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The sexual abuse scandal in the Legion of Christ involves accusations against Marcial Maciel, leader of this organization for many decades. It has been linked with the series of Catholic sex abuse cases in some Western jurisdictions.

In March, 2010, the Legion of Christ in a communique [1] acknowledged as factual "represensible actions" by Maciel, including sexual abuse. The communique stated that "given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life." This occurred, after the Legion spent more than a decade denying allegations and vilifying the victims of abuse.[2]

1956 investigation

Father Marcial Maciel, the leader of the Legion of Christ, was investigated several times. In 1956 the Vatican had him removed as superior and investigated allegations of drug abuse. After interviewing members of the then-small congregation, the Vatican found him innocent, and he was reinstated in February 1959.[3] There are no records of any members reporting sexual abuse at that time. However, since then two seminarians have reported that they lied to investigators and did not report abuse to them because of the vow that Father Maciel had them take, never to speak ill of him.[4]

Accusations since the 1970s

Since the 1970s, Marcial Maciel has been accused twice of having repeatedly sexually abused other congregation members, including young children. Maciel's accusers include a priest, a guidance counselor, a professor, an engineer, a lawyer, and a former priest who became a university professor.[5] The men, all of which were behind the accusations both times, seven Mexicans and two Spaniards, described themselves as former members of a favored group, known as the "apostolic schoolboys." The abuse allegedly occurred over three decades beginning in the 1940s in Spain and Italy, where boys and young men were taken for schooling.[6] The abuse, they said, involved some 30 boys and young men and extended over at least three decades.

Nine different accusers

Of the nine men making the accusations, one subsequently retracted his story, claiming it had been a fabrication intended to damage the Legion.[5] The other eight continue to maintain these allegations. Fr. Maciel and the organization originally denied the accusations. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who is now Pope Benedict XVI), examined the allegations.

Stepping down as leader

Shortly after some media reported the reopening of the investigation in late 2004, Fr. Maciel stepped down as General Director of the Legion.[7]

Reopening the case

Later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, examined the allegations, reopening the investigation against Maciel shortly before Maciel resigned the General Directorship of the Legion. According to the ReGain organization, as many as 24 men came forward with accusations of sexual abuse against him. Maciel and the Legion continued to deny the accusations until his death in 2008.[8]

Retirement and penitence

On May 19, 2006 the Vatican published a communique for press, instructing Maciel to retire to a life of "prayer and penitence".[9]

The reaction of the Legion was summarized by Jim Fair, the US spokesman of the Legion of Christ as a persecution, while the Legion proclaimed Maciel's innocence. "Fair has absolutely no doubt that Father Maciel is innocent of accusations that he sexually abused seminarians decades ago. Any statements to the contrary, he said, amount to persecution of a holy man – the kind of persecution Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, 'Blessed are those who hate and persecute you for holiness' sake; you shall see God.'"[10]

Fathering a child

On 2009 February 3 the New York Times reported: "The Legionaries of Christ, an influential Roman Catholic religious order, have been shaken by new revelations that their founder, who died a year ago, had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter just as he and his thriving conservative order were winning the acclaim of Pope John Paul II."[11] This has been confirmed by the Legion of Christ[12].

According to Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, the Legion also admitted to gross misuse of funds by Maciel.[13] Alvaro Corcuera and Thomas Williams have also stated that, given the revelations about the immoral life led by the founder, it is probable that past accusations of sexual abuse be true.[14]

The Rev. Fr. Thomas V. Berg LC, Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, has formally apologized to the victims of Fr. Maciel, "In shock, sorrow, and with a humbled spirit, I want to express my deepest sorrow for anyone who, in any way, has been hurt by the moral failings of Fr. Maciel." ”[15]

A few weeks after the scandal broke, Fr. Berg left the Legion of Christ to become a diocesan priest, transferring the Westchester Institute to the Archdiocese of New York.[16]

On September 3, 2009, an apology on behalf of the Legion was made by Fr. Julio Marti and Fr. Scott Reilly, (both territorial directors of the Legion in the US northeast), "We are deeply saddened and sorry, and we sincerely ask for forgiveness from God and from those who have been hurt through this.” We also regret that our inability to detect, and thus accept and remedy, Father Maciel’s failings has caused even more suffering."[17]

Civil suit on behalf of six children

In July 2009, Mexican media reported that an attorney, José Bonilla, will represent three of a possible total of six of Maciel's children in a civil suit to recover Maciel's estate. The lawyer claims that there are several properties in Mexico and around the world which Maciel owned in his own name.[18][19]

Media in Spain had similarly reported an interview with a woman who had a child with Maciel over 20 years ago and now lives in a luxury apartment in Madrid which Maciel purchased for her. The woman, Norma Hilda Baños, insinuates that she was abused by Maciel as a minor and later was impregnated by him and she bore him a daughter, Norma Hilda Rivas.[20] At least one source claims that Rivas is an alias that Maciel used during his life.[21]

Reaction of archbishop O'Brien

In the wake of these affairs, Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O'Brien told his archdiocesan newspaper that the order must offer "full disclosure of [Maciel's] activities and those who are complicit in them, or knew of them, and of those who are still refusing to offer disclosure," adding that the order's finances should also be subject to "objective scrutiny." He called Maciel "a man with an entrepreneurial genius who, by systematic deception and duplicity, used our faith to manipulate others for his own selfish ends," and further criticized the "good deal of secrecy in [Maciel's] own life...[and] in the structures he created." The Archbishop welcomed the Vatican's decision in the following March to conduct an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries, and said that the order's abolition "should be on the table."[22]

Apostolic visitation

The Vatican has ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order's late founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado. The announcement of the unusual investigation was posted on the Web site of the Legionaries of Christ on March 31, 2009 along with the text of a letter informing the Legionaries of the pope's decision.[23]

On June 27, 2009, according to Vatican commentator Sandro Magister, Vatican authorities have named five bishops from five different countries, each one in charge of investigating the Legionaries in a particular part of the world. Their first report is due in the fall of 2009:

Ricardo Watti Urquidi [1], Bishop of Tepic, Mexico, in charge of Mexico and Central America, where the Legion has 44 houses, 250 priests and 115-120 religious seminarians; Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, in charge of the United States and Canada, where the Legion has 24 houses, 130 priests and 260 religious seminarians; Giuseppe Versaldi, Bishop of Alessandria, in charge of Italy, Israel, the Philippines, and South Korea, where the Legion has 16 houses, 200 priests and 420 religious seminarians. (in Italy 13, 168 and 418 respectively); Ricardo Ezzati Andrello [2], Archbishop of Concepción, Chile, in charge of Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, where the Legion has 20 houses, 122 priests and 122 religious seminarians; Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Bishop of Bilbao, Spain, in charge of Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Holland, Poland, Austria and Hungary, where the Legion has 20 houses, 105 priest, and 160 religious seminarians[24][25].

The investigation is being undertaken by the Vatican department that oversees religious congregations of women and men which is presently headed by Cardinal Rode. Rode is a close friend of the Legion of Christ and frequently receives gifts from the Legion, both solicited and unsolicited. The Legion has also paid for some of his holidays. For references see National Catholic Reporter of Kansas, passim.

See also


  3. ""Legionary Timeline"". Legion of Christ
  4. Berry, Jason. "Fr. Marcial Maciel leaves behind a flawed legacy." National Catholic Reporter. 22 Feb 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hartford Courant, 02/23/1997:
  6. El Legionario, by Alejandro Espinoza, Grijalbo, Mexico City, 2003, p 22. Translated
  7. J. McKinley Jr., McKinley Jr, James C. (April 23, 2005). "Pope-to-Be Reopened Mexican Sex Abuse Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010., New York Times (April 23, 2005)
  9. Vatican Communiqué, "Father Marcial Maciel Invited to Renounce All Public Ministry"., Zenit News Agency (May 19, 2006)
  11. Goodstein, Laurie (February 4, 2009). "Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That Its Founder Led a Double Life". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  12. El Mundo, Spanish language website, accessed 27 March 2009
  23. Vatican orders apostolic visitation of Legionaries of Christ
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