Reply to Fr. Neuhaus : The Weight of Sex Abuse Victim Testimonies and Deeper Knowledge of Fr. Maciel

10/10/04 -A Scholastic Response to: “You are jumping to conclusions regarding Fr. Maciel�


By J. Paul Lennon, MA


Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 19:19:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon” <>
Re: Maciel
To: “Richard John Neuhaus” <>
Richard John Neuhaus wrote:

Mr. Paul Lennon

“Dear Mr. Lennon,

I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.
I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from ‘having no reason to doubt’ that ‘something like that could be true,’ to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.
If you have not already, you might search the FIRST THINGS website for the article in which I explain why I do not believe the charges against Fr. Maciel.
Thank you for writing.

(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus”




Today, 9/30/04, reviewing my postings on the Regain discussion board [7/29/2003 at 05:08 PM], I found the following, which I now edit:

“My Days in Salamanca 1960s ”

Subject: Revelations against Father Marcial Maciel and personal first hand knowledge of Accusers

Dear Arturo J.:
i received the videotapes you sent on Tuesday and started watching them last night [4/4/02], beginning with the first video, the ‘rough’ version of the testimonies of three brave xlegionaries. I was able to see on the screen the face of Jose Barba whom I haven’t met for many years; and there he was, full of dignity, ruefully talking about his abuse. I was saddened and angry at Father Maciel by Jose’s story. I, who love to sleep in, did not sleep well. I got up a six, a record for me. As I continue with the second tape, the Mexican “Canal 40″ report, I continue to understand the nature, and grasp the reality and seriousness of this abuse. On hearing/watching Alejandro Espinoza talking about the recruitment of ‘pretty’ boys, I had a weird sense of the wisdom of my own vague ‘intuition’ regarding the Founder. The realization of Maciel being an ‘ephebophile’, a ‘lover of handsome youth’ –in the Greek tradition, shall we say– seems to have fully dawned on me a few days ago when I shared some other reflections with the forum.

Memories and names from my own experience come to my mind. When I arrived in Salamanca in early September 1961, I do remember seeing an Arturo Jurado. He belonged to another community, already a Philosophy student in apostolic practices? From what i remember, although i could not talk to him, he did seem to be a particularly gentle and quiet individual. I do not remember crashing into him during one of our ‘friendly’ intercommunity soccer matches. ”


I also found this Testimony I wrote for


Dear Rick:
An ex-confrere of mine just attached your issue on the LC and RC to me. You’ve done a fine job. I was with the LC from 1961-1984. In fact I was one of the first ‘founders’in Ireland [which Maciel targeted as a stepping stone to the US and English speaking world.] Father Maciel: MASTER OF THE GAME, -think Graham Greene and John Le Carre spy novels- a diabolically clever strategist. Maciel is so clever at drawing the wool over peoples’ eyes he has John Paul II eating out of his hand!
And a very strange bird, Dangerous, perhaps EVIL. Utterly bereft of human compassion, and therefore, at least in my book, no way a saint!

I instinctively disliked him and was never one of his closer entourage. My lack of wholehearted and narrow-minded adulation for him and ‘the movement’ also precluded me from ever holding a position of authority even though I was bright, earnest and hardworking, and one of the first Irish Legionary priests, ordained in Rome in 1969. [I did spearhead the ‘Schools of Faith’ among Mexico City’s upper classes from 1975-82].

I have the privilege of being one of the few ‘brothers’ who ever questioned Maciel’s judgment at community gatherings when he, NUESTRO PADRE, [the name the Jesuits give to Saint Ignatius] would instruct his disciples. He would shoot me down and humiliate me in front of the others, calling me a ‘rationalist’ and ‘lacking faith’. Once you stand up to Maciel, you’re out. You cannot question his authority.
I never experienced his pedophilia personally but did know some of the witnesses personally -especially Juan Manuel Fernández Amenábar- and have no reason to doubt them. The twisted manipulation described in some of the testimonials is vintage Maciel: ‘I have a special dispensation from His Holiness…’ I can easily picture him telling those little boys not to worry after abusing them. I had a couple of major depressive episodes during my ‘career’ in the Legion and no director or superior ever suggested I see a therapist.

When I had my Major Depressive Episodes -I self diagnosed after leaving the Legion!- I did not know what was wrong with me. I was told it was my lack of faith, to ‘sit tight and pray and it will go away.’ I suppose I’m resiliant so I didn’t loose my mind.
The abuse rampant in the LC/RC system is, therefore, MUCH MORE THAN PURELY SEXUAL; it is also
• emotional; of the
• mind; of the
• conscience, of the spirit, of the
• soul!

Based on 23 years of contact with Maciel, my humble MA Counseling and Post masters in Marriage and Family Therapy -which, by the way, is more real supervised mental health training than he or any other ‘formators’ have received- I would venture to say he is a
1. Narcissistic person: he believes himself to be totally special, and therefore beyond or above rules that bind ordinary people. -It has its advantages to be ‘God’s chosen one’-. There have always been strong strains of
2. Hypochondriasis in all the illnesses he has always had and that require special medical treatment, specialists, hospitals, medications, rest in luxury hotels and spas, people tending hand an foot, etc., etc, Maciel is above all a
3. Magalomaniac, with an insatiable thirst for power, control of peoples’ souls and lives, and adulation. It’s not hard to see where multiple abuser fits into all this…

PS. The Legion and RC is a very toxic place where one is not ‘individuated’ as an individual person, and does not possess sufficient self-awareness to take care of oneself. You have to get out before you can realize how sick you were.

Church authorities need to stop, question, analyze Maciel and the Legion instead of just going along with this priest increase apparent success story.

Paul Lennon, Mental Health Therapist and ‘disgruntled ex-member’

Back to my Neuhaus letter




Father Neuhaus:
Thanks for replying so quickly to my letter to the editor. I appreciate your interest in the issues at hand and your willingness to engage in an enlightened discussion. Let me just make a couple of replies to your replies, which I will insert for the sake of clarity.

1- ‘I am familiar with, but not persuaded by, some of the standard distinctions employed in the discussion of sexual deviancies.’

Respondeo dicendum quod

Primum: I believe you were the one who in your article referred to distinctions such as ‘pedophilia’ and ‘ephebophilia’. I pointed out before that when there is a serious discrepancy in age/power/authority/
knowledge between those engaging in sexual activities such behavior is generally considered ‘AND ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP’, and results, for treatment purposes, in one of the parties being considered ‘the perpetrator’ and the other ‘the victim’.

I did not use the term ‘sexual deviancies’, as it is nebulous, and belongs to a more academic, philosophical and psychological realm which would lead to endless intellectual discussions.. I believe I referred to ‘sexual abuse’ in my letter to you. This is more concrete, morally and legally.


2- “I appreciate your thoughts on the Legion and Fr. Maciel. Permit me to suggest, however, that you move with startling rapidity from ‘having no reason to doubt’ that ‘something like that could be true,’ to the assumption that Fr. Maciel is guilty of the crimes and sins alleged by his accusers.”

As regards Father Maciel’s sexually abusive behaviors,
respondeo dicendum quod:

As a Legionary I only heard about the investigations [1956-9] of Father Maciel in and through superiors who were loyal to him: Frs Rafael Arumi, Octavio Acevedo, Alfredo Torres, Juan Manuel Duenas, etc. The nature or causes of ‘La Guerra” [The War] –in Legion parlance of the early 60s– were never explained to members, except to attribute them to ‘enemies’, ‘trying to destroy the Legion’. I believe the term applied to the Vatican investigation has been revised since then to something like ‘La Gran Bendicion’ [The Great Blessing]. Nothing of a sexual nature regarding the troubles of those years was ever mentioned within my hearing. We were told that a number of early Legionaries rebelled against Father Maciel because they were ill-intentioned and wanted to ‘destroy the Legion’. The gist of the story was that they had gotten too big for their boots and began to interfere with Fr. Maciel, the Founder. While inside the Legion –23 years–I never heard anything about the true nature of the accusations against Father Maciel.

There was an informal list of ‘traitors’ which circulated hush-hush through the superiors and was gossiped in the community: names like the Isla brothers, Federico Dominguez, a certain Rizo, and others I vaguely remember. Jose Barba, one of the accusers, was from that same generation, but I don’t think he was considered a ‘traitor’ to Nuestro Padre. Later, in the 80s, I learned Jose had left the Legion on friendly terms and made a pretty good transition out of the Legion into the academic world. As a matter of fact, and I don’t know how we managed this, together with Fr. Amenabar and another Legionary of the time, I visited exlc Jose Barba when he has teaching at a university [Universidad de las Americas?] in Puebla, Mexico.

I, personally, had no inkling of any sexual abuse in the Legion. But while a member, 1961-1984 I had personally known at least five of Father Maciel’s accusers : Arturo Jurado, Felix Alarcón, Juan Jose Vaca, Jose Barba and Juan Manuel Amenábar, in varying degrees of closeness. I never had a personal conversation with any of them, though this is not strange as Legionaries are so guarded in their interpersonal disclosure, that even if I had been their direct confrere, I would probably not have learned anything either. These Legion norms would also preclude the accusers discussing their abuse among themselves while in the Legion. Besides, the Private Vow was drafted just before the Vatican investigation began. I am not sure whether Fr. Maciel did this purposely to nip any criticism or revelations in the bud.
‘Knowing’ the assusers explains how, when I read the first articles in 1997/8, they were not just names to me, and I had to take them seriously. But I still doubted, or did not want to believe, that I had been so close to something as outragious as pedophilia. I also ‘knew’ Father Maciel more than most contemporary members. He had been a part of my life since he traveled with the first Irish group to Lourdes in August 1961. He had heard my ‘general confession’ before taking the habit, my regular confession on several occasions; I had exchanged Spiritual Direction Letters with him on a montly basis for about 20 years, and had face to face Spiritual Direction on several occasions. I had more frequent dealings with Father Maciel when he chose me to found and direct the ‘School of Faith’ in Mexico City 1975-82. I had some tussles of authority with him from the 80’s on. Finally, I had confronted him in Cotija, Michoacan, in the fall of 1984 regarding the fate of those who disagree or leave the institution. We lashed out at each other.

[added on September 17, 2004:
Thus,I had felt his verbal and emotional abuse of myself and other confreres over the years. More than that, I had experienced his leadership style which I knew could be ruthless and full of disregard for feelings and dignity, a kind of coldness and cruelty, which shocked me in a person considered a saint. I knew he would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Thus, I lost my esteem for Father Maciel over the course of those 23 years. Nothing would surprise me about him. But I had no conscious experience or awareness of his sexual wrongdoing. The accusations of sexual abuse, for me, however, were not so much a purely sexual thing, nor a questioning of his holiness –I was sure he had none– but rather: was Father Maciel capable of misusing his power to this extent? Although I had never thought of Father as a sexual predator, I had always had questions about his psycho-sexual make up, his –to me– ‘strangeness’. He always seemed to be cut off or disconnected from his deep or tender feelings, from what I would consider ‘normal’ emotions. I had often heard him express himself with contempt about women. Because of my own very affectionate nature, I could never understand HIS affectivity: whether he had one in the ordinary sense of the word: whether he really ‘cared’ about anyone. It seemed like he ‘used’ people. And I had always been struck by Augustine’s: ‘Use things, love people.’ I had never met a person quite like Maciel before, and often wondered ‘what made him tick’. Or was he always ‘on guard’ around others, always calculating, scheming? Could he be so controlling of his own emotions, in all his human relationships and interactions?

Last year when I listened to Barba and Vaca tell me their stories –separately and without the other knowing– over the phone, I was very moved by their undeniable pain, shame and honesty. I met them both earlier this [2002] year, together with Jurado, in conjunction with the 20/20 interviews in New York and became more convinced of the truth of their persons and testimony. I saw with my own eyes how they were re-traumatized by the harrowing lengthy TV interviews [which spawned a few moments of air time!]. I have read Alarcon’s letter describing his abuse and apologizing to the others for his collaboration with Maciel and it rings true. I met another accuser/victim called Alejandro Espinoza in April of this year who regaled me with the most horrible details of his sexual abuse [see ‘El Legionario’, his testimony]. All the pieces fell into place without that having been rehearsed. The details of the places they referred to, of the others involved…all sounded real, all rang true.

I find it very hard to believe that these men would willingly deceive me. I find it even more difficult to understand why any man at their age, and without benefit to himself, should want to reveal such an intimate and painful part of his life, if it were not true. I find it even harder to believe that they would make up stories that in some cases
‘incriminate’ themselves as accomplices of these crimes [one admits having called other brothers into the infirmary to be fondled, masturbated and sodomized by Father Maciel] unless they were still struggling with the aftermath of untreated abuse and still needed to ventilate their trauma.

Your ‘incredulous’ response is common and does not surprise me. The spontaneous, ‘natural’, response to talk of sexual abuse is denial and minimization. Where a priest is concerned it makes it just that more ‘incredible’ and ‘impossible’. But we have to admit that some priests commit these horrendous crimes. I believe Father Bruce Ritter the Founder of Covenant House overstepped boundaries with some youth from Covenant House, though this does not prevent me continuing to support this worthy charity. I believe Father Maciel, despite his marvelous social skills and wonderful gifts as entrepreneur, also committed sexual abuse. But he gets off Scot free thanks to having powerful friends which he has cultivated so well and carefully over the years. Thanks also to the knee-jerk reaction of ‘it can’t be true!’ and other forms of unexamined denial from the public in general, and from the conservative right wing Catholic public in particular.

Not to make a big deal out of this, but in hindsight some things begin make sense to me. I was a witness to very clear favoritism of Father Maciel towards certain ‘brothers’, who happened to be good looking or with better social skills and graces. and in the communities I belonged to later. In the 60s and 70s we had much more exposure to Fr. Maciel’s presence in the community. This was true specifically in Rome. Nuestro Padre had his own room on the 2nd floor and would be up and about the community in the corridors and in the gardens conducting business. We could bump into him any time during the day.

[Added 10/18/04]
I remember very clearly that Raul de Anda,LC, a dark and handsome Mexican with fine features, was his personal secretary for a period in the 60s in Rome. Juan Manuel Correa, another Mexican, was another of these personal secretaries to Nuestro Padre. We three were students together at Via Aurelia 677. Bro Raul, –in the LC Theology students are called ‘Padre’– is now Dr. Raul de Anda, thanks to a PhD in experimental psycology. He was never ordained, and after leaving the Legion remained on good terms with Fr. Maciel. He is one of the ‘psychologists’ to whom Legion superiors will refer suffering members. Raul, then –as now– a Legion employee, worked the LC Marriage and Family Center in Mexico City, ‘ALFA Y OMEGA’, in the mid to late 70s just as the School of Faith was taking shape a few blocks away in the wealthy Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood. Fr. Juan Manuel Fernandez-Amenabar, later an MM accuser, –because of his personal charisma with Mexican upper class women, their husbands and purse strings– was appointed founder, chaplain, spiritual director and lecturer at ALFA Y OMEGA by Fr. Maciel.

The ‘favoritism’ I referred to above happened within my own group of candidates. Fr. Maciel did single out one or two in our group of eight co-founders and give them preferential treatment: more individual attention, confidencies, greater access to his private quarters, special assignments, more travel, time with their family and the ‘privilege’ of traveling with him as his personal secretary. During these times of ‘accompanying Nuestro Padre’, the religious were totally unsupervised and ‘dispensed’ from the normal duties of the religious life, sometimes even neglecting their ‘Acts of Piety’, prayer life. These seminarians are now in their 50s and 60s. Some are still in the Legion and others have left. None of them have wanted to comment on the sexual abuse issue, except the odd one who allowed his name to be used in the official LC ‘conspiracy theory’ cover-up.


All that has been said up to now cannot strictly ‘prove’ Fr. Maciel is a sexual abuser or pedophile. But the least it should do is give you pause, Fr. Nauhaus, before foolhardily endorsing him without sufficient information. The accusers stand steadfast by their claims, despite the tepid response of the Roman Curia and some conservative right wing intellectuals. Though many active Legionaries and Regnum Christi members aggressively defend a Father Maciel they do not know personally. Several ex-Legionaries with up close and personal experiences give credence to the charges. I firmly believe truth-searchers, like yourself, should continue to question Fr. Maciel and themselves regarding these ‘questionable’ relationships with his seminarians. Because of the serious doubts that remain regarding these relationships, it is not unreasonable to seek another ‘injunction’ against him until these doubts have been cleared up. When such charges were made against the Cardinal Archibishop of Perth, Australia, he stepped down until they finished.

I have been able to read the testimonies in the original Spanish as well as in English and this can also have a bearing on their power. I have also met and spoken with the witnesses in their native language. Perhaps there is an element of ‘faith’ to believing the ‘testimonies’ of the accusers. But that is precisely what ‘faith’ is all about: ‘believing witnesses’, ‘eye-witnesses’, ‘participants’, if possible. I do believe the testimonies of these confreres in their accusations against Marcial Maciel. In an almost blasphemous paraphrase of Saint John’s First Letter they state:

‘Regarding Maciel Maciel, we were there at the beginning, what we have heard with our own ears, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked upon, what we have experienced in our own bodies that his hands have handled… [see IJn 1,1]

Final note: my original letter to Fr. Neuhaus has been slightly edited for clarity, without altering the content. The last paragraph was added 9/15/04, jpl



Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
Subject: LC
From: ‘Richard John Neuhaus” <>

Mr. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

I thank you for your thoughtful response.

Not for the sake of argument, but because i would really like to understand: Why do you think the accusers have come forward at this time and in this way? If they had the access they seek in Rome, what would they say they think should be done with regard to Fr. Maciel and the LC, and why?


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus

Fr. Maciel Sex Abuse Victim Explains Silence (Revised 11/23/04)

Children and Cults in Latin America. Why Victims of Cultic Sexual Abuse Keep Silent in Latin Cultures: A Psychological Perspective
By Juan J. Vaca, S.T.L., Ph.L., M.Ed.
Presentation at the American Family Foundation Conference
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, June 11, 2004

It has been objectively illustrated and methodologically established by the previous presenters of this panel that Latin America is historically and socially a favorable field for the flourishing of cultist groups. Not only because of the authoritarian and paternalistic influence imposed by the Spanish dominance for over four centuries on those countries, but also because of the dogmatic authority exercised by the Catholic church in parts of the world where the 92% of the population is considered Catholic (1).

The question of the present study, “Why Victims of Cultic Sexual Abuse Keep Silent in Latin America�, intends to be answered with substantiated facts from a psychological point of view. And, at the same time, within the context of a culture that promotes respect and unquestionable adherence to religious authority, as is the case of Latin American society.

It is important to point out that this presentation is based, first, on recent specialized studies of the subject, and, secondly and most importantly, on verified testimonies of victims who were sexually abused as minors.

On discussing the serious topic of children sexual abuse, we must not ignore the following psychological realities surrounding these specific victims:

(1) To begin with, child-victims of sexual abuse by adults are usually assaulted when in physical and/or emotional isolation (2) from their families (away from their parental and protective supports). This favorable situation for the perpetrator causes traumatic reactions in the victims, such as emotional shock, fear, shame, guilt and confusion.

All these psychological realities trigger in the psyche of the victim a renunciation to denounce the abuser’s assault to any authority. We already possess some recent statistics that substantiate these facts. For instance, in Mexico (3), The Institute for the Protection of Women and Children has concluded, on February 2004, that only 1% of sexual abuses of women is reported to the authorities. In the USA, the authoritative study conducted by The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in February 2004, in Part Two, 2.3 The Prevalence of Sexual Abuse of Children by Priests,(page 14) states: “Only 5.1% of the incidents were reported to the police; 26% of the incidents were not disclosed to anyone prior to the study�. And this part of the report concludes: “Furthermore, females were more likely than males to disclose such information; however, disclosure rates are quite low regardless of the victim’s gender� (4).

(2) We may fairly induce from the above reality that the reasons for the extremely low percentage of denunciations is due to the presence of various psychological and sociological obstacle-factors that make such a denunciation by the victims very difficult.
We will elaborate on this subject in Part One.

(3) The lapse of time, between the date when the abuse occurred and the denunciation was made, is another variable that must be considered. The statistics of cases at hand suggest that these reports of sexual abuse of minors usually were made after an average of 7-10 years from the date when the abuse was perpetrated (5).

(4) The scope of this study is limited to enunciate the main psychosocial reasons that tend to delay the legal denunciation of sexual abuse committed by religious leaders in Latin America. Part Two will deal with this topic.

Mexico has been selected for this study because –due to its ethnography and religiosity (87.5% are Catholics) (6)- it is a country highly representative of the rest of Latin America. At the same time, we may legitimately consider some observations regarding Latin American culture within the United States, as an extension of the Hispanic world.

(5) “Why until now?� is the big question addressed again and again to the victims of sexual abuse in different contexts:
• In police precincts, this question is immediately posed, for instance, to women victims of rape or sexual assault.
• Journalists and Media reporters ask the same question as soon as they decide to investigate accusations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and the clergy.
• “Why did it take you so long?� Is the same question asked by Defense lawyers, at the cross-examination of these victims in front of the jury in Court.
• Even parents of victims ask the same question, when their children confide to them their silenced tragedy, time after the abuse was perpetrated (“Why didn’t you tell us before?�).

(6) “Why until now� is a question that might reflect an unjustified escepticism, which tends to re-victimize again and again those innocent victims who have the courage to denounce their abusers. Or this question might be a mere indication of total or partial ignorance regarding the psychological dynamics involved in the sexual abuse of minors. Finally, this question might be legitimately asked in order to investigate the causes of sexual aggression against children.


Very often, the first emotional reaction of a minor, after being sexually abused by a figure of authority, is paralyzing shock. “How come that this beloved, admired figure (father, leader, protector) has done such an evil thing to me?� The victim can not find any reasonable explanations to the assault. On the contrary, he/she usually experiences the following:

(1) Threats.
If the victim has the ability to question the perpetrator, this one, either denies he committed such an act (“I don’t know what you are talking about�, or “I was not aware of my actions�). Often, perpetrators threaten (7) the victims with serious consequences (“Don’t tell any body, otherwise something terrible is going to happen to you�. “Nobody is going to believe you�). So, the victim’s psychological reaction is often a decision to remain silent, in this instance, for personal convenience and self-protection (8)

(2) Fear and Confusion.
The victim, at this point, feels a painful fear from thinking that no adult is going to believe (“The abuser belongs to the adult category. No grown-up is going to believe me� –is usually the victim’s conclusion).

This fear, aggravated by an overwhelming confusion, becomes even more intense, when the perpetrator (priest, religious leader, or parental figure) has a close relationship of authority with the abused minor. These psychological dynamics at play are activated in proportion to the gravity of the abuse and the quality of the abuser’s authority. The greater the authority of the perpetrator, the longer silence tends to be the victim’s response (9).

(3) Ignorance
Victims of sexual abuse keep silent, in many cases, because of plain ignorance, which in connection with their state of confusion prevents them from discerning that the abuse has no connection with the involuntary erotic arousal, and which can produce sexual stimulation of erogenous zones. Even if we take into account the fact that not all sexual abuses are violent and, in some instances, such stimulation might trigger pleasurable sexual responses on the victims, we may conclude that these responses are totally involuntary and unwelcome. In other words, the victim keeps silent, because he/she doest not know what an abuse or delinquent act is, and is ignorant of the body functions.

(4) Stockholm syndrome.
At this point, we must remember the Stockholm syndrome (a confusing mix of fear and dependency), as another cause of silence on the part of the victims of sexual abuse (10).

(5) False guilt.
A false sense of guilt is another major reason for minors to keep silent. The profile of the pedophile indicates a highly manipulative personality. Abusers tend to blame the victim for their criminal acts, instilling feelings of guilt. The perpetrators make their victims feel responsible of their abuse, in order to project their own guilt on the victim and, in this way, be able to maintain the dynamics of manipulation and psycho-sexual exploitation.

(6) Shame.
In Western cultures, and predominantly in Latin American countries, a stigma related to males who have been sexually abused is combined with feelings of shame that tend to prevent any denunciation.

(7) Distrust.
A profound sense of distrust, facing the shaky possibility of obtaining some justice, is another cause of silence on the part of victims. These abused minors ask themselves, “Is it worth it to endure all this process of shame, possible stigmatization for life, and the various inferences that might be applied to my sexual identity, when there is no certainty for the acceptance of my credibility and the outcome of justice?�

(8) Cultural taboos.
In the Latino culture, there are deeply engraved taboos that stereotype, for example, sexually abused women as seductresses and sources of temptation. On the other hand, in the case of males, many stigmatizing inferences are made, related to personal sexual preferences in a Macho and patriarchal culture. Hispanic people say, “If he has been sexually molested, he might be gay –“maricón�).

In summary, minor-victims of sexual abuse take many serious risks, without any assurance that denouncing the aggression will be useful for attaining justice and repairing the horrendous harm inflicted on them. This statement is even more valid, if we consider the high index of corruption, widely known, within the judicial systems in Latin American countries (Mexico is a typical example). If we take into account the cultural insensitivity towards the abuse of children in all of its forms, from sexual to physical violence, from neglect to ill treatment of all kinds, the scenario is most eloquent and difficult.

The conclusion is that minor victims of sexual abuse keep silent because they gain almost nothing by their denouncing and, on the contrary, they lose a lot in terms of safety, personal reputation, suffering, security and social repercussions.


When perpetrators of sexual abuse against minors have a religious investiture accepted in their social circle, factors, even more complex, are introduced into this scenario.
These will difficult and delay in a special manner denouncing the crime by minors. I will mention five crucial factors:

(1) Social reverence
In Spanish speaking cultures, very special reverence exists towards religious figures. These leaders assume a shaman symbolism, due to the syncretism involved with religions of pre-Hispanic origin. The religious leader is perceived as a powerful entity in the spiritual world with supernatural powers (for example, the founder of the Legion of Christ sect is believed to read his followers’ minds and consciences, to forecast the future, to have been seen in two continents at the same time – “bilocation,� etc.).

It may be testified that a superstitious reverence refrains both adults and minors from denouncing abuses when they occur. So far, for example, as to believe that you will stop receiving certain spiritual blessings, or your family members are going to be spiritually harmed, or you will go into eternal damnation.

(2) Divine representation
Religious leaders are frequently considered unquestionable God representatives (13). By virtue of this parallelism with God and the superimposition and representation of God, these leaders’ moral actions cannot be evaluated nor criticized as in the case of other adults. The rationalization in the mind of the followers abused by the leader goes like this: “If he lies and commits all these sexual abuses that normally are evil acts for other persons, these acts are okay for my leader because he is God’s representative� (14).

These religious status, as pastors or priests, shamans or prophets, make these leaders avatars, role models, and interpreters of all moral values. Because of all the above reasons, the abuse perpetrated by these leaders provokes a dramatic confusion in the minds of the minor victims. And such confusion leads the victims towards a kind of conscience paralysis that prevents them from questioning, criticizing, and evaluating the leaders’ actions.

(3) Social representative
The leader, by the force of his own condition as God’s representative, becomes the natural and authoritative representative of his institution and community. He is the institution, he is the community, in the same sense as when King Louis XIV of France said, “La France est moi� (“I am France�). One of the peculiar characteristics of the psychological nature of the Latin American people is their sense of community. They tend to identify themselves with their ethnic communities (Tarascans, Mayans, Incas, etc.), religious groups (Catholics, Protestants, etc.), sport clubs (soccer or baseball fans). This strong sense of community offers tremendous challenges when a victim feels the responsibility of denouncing a religious leader.“They (the leaders) are untouchable�. The denunciation becomes almost impossible to be made because, by doing so, it is believed that the reputation of the whole institution might be tarnished, all the believers’ community will be hurt. Such is the case in the Catholic Church with the present crisis provoked by the scandals of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Religious sociopaths tend to manipulate such arguments, offered by their identification with their communities in order to lock the conscience of the abused minors and prevent them from denouncing them.

(4) Family considerations
It is a fact that faith, religion, and institutional affiliation are very important factors for many Latin American families. In this context, it becomes a tremendous inhibitor for the victim the thought of hurting the faith of the entire family, or the fear of being rejected by the family, if he/she speaks out. It is not infrequent the case of a family that continues being loyal to the institution that represents the abusive leader. This situation is easily explained by the social dynamics influencing the Latin American people, in such a way, that the family identity, and even the national identity, tends to be strongly defined by its religious affiliation.

The alternative for a minor who has been abused, and faces a decision to denounce a religious aggressor, is emotionally stressing and enormously exhausting. The denunciation may imply losing the family or hurting that valuable and intangible symbol called faith.

(5) Damage to personal interests
Please allow me to illustrate this point with the following example: A girl abused in an orphanage run by nuns, might be completely deprived of shelter and education, if she speaks out.

We all know our natural instinct of self-preservation, which is a very pragmatic principle. Depending on the abuse type and frequency, the abused girl of our example may put on a scale the cost-benefits of denouncing or not denouncing. If the option is between dying from cold and hunger on the streets, or enduring some occasional abuses that are not extremely physically violent, this girl might opt to remain silent. The instinct of self-preservation prevails in this and similar situations of abuse. It is as simple as that.

In cases of adults who are evaluating or resolving in retrospective abuses perpetrated on them by religious leaders, within an institutional context, these adults may utilize a similar logic in reference to their professional future. This is true, especially in cases when adults are still connected (by jobs, work, paychecks) with the institution. These adults may lose their work positions and salaries, or see their careers being destroyed, if they present a complaint. Cases after cases testify to this reality, especially if the institution closes ranks around the religious leader who perpetrated the abuses, and decides to initiate a campaign of character assassination against the victim and/or decides to take legal action. This scenario is very common in Latin America.

There is no need for an ethical judgment on these cases in order for us to understand that such a situation constitutes a strong factor, which benefits the culture of silence and prevents any denunciation.

As colophon of Part One and Two, let me propose the following: All factors mentioned above – the general psychological causes, as well as the specific psychosocial ones related to the religious leaders and to the Latin culture in particular – are tightly interrelated, enmeshed, to create a wall of silence and endlessly delaying, in some instances, even to entomb forever most denunciations of sexual abuses perpetrated by religious leaders and suffered by countless numbers of Latin American children.

Analyzed in the proper context, the delay on denouncing abuses has a substantially simple explanation. It is just part of a process with many complex factors that have been mentioned above.

Faced with such a scenario, the question should never be “Why until now?� but, instead, “How many victims have had the courage to speak in the course of their life?� And because of those factors mentioned before, we should ask “How many victims will be silent forever�


Until now, I have been talking as a professor of Psychology and Sociology – a profession that I have been practicing for over fifteen years and a position that I presently hold at the Manhattan Campus of Mercy College since 1999. Nevertheless, my professional commitments and clinical experiences have been confirmed by empirical data that back the findings of the specialized literature dealing with the topic of silence and child sex abuse by religious leaders.

All facts discussed from Psychology and Sociology in this presentation, during the previous 25 minutes, you will see them now present in my own personal life.

I am a former catholic priest. For almost 30 years I belonged to the Catholic order and ultraconservative group, known as the Legion of Christ. Founded in Mexico in 1941 and presently active in more than 20 countries, it has 53,000 active lay members in Regnum Christi and 2,500 priests.

At the age of 10, I was personally recruited by the founder of the Legion, the Reverend Marcial Maciel, and taken two years later to his seminary in the north of Spain for training within the high-demand sect. I was separated from my family contact and home supports, and away from all social relationships for 12 years. Being isolated from all contact with the outside world, with the channels of personal communication controlled and my mail censured, the founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, perpetrated on me sexual and psychological abuse that I endured for several years.

When he started to abuse me and I immediately confronted him, he excused himself by explaining that he suffered certain alleged excruciating pain in his genitals that only could be alleviated by frequent masturbation. Soon, I started to witness and see that the founder was abusing some other 23 of my child-schoolmates.

This psychosexual relationship of abuse was prolonged for almost ten years with the concomitant traumas that triggered an intense ethical and spiritual confusion, fear, shame and anxiety. I endured countless days of severe stress, and nights of debilitating sleeplessness.

Twelve years passed until I was permitted to see my parents, again in the midst of confusion and feelings of guilt. I stayed in the institution while trying to resolve deep derived internal conflicts. When at the age of 22 I decided to confront again the founder and denounce his abuse, he punished me with six years of painful exile from the company of my companions and schoolmates, at my residence in Rome. I was shamefully ordered to be immediately removed to the north of Spain. Finally, when he mistakenly sensed that I would remain silent for the rest of my life, he convinced me, under pressure, to be ordained into the priesthood.

The first position the founder assigned to me was of vice-rector and spiritual director of the above-mentioned seminary in the north of Spain. In that capacity, four adolescent students came to me denouncing individually that the rector had been sexually abusing them (Years before, I knew that this rector was also one of the founder’s abused victims when we were pre-adolescents as well, like in my own case).

I immediately reported these incidents to Fr. Maciel, who gave me instructions to cover up all the traces of the abuse. The perpetrator was fired on the spot and transferred secretly to a mission territory in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. For my good job at the cover-up of that mess, the founder rewarded me with the appointment of superior and president of the Legion of Christ in the U.S.A., position that I held for five years (1971-1976), until the day when, frustrated and exhausted, I presented my resignation to the founder and left the Legion of Christ without any remorse whatsoever. I then decided to offer my priestly services to the diocese of Long Island, New York. Three months later (October 1976), I formally denounced the sexual abuses of the Legion’s founder to the Vatican, through the proper channels of my current bishop, the Reverend John R. McGann (presently deceased), and the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Three years later, I wrote a second denunciation to the Vatican through the same official channels. Again, in 1996, this time eight of us, all professionals and former sex child victims of the Reverend Marcial Maciel, sent an open letter to John Paul II. We never received any response from the Vatican, not even a beaurocratic note of receipt.

After years of personal therapy and liberating process of discernment, I left the active ministry and started to dedicate my time and energies to the field of Psychology and Sociology with the purpose of understanding a reality that this Pope has called “Mysterium iniquitatis� (“the mystery of iniquity�), a reality that mercilessly destroys so many innocent children in our society. In this way I have been trying to determine where sickness ends and evil begins. In a sociopath personality, as is the case of the founder of the Legion of Christ, these two realities – sickness and evil – are extremely difficult to be separated. Malignant Narcissism is pathology, but it does not annul personal responsibility.

In spite of all denunciations and efforts made in the last eight years, the Vatican still supports this founder and ignores all accusations made by the victims against this abuser. The Legion’s founder has built his own mausoleum in Rome and openly talks about the process of his eventual canonization (the Vatican procedures towards sainthood).

Maciel’s defenders argue that all accusations are falsities and calumnies because his “life accomplishments� speak for themselves. Maciel’s disciples and followers even have the audacity and cynicism to quote in their favor Mathew 7, 4:“by their fruits you shall know them� (Math. 7,4). But we know that History is full of figures that have deceived entire nations and committed horrendous crimes and all kind of abuses against humanity, in spite of their accomplishments. Sociopaths like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and the like. This defenders’ argument is both scholarly invalid and worthless.

Experiencing a profound peace of mind, product of arduous but liberating convictions, I got happily married in September 1989. My wife and I were especially blessed with a beautiful daughter, now almost 10 years old. My hope is that my personal experience and professional contribution will help to prevent any more innocent children from being abused by sociopaths and predators, such as the founder and current leader of the Legion of Christ.

In closing, please allow me to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Jorge Erdely for organizing this panel on Children and Cults in Latin America. My sincere thanks also to Dr. Michael Longone, the members of the AFF staff and the University of Alberta for putting together a great conference.

I thank all of you for listening to this presentation. Thank you very much.


(1) World Census. United Nations. April 2004.

(2) John Jay College of Criminal Justice. March 2004.

(3) Estadistica Nacional Mexicana. Secretaria de Educacion. 2003.

(4) A Research Study Conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice: The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States. (The Final Report was published by the USCCB in March 2004). [My note: See Afterword of the Report].

(5) John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The U.S.A. Conference of Catholic Bishops. March 2004.

(6) World Census. United Nations. April 2004.

(7) The Sexual Abuse of Children. A CUNY Conference presentation by Juan J. Vaca and a panel of professors, Department of Behavioral Sciences, CUNY (City University of New York). 2003-2004.

(8) A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse, by Dr. Thomas Plante – 2003.

(9) Doctoral Dissertation (unpublished), by Juan J. Vaca. 2000.

(10) Child Sexual Abuse – Psychological Aspects, by Tenna M. Perry. 2004.

(11) “Silence of the Lambs: Why Survivors Keep Quiet,� by Jennifer Merrill. 2003.

(12) “Silence is Complicity, Isn’t It?�. Referred in Subversive Harmony, May 14, 2004.

(13) Marcial Maciel “Mi Vida Es Cristo�. By Jesus Colina. 2003. Page 67.

(14) El Legionario. By Alejandro Espinosa. 2003. Page 127, 207.

(15) Vows of Silence, The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, Free Press, 2004

Fr Neuhaus: Why [did the accusers] wait until now and with what intentions?

Concluding Dialogue with Fr. Neuhaus


By J. Paul Lennon, MA



Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
Subject: LC
From: ‘Richard John Neuhaus” <>

Mr. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

I thank you for your thoughtful response.

Not for the sake of argument, but because i would really like to understand: Why do you think the accusers have come forward at this time and in this way? If they had the access they seek in Rome, what would they say they think should be done with regard to Fr. Maciel and the LC, and why?


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus



Dear Father Neuhaus:

Thanks for the continuing dialogue. Am I right in believing that your defense of Father Maciel in First Things was a response the Renner-Berry article in the NCR in December 2001 and was based on your limited knowledge of Father Maciel and the inner workings of the Legion?

I will attempt to answer the questions you raised my previous letter. I take the liberty of doing so because you have not published my previous critique of your article in your magazine. I believe the answers I try to formulate are already somehow present in the accusers’ writings with which you are already somewhat familiar.

I would also like to mention there is at least one important document that has not been translated into English and therefore not available to the English speaking public. It is an ‘Open Letter to the Pope’ written in November 1997 when the accusers made a conjoint formal effort to reach the Pope and Vatican authorities with their ‘case against’ Fr. Maciel.

In following essay I stand corrected by the the ‘witnesses’ more precise knowledge of facts and circumstances.


Which ‘now’ are you referring to? The Hartford Courant articles of 1997? The continuous attempts to reach the Vatican? The short answer is: they have been writing and speaking for decades but nobody was listening or paying any attention. It was only after the articles appeared in the Courant thaT they started getting some publicity, credibility and attention. They despair of ecclesiastical action and want to pressure church authorities to do something to hold Father Maciel accountable for his past actions before Father Maciel dies, and/or before they die.

Accusations against or rumors about Father Maciel and his sexual behavior towards junior seminarians were known inside the religious community since he was in Mexico City with the first group of students [c.1940]. Another cluster of accusations/rumors stem from the time he was in Comillas, Northern Spain with his boys [c.1947]. These recent accusations that have reached the press and TV refer to behavior in the Collegio Massimo in Rome in the early 50s and are different in the sense that witnesses have come forward and given sworn testimony.These are described by Alejandro Espinosa in clear and lurid detail in his recent book, El Legionario.

Just like any ‘movement’ the accusers’ efforts have been long developing. We know that they probably did not discuss these issues among themselves while in the Legion. There was the private vow and even a more radical tradition about not discussing personal issues with confreres. Besides, Marcial Maciel had sworn each individual victim to secrecy and he was the supreme authority. Barba, vg, states that MM told him not to mention what happened to Father Lagoa, the rector in Rome at that time because ‘he would not understand’. Some of these students were in different stages of ‘formation’, that is ‘novitiate’ ‘juniorate’, philosophy student…and so did not speak to each other across community lines. Though several may have belonged to the same ‘community’ as Vaca reports that he was told to go and summon other brothers to the infirmary, and he would hardly do that across lines.

The investigation of Father Maciel and the Legion in 1955/56 and leading to the Vatican investigation did stem from his visible and unusual attraction for some of the junior seminarians and from other issues such as use of morphine, fund-raising and money… The Vatican ‘visitors’, sent by the S.C. for Religious, naturally questioned the students about Father Maciel’s behavior. The students were either too ashamed, immature, ignorant, afraid or felt a sense of loyalty to Father Maciel to mention any sexual misbehaviors. Remember that at the time of the investigations Father Maciel had been the father, sole provider, confidant, spiritual director and principal educator of the students since they were 11 years old or younger. When questioned they would not say anything to incriminate Father Maciel or to jeopardize the Legion and their vocations in it. They had been told that the visitors were coming to ‘destroy the Legion’.

Later, and at different times in the late 50s and early 60s, some ‘accusers’ left or were dismissed from the Legion individually. The leaving was usually orchestrated to be sudden and quiet, late at night, early morning, when the community was at prayer, in Mass, etc. One was not allowed to tell companions that he was leaving. And so each one went home to his town or village and was never heard of again and they did not speak to each other again. [That is the way it was, the way I witnesed it, and the way it still is.] Others stayed in the Legion: Juan José Vaca, Félix Alarcón, Miguel Díaz, Juan- Manuel Fernández-Amenábar…. Naturally, there would be absolutely no contact between the ones who left and those who stayed, and probably no intra-group confidences among each other in the group that stayed [that would be against the ‘private vows’ in a very serious way as it meant criticizing the Founder. Besides, to what superior would they reveal it, when the vow obliged them to voice their concerns to the top LC superior, and this would have been the perpetrator himself].
Juan Jose Vaca, an assertive type, is the one who probably demonstrated most awareness and courage in directly and formally demanding accountability. Despite having a prolonged sexual relationship with his superior and being MM’s ‘accomplice’ in procuring more victims for him, he questioned MM on several occasions about the morality of their actions. This would be almost apologetically along the lines of: ‘Father, I don’t feel good about these actions. I know you absolved me and told me not to worry, but…’ As he got older and more uncomfortable he began confronting Fr. Maciel as early as the 60s when the Mexican bishops were staying at the Collegio Massimo on the Via Aurelia Nova 677. He says MM minimized the issues but gave Vaca an interesting position [in charge of logistics for the 30 Mexican bishops, with freedom to move in and out of the community, do the shopping, go on errands to the Vatican…]. Vaca confronted MM again around the time of his priestly ordination [1969]. Soon after ordination MM made Vaca –who spoke English because he had spent some time in Ireland- superior of the Legion in the US. When Vaca was on his way out of the Legion in the 70s and threatened to expose MM the latter supposedly tried to bribe Vaca offering him any position he wanted in the Legion. After Vaca left the Legion and was in the diocese of Rockville Center he approached his pastor, later the bishop and sent documentation to Rome by courier [via de Vatican Embassy in Washington, 1978]. In the 80s Vaca got his dispensation and got married in the NY area and lives there with his wife and daughter. He never returned to his native Mexico and so did not have much contact with Legionaries of ex-Legionaries.

Barba, for his part, made a ‘good’ transition out of the Legion much earlier, around 1962. He had always been a ‘brain’ and ‘idealistic’ and after leaving was able to study at Harvard and get his doctorate. He returned to Mexico and kept contact with the Legion at that time even working as a teacher for a while at the Anahuac University. He was friendly with people inside and outside the Legion and had an encyclopedic memory for people and events. In the 70s, when he was married with children, he must have started to remember and face up to his own sexual abuse. At first he thought we was the only one. When he started opening up others told him that they too had been victims. Nobody was very keen on coming forward. They wanted to keep their secret buried and get on with their lives. He would not let it rest and found some echo in Alejandro Espinoza, Jose Antonio Pérez-Olvera and others in Mexico and in Jurado who was in San Diego. I believe that Vaca and Barba approached several others they knew had been victims but these did not want to testify and preferred to be anonymous and so are not mentioned in any public statements
Around the 90s the group must have started to gel when Barba and Vaca began making contact and discussing their efforts. Barba, for his part, in Mexico had started to write and approach ecclesiastical authorities. Barba was a personal friend of Amenabar who was ill at the Sanatorio Espanyol hospital in Mexico City. Amenabar told Barba about his abuse. There was a Mexican diocesan priest who heard Amenabar’s confession and confidences, Father Athié, who held a position in the Archbishop of Mexico’s curia. He became convinced that Amenabar wanted to tell his story before he died. Felix Alarcón, who was aware of Vaca’s accusations and had confirmed them to Rockville Center authorities, still an active priest, was contacted and was willing to admit his abuse.

I believe the witnesses agreed to speak to the press when approached by the Courant reporter who had previously picked up on some unusual goings on in the Legion’s novitiate in CT, i.e. novices ‘escaping’ over the wall of the novitiate. The victims spoke with the reporters because they were frustrated with not getting a satisfactory response from local ecclesiastical authorities in Mexico, being told to wait, to ‘leave it in God’s hands’, to ‘forgive and forget’ ‘wait until Father Maciel dies’ or sworn to secrecy…and by Rome’s silence.
When Father Maciel was called ‘a leader and defender of youth’ by the Pope they became particularly indignant and this galvanized their resolve to write an open letter to the Pope and attempt to lodge a formal complaint at the Vatican.


They wanted an independent investigation into the allegations. They accused Father Maciel of breaking several canons, of sexually abusing them and of absolving them after the abuse [‘absolutio complicis’ c. 1378]. The corresponding sanctions would cause him to be defrocked and excommunicated.

They wanted the Vatican to review the Constitutions and Traditions, to investigate and reform Legion practices. To have a ‘clean’ General Chapter without the ever- present pressure and control of MM.
Many ex-Legionaries and ex-Regnum Christi wish: that Church Authorities examine and investigate the behavior of Father Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, particularly the way it recruits, retains and controls members and later handles dissident and exiting members.

Because Father Maciel, the official church and the Vatican are stonewalling and avoiding accountability the victims are getting more and more frustrated and some of them have begun to write their individual memoirs as a last resort to redress their abuse before they die.

The testimonies of the eight living ex-members accusing Father Maciel of sexual assault must be read in the context of the founder’s charistmatic powers of persuasion and manipulation, and the Legion’s private vows of family secrecy, solidarity, and control. This control, during and after membership, limited the possibility of a conspiracy to a large extent. The youth, powerlessness and inexperience of the victims at the time of the abuse should also be taken into consideration.

J. Paul Lennon MA


circa 17/18 Septebmer, 2002

“Mr. J. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

Thank you for your further responses to my questions.

You have given me much to think about, and I will be

doing that.


(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus


Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 16:49:19 -700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon” <>
Subject: Re: thanks
To: “Richard John Neuhaus” <>

“Father Neuhaus:

I appreciate your interest, time and the honest dialoque. May the Holy Spirit guide us in these delicate matters. Don’t think that I never question my own intentions and honesty in these very serious matters, and when I realize that I am a small minority among many who have greaT respect for Father Maciel. I think you referred to him as ‘venerable’ or ‘revered’ or something. But I, like many others who had him on a pedestal, lost respect for him over a period of years based on his behavior. Don’t forget that I was ‘educated’ as a Legionary for many years with the teaching never to speak ill of others. Unfortunately, I can tell you that when Father Maciel ‘lets his guard down’ with an intimate ‘petite comite’ around the table, for instance, with a glass of Johnny Walker in his hand, he does not alway practice what he so lavishly preaches. There is much talk of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ of the Legion, and the ‘enemies’ are fair game, no matter who they are. Regarding the sexual abuse, when I hear my brothers’ testimonies I continue to feel sad and indignant. Maybe I give them too much credence, but that is where I am and who I am.


J.Paul Lennon, MA

Gerald Renner’s response to an open letter that appears on the Legion of Christ Website

The following is reporter Gerald Renner’s response to an open letter that appears on the Web site operated by the Legion of Christ at The open letter criticizes a story on The Donnellan School in Atlanta, which appeared as NCR’s cover story in its Nov. 3 issue. To see the Legion’s open letter, go to its Website, click on Search and search using the words Gerald Renner.

An open letter from the Legionaries of Christ? on the organization’s Website chooses to attack me for the stories I have written about them rather than examine what it is about the way they operate that alienates a significant number of people — lay and clerical — wherever they set up shop.

Following the example of the open letter, let me provide some background to put the stories in perspective.

I do not have now, nor have I ever had, an anti-Legionary agenda. I’ve been a journalist for 40 years and a specialist in religion reporting for 25 of them. In reporting on the Legion, or any other group, I’ve tried to follow the basic precepts of good journalism.

The first I knew of the Legion’s existence was in 1989 when I was on assignment in Rome for The Hartford (Conn.) Courant to cover a meeting of the 35 American archbishops with Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials.

The late Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford pointed out to me on a drive through the city the headquarters building of what he called that controversial, conservative religious order that has a seminary in Cheshire.

He explained that he was talking about the Legionaries of Christ, an order I had never heard of despite the fact its U.S. headquarters was in Connecticut. When I got home and checked the newspaper’s files I found the Courant had never written about the order or its seminary. As the newspaper’s fulltime religion writer, I thought this had been an oversight. I called the seminary to inquire whether I could visit and write a feature story about it.

That was the beginning of a runaround and of stonewalling by the Legion that I have long since become familiar with. I was told I had to seek the permission of the national director, Fr. Anthony Bannon, to write anything. But he was never available, despite calls I made to him over the course of several years. I even visited the seminary personally one day to the consternation of the seminarian-receptionist and was again told I had to talk to Fr. Bannon.

Finally, one day in 1993, Fr. Bannon himself happened to pick up the phone when I called. He told me in no uncertain terms the order did not want any publicity and that he did not trust the press. The only way he would provide information for an article, he said, if he had the right to review it after it was written, something that is journalistically unacceptable.

Research into the Catholic Periodical Index indicated that the Catholic press, likewise, hadn’t written about the Legion, except for a small, laudatory article about the success of the order’s seminary in Cheshire in the National Catholic Register, a private weekly newspaper then owned by multimillionaire businessman Patrick Frawley in Encino, Calif.

The Register, along with another weekly newspaper, then called Twin Circle, were moved to Hamden, Conn., when Frawley sold them to a Legion-connected group. That led to my first story about the order (Catholic Legionaries expand base in state,Courant, March 25, 1996, Page 1).

I had to write the story without Legion cooperation, although I was able to draw on a 1995 article in the Rome-based magazine, Inside the Vatican, about the founding of the Legionaries in Mexico in 1941.

Despite their being moved to Connecticut, the newspapers were incorporated as Circle Media? in Albany, N.Y., where non-profit organizations did not have to disclose their principals. A Manhattan lawyer, Richard Ellenbogen, was named as the agent to receive correspondence.

The religious order is not terribly interested in a whole lot of publicity in what they are doing, Ellenbogen told me. If the fathers are not forthcoming, I cannot tell you anything else.?

Yet, the order wonders aloud in its open letter why it is called secretive.

As I was to soon find out, one story would inevitably lead to another. On Monday, March 26, 1996, the day after that first article, I got a call from a man who said he had been a seminarian in the Legion at Cheshire and in a satellite seminary the Legion ran near Mount Kisco, N.Y. He said he and another novice had fled from the seminary without permission when their religious superiors kept rebuffing their pleas to leave.

It was such a bizarre claim that I was skeptical. Was this a religious nut or what? But he sounded stable. We had a personal meeting, and he repeated his story convincingly. He put me in touch with three other former novices. Two of them said they had similar experiences of being psychologically coerced by overzealous religious superiors. The third, who had been in a Legion-operated seminary in Mexico said he had to beg for his passport and clothes to go home after being repeatedly rebuffed.

I turned to Fr. Bannon for response only to be told by his secretary that the Courant was only trying to stir up scandal? and that he did not expect Fr. Bannon to respond. Only after the article appeared did Fr. Bannon send a statement denying the accusations. His statement was published in the Courant.

Now the Legion in its open letter disclaims the harrowing tale of two men who supposedly had to escape in secret in order to leave.

Indeed it was harrowing. The men told of how they broke into an attic to retrieve their suitcases. They hid them under their beds and watched for an opportunity to retrieve them unobserved. That came one day when the students were at athletics. They hid their bags in bushes and jogged into Mount Kisco. There one of them called a friend to pick them up.

One of them may well have remained on good terms with the Legion after he left, as the open letter says. He wanted to enter a diocesan seminary and needed to remain on good terms so he wouldn’t be blocked. The last I heard from him, he is much happier.

I am baffled by the open letter’s claim that I talked to other ex-seminarians, but as soon as they had something positive to say of the Legion the interview was ended.


I’ve talked to a number of former Legionary priests and seminarians. Most of them wish anonymity because they want to leave the past behind them and get on with their lives. I never ever ended an interview when someone said something positive about the Legion.

The most explosive story of all resulted from a tip from a priest who was not connected to the Legion. Published in the Courant on Feb. 23, 1997, after months of investigation, it began:

After decades of silence, nine men have come forward to accuse the head of an international Roman Catholic order of sexually abusing them when they were boys and young men training to be priests.

The men, in interviews in the United States and Mexico, said the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, molested them in Spain and Italy during the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

The story was reported and written by me and a colleague, Jason Berry, author of the prize-winning 1992 book Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children.

Maciel’s accusers said they decided to go public because Pope John Paul II did not respond to letters from two priests sent through church channels in 1978 and again in 1989 seeking an investigation.

After the pope praised Maciel in 1994 as an efficacious guide to youth,? they got in touch with Berry.

The former Legionaries making the accusations included three professors, a priest, a teacher, an engineer, a rancher and a lawyer. A professor who was a former priest and who died in 1995 left behind an accusatory deathbed statement.

Fr. Maciel, who is based in Rome, declined to be interviewed, but denied any wrongdoing through the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis. The Legion said Maciel was the victim of a plot by disgruntled former members of the order to depose him.

In a letter to the editor of the Courant published on March 2, 1997, Maciel denied the accusations as defamations and falsities with no foundation whatsoever and said he was praying for his accusers.

The Vatican has kept silent on the matter and, in fact, late in 1997, the pope appointed Fr. Maciel as one of his special delegates to the Synod for America. Several of the accusers subsequently filed formal complaints under canon law directly to the Holy See, but what is being done, if anything, I do not know.

The open letter accuses me of willfully? ignoring essential facts that discredit the accusers’ story. We weighed most carefully all of the essential facts the law firm offered to counter the accusations.

The “open letter” repeats the mantra-like refrains of the defense that we took most seriously but in the course of our investigation thought did not ring true.

For example, the Legion claimed that Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar, the former Legion priest who made a deathbed statement accusing Fr. Maciel of having sexually abused him, could not have done so because he was incoherent and in a virtual coma.

They produced a supporting statement from a man they said was the physician who took care of Amenabar. But on double-checking we found that the alleged physician, Raul de Anda Gomez, was not a medical doctor at all but a psychotherapist. Furthermore, he did not even attend to Fernandez.

The real physician who took care of the dying man, Dr. Gabriela Quintero Calleja, told us that Fernandez made his declaration in full use of his mental faculties. She was a witness to his statement.

A psychologist who was among the hospital team that attended to Fernandez supported Dr. Quintero’s evaluation.

It was such a major discrepancy it called into question everything the Legion was telling us. At the last moment, the day we went to press and so informed the law firm we were doing so, they sprang on us an affidavit from a former priest recanting the earlier accusations he had made against Fr. Maciel. He had originally made his claims in a tearful interview with Mr. Berry and in a detailed affidavit. The retraction read hollowly and without the intimate detail that gave so much credence to his original account.

The retraction appeared to have been coerced. We cited both it and his original affidavit.

The open letter goes on to say the accusers had a decades-long history of trying to discredit Fr. Maciel. Not true. The Legion from the beginning has tried to link his present-day accusers with those in the 1950s whose complaints against Fr. Maciel led to his temporary suspension under Pope Pius XII. The nature of the complaints against Fr. Maciel, whether they were of a sexual nature or mismanagement, remains in dispute.

But those making the accusations today were young boys in seminary in the late 1950s. They say they lied at the time to Vatican investigators to protect the man they calledNuestro Padre.

I thought I had done with the Legion when I retired from the Courant at the end of March, after having reported from Israel on the pope’s trip there. But it was a tar baby I couldn’t get rid of.

At the end of August the National Catholic Reporter got several calls from parents in Atlanta who had children at The Donnellan School, the assets of which had been sold by the archdiocese to the Legion the year before. They were fearful of the changes being made and felt they were losing the close-knit collegiality between teachers and parents that made the school such a success.

I had got similar calls in recent years from parents elsewhere unhappy with the direction of their schools under Legion control or in the Legion’s sights — from Dallas, Cincinnati, northern Kentucky, Milwaukee, San Diego.

More recently, I’ve heard from parents in Naples, Fla., and Calgary, Canada.

What is the Legion, on a supposedly evangelical mission to re-Christianize the Catholic church, doing to upset so many people in so many places?

The open letter says my story argues that the Legionaries make a practice of taking over schools that others have worked to start. Exactly so. Talk to the parents in Cincinnati who lost control when they suddenly found their board taken over by Regnum Christi and given to the order. Or talk to parents of an independent school in Calgary newly awakened to the possibility (fear?) of taking direction from the Legion. Or talk to San Diego parents who have fended off the Legion.

Now the Legion may certainly have inspired lay leaders of Regnum Christi to try to get a school going. But the other parents they involve are seldom aware they are part of a front group working for eventual control by the Legion and are shocked when it happens.

Despite hearing from many people involved in these school controversies, I never wrote about the schools until the editor of the National Catholic Reporter asked me to undertake the assignment in Atlanta.

The open letter makes much of the fact that these calls came even before the four staff members were fired dramatically on Sept. 13 as if that was the main concern. However, a substantial number of parents and teachers were upset at what was going on even before the firings.

Indeed, I had heard directly from some concerned parents the year before after Sr. Dawn Gear was forced out by the board in January 1999 and Fr. John Hopkins showed up aschaplain in March of that year, several months before the formal sale to the Legion-controlled corporation.

The claim in the Legion’s open letter that Sr. Gear’s leaving had nothing to do with the subsequent Legionary affiliation is disingenuous at best. It was already in the works. It was not as if the board forced her out and then said, Oh, gee, what do we do now?

In late August, parents were upset that school officers were trying to foist an amended contract on the principal of the lower school and that the guidance counselor was being pressured to inform Fr. Hopkins of the students who sought counseling and the nature of their problems. There were other concerns as well, not least of which was that, according to the parents, the Legionaries had not been direct and open about their intentions. Parents felt they were being kept in the dark about many things.

I heard about an emotional meeting of the board with parents on Sept. 14 and learned about a meeting the board called to thrash out the issues at 8 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 30.

I reckoned on that Sept. 30 meeting as a good place to hear from all sides and booked a flight to Atlanta to attend. But it was not to be. The board cancelled the meeting and said some board members could meet with small groups of parents who had concerns. They refused to allow the parents who wanted to hold their own meeting to use the school. The parents instead met at Peachtree Presbyterian Church. More than 100 parents attended. Most of them felt manipulated, betrayed and outraged.

My attempts to reach those who felt differently were to no avail. The board told parents it would be destructive to talk to the media.

My calls for comment to key people at the school went unanswered — to Fr. Hopkins, the Legion priest; Msgr. Edward Dillon, the school president; and to Frank Hanna III, the wealthy Regnum Christi board member. I was told Hanna was a key player in the decision to make Donnellan a Legion school. Mr. Hanna’s wife told me he did not want to talk to me. She refused to give me his office number.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said Archbishop John Donoghue would have no comment but referred me to a letter the archbishop wrote to parents defending the decision to turn the school over to the Legion. I also had the minutes of the Sept. 14 meeting kept by the parents association.

The only one who agreed to speak to me was Matthew S. Coles, the lawyer for both the school and the archdiocese. Here it is again, I thought: deja? vu. Dealing with the Legion means going through a lawyer. But most of what Coles had to say was for background only, not for quotation.

By then the lawyer for the four aggrieved staff members, those who were fired, had filed the first of what were to be three lawsuits against the school and the board. I agreed to hold up writing the story until Coles had a chance to make a legal response. He promised to e-mail me a copy.

It described the firings as justifiable because, the legal document said, the former teachers and administrators had been undermining the authority of the new owners. But it failed to address many other issues the parents were concerned about, including what they said was the underhanded way the Legion went about gaining and exercising its authoritarian control.

We were near deadline, but I felt we should go to the Legionaries national headquarters for a last effort to get some kind of substantive response. I inquired of the seminarian who answered the phone whether anyone would be willing to talk to me, perhaps the national director, Fr. Anthony Bannon, or Fr. Owen Kearns, editor-in-chief and publisher of the National Catholic Register. We were on deadline, I told him, and needed a speedy response. He said he would pass on my request.

Another day went by, and I heard nothing. I called again. This time the person who answered said I should talk to their public relations director, Jay Dunlap, an addition to the Legion’s staff since last I reported on them. Dunlap was forthcoming with his responses in defense of the Legion, and I quoted him liberally in my story.

Dunlap also suggested I would be remiss if I did not include comments from some Donnellan parents who welcomed the Legionaries presence at the school. I said I would like to talk to some supportive parents.

He called me back minutes later and gave me the names and phone numbers of two parents who were happy with the Legion in Atlanta. One of them, Kitty Moots, refused to speak with me when I called her. I don’t believe in a media circus, she said. She said she wouldneed permission? to speak. This baffled me. Permission from whom? Someone in authority at the school, she answered. When I told her Jay Dunlap, the public relations man for the Legion in Orange, Conn., suggested I talk with her, she told me she did not know him. I reached the answering machine of the second person the Legion referred me to.

Meanwhile Fr. Kearns called the editor of the National Catholic Reporter directly, as did Ms. Moots — apparently having received permission — and the other supporter, Jay Morgan. Comments from all of them were incorporated into the story.

On one point, I stand corrected. The Legionary school in Edgerton, Wis., attended by boys from Latin America, is not an apostolic school, a place where boys considering the priesthood attend. The only such school in the country is in Centre Harbor, N.H.

National Catholic Reporter, posted December 11, 2000

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