The Financial Empire of the Legion of Christ
(Maciel kneeling obsequiously before Pope John Paul II whom he completely deceived)
Pope Benedict XIV referred to the “enigmatic figure” of Fr. Maciel. No doubt about it. It is hard to understand who Maciel was and what he pretended and how his person and work is related to what is known as the Legion of Christ religious order.
One thing is clear: Maciel was the greatest Catholic fundraiser of the late XX Century. (According to Jason Berry, at least)
His business acumen was extraordinary.
Mexican banker, Manuel Espinosa Yglesias, once stated half in jest: “Fr. Maciel, it is just as well you are not in our business. You would have left the rest of us all far behind!”
Don Manuel missed the point: Maciel was in the business world. He was a business entrepreneur extraordinaire.
Wouldn’t it make sense that Fr. Maciel, rather than founder a religious order, be the founder of a great financial empire? This is what the following study by Mexican investigative reporter, Raul Olmos, makes us wonder. His recent book is called “The Financial Empire of the Legionaries of Christ.”
The following is a translation of an article/summary
La Cueva de Montesinos
by Emiliano Ruiz Parra, author of Black Sheep, Rebels of the XXI Century Rebels of the XXI century in the Mexican Catholic Church, appeared on the GATOPARDO blog, Jan 13, 2016,
a review of El Imperio Financiero de los Legionarios de Cristo, Una Mafia Empresarial disfrazada de Congregación (Tr. Religiosa)
(Translated from the Spanish by PablitoCalvo, ReGAIN)
The Millionaires of Christ
Angered by their expulsion from the temple, the vendors and money-changers created the Legion of Christ to take revenge on Jesus.
It’s a joke, but the reader is left with that impression after reading The Financial Empire of the Legionaries of Christ, a business mafia disguised as a religious order by Raul Olmos and published by Grijalbo at the end of 2015: https://books.google.com.gt/books/about/El_imperio_financiero_de_los_Legionarios.html?id=pr66CgAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
Raul Olmos offers us one of the most detailed and incisive investigations of Mexican reporting. For five years this reporter from Guanajuato (director of the investigative reporting branch of Am de León) scoured over hundreds of pages of financial, legal and accounting statements -some exclusive- of the businesses related to the Legionaries of Christ.
His book is full of startling discoveries. What Olmos finds, in general, is a complex tangle of business, real and fictitious (“ghost enterprises” because they have no domicile or active members) set up by Marcial Maciel and his followers:
“The Legion controls over 300 businesses set up as anonymous associations and corporations (…), over 100 properties, a travel agency, consulting firms, a women’s clothing line, an international news agency…” Olmos tells us. Just in Mexico, the congregation receives about 8 thousand million pesos (440 million US dollars) annually from supposedly philanthropic associations.
Following the money trail, Olmos takes the reader to the financial paradises of the world: Panama, Liechtenstein, the Island of Jersey, Dutch Antilles, Delaware, USA and Singapore. The Legionaries have opened accounts in those countries which protect the identity of the holders, money-launder millions of dollars and Euros and carry out fraudulent investments. “Invest without sinning,” preach the Legionaries to their friendly businessmen. In reality their millions are invested in companies that manufacture arms, bombs and attack helicopters which were used to destroy villages during the Second Iraq War; they invest heavily in international beer companies and in pharmaceutical companies that make condoms (Holy Mother of God!)
Historians and reporters (all brave men because taking on the Legion could cost you your job) have discovered that the religious congregation (order) in reality was his cover for an infinity of sexual abuses committed against his own seminarians, many of whom were minors. The Holy Man of God had at least two families, several identities, a few children -two of whom he sexually abused- and lived the life of a maharajah enjoying the best hotels, restaurants and the most luxurious houses. (Tr. Because of his “illnesses” he always traveled first class).
We already knew this thanks to the valuable testimonies of Jose Barba, PhD and other former Legionaries and thanks to the penetrating reporting of Gerald Renner and Jason Berry, and that of Mexican historian Fernando M. Gonzalez, Maciel’s biographer. Olmos, however, is filling in a heretofore empty hole: the history of the complex financial and entrepreneurial web of the Legionaries of Christ. Thanks to his investigation we now know that the order was not only a cover for Maciel’s depraved activities but also a cover for accumulation of capital.
One of Olmos’ most shocking chapters is “The Property Empire” (El imperio inmobiliario): Maciel and the Legion bought the most exquisite mansions in Sorrento, Italy, Vero Beach, Florida, Arcadia and Cupertino, exclusive residential areas in California, a building facing Central Park, NY, thirty hectares in Atlanta, etc. etc.
The property that is most startling is his residence in Jacksonville, FL, which the Legion bought as its patriarch’s retirement home. Despite his irrefutable conviction as a pedophile priest which led Pope Benedict XVI to silence him and order him to a life of prayer and penance, Maciel kept doing his own thing and took up residence in a seven-bedroom mansion, indoor swimming pool and movie theater with a lakeside view. There he died surrounded by his adoring Legionaries, by one of his wives and their daughter, the two Normas. His subjects dressed him in priestly vestments for his burial.
The book names Maciel’s business team, all of them ordained priests of the Legion of Christ: Luis Garza-Medina, Evaristo Sada-Derby, Juan Manuel Duenas-Rojas, together with the names of his many business enterprises such as holdings, large property conglomerate, all of which ultimately are under the umbrella of Grupo Integer, the mega holding.
The list could go on and on. Here I will just focus on a paradigmatic case: Banco Compartamos bank, a micro-financing company for the poor. Olmos tracks its founding back to Legion ally -and/or employee- José Ignacio Ávalos, who also started Un Kilo de Ayuda (one kilo of help). Compartamos’ (paradoxically, “Let us share”) capital increased 342 thousand fold in fifteen years, thanks to the Legion’s transfers and to the micro-credits (given to small enterprises) with interest rates up to 70% annual. Compartamos is a better business venture than Mexico’s Bancomer, Banamex and HSBC.
Maciel liked to quip among his confidants that “the poor are the best business of all.” According to Olmos Compartamos and the other ventures Un Kilo de Ayuda and the Teletón are living proof that he was right: they have produced millions of dollars in donations and interest.
The Legion of Christ had the political and financial backing of businessmen such as Carlos Slim and presidents such as Vicente Fox. What is more surprising still is that the support of the most powerful men in Mexico and the world remained firm even after 1997 when nine former Legionaries revealed their sexual abuse by the founder. The support continued even longer, after 2006 when the Vatican silenced Maciel.
Maciel gave the rich and famous “The Gospel of Prosperity,” the preferential option for the rich (term coined by Mexican sociologist Elio Mansferrer), whereby richness is considered a blessing from God. Maciel built a a clerical apparatus liked by the bourgeoisie: princely priests, schools for rich kids, wedding on the shore of Cancun and special papal audiences bought with million dollar donations.
The Legion of Christ thus becomes the epitome of modern capitalism -neoliberalism- where everything is marketable, even spiritual goods and the salvation of souls. The Legion’s success consists in creating a Christianism for the elite. “The last shall be the first?” Never! In Maciel’s theology, the choicest places in heaven are reserved for those who give the biggest donations to the Legion of Christ.
For decades, Catholic leadership justified its passivity in the Maciel case proclaiming its ignorance. According to the official story, Maciel was a secretive criminal who deceived Saint John Paul II and scores of cardinals, bishops and even his own closest disciples and assistants. This excuse is no longer valid. With Olmos’ book, the Vatican and Pope Francis are provided with elements to intervene the Legion’s mafia-like accumulation of riches. If Pope Francis does not act it will be out of weakness, political calculation or complicity. But he can no longer plead ignorance.
Olmos, R., El Imperio Financiero de los Legionarios de Cristo, una mafia empresarial disrazada de congregacion (2015), Mexico: Grijalbo.
The Financial Empire of the Legionaries of Christ, a business mafia disguised as a religious order by Raul Olmos