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

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

 

By Terri Hardy

 

Sacramento Bee
Friday, November 8, 2002

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Writer
—————————

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

 

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

Concluding Dialogue with Fr. Neuhaus

 

By J. Paul Lennon, MA

 

FR. NEUHAUS’S RESPONSE

Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
Subject: LC
From: ‘Richard John Neuhaus” <rjn@firstthings.com>
To: irishmexican43@yahoo.com

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?

Sincerely,

(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus
==================================

 

REV NEUHAUS DEFENDS MACIEL PART III

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.

I- WHY [DID THE ACCUSERS] WAIT UNTIL NOW?

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.
++++++

II- WHAT DID THEY EXPECT FROM 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.
++++++++++++=

SUMMARIZING:
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.
Sincerely,

J. Paul Lennon MA

=================================================
FR. NEUHAUS’ ANSWER

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.

Cordially,

(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus

====================================

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 16:49:19 -700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon” <irishmexican43@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: thanks
To: “Richard John Neuhaus” <rjn@firstthings.com>

“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.

Sincerely,

J.Paul Lennon, MA

Mary Therese Helmeuller – My Experiences with RC Recruitment Tactics

By Mary Therese Helmeuller

 

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

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

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

April 16, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear xLC,

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

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

FJH

 

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 http://www.legionofchrist.org. 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.

Poppycock.

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

Fr. Peter Cronin on Leaving the Legion

[Introductory number of NETWORK, October, 1992, from REGAIN archives]

Dear Friend:

Greetings and Welcome to NETWORK. This newsletter is an effort to create a network of former members of the Legion of Christ, a way to keep in touch, communicate ideas, share our personal experiences (and maybe a few laughs), analyze and evaluate our past and, hopefully, offer support to each other. The past is prologue [Shakespeare].

As you can see from the list of names, we have the beginnings of a network that extends to many states in the US and other countries. Please contact others you know who would be interested, mail the list and articles to them, and invite them to send me a letter or an article, a personal history or bio, thoughts or refelections which I will be happy to copy and send on to all Network members. Send all communications to:

Peter Cronin
St. Bartholomew’s


 

You can FAX letters to me at… or reach me by phone at (301)…

I think all of us agree that in the realm of social phenomena leaving the Legion of Christ is a unique experience. Is there anything quite like it? It is unique for several reasons:

Firstly, the lifestyle we shared prior to leaving. We progressed through a series of stages – postulancy, novitiate, juniorate, philosophy, apostolic practices, theology and maybe even ordination and the priesthood. We were the Curso Intensivo in Salamanca, Prefectos de Disciplina in Mexico, Vocational Directors in the US and Spain. We moved in a clearly defined world in which we absorbed ideas on the spiritual life, the priesthood, the Church, the apostolate, the Legion. [Spanish] Words such as quiete, Primerisima, Cesare, Cotijas, Cumbres, Kranz, modestia de la vista, Nuestro Padre, Tercer Grado [3rd Degree], Monticchio, la seccion femenina [female section] and so many others became part of our everyday vocabulary and even ingrained in our subconscious…

Secondly, leaving the Legion is unique onto itself.

  • It is not easy to leave the Legion. One is encouraged, advised and directed to stay by the Superiors. We went through a lengthy period of personal discernment before taking the step.
  • Prior to leaving we could not share the crisis with anybody except the Superior. This resulted in gradual isolation that we had to cope with and overcome.
  • Before leaving, we went through a difficult period of disagreement with the Legion on basic issues: aspects of priestly formation, Apostolic Schools, lack of diversity or individual freedom, lack of dialogue, the practice of confession and spiritual direction with the superior, relations with one family. With whom could we share these concerns? Where did we seek counseling? What forum was there for a free, healthy, honest discussion of these issues?
  • When one leaves the Legion it is kept a secret within the order for as long as possible. Why?

Thirdly, our experience after leaving the Legion is quite special in that we emerged from such a close-knot organization into a world in which we are faced with the excitement and challenge of personal decision-making everyday.

Un Legionario se es o se despide’ [You either are a Legionary or you take your leave!]. That is precisely what we did. However, it was our decision. The time came when we realized that it was not what we had originally looked for; the Legion did not meet our expectations or answer our needs for spiritual growth, or respond to our vision of priestly life or religious experience. We left because we had to leave. Personally, I consider my decision to leave and my departure from the Legion as a grace-filled, liberating and ultimately salvific event. It was the will of God!

After I left, I found the company and support of Declan Murphy, Kevin Farrell and Paul Lennon in the Washington DC area to be most helpful. Thanks, guys, if I never said it before! I am very happy now as a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington. I find my ministry to be diverse, challenging and rewarding. If any of you are ever in the DC area you have a place to stay right here. Is that Espiritu de Cuerpo –esprit de corps- or what!

We have all gone our separate ways, adjusting to our new reality; some in the priesthood, others in the lay state, married or single. But, we have a common past and experience –which was wonderful, fulfilling, graced, happy, funny, silly, disappointing, sad, horrendous, unjust, inhuman…(add your own adjective). We have a lot to share. I will try to send out Network every other month. Mail or fax your articles to me or call me on the phone 24 hours a day (although, preferably, in the normal waking hours).

It has been fun putting these thoughts together. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,
Peter Cronin.

PS Congratulations to –exLC Fr- John McCormick who has just been named pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Kissimmee, FL (next door to Disney world). I know we all wish him much success and happiness.

Religious Groups Awareness International Network

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