proposed basilica is part) would represent an “imminent ocoside devastating flora, fauna and wetlands (…). Going ahead with the building would devastate one of Cancun’s natural and invaluable fresh air lungs.”
As usual, there are two sides to the story. The official LC story is that the Mexican government tourist development agency, Fonatur, already donated 10, 000 sq. meters to the Prelature. This brings up a very sticky question: Why and how would the Mexican (lay) government donate public lands to the Catholic Church? Why not donate another piece of land to Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and even Cancun’s atheist community?
Fr. Pablo Pérez’ unofficial explanation is more sinister. These 10,000 sq. meters would be former president Vicente Fox’s payback to the Legion for getting him a Vatican divorce from his first wife so he could marry his second, Marta Sahugún, [Tr., a supporter of the Legion’s Regnum Christi lay movement!] As a very prominent public figure, Fox’s request would have to go through the Roman Rota, a pontifical tribunal. Once divorced from his first wife, Lilian de la Concha, Vicente Fox married Marta Sahugún and the religious ceremony was presided over by Legion of Christ priest, Fr. Alejandro Latapí. [Translator’s note: in 2003 Marta Sahugún’s first marriage to Manuel Bibriesca was annulled by the Vatican].
The Bishop of Cancun Speaks Out:
Interview with Monsignor Pedro Pablo Elizondo, head of the Cancun Prelature
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 hangs 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.
The Untouchable Paradise
The Legion of Christ is not only a religious congregation (order) but also a veritable religious, entrepreneurial and financial holding; an ivy network that extends to associations of thousands of youth belonging to the Regnum Christi Movement –some of whose members, especially women, work full time for the Legion; it is an educational emporium with schools and universities in over twenty countries; it includes Banco Compartamos (ironically called: Let us Share Bank), fundraising organizations such as Kilo de Ayuda (One kilo to help) and the controversial mega TV show Teletón (raising funds for the handicapped); besides these the Legion has forged strong alliances over the years with some of Mexico’s richest businessmen, including Carlos Slim (Maciel officiated at his wedding to Suomaya Domit) and Emilio Azcárraga Jean (son of Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, alias El Tigre, and his third wife, Nadine Jean, a French citizen. Maciel celebrated the father’s funeral, April 1997, even after being accused of pedophilia.)
Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in February 2013. His successor, Argentinean Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis, designed a popular and progressive pastoral program, the opposite to the Legion of Christ’s. But he didn’t dare touch the empire founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel. He even allowed the religious order to return to its regular life without any further Vatican interventions.
Neither has the Vatican punished one of the most inefficient pastoral programs in Mexico: the Cancun Prelature. In Quintana Roo, according to the 2010 census, 63% of the population professed Catholicism. This is far below the Mexican average of 82%. While the Legionaries frenetically build churches, 14% of the people of Quintana Roo consider themselves Non-Catholic Christians and the other 13% say they have no religion.
In Quintana Roo, Mexico, South East Mexico’s tourist Mecca, the Legion of Christ has had free rein to do whatever it pleases, including harboring pedophile members and appropriating public lands for its own benefit; all this without suffering any consequences for its actions.
That is why Fr. Pablo López passionately declares that since 1970 the state of Quintana Roo has been a Paradise for the Legionaries of Christ.
1.The Catholic Church is usually divided into dioceses: territories under the direction of a bishop. In some exceptional cases “prelatures” are created for areas where the the Church lacks the necessary “infrastructure”to take care of the local pastoral needs; the Vatican may assign such an area to a religious order (congregation). Prelatures are often poor, isolated zones inhabited by native peoples who have not yet “produced” native clergy. In Mexico we might think of the prelatures of El Nayar (Nayarit state) and El Salto (Durango), and the Salesians'(Don Bosco) prelature among the Mixes in Oaxaca state. From 1958 until 1992 the Jesuits took over the Tarahumara region in Chihuahua state. The so called Cancun-Chetumal Mission was entrusted to the Legionaries of Christ by the pope who thought the Legion was a missionary order.
2.Citations in the article are taken from the Legion’s publication Una Iglesia de Corazon Misionera, libro de nuestra historia, edited by the prelature in 2010 to mark the prelature’s 40th anniversary, pages 34 & 39, respectively.
3. The story of the abuse and flight of Fr. Jesus Martinez Penilla was taken from Fernando M. Gonzalez’ Marcial Maciel, the Legionaries of Christ: testimonies and unpublished documents, Tusquets, Mexico City, pp 365-366.
4. Una Iglesia Misionera, p. 24
5. In Catholic “religious congregations”, commonly known as “orders” the members take three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. Maciel went one better and added two more called “Charity” and “Humility”; the first was meant to curb any criticism of the superiors -especially of himself!- and the second was meant to prevent ambition among the members. By these means he was able to prevent members from questioning or taking action against his own criminal behaviors for over sixty years.