The Seven Capital Vices of the Movements, According to “La Civiltà Cattolica”

By Sandro Magister

Three “dangers” and four “challenges”: through the magazine of the Rome Jesuits, the Vatican makes a critical appraisal of the movements. A warning for the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, Sant´Egidio, and Bose

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ROMA – With John Paul II, the communities and movements that have arisen within the Catholic Church during the past few decades have enjoyed a mild climate, wrapped up in the friendship of the pope. But shadows gather where light shines. A recent editorial in “La Civiltà  Cattolica” listed the “dangers” and “challenges” posed to the Church by many of these movements.

The editorial – dated June 19, 2004, entitled “The ecclesial movements today,” and signed by Jesuit Fr. Giuseppe De Rosa – is all the more important insofar as it was reviewed and authorized before printing by the Vatican secretariat of state, as is the rule for every edition of “La Civiltà  Cattolica.” Reading it is like glancing over a reminder note, not for the use of the current pontificate, but for that of the next, with a list of unresolved questions. And the answers must be found.

In making a survey of the “dangers” and “challenges” posed by the movements, the magazine does not mention names. But it´s not difficult for the experts to identify the institutes under criticism, point by point.

According to the editorial by “La Civiltà  Cattolica,” “the most serious and difficult challenges that the ecclesial movements pose to the Church today” are the following four.

The first is “the lack of an overarching law.” “The present code of canon law does not deal explicitly with the ecclesiastical movements,” and this generates confusion. They must be “given canonical systemization”: an undertaking “which, however, shows itself to be particularly difficult.”

This observation is valid for most of the movements. An important exception is represented by Opus Dei, which, since it became a personal prelature – the only one in the Church today – has enjoyed a solid and untouchable juridical framework.

The second concern is the presence in some movements of religious men and women belonging to other institutes: this “has provoked an identity crisis for some of them and has induced others to leave their own institutes or to establish a sort of dual membership.”

This phenomenon is observed especially among the Charismatics and members of the Neocatechumenal Way. It frequently happens, for example, that Jesuits or Franciscans become part of these movements. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, official preacher of the papal household, is a famous case of dual membership: he is a Franciscan friar, and at the same time he is part of the Charismatic movement Renewal in the Spirit. There are many cases of dual membership among the Charismatics. In the Neocatechumenal Way, on the other hand, it happens more frequently that a religious abandons his own institute of origin and shifts completely to the movement founded by Kiko Argüello e Carmen Hernández. It is understandable that ancient and glorious religious families would not look with a kindly eye upon the exit of their own consecrated men and women, and the passage of these into new movements.

The third challenge “is constituted by the fact that some ecclesial movements […] admit baptized non-Catholics”: if these “were to become very numerous, they might influence the general assemblies to make substantial statutory changes, putting in danger the Catholic nature of the movement itself.”

This brings to mind the Focolare movement founded and headed by Chiara Lubich, which counts among its members thousands of non-Catholics and non-Christians, among whom are many Muslims and Buddhists. It is true that the non-Catholics belonging to Focolare do not enjoy any deliberative power, but the fear is that they might gain influence as a pressure group and weigh upon the public image of the movement and of the Church, in a relativistic sense.

More substantial is the case of the monastic community of Bose, the founder and prior of which is Enzo Bianchi. There are some non-Catholics who have full membership in this community: the Swiss Reformed pastor Daniel Attinger, two other Protestants, and the Orthodox monk Emilianos Timiadis, previously the metropolitan archbishop of Silyvría. And this is enough to make it impossible for Bose to receive canonical approval from the Holy See, not to mention the other obstacle constituted by its being a mixed community, with monks and nuns in the same monastery.

The fourth critical point mentioned by “La Civiltà  Cattolica” deserves to be cited in full:

“The most delicate challenge is that of the participation of priests in the movements. It must be remembered, in the first place, that some movements have created their own seminaries, in which the students are formed according to the charism of the movement and prepared to be priests at the service of the movement itself. Then there remains the open question of the canonical incardination of these priests: if the movement has as its marks universality and missionary activity, which are recognized and approved by the Holy See in granting the movement the status of a public association, who should incardinate its priests? Generally, recourse is had to an instrumental incardination, in which a bishop well disposed toward the movement incardinates the priest into his diocese, while leaving him available – in general full time and with full freedom of movement – to the movement itself, through a written agreement. This means that a priest thus incardinated is at the service of the movement, wherever it may need him. But difficulties can arise if a bishop is succeeded by another who does not agree with this type of incardination, or if urgent and grave pastoral needs require the presence of the priest in the diocese: in this case, it can happen that the bishop tends to restrict the freedom of the priest and ignore the written agreement. Among other issues, such an agreement has more a formal than a juridical value, as it is not provided for in canon law.”

Many movements correspond to this profile. The most visible case is that of the Neocatechumenal Way, with more than fifty “Redemptoris Mater” seminaries throughout the world, from which thousands of priests have emerged and been juridically incardinated in the dioceses, but are often, in fact, at the exclusive service of the Way.

Analogous cases include the Community of Sant´Egidio, Focolare, the Marian Oases, the Missionary Community of Villaregia, and many more: all with priests at their service, ordained or contributed by friendly bishops.

The solution proposed by “La Civiltà  Cattolica” is that “the movements that are by nature universal and missionary should obtain the faculty of incardinating their own clergy,” as is the case for the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, and for the institutes of consecrated life in general.

In effect, among the movements that have arisen during the past few decades, some have already obtained the faculty of incardinating their own priests: the Legionaries of Christ, the Lefebvrists who re-entered the Catholic Church, the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo – linked with Communion and Liberation and with superior general Fr. Massimo Camisasca – and, naturally, Opus Dei, as it is a personal prelature.

The Neocatechumenal Way has tried, in the past, to obtain the status of a personal prelature. But without success. Many of the new movements have characteristics that make them unsuitable for full approval by the Vatican Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life. The Marian Oases, for example, apart from having a woman as superior general, have communities of men and women together: under these conditions, it is unlikely that they would obtain from the Holy See permission to incardinate their own priests.

* * *

To this list of four unresolved problems, the editorial of “La Civiltà  Cattolica” adds three warnings of other dangers inherent to the movements.

The First Danger:
“The tendency to make absolute their own Christian experience, holding it to be the only valid one, for which reason the ´true´ Christians would be those who are part of their own movement.”

The Second:
“The tendency to close themselves off; that is, to follow their own pastoral plans and methods of formation for the members of the movement, to carry out their own apostolic activities, refusing to collaborate with other ecclesial organizations, or seeking to occupy all the territory themselves, leaving scarse resources for the activities of other associations.”

The Third:
“The tendency to cut themselves off from the local Church, making reference in their apostolic activity more to the methods of the movement and the directives of its leaders than to the directives and pastoral programs of the dioceses and parishes. From this arises the sometimes bitter tensions that can be created between the ecclesial movements and the bishops and pastors.”

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

Who Can Believe Legion Leaders?

Who Can Believe Legion Leaders?


On Feb 28, 2004, Father Bannon issued a letter to members and relatives of Legionary and Regnum Christi members warning them at the time about the Vows of Silence book that was about to be released.


He referred to demonstrably false allegations that our founder, Father Marcial Maciel, sexually abused a few young men (then members of the Legion) back in the 1940’s and 1950’sand despite all the evidence available to the authors and of which they are aware, the accusations are rehashed in a new book to be released in March 2004 attacking Pope John Paul II, especially his staunch defense of the Church’s discipline of priestly celibacy and its unchanging sexual ethic.


ReGAIN Comment:


Fr Bannon made a statement that the allegations were demonstrably falseand referred toall the evidence available to the authors. At the time how could Fr Bannon have felt so sure that Fr Maciel was innocent? He does not claim any research into the subject. Joining the Legion in the 60s in Ireland he had no first hand information regarding the 1940-60 period when the abuses were alleged to have happened. In truth there was an absence of evidence of any kind regarding those obscure years. Fr. Bannon was basically appropriating the Legion line of the time.


Fr Bannon went on to say that on behalf of the Legion and the Movement I assure you once again that Father Maciel is absolutely innocent. He has made it clear ever since the allegations first arose in the late 1990’s – decades after any alleged abuse could have happened – that he has never committed any such act ever.


ReGAIN Comment:


Fr Bannon declared Fr Maciel to be absolutely innocent. But Fr. Bannon must have known about some accusations in the 1950s when Fr. Maciel was exiled to Spain by the Vatican, a period (1956-59) referred to in frequent talks such as Explanation of Rules asThe War(La Guerra). So he knew accusations were not surfacing for the first time in the 1990s. He states the source of his confidence in assuring members and their families that Fr Maciel was absolutely innocent: Fr Maciel had said so himself. This is jumping to conclusions. Was this naivety, gullibility, or a deliberate attempt to manipulate Legionaries and to discourage them and their family members from reading the Vows of Silence book?


Later in his letter, Fr Bannon adds:


Moreover, Nuestro Padre continues to insist on responding to these allegations in the most Christian way possible: forgiving them, saying as little as possible, simply laying out the facts, letting his record speak for itself, avoiding personal attacks and harboring no ill will or rancor for the accusers. This has set an extremely high standard for those of us who want to come to his defense.


ReGAIN Comment:


Fr. Maciel met all accusations with blanket denial. Fr Bannon said that Fr Maciel’s record spoke for itself and that he believed this had set a high standard for those who wanted to come to his defense. Considering recent revelations we wonder if Fr Bannon now regrets making this statement and how much of the real truth he was aware of. If he was totally unaware then we wonder about his ability to discern what is going on around him.


Fr Bannon commented: Anyone who would take an objective look at the facts will see where the truth lies.


ReGAIN Comment:


Considering the real facts it is evident where the truth lies. Was Fr Bannon sincerely seeking the real truth at the time or was he into denial?


Fr Bannon referred to independent, documented facts from the time when the alleged abuse would have happenedand that Vatican investigators moved in and lived with the Legionary communities in Rome and elsewhere. They interviewed each Legionary personally and in depth. Not only did they find the charges empty and baseless, they reported that the Legion and Father Maciel were exemplary, holding great promise for the Church.


ReGAIN Comment:


The reality is that the results of that Visitation/investigation were never released. How could Fr. Bannon know the results? A few years ago Mexican historian Fernando Gonzalez was able to unearth some of the reports written by the Carmelite Friars investigating Maciel for suspected sexual abuse, drug abuse, abuse of power, and leaving his foundation abandoned for long periods. These are available in Spanish in his book, Marcial Maciel, la Legion de Cristo, Testimonios y Documentos Ineditos (Unpublished Testimonies and Documents; Ed. Tusquets, Mexico City, 2009). Allegations of sexual abuse are mentioned, together with Fr. Maciel’s powers of persuasion and intimidation, as well as his use of the morphine derivative, Demerol. Fr. Bannon did not have access to any serious documentation when he wrote. He based his statements on Legion Spirit and Mystiqueand Fr. Aruma’s explanation of rules in Salamanca. Fr. Aruma was one of the Legionaries Fr. Maciel left in place when he was forced out in 1956.


In the letter, Fr Bannon explained that every member (was) interviewed personally and in depth, and none of them corroborate (d) a single allegation of any wrongdoing – let alone sexual molestation then added that every alleged victim had the perfect opportunity to reveal any abuse right after it would have been happeningand that the facts of the investigation and its findings overwhelm the accusers and their story.


ReGAIN Comment:


With this statement Fr Bannon demonstrated not only a lack of empathy but a total ignorance of how sexual abuse victims are traumatized and would rarely be prepared to testify against their predators right after it happened. Fr Bannon also fails to point out that in this case the victims were totally and completely dependent upon Fr. Maciel as their sole provider of all the necessities of life and that he had made them agree to a secret vow to never speak ill of him or any of their superiors. Fr. Maciel prepared his victims for the interviews by telling them the Visitators were coming to destroy the Legion and their God-given vocation.


Fr Bannon stated in his letter that the book will apparently argue that a Vatican-inspired ‘vow of silence’ keeps the accusers’ allegations from being taken seriously. But the Vatican knows the Legion’s history; it knows what its decades of scrutiny have revealed about the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. That is why the Vatican has done what any court does when a case has no basis: the court refuses to hear it.


ReGAIN Comment:


How did Fr Bannon draw such conclusions? Was he attempting to influence the LC and RC members and their families by falsely implying in writing that there was no basis at the time to the case of the victims? It is probable that the influence peddling by Fr Maciel among senior members of the Vatican had far more of an effect on the case that had been presented by credible witnesses.

Fr Bannon added: Seeing these false charges aired in public is upsetting to us all. There is enough to do without having to deal with patent falsehoods. I trust that you will look at the facts and what God has worked in your family since you met
Regnum Christi and the Legion of Christ


ReGAIN Comment:


Fr Bannon here referred to false chargesand patent falsehoods. In other words he declared in writing that the victims of Father Maciel were liars.
Usually people gather facts before they make such charges against others, especially if they put such claims in writing. Did Fr Bannon conduct his own investigation by interviewing at least some of those who claimed to be victims? Based on his own words, it seems that his main proofwas that Fr Maciel had declared himself to be innocent and he expected others to do the same. For the majority of those who had been under the influence inside the Legion or Regnum Christi, this was an effective argument because Fr Maciel was perceived by them to be a living saint and the main source of their unique spirituality. What seems like empty unsupported statements to outsiders were at the time believable for those who had been conditioned to believe everything that came fromofficialLegion sources of information. Any outside information that was critical of the Legion or of their founder, especially that which came from those evil detractorswas not even allowed and was considered to have no credibility.


It is unknown what prompted Legion leadership to reveal the existence of Fr. Maciel’s daughter in Spain. Fact is that this revelation opened the floodgates to further revelations of his double life and behavior unbefitting a priest. This scandal contributed to the Vatican’s Visitation of the Legion. As the Legion began to toss some members jumped ship, others cut their losses apologizing, and all distanced themselves desperately from Fr. Maciel, vowing ignorance. Fr. Bannon has remained in the backwaters.


Day by day the truth continues to unfold and as slowly some of it seeps inside the walls, Legion spin doctors are now having a more difficult time explaining away their mistakes or misdeeds! ReGAIN encourages everyone involved in this situation (inside and outside) to seek the truth and to act on it. That painful – truth will set them free.


The entire letter is available at Click here Then scroll down to Revisiting 2004article.


LC Opens New High School Seminary in Sacramento, CA

Priesthood prep: A conservative Catholic order teaches boys in Placer County


By Laurel Rosen


Sacramento Bee
Tuesday, February 3, 2004


Surrounded by tall pine trees and gentle mountain slopes, students at a boarding school near Colfax live as few teenagers do.

They do not watch television or movies. They do not listen to the radio, play video games or use the Internet.

When they listen to music, it is only classical. When they talk on the phone, it is only with their families.

Mostly, their days and nights are filled with study and prayer. These boys – who range in age from 12 to 16 – are preparing for the priesthood.

From a really young age, I just felt called to become a priest, said James Kuchar, 14.

As a 4-year-old, Kuchar said, he played make-believe Mass in his Boise, Idaho, home.

I would pretend I was a priest and my brothers and sisters were congregants and altar servers, he said.

Immaculate Conception Camp Del Oro opened last summer to 15 boys interested in becoming priests. It is one of about 10 high school seminaries around the country run by a variety of Catholic orders.

The seventh-through 12th-grade school in Colfax is run by the Legion of Christ, a Catholic order known for its strict observance of religious tradition. It is the order’s first school in the West and draws students from California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Idaho. It costs about $7,200 a year to attend.

The Legionaries operate a similar, but much larger, seminary high school in New Hampshire, as well as a graduate school of psychology in Virginia and 10 institutions of higher education in Latin America and Europe.

The order also has been in discussions with Sacramento city and county officials about opening a university here.

Sacramento Bishop William Weigand has welcomed the Legionaries to the region, which is a primary reason they established the apostolic school in Colfax, their spokesman said.

Membership in the order has grown steadily since it was established in Mexico in 1941 by the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Today, Legionary leaders say, about 70,000 people worldwide belong to Regnum Christi, the order’s lay movement; there are about 3,100 Legionary priests and seminarians.

The order, however, is not without its detractors. In the 1990s, several of Maciel’s former students accused him of sexual abuse in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Maciel has denied the allegations, and Legionary officials say a Vatican investigation determined that he did nothing wrong. Maciel, 83, now heads the order from Rome.

While Legionaries say their schools offer outstanding academics and an environment of intense spiritual devotion, critics say the program is too regimented and controlling.

At the school in Colfax, the boys awaken in a communal sleeping room with 15 beds. They dress, taking uniforms from a communal clothes closet. Before breakfast, they go to morning Mass. Before each class and each meal, they say prayers.

Ben McCabe, 14, said he likes the school because it gives him the opportunity to foster a relationship with God.

I think He might be calling me, McCabe said. That’s why I’m here. This school is like a door and I’m here to see if I should go through that door.

In general, students at the Legionary schools said they come from highly observant Catholic families. Many have several siblings and were home-schooled before joining the Legion.

Three of Edward Kuchar’s nine children left Boise to attend the school in Colfax. He says the boys chose the path themselves, and he couldn’t be happier.

God is attracted to us and for some reason our kids are getting evangelized very young, Kuchar said. It’s God working in their life. It’s a stunning thing as a parent.

School leaders say the 240-acre Colfax campus is a work in progress.

A main building holds a kitchen, dining room, sleeping quarters and classrooms. Another building serves as a chapel. Motor homes scattered on the property provide shelter for visiting priests and brothers.

Eventually, officials hope to move the school closer to Sacramento and reserve the Colfax site for religious retreats.

Between prayer, study and hikes in the woods, the students do all the work it takes to keep the facility running, said the Rev. John Curran, who heads the Colfax campus. They sort laundry, set dining tables, wash dishes, mow lawns, clean bathrooms and paint fences. The school day is long and highly structured, and vacations are short – a few days after Christmas and a few weeks over the summer.

Students interviewed in Colfax say they don’t mind.

I’m willing to make the sacrifice for God because we don’t have long on this Earth, said Thomas Cauthorn, 14. I’d rather make the sacrifice and spend eternity with him.

But other students who have left the Legion’s other schools say the sacrifices the school demands of its students are unreasonable.

It’s very regimented, very secretive. As you progress, it becomes more secretive; you can’t criticize your superiors, said Todd Carpunky, 29, a bankruptcy lawyer in New York City.

Carpunky attended Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Connecticut, went on to further training to become a priest, and then became a Legionary recruiter in Europe.

He described an environment at the schools where strict regulations dictated every aspect of life, including – as part of the training in etiquette – how to eat a banana with a fork and knife.

You can never just pick up a banana and eat it, Carpunky said.

The flow of news from the outside world was censored, Carpunky said, with newspapers arriving with whole entire sections cut out – even in the Catholic newspapers.

Carpunky left the Legion in 1996 after a dispute with Legionary leaders over his desire to seek medical care for a herniated disc in his back.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me, Carpunky said. But I was so scared at the time because they tell you if you leave you’re at risk of eternal damnation.

Training to become a Legionary priest is a demanding task, Curran said, and requires a lifestyle that does not suit everyone. The school teaches table manners and grooming in an effort to prepare the boys for whomever they might meet when they leave, Curran said. Exposure to the media is controlled so that the boys don’t encounter any inappropriate influences, he said, and contact with friends is limited to help the boys foster their friendship with Jesus Christ.

If they’re called to be a priest, they take a vow of obedience, poverty and chastity. We live our vows very strongly, Curran said. If a boy has a problem with that, then it’s a way for him to see that he isn’t called here.

Yet, enough people have found such practices so stifling that they have left the order and share their experiences on Web sites such as or The Legion of Christ has responded with to counter its critics’ claims.

One defining characteristic of the Legion of Christ is the strict prohibition of gossip, said Jay Dunlap, the order’s North American spokesman.

People are attracted by our emphasis on charity, even in every word you speak or write. We never use words to slander or attack, he said.

But Andrew Boyd, 20, another former Legionary who attended the apostolic school after it moved to New Hampshire, said the no-gossip rule creates an environment where people can’t fully express themselves.

The Legion’s emphasis on communal living was too much to bear, Boyd said, and he felt manipulated by superiors who read his mail.

If they can control any information that comes to you, nobody is going to come in and convince you to leave that life, Boyd said.

Boyd left after a year, feeling that he had been tricked into a life he did not sign up for.

Of course they don’t tell people straight up, ‘Do you want to come to our seminary? We read your mail.?

Boyd went into a diocesan seminary, where, he said, he was allowed privacy and his mail was not read. He now studies history at the University of Central Florida, where he is involved with the Catholic Campus Ministry and Army ROTC.

Dunlap and Curran said that opening student mail is an ancient practice in many Catholic schools preparing boys for the priesthood. It cultivates the spirit of openness and honesty that’s necessary in a communal religious environment, they said.

Sometimes there could be news in a letter that could really rock a kid, Curran said, adding that it’s important that school leaders know what’s going on at home so they can respond to the child’s needs.

The parents expect it, and want it. They know that’s the way this life is, he said.

Upon hearing about a year ago that the Legion of Christ was planning a university in Sacramento, Boyd said, he wrote to Bishop Weigand to warn him about them. The bishop responded with a note, Boyd said, stating that he had had only good experiences with the order.

That view was supported by the Rev. Charles McDermott, an official with the Sacramento Diocese, who said in an interview that the Legion of Christ is simply a conservative form of Catholicism.

The Catholic Church has broad boundaries, McDermott said. We believe what St. John the Evangelist said that Jesus said: ‘In my father’s house, there are many mansions.’ There is room for people to be more liberal or more conservative, without ceasing to be Catholic.

About the Writer

The Bee’s Laurel Rosen can be reached at (916) 773-7631 or


Catholics scrutinize enigmatic Opus Dei

Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2003
By Ron Grossman, Tribune staff reporter

Depending on the eye of the beholder, the teaching kitchens of Lexington College, bedecked with pots and pans, mark either a place where young people learn an employable skill in a Christian setting, or a clandestine battlefield in an intense struggle for the soul of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lexington College, a school on Chicago’s Near West Side that specializes in food-service management, is run by Opus Dei, a tiny religious movement brought to public attention by the best seller “The Da Vinci Code,” a kind of ecclesiastical mystery novel featuring a Machiavellian Opus Dei operative who takes orders from a sinister, off-stage presence called “The Teacher.”
Earlier, the group briefly made headlines when it was learned that Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent turned Russian spy, sent his children to a Washington-area private school run by Opus Dei–Latin for the “Work of God.” Recently, the group opened a new multistory headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, a sign of its abundant financial resources. All of this has shone a spotlight on a group that has been something of a mystery, even to other U.S. Catholics. Yet it has tentacles of influence stretching all the way to the Holy See, where the pope’s spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member.

Hanssen’s story set off a brief but intense frenzy of speculation about who else in the nation’s capital might be associated with the group that, in other countries, has been politically cozy with the far right. Speculation has it that its members have risen to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Supreme Court and the FBI.

Opus Dei’s policy is to not disclose who is or isn’t a member. But officials say that if public figures belonged to the group, surely that would have been known in a culture where the lives of the famous are open secrets.

The movement’s critics–and some of the most vocal are Catholics–don’t buy that argument. They claim a pledge of secrecy is written into the rules of the group, which some see as an underground conspiracy aimed at capturing power in the church by stealthily boring from within.

“What possible activity could any Catholic group be engaged in that justifies secrecy?” wrote Catharine Henningsen, in SALT, a liberal Catholic journal of which she is the editor.

Opus Dei members respond that they aren’t secretive but simply value privacy. “We just built a 17-story headquarters in New York,” said spokesman Brian Finnerty. “How can you operate a secret society from a skyscraper at 34th and Lexington?”

Indeed, Opus Dei, whose first U.S. outpost was in Chicago, consistently produces diametrically opposite responses–depending on whether a question is being answered from inside or outside the group.

Liberal Catholics say it is theologically antediluvian and decry it for pandering to ultraconservatives unreconciled to more recent changes in the church. Opus Dei supporters claim their founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was on to the need for updating Catholicism three decades before the reformist Vatican II Council of the 1960s.

Former members claim it is a cult that pressures psychologically vulnerable college students into joining. Group members say Opus Dei has provided a meaning to their lives that they lacked in a secular and materialistic society.

Critics are put off because, as part of their devotional regimen, some Opus Dei members inflict pain on themselves that seems to border on masochism. Supporters respond that mortification of the flesh is an ancient and honorable Christian practice that puts them spiritually in touch with the great saints of the past.

Opus Dei members are furious about the unflattering portrayal in Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” where their religious regimen seems to inspire not piety but evildoing. They also point to the novel’s historical inaccuracies.

Some critics alleged that Escriva’s character faults made him ineligible for sainthood. An English priest, and former member, claimed that Opus Dei’s founder told him Adolf Hitler had been “badly treated” because “he could never have killed 6 million Jews. It only could have been 4 million at most.” Supporters say Escriva would not have said such a thing, and they note that a third of all Catholic bishops supported his candidacy for sainthood, which was proclaimed in 2002.

Numbers small

Critics and supporters agree on one thing: The group has stirred up a fuss way beyond its numbers. Of the estimated 1 billion or more Catholics in the world, only about 85,000 belong to Opus Dei.

There are about 3,000 members in the U.S., divided as in other countries into two principal categories: “supernumeraries” (about 70 percent), who live in the secular world and may marry, and “numeraries” (about 30 percent), who live communally in Opus Dei residences, called Centers, and are pledged to celibacy. Revolving around them is a support group, the “cooperators,” who aid the movement with prayers and financial contributions.

Despite the monasticlike existence of the numeraries, Opus Dei members are not, for the most part, clergy. Only about 2 percent are priests and some were lay members for years before being ordained. That makes the movement unusual in the Catholic Church, a hierarchical organization.

It was precisely that top-down approach to religion that inspired leaders of the Protestant Reformation to leave the Catholic Church. Indeed, when Opus Dei members stress their movement’s emphasis on ordinary believers, they sound more like Martin Luther or John Calvin than like the ultraconservative Catholics their critics say they are.

`Era of the laity’

“This is the era of the laity,” said Sharon Hefferan, who runs Metro Achievement Center, an Opus Dei tutoring program for Chicago public school students housed in the same building as Lexington College.

It is a busy place. Young professional women come from their Loop offices to the Center to volunteer, helping girls from Chicago’s less fortunate neighborhoods with homework. Lexington College, named after the West Side street where it began, has been training women for the hotel and restaurant industry since 1977.

“The clergy have a role, and that’s fine,” said Hefferan, who joined the movement in 1988. “But ultimately the church is about lay people.”

Still, if there is a modernist side to Opus Dei, other aspects make its critics say that it seems a throwback to the fire-and-brimstone preachers of the Middle Ages.

Sharon Clasen, who lives in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, was introduced to the group as a Boston College freshman. The dormitories were full, so a friend recommended Bayridge, an off-campus women’s residence hall run by Opus Dei. She moved in, was attracted by the warm and supportive atmosphere and eventually became a member.

“After I joined, they gave me a barbed-wire chain to wear on my leg for two hours a day and a whip to hit my buttocks with,” said Clasen, who has since left the group.

Privation and pain

Rev. Marty Miller, chaplain at Lexington College, said Opus Dei’s use of privation and pain reflects a sinner’s need for physical penance. Because everyone falls into that category, members are expected to sleep on the floor or a board one night a week. The whip, he said, is called a “discipline,” the leg binding is a “cilice.”

“It hurts a bit, but I don’t tighten it too much,” Miller said. “It’s said that our founder would draw it so tight, he drew blood.”

Opus Dei’s founder–and members always capitalize the title and speak of him with reverence–was a Spaniard who entered the priesthood on the eve of his homeland’s civil war of the 1930s. Because the church was identified with the ruling class, many priests were killed, a fate Escriva narrowly escaped by going into hiding. When Gen. Francisco Franco won the war, Escriva allied his movement with Franco’s authoritarian regime, with several Opus Dei members occupying key positions in his government. Opus Dei officials, however, currently downplay Escriva’s actively supporting Franco.

During the subsequent Cold War, Opus Dei expanded to other parts of Western Europe and the Americas, attracting support by projecting itself as a bulwark against the advance of communism. Along the way, it drew to its ranks some financial whiz kids who reportedly made the movement fabulously wealthy. In his book “Their Kingdom Come,” critic Robert Hutchison says Opus Dei has even bailed out a hard-pressed papacy.

Escriva’s insight was to recognize that the task of maintaining a viable Christian presence in an increasingly secular world was too big for the clergy alone.

Elite corps

Opus Dei is based on the idea that lay people can spread the Gospel by going out from their Centers to regular jobs and making workplace contact with others. By Escriva’s design, Opus Dei was to be the shock troops, or the elite corps ready and able to take on church problems wherever they may be–a position traditionally occupied by religious orders, such as the Jesuits.

Pope John Paul II gave the movement a unique status in the church, making it a “personal prelature.” That exempts the group from the jurisdiction of local bishops, a move Opus Dei had long campaigned for and which previous popes resisted. Some observers think the pope, a conservative, saw the movement as a useful ally in the church’s version of the culture wars–the struggles between progressives and traditionalists ongoing since Vatican II.

On the other hand, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a noted liberal, gave Opus Dei priests control of a Chicago parish, St. Mary of the Angels, on the Near Northwest Side, a privilege the movement enjoys in few other places.

The movement’s success has provoked resentment in other quarters of the church, said James Hitchcock, a history professor at St. Louis University, a Jesuit school.

“In some cases, it’s produced almost a paranoia,” Hitchcock said. “There are Jesuits who hear you express conservative religious views and say: `Are you a covert member of Opus Dei?'”

Recruiting among students

Escriva sought recruits at Spain’s universities, judging that there was a critical mass of alienated students put off by the secular atmosphere of modern education. His movement still follows that approach, proselytizing on college campuses and operating high schools, including two in the Chicago area. Opus Dei also runs charitable programs locally and nationally.

“They appeal to the idealism of youth,” said William Dinges, a professor at Washington’s Catholic University.

Kristina Bucholz first made contact with Opus Dei through an after-school program the movement ran in Puerto Rico. She joined and was sent to a Center near Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“You’re told you are the elite guard of God,” said Bucholz, who says she quit out of resentment for having her life tightly controlled. Ex-members report that they were isolated from their families and their reading was censored. Opus Dei officials deny using coercive methods.

Tammy DiNicola was introduced to the group when a member she met at Boston College brought her to functions at the Opus Dei house. She remembers being idealistic and looking for a way to serve God.

“What I didn’t realize was that I was a target for recruitment,” DiNicola said. “But when I joined, they said you should have 10 to 15 friends that you’re working on. You had to fill out forms each month and have meetings to develop strategies to get them to join.”

Bucholz and DiNicola are bitter when they look back at their experiences, but officials of Opus Dei say others have decided that the life is not for them but remain supporters.

Peg Bruer was a numerary for almost 18 years.

“I stopped being a member when I realized my vocation in life was being married,” said Bruer, who lives in the Los Angeles area.

Notable departure

Still, there have been notable defections from the higher ranks.

Maria del Carmen Tapia was Escriva’s personal secretary and a regional director of Opus Dei in South America. In a memoir, “Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei,” she recalls an Escriva far different from the movement’s reverential portrait. The “Founder,” by her experience, was dictatorial and threw temper tantrums.

“I gradually realized that by isolating its members Opus Dei makes them overly dependent, even childish,” Tapia wrote. “Similarly, its lack of ecumenical spirit makes its members inflexible in human relations.”

Yet for former members, no less than loyal members, the experience of Opus Dei has shaped their lives for years afterward. DiNicola and her mother run a support group, the Opus Dei Awareness Network, or ODAN, that helps former members make contact and counsels current members wrestling with the issue of leaving, or their families.

Hefferan, who runs the Chicago tutoring program, said her commitment to Escriva’s principles is as real a presence in her life as it was when she joined 15 years ago. Working with needy kids in Metro Achievement Center and performing Opus Dei’s rituals are part of a seamless spiritual existence, she said.

“It’s a quiet apostolate,” she said. “Opus Dei is our humble effort to live a life in imitation of the life of Christ.”

– – –

Interest persists in Opus Dei

The 85,000-member Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928 to give Catholics a vocational path for daily life emphasizing prayer, sacrifice and fidelity to the pope. The first U.S. chapter opened in Chicago in 1949. Today, there are 3,000 members in the U.S.


Opus Dei operates spiritual retreat centers, a college and several schools, including the Midtown Educational Foundation in Chicago. Members fall into two main categories:


About 30% of members

– Live in Opus Dei residences (men and women separately)

– Pledged to celibacy

– Attend daily mass and spiritual readings

– Men can work outside Opus Dei

– They wear a sharp band of wire around the thigh two hours daily and whip them-selves for minutes each week


About 70% of members

– Can be married

– Live with their families

– Volunteer in Opus Dei centers and schools

Supporters of Opus Dei who make financial contributions but are not members are called “cooperators.”

Sources: Prelature of Opus Dei in the U.S., staff reporting,1,85937.story?coll=chi-news-hed