would seem to be the Legion of Christ’s motto and method
They have left it to the last moment to attempt outreach and compensation to the victims. And only to the victims who will accept compensation on their terms. Those “bad” victims will not be rewarded for their “stubbornness” – or would that be “the strength of their convictions”?
Some of us got together several years ago in Mexico.
I am aware that the below is an extremely poor testimony to the victims, who spent their lives and money seeking truth and justice -and received very little in return!
These are some of the men, a few of whom victims, who fought for decades against Vatican and Legion of Christ Silence regarding the Founder’s disreputable life. González-Parga and Lennon were ordained priests in the Legion; the others left disillusioned in the 1960s as seminarians.
Carlos de la Isla, from Mexico, one of the first junior seminarians, apostólicos, recruited by Maciel and who began his studies in Mexico City in the 1940s. Carlos and his two brothers joined the Legion as children. It is a fact that one of Carlos’ brothers was sexually abused by Maciel. The father traveled to Mexico City from the heartland to confront the founder. Maciel, as on many other occasions, found a way to deny, placate and slip away from trouble. From that moment on, someone in the Legion knew about his evil inclinations. But the Great Catholic Houdini would always find a way out of any tight spot and come out smelling like a rose.
Arturo Jurado, early legionary, victim and witness, was one of those unfortunate seminarians who was manipulated by Maciel into finding drugs for his father beyond reproach in Spain and Rome. He left the Legion in the 1960s after being held in seclusion and silenced by Maciel for years, and made a good living for himself as Spanish language teacher and interpreter in California. On discovering that he has much in common with José Barba, he joined forces with José Barba. He spent years paying his way to Rome with José to request Vatican intervention regarding Maciel’s sexual abuse of his seminarians and many other irregularities.
José Barba-Martín, PhD Harvard in Philology, professor emeritus, ITAM, Mexico City where he held the chair of Political and Social Institutions. He of the prodigious memory, spear-headed the accusers cause, aided by Jurado. Their decades-long saga, after meeting with denial, stone-walling and minimization, finally bore fruit in 2006 when Vatican and Pope Benedict accepted their accusations, made no apology to them, gave Maciel a slap on the wrist and ordered him to a life of Penance and Prayer; to which unrepentant Maciel paid no attention, continuing to live with his paramour and daughter and traveling wherever he wanted by private plane.
(John) Paul Lennon, believer, friend and supporter of Maciel’s victims; like Domínguez not a victim of sexual abuse. Joined the Legion of Christ in Dublin, Ireland, at the age of seventeen, considered Irish co-founder by Maciel, ordained to the priesthood in Rome, together with eleven others (among which Bishop Brian Farrell and Cardinal Fernando Vérgez), on the 25th anniversary of Fr. Maciel’s priestly ordination, 26th November 1969. Left Legion in 1984 -before he every heard of abuse- and since then has been a critic of Maciel’s foundation. He was sued for his troubles by the Legion of Christ in the City of Alexandria, VA, USA in August 2007. One lawyer commented: “Mr. Lennon, you have made some very rich people very angry!”
Francisco González-Parga, known in the Legion as Padre Parga, passed away this year in Guadalajara, Mexico, mourned by his wife, Esther. Francisco was one of Maciel’s sexual abuse victims; an enslavement which began in puberty and lasted into his twenties. He was not one of the original group of accusers but came forward in 2005 when Vatican prosecutor, then Monsignor, Charles Scicluna carried out the first thorough Vatican investigation into Maciel’s sexual abuse of his seminarians in Mexico City. By this time Maciel was 85 and the victims in their sixties. Remember that Maciel founded the Legion in 1941, when he was a 21-year old untrained seminarian, and began sexually abusing the 10 and 11-year-olds under his “pastoral care.”
Maciel’s sexual preference was pubertal males. In some cases, if he found them especially attractive he would continue the relationship into the victims’ twenties. Each older victim believed he was the only object of Maciel’s attention… As Maciel “matured” he sexually abused boys who were not his seminarians, later seducing younger, vulnerable females. It would seem he never had an equal-to-equal relationship in his life. All his relationships were controlling, manipulative and exploitative. (See the author’s Breaking Bad article on this page)
Saul Barrales-Arellano, R.I.P., known to his companions as Brother Charity. An extremely kind and helpful person. The story goes that Saul would lay down at night outside Maciel’s bedroom in Rome, Via Aurelia 677, to prevent others from entering and being victimized. Because he once demonstrated a lack of unconditional support for Maciel, the Saint stopped his ordination as a priest, sending him instead into exile on the Canary Islands where he languished alone for months. He finally got help from his family in Mexico to fly home. He was a headmaster at a Mexico City school and is survived by his dear Tere.
A Little addendum:
Don Alejandro Espinosa-Alcalá with Aura and Paul Lennon on one of our trips to Mexico. Alejandro is a very active original witness to Maciel’s sexual abuse , and has written about it in El Legionario (2006, edit. Grijalbo, Mexico) and El Ilusionista Marcial Maciel, of which I treasure his dedication. Like other survivors, Alejandro has lived in relative, and sometimes abject, poverty since leaving the Legion half a century ago. It seems that at the eleventh hour Fr. John Connor, Maciel’s successor, has been trying to save face by awarding “Easter Eggs” of ten thousand dollars to the victims, assisting them in their old age, and/or paying for their funerals.
I had mistakenly pointed out Federico Domínguez in the photo. He is not in the photo, but everything that was said of him is true. At one point, Maciel sent him and some other seminarians to Dublin, Ireland, to study at the prestigious Maynooth College. After some time, Federico became disenchanted with the whole Legion project, left the seminary and married a lovely Irish girl, and “they lived happily ever after” in the USA.
Federico Domínguez, R.I.P., one of Maciel’s writers, circa 1955 he reported to Church authorities in Rome regarding some of Maciel’s questionable behaviors; thus provoking the first major Vatican investigation into the founder and his order, 1956-59; Maciel was exiled for two years, but with the help of allies in the Curia (Pizzardo & Co.), was able to return and consolidate his power and control. About this time Maciel conceived the Private Vows (see Berry & Renner’s Vows of Silence), one of which was the “snitching vow” whereby “Never to criticize the person or actions of the superior, and to inform on anyone who does so.” This vow was apparently abolished by the later Vatican investigation around 2010, the spirit may still prevail among die-hard Legion and Regnum Christi members.
Catholic Orders and Movements accused of being Cult-like
I begin with two examples of problematic Catholic groups:
The first one re a group in the USA circa 1940s:
A short excerpt from the article: I grew up in a Catholic Cult I had to tell my story before I could accept that.[i]
By Patricia Chadwick
“Mom,” my daughter said in a take-charge tone of voice that reminded me of myself. “There are two things I have to tell you.” It was our first time seeing each other since I shared the manuscript of my memoir with her a couple of months earlier.
“First,” she said, “you need to stop everything until you finish your book. And second, you have to accept the fact that you grew up in a cult.”
I had been working on the book, Little Sister[ii] for eight years, and my daughter, then a junior in college, knew the story of my upbringing within the Saint Benedict Center. [Saint Benedict Center was founded by Catherine Clarke in 1940 as a meeting place for Catholic college students in the Boston area.] I had been taking her to visit my childhood home her entire life.
Her words struck me full-on, and I could answer only one of her demands. “I’m working day and night on it, darling, and I’m almost there,” I replied. But her description of my childhood caught me completely off guard. A cult? My home was a cult?
After the publication of my book, I began to share my story at libraries and clubs and on radio shows around the country. I came to realize that my listening audience agreed with my daughter: I had been brought up in a cult. The signs that I had overlooked were now staring me in the face: blind obedience to an absolute authority, centralized financial control, paranoia about the outside world, separation of families, scorn for those who left the cult. Why had I missed what now seemed so evident?
The Second example is from a present day powerful Latin American Catholic group.
Victims’ lawyer says scandal-plagued lay group could soon be dissolved[iii]
ROME – One of the lawyers defending victims of a scandal-ridden Peruvian (CATHOLIC) lay group has voiced confidence that the civil case he is leading against several of its members will move forward, and he believes the organization could soon be dissolved.
Speaking to Crux, José Ugaz, a named partner with the Benites, Vargas & Ugaz law firm in Peru, said they are “very interested in the dissolution of this institution, which has had a criminal vocation among the highest ranks of its leadership.”
“We also know that at the level of the church, this is being evaluated and it’s possible that the church will make a decision in the coming months,” he said.
The group in question is the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), one of the largest and most prominent Catholic lay groups in Latin America. It was founded by Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari in the 1970s.
Figari, who is accused of physical, psychological, and sexual abuses, including of minors, was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2017 and prohibited from having further contact with members of the group or making public statements on the matter. He is now living in exile.
The criteria I have used to identify “cult-like”, coercive, high demand, high control, harmful groups are the classic ICSA, Langone et al. Other interesting approachs would be to apply Steven Hassan’s BITE model, Janja Lalich’s, or other reputable criteria to identify groups of concern.
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader (alive or dead) and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s)
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
The leader is not accountableto any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before they joined the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and to radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before they joined the group.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Note: # 7
Based on the behavior of some Catholic priest founders, I suggested the parenthesis be ommitted. Dr. Michael Langone agreed.
The method is simple, even simplistic: apply criteria commonly accepted in the psychological and cultic fields to the modus operandi, functioning -rather than the modus credendi– of certain Catholic institutes and associations. The results are tentative and open to further discussion. Hopefully, they will be, at least, thought- provoking.
What may be unique about this study is that the groups in question are mostly mainstream Catholic, many are numerous and international, and possessing official Church approval. They are not, per se, maverick or rebellious associations. In fact, many have sprung up as a reaction against progressive movements and are fiercely loyal to the pope, Tradition, orthodox doctrine and Catholic authorities. What do you think?
List of Groups
Here is a list of groups I have studied to some extent:
Legionaries of Christ and its Regnum Christi Lay Movement
Questionable aspects of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement immediately spring to mind:
(cult-like charasteristic #)
Multiple abusing founder to whom old-guard members still profess veneration and presently attempt to reinstate.
Leadership cadre appear to have assimilated his modus operandi, including the end justifies the meansand manipulative procedures.
Main focus on recruiting
Obsession with fundraising.
As early as 2002, this writer formulated his critique of his former religious order and presented it at an I.C.S.A. conference in Enfield, CT, USA. The presentation was overshadowed by the testimony of Legion early member and Marcial Maciel’s sexual abuse victim, Juan Jose Vaca. However, Lennon’s analysis was accepted by I.C.S.A [iv] for inclusion in its archives, and also appeared on the www.regainnetwork.org page. When the Legion sued Lennon and ReGAIN in August 2007, it demanded this essay be taken down as part of the settlement. The areas pin-pointed by Lennon were:
Besides all the written rules, the Legion operates in the context of several unwritten, undergirding principles, such as
(cc # )
Do not question the Legion Way and what you are told by your superiors. Never publicly or privately express Dissent.
One Clearly Defined Meditation Method was imposed on all members, which led to mind-numbing. Members’ time was constant non-stop and strictly regulated, allowing no down time for personal reflection. Lennon stated: “The Legionary’s daily regimen is a constant stream of activities, prayer exercises, and formulas designed to keep him constantly enthused about his calling to the Legion.”
The essay also illustrated the myriad of rules, norms, and recommendations that dictated in great detail how members should think, act and feel, etc.
Scientific Note: Carmen Almendros[v] from the University of Madrid and International Cultic Studies Association, in her initial studies of the harmful effects of high-demand groups included former members of Opus Dei, Legion of Christ, Regnum Christi and other groups. Several of the Big Seven have come to the attention of ‘cult-watchers’ such as Steven Hassan and Rick Ross, I.C.S.A. and can be searched on their web pages.
The Heralds of the Gospel, case study
The writer was contacted by a former member of this organization in 2014 who expressed his concern after a female friend had just taken her perpetual vows there. He was surprised that this controversial group was approved by the Vatican. A cultish association, TFP, after the death of its founder, transformed itself into the Church-approved Heralds of the Gospel
Wikipedia: “The Heralds of the Gospel (Portuguese: Arautos do Evangelho; Latin: Evangelii Praecones, abbreviated to EP)  is a Roman Catholic International Association of Pontifical Right based in Brazil. Founded by Msgr. João Scognamiglio Clá Dias, the organization is active in 78 countries.
The Heralds of the Gospel are a successor organization to the original Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and claim heritage to the beliefs of its founder, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. They were created on 21 September 1999 but were only recognized as an “International Association of Pontifical Right”, the first established by the Holy See in the third millennium, on the liturgical feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2001.”[vi]
Known for their outfit: a short tunic, with a big red and white cross on the chest, and boots like those of jockeys (see photo), the Heralds have spread to 78 countries, have many vocations, involve thousands of young people, and were supported by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodè, at the time Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Religious.
The group is under Vatican investigation.
Among other reports which started the Vatican investigation, are the letters and videos sent to Rome by Alfonso Beccar Varela regarding strange exorcisms. For at least thirty years there were rumors of the existence within TFP and then the Heralds, of a sort of secret society, “Semper viva”, involving the cult of Donna Lucilia Corrêa, Plinio Corrêa’s mother, and João Scognamiglio Clá Dias. A cult that the Church does not allow.
The videos uploaded by Alfonso Beccar Varela are frequently moved to other addresses as the Heralds are undertaking legal actions in Brazil to delete them for violating copyright laws. The images show exorcisms performed with formulas not approved by ecclesiastical authority, but above all the footage show (Lennon: improper) encounters between the founder and some priests.
The Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, the Heralds of the Gospel’s church in Embu das Artes, São Paulo (Wikimedia Commons/Webysther Nunes)
Vatican Intervention of Heralds of the Gospel[vii]
Vatican orders Apostolic Visitation (euphemism for “investigation”) of Heralds in 2017
On 23 June 2017, the Holy See Press Office published a press release expressing how the Congregation, in agreement with the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, had called for “an Apostolic Visitation of the Association known as Heralds of the Gospel, of which the International Public Association of the Faithful of Pontifical Right, Heralds of the Gospel, the Society of Priestly Apostolic Life, Virgo Flos Carmeli, and the Society of Female Apostolic Life, Regina Virginum, are members”.[viii]
· Pope approves Commissioner for “Heralds of the Gospel”[ix]
The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life announces the Pope’s decision following an investigation of the Association begun in 2017. The Pontifical Commissioner appointed for the Association founded by Msgr Scognamiglio Clá Dias, is Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis.
The Vatican stated in this regard: “The reasons for the Apostolic Visitation, and the decision to appoint an Pontifical Commissioner for the Heralds, are linked to shortcomings concerning the style of government, the life of the members of the Council, the pastoral care of vocations, the formation of new vocations, administration, the management of works and fundraising.”
Heralds dispute the validity of the appointment of the Commissioner on technical/canonical reasons:
“The Commissioner is invalid,” says President
On October 17, the President of the Heralds of the Gospel, Felipe Eugenio Lecaros Concha (Chilean, 60 years old), along with his General Council, received the visit of Don Raymundo Damasceno Assis and Dom José Aparecido Gonçalves de Almeida, appointed commissioner and assist for the “Heralds International Public Association of the Gospel”. The report had access to the minutes of the meeting. In it, the President addresses the following initial words to the prelates:
“We revere you as bishops of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as such both are the object of our consideration, but we must declare that we do not recognize Your Eminence as ‘Commissioner’ of the Private Association of Herald stalwarts of the Gospel, which I am the legitimately elected President.”
The President of the Heralds of the Gospel states that the decree notifying the Association Commissioner is simply invalid, and gives the reasons…[x]
Vatican orders all students at Heralds schools to be sent home at end of academic year [xi]
Vatican City — in a decree dated June 22, 2021, The Holy See instructed the ultra-conservative religious order, the Heralds of the Gospel, to close their boarding schools and send the students home …
Denouncing the “rigid discipline” and the isolation of families, who were gradually cut off from the young boarders, the Vatican decided that, to prevent “abuse of conscience and control”, minors “admitted in any capacity” to the Heralds or living in their houses, colleges and convents, should return “to live with their families and in the care of their parents” before next June.[xii]
Heralds appeal Vatican order to close schools[xiii]
The Heralds of the Gospel filed an appeal to the decree of Aug. 15 (2021), expressing their disagreement to Cardinal Braz de Aviz and noting that “none of those responsible” for the association “was called to address the complaints” nor were they “granted the possibility of defense.”
The Heralds also noted that the parents who made the decision to send their children to these homes weren’t heard from, and that the people who complained to the Holy See for the most part were not parents of minors.
Those same people, the Heralds’ press office stated, also filed a complaint with the Brazilian civil authorities and the case investigating the physical and psychological abuse of minors “was already adjudicated and dismissed” by the Sao Paulo Court of Justice Aug. 24.
These accusations, “already examined in civil court, were inadmissible,” the Heralds’ press office stated.
Common Characteristics of Harmful Catholic Groups
Help for Concerned Parents, Family, Friends and Prospective Members of Questionable Groups:
As a help to concerned parents and prospective members, instead of a summary, the author will present his list of cult-like characteristics. Besides Tydings’ consideration, the writer has sifted through classical cult characteristics in the psychological and sociological fields (Langone-Tobias, et.al), Catholic attempts such as Peter Vere’s Sifting the Wheat from the Tares[xiv]. The criteria described in the French language book, From Bondage to Freedom, reviewed here have also been most helpful. Based on over thirty years study and experience interviewing and counseling former members and their families of mostly Catholic harmful groups and on the research of the Catholic groups here, the author presents some specific applications of those common “scientific” criteria helpful in examining potentially harmful groups:
Abusive founder and/or leaders-leadership, including but not limited to abuse of power, exploitation and sexual abuse of members and followers.
Manipulative/deceptive/ aggressive recruiting of members (young, idealistic, inexperienced, in life transition…),
Unscrupulous fundraising and fraudulent money-management, “financial irregularities.”
Insufficient or faulty Discernment of calling and life path.
Foreclosure (Premature major commitments made suddenly or too early, without due deliberation): for example, giving up all earthly belongings, inheritance, going on a faraway mission, rashly embracing celibacy and the priesthood.
Isolation from family, friends, and previous support system; exclusion of “outsiders” and former members.
Systematic Control of Behavior, Information, Thoughts and Emotions (see Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model.
Leaders’ excessive authority and influence, demanding blind obedience: they directly represent God and speak in his name. Members put them on a pedestal and want to please.
Superiors and or “spiritual directors” tell members whether or not they “have a vocation,” a special call from God from all eternity binding them to this concrete lifestyle in this specific group.
Directors’/superiors’/spiritual directors do not explore or respect candidates’ and members’ sexual orientation.
May tell them to remain single or marry, and whom to marry…
Want to control when, where and the how a member can leave.
Black and White thinking prevails; “no half measures”; with selective scripture quotes to bolster: “He who is not with me is against me.” No room for questioning or doubting.
Emphasis on Discipline, with Unreachable Goals of Holiness or Perfection -often fleshed out in a multiplicity of rules- which lead to obsessive-compulsivity, guilt feelings and low self-esteem. (Naturally, you are going to fall short).
Community Confession and Shaming (“Chapter of Faults”) may be used; public humiliation; leaders harshly criticize members in public, “make an example” of them. Members are expected to snitch on each other.
Elitist and Us Vs Them, siege mentality. “We are special, chosen by God”, “others would not understand,” Critics “hate and are out to destroy us, the Catholic priesthood, the Church, His Holiness the pope” …
Heavy-handed retention: Loss of vocation, sure damnation. Straight to hell! You won’t make it on your own out there. You will fall into serious sin and vices. You are betraying Jesus. Turning your back on God!
Ostracism/shunning, emotional cut-off and despising exiting and former members: “failures,” “unfaithful,” “traitors,” “disgruntled old men,” “envious,” “vengeful”
Opponents are harassed, threatened, pursued, and even sued in the name of God, Jesus, Truth, Charity…
Lennon remarks how most definitions of harmful groups contain the mention of a charismatic leader. It is his contention that even when harmful groups are often founded by “malignant narcissists”, such groups are harmful essentially because of their damaging structure and, specifically, by their Modus Operandi, i.e., methods used in recruiting, retaining members and treating dissidents, “throw-aways” and “walk-aways” which often survive the founder. Though at the beginning there is usually the charismatic abusive founder, such abusive behaviors of the founders or leaders are the sirens that alert outsiders to gather more information and examine more carefully the harmful structures and the functioning or Modus Operandi, that perpetuates the various forms of abuse.
A Work in Progress:
This is a work in progress. In my booklet I have studied a smorgasbord of Catholic orders and movements loosely based on their importance, size, notoriety and relevance. There are many other groups in the Catholic Church of which I am unaware or only partially aware and knowledgeable about.
Naturally, I would also like to know whether I have overlooked any other works that have covered the same material!
If you are concerned about a group that is not mentioned, I would suggest you apply the above criteria; if the group fits a good number of the criteria, then it requires further study: information gathering, articles, questioning by “cult-watch” associations, visiting their centers, testimonies of former members… For Catholics, this could entail discussing the group and your interest with a mature priest or religious…
Is there a group that is not covered and that you believe should be?
I would also be obliged if you would let me know so I can give it my attention.
Are you particularly interested in one of the groups covered?
Do you know more about one of these groups than I do?
If so, would you share your info with me, or prefer to write your own study, or co-write with me?
Upon discovering the Pandora Papers on October 3, the most passionate about the news of the Catholic Church were surprised to come across the name of the Legionaries of Christ. This holy family, involved in a vast financial package, is involved in one of the biggest scandals in the field. For several decades, multiple accusations of pedophile sexual assault have been brought against members of the Legion of Christ, made up of about 900 priests and present in Europe, America and Asia
Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: The Unspeakable Scandals of the Legionaries of Christ
Quoted in the Pandora Papers, the congregation of the Legion of Christ has been immersed in dark affairs for several decades. At the heart of one of the biggest scandals of the Catholic Church: Marcial Maciel, its founder, whose actions have been repeatedly pointed out.
Their actions were covered up for a long time before the scandal really broke out in the 2000s, more precisely after the death of the founder of the congregation, Marcial Maciel, in 2008. The Mexican priest resigned in 2006 after several accusations of sexual assault committed between 1956 and 1997. The man had been implicated in 1948 and briefly suspended the time of the opening of an investigation, stopped by the death of Pius XII. After regaining his functions thanks to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, all the allegations against him in Mexico were automatically relegated to the rank of slander.
Many years later, in 1998, eight members of the Legion of Christ denounced his actions in the 1950s and 1960s on victims between the ages of 11 and 16. After a vast investigation by Benedict XVI, the Holy See ordered in 2006 the withdrawal of Marcial Maciel who was asked to “lead a withdrawn existence in prayer and penance.” This existence turned out to be full of secrets, some details of which were revealed shortly after his death in 2008. The New York Times then explained in its columns how the founder of the Legion of Christ had led a double life in which he had several identities, managed an immense fortune in all opacity and raised his own daughter. “Poverty, obedience, chastity”. The vows pronounced by each Legionary of Christ before committing themselves apparently had no place in the life led by Marcial Maciel.
At least 175 minors abused
These revelations were truly publicly acknowledged in 2010. An investigation by the Legion of Christ concluded that Marcial Maciel had indeed committed “acts of sexual abuse of minor seminarians” and said he regretted not having believed the people who had testified before. The same year, the congregation underwent a profound overhaul as part of its trusteeship by the Vatican, determined to take the subject head on. Apart from Father Maciel, other priests have been incriminated in this case, such as the French episcopal vicar Pierre Dufour, sentenced to 15 years in prison for “rape and sexual assault” – who had admitted his actions on at least a dozen young adults for several years – and Henri Le Bras for acts committed in the late 1990s.
In 2019, a new report reported at least 175 minors who were sexually assaulted by priests of the same congregation from 1941 to 2019, at least 60 of whom were attributed to Marcial Maciel. If these acts are recognized, their instigators are still present in the ranks of the Legion of Christ. At least in part. We learned then, still in the same report, that 18 of the 33 religious accused of pedophilia were still in office, but had nevertheless been excluded from tasks related to minors. More importantly, half of the perpetrators were themselves victims of the same abuses. “In this sense, it is emblematic that 111 minors abused in the Congregation were victims of Father Maciel, one of his victims or a victim of his victims,” the report reads. That same year, Pope Francis made the fight against sexual assault in the Catholic Church one of his priorities.
The extent of the suffering inflicted by these clerics is revealed at the rate of the publication of new reports. The last one, dating from March 2021, revealed new figures and the identity of 27 priests. Among them, “two have died without trial, sixteen have been sanctioned, eight are currently in canonical trial and one has received a dispensation from the ministry without trial.”
More broadly, the Ciase (Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church) delivered a report on October 5 led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, former vice-president of the Council of State. His conclusion is alarming: in 70 years, there are 216,000 victims of sexual abuse by clerics and 3,000 predator priests.
The Rise and Fall of Fr. Alfonso Samaniego, co founder and prominent member of the first generations of Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi Federation
Tarcisio Alfonso Samaniego, LC, R.I.P.
Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi Federation leadership recently mentioned the passing of Fr. Tarcisio Samaniego; those of us familiar with the institution immediately thought of his better-known and more important brother, Fr. Alfronso Samaniego; Fr. Alfonso had been been the LC Provincial for the American Continent from the 1960s through the 1980s. I believe many of those generations admired Fr. Alfonso’s elegance (an important Legionary value), his quiet, friendly manner, his intelligence and tact.
As tributes poured into Legioleaks (original 4500 member Spanish language facebook page) the writer added his comment in Spanish. (I will translate that into English very loosely with embellishments!):
THE RISE AND FALL OF FR. ALFONSO SAMANIEGO, LC/REGNUM CHRISTI PROVINCIAL
I knew Fr. Alfsonso pretty well, as director of the original Universidad Anahuac north of Mexico City and my Territorial Director (North American Provincial) for almost twenty years.
In 1961, when I joined in Ireland, Fr. Alfonso was well known in the ranks. He had graduated from the Gregorian University in Rome summa cum laude (gold medal?) and worked at the Legion’s first Instituto Cumbres in Mexico City. Fr. Maciel often mentioned him when he visited the houses and expressed his pride in having personally “formed” Fr. Alfonso from the youngest age (12-year-old) . Fr. Maciel could be quite judgmental and abrasive when he wanted to make a point to the troups. He lamented not being able to “form” the (grown Spaniards) who joined the Legion early in the 1950s -we knew to whom he was referring-. He said that Alfonso had been able to really capture “the Legionary Style” (Tipo Legionario), reflecting that elegance, suavité, intelligence, good personal appearance and grooming, articulateness. attractiveness, and gift of persuasion of the Legionary charism ( as Maciel saw himself).
Our status, esteem and posts in the Legion during the founder’s life time depended on our closeness to, agreement with, admiration for, adulation of-and maybe sexual intimacy with-“the preeminent example for youth” (words of Pope JP II). When, following my successful four-year-spell on the (0nly) LC Mission in Quintana Roo, Maya Riviera, in the then remote towns of Bacalar and Chetumal, Fr. Maciel chose me to found the first School of Faith in Mexico City, 1975, he told me to consult with Fr. Alfonso Samaniego re the curriculum. Patrick Kavanagh and I put the whole operation together from scratch in six months. I felt that with my shining MA in Theology from the Gregorian University during Vatican II I was caapable of drawing up the content for our Catholic Education Courses. I duly showed Fr. Alfonso what I had for the various subjects. He, like a good Legionary, had only one concern: would it be offensive to some of my (rich?) students if I expounded on the social doctrine of the Church -regarding the equal distribution of resources- according to Vatican II pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes? I feigned confusion…, and Fr. Alfonso did not insist.
FR. ALFONSO SAMANIEGO’S FALL FROM GRACE
As best I recall – I was an eyewitness- it happened during our 1982 Holy Week retreat (Legionaries don’t usually work in parishes and so are usually free duing that time of the year) at the Centro Cultural Interamericano in Mexico City. Fr. Maciel was giving the keynote address. He would use this occasion to give us updates from the various “frontlines” and motivate us for the retreat. The Great Manipulator might stage happenings also. One never knew what he was up to. Anyway, a controversy surfaced which involved Fr. Alfonso Samaniego, then rector of the Anahuac University. Maciel publicly voiced his concern about Fr. Alfonso not allowing Fr. Jesús Blázquez -then promoting the first generation of male Regnum Christi lay members- to recruit at the university. Fr. Alfonoso took exception to that version stating that he had not been consulted prior, andfleshed out other factors. He refused to be cowed by Fr. Maciel’s accusation and attempted to explain what happened . A major tactical mistake. Nobody could question Maciel in public. The exchange was somewhat heated and left a bad taste in our mouths.
Shortly afterwards Fr. Alfonso was removed from his position at the Anahuac and not given another assignment. He was relegated to the community of older priests living at Alencastre 73 in Mexico City; there to remain in the company of the other semi-retired priests such as Gregorio López, Faustino Pardo, Juan-Manuel Amenábar… As far as I know Fr. Alfonso never held another position in the Legion of Christ until his dying day. This little dissident Legionary was shocked by the showdown and his representment grew toward Maciel’s despotic leadership.
I add today: around 1980 when I was director of the School of Faith, I was abruptly told to leave my post immediately and fly to Cozumel, Quintana Roo, to assist Monsignor Eduardo Pironio who was vacationing there under our hospices. I flew out the morning after being told – prompt, joyful, blind and heroic obedience! When I got there, Fr. Javier Orozco, LC, the superior there informed me they were covered and I was not needed. After a week or two twiddling my thumbs, Fr. Zancajo, my Provincial told me to return to my job in Mexico City; that the previous order had been a mistake. He had said something about not being informed about my change. (Seems that Maciel had sent my replacement without letting him know and Zancajo did not take too kindly to that.) Soon after Fr. Zancajo was removed as Provincial (Territorial Director, in LC.RC parlance) and sent to Caracas, Venezuela as chaplain at some university. He was there for about thirty years. Never being recalled during Maciel’s lifetime.
En los anyos 1960 alabado por Nuestro Padre como el ejemplo del TIPO LEGIONARIO. Nuestro estatus en la Legion dependia de nuestra cercania, acuerdo y admiracio/ adulacion del Padre Maciel y/o si eramos parte de su haren. Alfonso pudo haber sido victima del abuso del santo del pene grande -segun testimonios de las victimas. Cuando me tocO fundar la Escuela de la Fe en 1976, Maciel me recomendO consultar on DT Alsonso sobre el curriculum…
La CAIDA de Alfonso, que presencié en el Centro Cultural Interamericano durante el retiro de Semana Semana Santa 1980 (?) sucedio cuando Alfonso manifestó desacuerdo con Maciel durante nuestro retiro. Maciel lo destituyO inmediatamente del Anahuac y de su puesto como director territorial. Lo DESTERRÓ a la comunidad de sacerdotes “relegados” en Fernando Alencastre 73, a juntarse con Padres Gregorio Lopez, Faustino Pardo, JM Fernandez Amenabar…?
Alfonso Samaniego fue reemplazado por el Padre Zancajo (santo varon). Cuando Carlos Zancajo tuve un desacuerdo con Ma iel circa 1980, Maciel lo destituyO mandandole a Caracas Venezuela, donde quedo dura te unos 30 años. CUANDO YO SALÍ DE LA LEGION EN 1984 NO SABIA NADADEL ABUSO SEXUAL DE MACIEL. MI PROBLEMA ERA CON SU MANERA DESPOTA DE EJERCER SU MANDO. (Paul Lennon LC 1961-84)