Category Archives: Jesuits

Legionaries’ Paradise, Part 1: a Tale of two Stories

vatican

 

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 -demeaning, threatening and suing detractors- that Marcial Maciel, their founder, was a living saint. But at the end they had to acknowledge the truth: he was a conman, drug addict and a pedophile 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 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[1]. There is no denying the numbers and the Legionaries have gained respect and 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 its 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 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. The dissenters 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”[2]

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. And (as is not uncommon in certain countries) he was released after serving only 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 fields, basketball courts, housing up to a hundred seminarians.

[1] Normally, the Catholic Church is divided into dioceses: specific territories, staffed by local clergy, headed by a bishop. In certain exceptional cases Rome will create a “prelature” when the “Church structure” is underdeveloped and there are not enough local clergy  to meet the pastoral needs of the populace. “The Holy See” may ask a religious order to help out. “Prelatures” are often poor and isolated indigenous communities. In Mexico Franciscan Friars staff the prelatures of El Nayar (Nayarit state) and El Salto (Durango), while the Salesians take care of the Mixes communities in Oaxaca. The Jesuits  staffed the Tarahumara communities in Chihuahua state from 1958-1992.   The Cancun-Chetumal Prelature covers the relatively young state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula.

[2] Citations are from Una Iglesia de corazón misionero, libro de nuestra historia 2010, published by the Prelature in 2010 to mark its 40 anniversary, pages 34 and 39 respectively.

Advertisements

The Real Jesuits

Clergy collar

By Jean Baptiste Le Sel

  1. They are the priests who look like the Jesuits used to: the simple black buttonless habit is almost the same; except the waist sash that hangs from the other hip.
  2. They are the priests who pledge and give allegiance to the pope, the “Holy Father”, just like the Jesuits of old with their special vow.
  3. They are the priest who don’t smoke, do comb their hair to the right, have no beards or moustaches and always use their Roman collar shirt front with their black tailor-made suit.
  4. Their spirituality is centered in Christ, over the door of the their novitiate the word of St. Paul, “Christus Vita Vestra”, Christ Your Life is proudly emblazoned; there is a military style: lining up, standing to attention, raising their red and white flag after the papal flag while saluting it singing “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat,” Christ to conquer, Christ to reign, Christ to rule! They are the Roman soldiers of Christ.
  5. They use the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola –albeit their own version- for their spiritual growth and that of the lay people under their pastoral care.
  6. They are the priest who, like the Jesuits, believe in twice daily examination of conscience. Their founder also insisted that each member spend an hour every Sunday morning responding to a detailed examination of a particular virtue; a “practical exam”, chosen by his spiritual director, focused on obedience, simplicity, attention to detail, delicate fraternal charity, gossip, generosity…
  7. The founder described their spirituality as “Contemplative and Conquering.”
  8. From the 1950s to the 60s their seminarians used to study in Rome with the Jesuits (Gregorian Pontifical University) and the Dominicans (University of St. Thomas, Angelicum) but when these institutions became too liberal, under the influence of Vatican Council II, the order created its own college of higher studies, Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, to avoid contamination.
  9. In his life time the founder wrote a treatise on how to train priests, Integral Formation of Catholic Priests[1] and the order has gained the admiration of popes and bishops who entrust the training of seminarians to them; seminarian who will be the bishops of the future. The training of seminarians had always been a specialty of the Jesuits.
  10. In fact the history of this order is closely entwined with the Jesuits whom they have now supplanted. The founder sent his first Mexican recruits to study at the Jesuit run seminary in Comillas, Cantabria, Spain, in the 1940s. The founder even poached some senior seminarians, studying at that institution for the diocesan priesthood, to increase the maturity of his own too young seminarians. These men became priests for the new order and the founder’s faithful followers and generous collaborators: Frs. Antonio Lagoa, Rafael Arumí Blancafort, Rafael Cuena, Faustino Pardo, the blond twins Gustavo and Guillermo (the pedophile) Izquierdo, José María Escribano and Gregorio López: all of whom are now deceased. R.I.P. This was another chapter in the founder’s love-hate relationship with the Society of Jesus.
  11. Some critics hold that the founder even based his constitutions on the rules of the Jesuits which he purloined from the public library in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Defenders maintain that this holy man, slandered by many, made better use of St. Ignatius’ rules than the order originally founded by the Basque. Only time and the holiness of the Real Jesuits will tell.
  12. Long the darlings of Pope John Paul II, their constitutions were recently approved by Pope Francis. It is business as usual now for this much maligned order. But the founder had warned his members to be prepared to stave off calumny and detraction.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Integral-Formation-Catholic-Priests-Marcial/dp/0965160130