Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: The Unspeakable Scandals of the Legionaries of Christ
Their actions were covered up for a long time before the scandal really broke out in the 2000s, more precisely after the death of the founder of the congregation, Marcial Maciel, in 2008. The Mexican priest resigned in 2006 after several accusations of sexual assault committed between 1956 and 1997. The man had been implicated in 1948 and briefly suspended the time of the opening of an investigation, stopped by the death of Pius XII. After regaining his functions thanks to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, all the allegations against him in Mexico were automatically relegated to the rank of slander.
Many years later, in 1998, eight members of the Legion of Christ denounced his actions in the 1950s and 1960s on victims between the ages of 11 and 16. After a vast investigation by Benedict XVI, the Holy See ordered in 2006 the withdrawal of Marcial Maciel who was asked to “lead a withdrawn existence in prayer and penance.” This existence turned out to be full of secrets, some details of which were revealed shortly after his death in 2008. The New York Times then explained in its columns how the founder of the Legion of Christ had led a double life in which he had several identities, managed an immense fortune in all opacity and raised his own daughter. “Poverty, obedience, chastity”. The vows pronounced by each Legionary of Christ before committing themselves apparently had no place in the life led by Marcial Maciel.
These revelations were truly publicly acknowledged in 2010. An investigation by the Legion of Christ concluded that Marcial Maciel had indeed committed “acts of sexual abuse of minor seminarians” and said he regretted not having believed the people who had testified before. The same year, the congregation underwent a profound overhaul as part of its trusteeship by the Vatican, determined to take the subject head on. Apart from Father Maciel, other priests have been incriminated in this case, such as the French episcopal vicar Pierre Dufour, sentenced to 15 years in prison for “rape and sexual assault” – who had admitted his actions on at least a dozen young adults for several years – and Henri Le Bras for acts committed in the late 1990s.
In 2019, a new report reported at least 175 minors who were sexually assaulted by priests of the same congregation from 1941 to 2019, at least 60 of whom were attributed to Marcial Maciel. If these acts are recognized, their instigators are still present in the ranks of the Legion of Christ. At least in part. We learned then, still in the same report, that 18 of the 33 religious accused of pedophilia were still in office, but had nevertheless been excluded from tasks related to minors. More importantly, half of the perpetrators were themselves victims of the same abuses. “In this sense, it is emblematic that 111 minors abused in the Congregation were victims of Father Maciel, one of his victims or a victim of his victims,” the report reads. That same year, Pope Francis made the fight against sexual assault in the Catholic Church one of his priorities.
The extent of the suffering inflicted by these clerics is revealed at the rate of the publication of new reports. The last one, dating from March 2021, revealed new figures and the identity of 27 priests. Among them, “two have died without trial, sixteen have been sanctioned, eight are currently in canonical trial and one has received a dispensation from the ministry without trial.”
More broadly, the Ciase (Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church) delivered a report on October 5 led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, former vice-president of the Council of State. His conclusion is alarming: in 70 years, there are 216,000 victims of sexual abuse by clerics and 3,000 predator priests.