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Catholic gathering gets mixed reaction Legion of Christ faces its critics

By Joshua S. Howes Tribune staff reporter Published July 17, 2003

Depending on one’s point of view, the Legion of Christ’s visit to Chicago this weekend is either cause for celebration and religious recommitment or an insult to the Roman Catholic community, especially survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy.

The Rome-based order of priests, whose founder has faced allegations of sexual abuse but is said to be a personal friend of Pope John Paul II, will hold a Youth and Family Encounter from Thursday afternoon through Sunday at Navy Pier.

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The agenda includes speeches, masses, apostolic training seminars and a keynote address by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Organizers say they intend to renew participants’ spiritual drive and commitment to the faith, particularly for teenagers who might be confused by “all the negative headlines recently” about the Catholic Church.

But controversy has followed the Legion to Chicago. On Saturday the group announced that its 83-year-old founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, will not attend the Navy Pier conference, which requires registration to attend, because of urgent business in Rome.

The Legion’s chorus of critics, led by former priests, say Maciel is ducking out to escape further scrutiny regarding allegations made in 1997 by nine former Legionaries that Maciel molested them when they were teenage seminarians in Italy and Spain in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Maciel also skipped last year’s conference in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the Legion, Jim Fair, dismissed the accusations against Maciel and the organization, saying the Vatican looked into the allegations and found no evidence of abuse.

Critics say the investigation was flawed and incomplete. They allege top Vatican officials protect Maciel because of his fundraising abilities, conservative politics and friendship with the pope.

To the group’s opponents, the Chicago conference is objectionable whether or not Maciel attends.

“To place Maciel, or his organization, as a model for the youth in Chicago or anywhere, my God, that is an aberration,” said Arturo Jurado of Monterey, Calif., a former priest who contends Maciel sexually molested him in 1957.

Others say the Legion’s leaders manipulate priests and seminarians into a cult-like devotion to Maciel. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Legionaries take a vow never to criticize or question the order.

Former seminarian Todd Carpunky, now a Chicago lawyer, said he worries that the conference’s unstated goal is to recruit teenagers. The archdiocese of Chicago, he says, should warn young Catholics about the Legion’s recruiting and control techniques.

Warning from ex-member

Carpunky said that after he joined a Legion seminary in Connecticut at age 16 in 1991, his superiors censored his mail and reading material, lied to him when other members left the seminary, encouraged him to flagellate himself and for months refused permission to see a doctor when he was suffering from a gall bladder infection that spread to his liver and almost killed him.

“The archdiocese and the church in general know what the Legion does,” he said. “We are their flock, and [the Legion] are the wolves preying on their flock, and they’re doing nothing about it.”

Legion supporters say such accusations are groundless and the product of disgruntled ex-Legionaries.

Fair, the group’s spokesman, said similar charges of abuse were brought against St. Francis of Assisi when he founded the Franciscans and many other founders of religious orders.

“With success and growth comes calumny and slander; it’s an almost consistent pattern across the board,” said Fair.

A spokesman for the Chicago archdiocese said the Legionaries are not within its jurisdiction. “The Catholic Church is a big tent,” said James Dwyer. “A wide variety of Catholic organizations meet in Chicago, and just because they do does not imply endorsement of what they do … nor condemnation.”

Cardinal not attending
Cardinal Francis George does not plan to attend the conference, Dwyer said.

Organizers of the event say more than 6,000 Chicago-area residents have registered to attend, many of them members of the Legion’s international lay movement, Regnum Christi, which they say has more than 60,000 members. The organizations also operate two K-through-12 schools and numerous outreach ministries in the Chicago area.

Scholars said the Legion’s evangelism and continued growth is consistent with the increase in the power and numbers of conservative Catholic organizations under Pope John Paul II.

“The [conservative movement] perceives itself to be under a threat that is growing, and is pushing back,” said Jay Demerath, a professor of sociology specializing in religion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I suspect [the Legion] is trying to send a message to American Catholics that traditions are important and need to be upheld … that all is not moving in a liberal direction.”

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

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Catholics plan Mather university

The Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation of priests active in 20 countries, plans to create a private Catholic university at two locations in the Sacramento region.

The proposal, which they’d call the University of Sacramento, is the latest of several higher education ventures to target the capital area.

The group plans to open a graduate school of education by 2005, followed by a 250-acre, full-service residential campus in 2007 that would ultimately have 7,000 students plus 800 faculty members and other employees. A feasibility study for a bioethics institute is also under way.

The Legion is talking with Sacramento county and city officials about buying land to build the campus at Mather Field, and leasing at least 55,000 square feet in downtown or midtown Sacramento for a graduate school of education.

The project is so enticing that officials here are mulling special efforts on a real estate deal to land the school.

The first full Legion university slated for the United States, the project could be a $1.2 billion economic bonanza for the area. Construction alone is expected to cost upwards of $350 million, with ripple effects of a large local payroll and spending in the community by faculty, staff and students.

The Legion raises about $20 million a year to cover its programs. It would also seek to raise money locally.

Area is rich in Catholics: “It is a massive project. We’ve been talking to the Legion for some months now and hope they can build the campus at Mather,” said county economic development director Paul Hahn. “It’s a good use the community needs. From an economic standpoint, we lack a private university and the array of talent it attracts.”

The Legion is looking for a break on the land in exchange, Hahn said. “We need to put together the deal points. It’s no mystery the county is very interested and willing to do some things we haven’t done for a while.”

The pitch is one of three private university proposals to surface in recent months.

Mather Eyed for Catholic College

The Legion of Christ considers the former Air Force base as the site for a private four-year university.
By Terri Hardy — Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, November 8, 2002

A conservative Catholic order is moving forward with plans to build a private university in the Sacramento region and has been in serious discussions with city and county officials about where it could locate a campus.

As its first step, the Legion of Christ wants to open a downtown graduate school with an eye toward establishing a four-year core campus in another location — possibly at the former Mather Air Force Base.

The group has secured the name “University of Sacramento,” said Barry Sugarman, vice president of institutional development for the university project.

“We’re committed to the Sacramento region,” Sugarman said. “We’re ready to go.”

The Legion of Christ is a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests founded in 1941 in Mexico. It operates 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile and Italy and a graduate school of psychology in Virginia.

The Legion has been looking for about two years for the right area in the United States to build its first full-fledged university. After analyzing several locations for their economic strength, household income and Catholic population, they zeroed in on the Sacramento region, Sugarman said.

Their choice was decided when Legion officials discovered the metropolitan region was the largest in the state without a private four-year university.

Legion officials have toured possible buildings and met with Betty Masuoka, Sacramento’s assistant city manager who oversees economic development, Sugarman said. They envision starting with a graduate school of education, which would include a credential program and perhaps a school of ethics.

Once they start operations there, the Legion plans to build its four-year residential campus.

Sugarman and others have met with Sacramento County officials on several occasions about settling at Mather Field. County officials said they were impressed after touring the Legion’s Mexico City university recently while on a trade mission with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hahn, Sacramento County’s economic development director, said.

Now, the only thing left is to ink the deal, Hahn said.

“We’ve pretty much said we’re open to hearing any offers,” Hahn said.

Hahn said county officials are unconcerned about allegations resurrected this year surrounding the Legion’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

In 1997, nine former priests accused Maciel of sexually abusing them during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Legion officials have denied the allegations.

Legion spokesman Jay Dunlap said Vatican officials did not investigate the charges because they believed the claims to be without merit.

Closer to home, some parishioners at Sacramento’s Our Lady of Guadalupe have complained about the Legion’s priests there, saying they were aloof and made some people feel unwelcome. In September 2000, several parents became angry when a priest asked some teenage girls what they considered to be sexually inappropriate questions during confession.

The Sacramento diocese investigated the confession complaints and the priest involved said he had been trained to ask such questions in Mexico. Dunlap called the incident a “cultural clash.” He said the church is vital and thriving.

Earlier this year, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos proposed donating land west of Roseville for a private college campus. A team of education, business and civic leaders — many with ties to Tsakopoulos — formed the Regional University Committee to find a likely candidate.

But developer Eli Broad offered another Placer County parcel for a college. Tsakopoulos responded by identifying several other sites in the region — either near or on land he would like to develop — as possible university locations. Mather Field was one of the targeted properties.

In July, the Diocese of Sacramento paved the way for the Legion to locate in the region when Bishop William Weigand gave formal permission to develop a campus here.

“It has always been Bishop Weigand’s dream to have a Catholic University in Sacramento,” the Rev. Jim Murphy said Thursday. “We’re tired of rooting for San Francisco (Catholic) teams. It’s time we had our own.”

Legion Considers Former Air Force Base (CA) for Catholic College

The Legion of Christ considers the former Air Force base as the site for a private four-year university.

 

By Terri Hardy

 

Sacramento Bee
Friday, November 8, 2002

 

A conservative Catholic order is moving forward with plans to build a private university in the Sacramento region and has been in serious discussions with city and county officials about where it could locate a campus.

As its first step, the Legion of Christ wants to open a downtown graduate school with an eye toward establishing a four-year core campus in another location — possibly at the former Mather Air Force Base.

The group has secured the name University of Sacramento, said Barry Sugarman, vice president of institutional development for the university project.

We’re committed to the Sacramento region,” Sugarman said. We’re ready to go.”

The Legion of Christ is a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests founded in 1941 in Mexico. It operates 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile and Italy and a graduate school of psychology in Virginia.

The Legion has been looking for about two years for the right area in the United States to build its first full-fledged university. After analyzing several locations for their economic strength, household income and Catholic population, they zeroed in on the Sacramento region, Sugarman said.

Their choice was decided when Legion officials discovered the metropolitan region was the largest in the state without a private four-year university.

Legion officials have toured possible buildings and met with Betty Masuoka, Sacramento’s assistant city manager who oversees economic development, Sugarman said. They envision starting with a graduate school of education, which would include a credential program and perhaps a school of ethics.

Once they start operations there, the Legion plans to build its four-year residential campus.

Sugarman and others have met with Sacramento County officials on several occasions about settling at Mather Field. County officials said they were impressed after touring the Legion’s Mexico City university recently while on a trade mission with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hahn, Sacramento County’s economic development director, said.

Now, the only thing left is to ink the deal, Hahn said.

We’ve pretty much said we’re open to hearing any offers, Hahn said.

Hahn said county officials are unconcerned about allegations resurrected this year surrounding the Legion’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

In 1997, nine former priests accused Maciel of sexually abusing them during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Legion officials have denied the allegations.

Legion spokesman Jay Dunlap said Vatican officials did not investigate the charges because they believed the claims to be without merit.

Closer to home, some parishioners at Sacramento’s Our Lady of Guadalupe have complained about the Legion’s priests there, saying they were aloof and made some people feel unwelcome. In September 2000, several parents became angry when a priest asked some teenage girls what they considered to be sexually inappropriate questions during confession.

The Sacramento diocese investigated the confession complaints and the priest involved said he had been trained to ask such questions in Mexico. Dunlap called the incident acultural clash. He said the church is vital and thriving.

Earlier this year, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos proposed donating land west of Roseville for a private college campus. A team of education, business and civic leaders — many with ties to Tsakopoulos — formed the Regional University Committee to find a likely candidate.

But developer Eli Broad offered another Placer County parcel for a college. Tsakopoulos responded by identifying several other sites in the region — either near or on land he would like to develop — as possible university locations. Mather Field was one of the targeted properties.

In July, the Diocese of Sacramento paved the way for the Legion to locate in the region when Bishop William Weigand gave formal permission to develop a campus here.

It has always been Bishop Weigand’s dream to have a Catholic University in Sacramento,” the Rev. Jim Murphy said Thursday. We’re tired of rooting for San Francisco (Catholic) teams. It’s time we had our own.

About the Writer
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The Bee’s Terri Hardy can be reached at (916) 321-1073 or thardy@sacbee.com.

 

Mary Therese Helmeuller – My Experiences with RC Recruitment Tactics

By Mary Therese Helmeuller

 

Mary Therese Helmueller
137 E. Downs Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55117

Mary Ann Glendon
1575 Massachusetts Ave.
Harvard Law School
Cambridge MA 02138

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

April 16, 2002

Thank you for defending the celibacy of the Priesthood in your recent interview on the ABC news program This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I agree with you that a renewal of the seminaries is definitely necessary. However, the renewal must not only include the seminaries but also some religious orders and dioceses.

It is understandable that while looking at the Legionaries of Christ one can be quickly impressed with the reported overflowing seminaries but some one with your intelligence, accomplishment, and importance should be aware of the excellent priests, and seminarians who are leaving, and those who have already left.

I am confident you will understand the gravity of the issues below, since you are a member of the Boston Archdiocese’s Social Justice Commission and having also served as a representative of the Vatican at the Beijing Conference for Women.

I experienced the recruiting techniques of the Legionaries of Christ through Regnum Christi in February of 1995, when Norma, a consecrated woman, called and said you have been chosen by the Holy Father to participate in a project as a reporter for the Beijing Conference. Well, it sounded strange but who was I to say NO to the Holy Father? However strange or unlikely this was I trusted them because they were a part of the Legionaries of Christ. Norma went on to say this is a secret project and no one is to know about it-not even your family. Your life may even be required of you. She continued by explaining that I would need to go to Rome for training and that we would be instructedby Vatican officials.

So I quickly spoke to Al Matt at the Wanderer who gave me a press pass and then I worked to get the required clearance documents from the United Nations. All the while there was great pressure to come to Rhode Island to consecrate myself.

I was invited to a retreat in the formation house of Regnum Christi in Rhode Island during Holy Week, April 1995. I was told that there would be a necessary meeting afterwards of the women who were going to Beijing. So I decided to go. There was no meeting but there was a lot of pressure to enter the consecrated life! And this I would not consider doing at such a fast and quick pace.

So several months later I received the necessary documents from the United Nations and I made reservations, with payments, to a hotel in Beijing that was required for reporters. Finally I made my flight arrangements to Rome —all at my own expense.

When I arrived at the Mother House of Regnum Christi in Rome I explained who I was and why I was there. The consecrated woman at the door replied I ‘m sure the Holy Father would approve if he knew about it!

I stayed three weeks at the “Mother House” and was with the top Regnum Christi women including Patricia Bannon (Father Anthony Bannon’s sister). There were approximately 8-12 of us who were planning to go to the Beijing Conference. I was the only one with documents as a reporter and so it was decided that the others would go as observers. All the while there was increasing pressure to consecrate myself.

With each passing day it became obvious there would be no training sessions or meetings with Vatican Officials. Finally, several days before the conference began, a Legionary priest from Spain came and so did the 27 year old Mother Superior , Maleni, who outlined the program for Beijing. Why were they going to Beijing? The number one, important goal was RECRUITING [Spanish ‘Captacion’]: a technique that includes attracting attention by smiling, flattery, and charm until you can actually ‘get’ the person for the RC cause. We were told to show them what kind of a woman you are.

When I announced, that as a reporter, I was going to associate myself with Fr. Paul Marx and the pro life groups during the Beijing conference I was told No you can’t do that; they are too negative. I was shocked and disgusted to hear this coming from consecrated women with years of so called religious formation.

Wasn’t there something more important happening at the Beijing Conference other than recruiting for Regnum Christi? I wondered if this was the intention of the generous donor who gave $40,000.00 for this project? In the end, I refused to participate in this ridiculous project of recruiting that ultimately mocked the importance of defending human life and the family.

Before leaving, I confronted Norma, a consecrated woman, with everything: the lies, the disrespect, the arrogance, the cult like pressure, the mind control, the secrecy, etc. I clearly had felt used as well as emotionally and psychologically abused. I demanded some answers. Norma finally admitted that this Beijing project was used as the hook to get me consecrated. The hook is a recruiting technique taught by the Legionaries to increase numbers.

Then after revealing the truth, Norma warned and threatened me: There will be serious repercussions if any of this is made public; and you know what I mean. I understood it to mean that my brother John, who had final vows in the Legion would be made to suffer. So out of fear I remained silent but gradually could not contain the injustice. While praying for my brother to get out of the Legion I began sharing my experience with others in hopes of helping other young woman and their families.

I eventually spoke to Fr. Anthony Bailleres L.C. by phone and reported everything to him. As of yet there has been no apology for wasting my time or for the thousands of dollars I had spent on their fabricated lie. It took until December of 1998 for my brother to leave the Legion but from 1995-1998 he had literally suffered through hell. After asking a few questions and showing concern for fellow Legionaries who were obviously suffering depression and mental breakdowns, my brother John was sent to a Legionary house in Rhode Island to cook and clean for Fr. David Chavez L.C.

Fr. Chavez L.C. bragged of ‘breaking’ four previous vocations!!! Now after 11 years and final vows in the Legion, my brother was asked to start thinking about getting married!Daily Mass was not offered and so he walked 1 and ½ miles one way to Mass each day. It was forbidden for my brother to talk to anyone outside the house and when he asked permission to contact Bishop Carlson he was denied.

Thanks be to God my brother finally left the Legionaries of Christ and he was ordained a priest by Bishop Carlson on June 23rd 2002. He is now serving in the largest parish of the Sioux Falls Diocese.

Mary Ann, I am very grateful for all your work in our society and in the Catholic Church. However, I think it is time to reflect: Why are good priests and good seminarians leaving the Legionaries of Christ? (Some whom you know and perhaps are unaware of their change) What kind of religious formation would permit or even promote a recruiting technique referred to as the hook in which lies, deceit and abuse are used to gain numbers? What kind of spiritual direction is there when a seminarian with 11 years and his final vows is forced into isolation and demanded to think of getting married? Is isolation proper treatment for asking questions or showing concern? Is 3-6 years of fundraising really considered part of a solid priestly formation? Or should it be considered as cheap labor? If everything is fine with the Legionaries of Christ, then why the secrecy? the lies? the arrogance? the destruction? and the injustices? Whose Kingdom are they building? Christ’s or Fr. Maciel’s?

There is so much more to say and even more to question but, as you mentioned in your interview, it is indeed a time for reflection.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this letter.

Mary Therese Helmueller
137 E. Downs Ave.
St. Paul MN 55117
Tel: 651-488-8468
Fax: 651-488-6827
Email: mthelmueller@hotmail.com

P.S. I am a college graduate with a BA in Nursing. I have 15 years in Critical Care and I have also studied in Mexico and speak Spanish. I own a company incorporated in the state of Minnesota that conducts international pilgrimages to approved Catholic Shrines.

CC: Bishop Robert J. Carlson
CC: Al Matt-Wanderer

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As a postscript to this testimony we offer this short note written by Fr. John Helmueller, an ex Legionary that was later ordained a diocesan priest. He writes it to a fellow ex Legionary of Christ who was told to get married when they suddenly kicked him out after several years of stringing him along in a Legionary vocation:

Dear xLC,

Thanks for your note. Believe it or not, I was told the same thing while I was in the Rhode Island house. In virtue of my vow of obedience, Fr. Jose said I had to forget the priesthood and think about getting married. I tried to compromise with him. I said I would try it for three days, but I couldn’t help thinking how stupid this exercise was. Keep in mind I was already perpetually professed! I had already given my whole life to God! I was in my 11th year of LC formation! Some of my classmates were already Deacons! Why was I supposed to start doubting my vocation now! It didn’t make sense to me.

Well, I better stop writing or I’ll get upset. For me, the LC is history. It’s a book on the shelf and that’s where it’s going to stay. I don’t understand what is going on in the LC. The leaders seem hell-bent on self-destruction without knowing it or admitting it. They feel somehow superior to the rest, Super Priests, and the LC feeds right into this. Too bad a lot of innocent men are still stuck in there with them.

FJH