The Legion of Christ: A Rotten Fruit
The legend of Marcial Maciel, now deceased, is tarnished
by his scandalous life as a depraved pederast,
lover of money and accessory to the rich.
But his Legion of Christ, founded with
Pope John Paul II’s blessing,
is still with us.
An investigation of this religious business organization,
ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, is now underway.
Will this rotten fruit be separated from the rest or
will it go on contaminating the Church?
During the whole of the Catholic Church’s bi-millennial history, organizations have emerged whose intention is to live more profoundly and spread the message of the Gospel more effectively. The foundations for religious life have generally aimed at bearing critical witness to the “world” (the system) that rejoices in riches, vain honor, pride and other vices.
An array of religious orders The most ancient of these groupings were the monastic orders such as the Benedictines, founded in the 6th century by Saint Benedict. In the 12th century Saint Bruno founded the Carthusians, whose monks dedicated themselves to prayer and did manual labor to survive. The Carmelites began with Saint Berthold of Mount Carmel in the same century. Over time some of these orders went through changes, as with the Barefoot Carmelites set up in the 16th century by Saint Theresa and Saint John of the Cross.
The mendicant orders appeared in the 13th century. Their members no longer called themselves monks but friars. Saint Dominic founded the Dominicans as an order of preachers and Saint Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans based on a life of poverty as a response to the excesses of the clergy of his time. There were several subdivisions among the Franciscans: the Tertiary order, Capuchins and Poor Clares. In that same century, the Augustine order reformed itself as a mendicant religious order.
In the 16th century Saint Ignatius Loyola introduced an important approach to the order he founded: they would no longer meet daily to pray but instead would be “introspective in action.” Its founding nucleus was a handful of University of Paris graduates with doctoral degrees who devoted themselves to establishing colleges and spreading the Gospel outside Europe’s borders. Later on Saint John of God founded a charitable order.
In the 16th century the formality of religious orders was changed to religious congregations. Saint Phillip Neri started a secular congregation of lay people. At the end of the century Saint Joseph of Calasanctius founded the Pious Schools to educate poor and abandoned boys. In the next century Saint John Baptiste de la Salle formed the Christian Brothers. In the 19th century Saint Marceline Champagnat established the Marist Brotherhood and Saint John Bosco established the Salesians. Also in that century dozens of women’s religious congregations emerged, dedicated to education and health services. With their charisma, each of the founders put their own seal on their religious organization to offer answers to important religious and social problems.
Born in 1941, now The “religious congregation” style has been very prolific and has taken different forms. Among the most recent is one whose founder is quite the opposite of the long tradition of good examples, given that he modeled an institution in accord with a system of exploitation and domination totally remote from the faith of the Gospel.
“Millionaires of Christ”
In January 1941 a young Mexican seminarian, Marcial Maciel Degollado, founded the religious congregation known as the Legion of Christ. The name itself is attention-getting. If one looks in the gospels for the word “legion” in the singular, one finds it in both Mark and Luke, referring to the diabolical name a possessed man revealed to Jesus; “My name is Legion.” According to this organization’s official web page, its first members went to Spain in 1946 then to Rome in 1950 where they established their headquarters. At that time they proudly proclaimed that they already had seminaries full of adolescents in Mexico and Spain. Later they opened novitiates in Ireland and the United States. Subsequently the legionaries took over colleges and created a movement they called Regnum Christi. In 2004 John Paul II entrusted the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Papal Institute to the legionaries. Today this congregation has 125 religious houses, 200 educational centers and another 600 centers for lay education and missions. The legionaries boast of having more than 800 priests, 5,000 seminarians and 85,000 lay members of Regnum Christi in 40 countries. They have gotten economic support from the owners of huge fortunes and political backing from conservative parties and groups. The annual budget for its network of institutions has hit US$650 million. The Legionaries of Christ are popularly known as the “millionaires of Christ” due to their characteristic zeal for proximity to money. It’s a fitting name given that they unite three powers: the economic, the political and that of the top Catholic hierarchy.
Its “model” is a sexual abuserThe history of this organization holds many shadows going back to its very origins. When legionaries went to the Jesuit University in Comillas, Spain, in 1946, they were expelled due to accusations of pederasty. Nonetheless, the organization prospered because it knew how to use religion as a source of power and money. Its leaders have very skillfully made connections with important politicians, both civil and religious, as well as wealthy Catholics, reaping copious resources with which to buy loyalty.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II commended its founder, Marcial Maciel, as an effective guide and role model for young people. But only three years later eight former Legionaries, seven of them Mexicans and one Spaniard, dared to denounce publicly before the Holy See the atrocities they had suffered at Maciel’s hands; they accused him of having sexually abused them on many occasions when they were teenagers.
Declaring themselves Christian men, they appealed directly to the Pope: “In full right and now even more in legitimate defense we decided to reveal the terrible and painful truth of a dark evil, hidden almost since the founding of the institution, of the immoral secret behavior of the founder and general superior of the Legion of Christ for over four decades.”
A widespread evilThey would discover that their cases were not isolated or unique, but rather a widespread evil. They admitted having felt defenseless at the time because they were young and had been made to believe they owed devoted, blind obedience to the founder. They told the pope they had been psychologically unable to overcome the painful self-imposed prudence and discretion for many years after leaving the institution, but the papal declaration that Maciel was an example to youth had made them decide to break the silence. They didn’t want the pope being deceived. They confessed that due to misplaced loyalty to the institution when they were young, they had hidden the truth from the Vatican’s investigators who interrogated them about Maciel’s behavior in 1956.
They regretted that the response of the institution and its allies had been to accuse them of conspiring against the Church. They complained that the archbishop of Mexico City had publicly slandered them. Knowing that the evils they were denouncing implicated many more victims, they wondered why the official cover-up and silence had been so hermetic. They were convinced that accepting these facts wouldn’t be so onerous for the Church given that it had recognized other great errors. The shame, they argued, would lie in failing to reveal the truth. They appealed to the Holy Scriptures and Patron Saints, declaring that the Church has always accepted not only that it is an institution for sinners but also a sinning institution. They asked the pope for an investigation.
The first response of the Catholic hierarchy and important Mexican businessmen was to try to keep the accusation from getting out. Subsequently they made their power felt by denigrating the accusers and harassing reporters who had dared publish such a harrowing story. From that moment on Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui has been one of those who has refused to be intimidated or pressured and has opened her various radio and television programs to the voices of the victims and those analyzing Maciel’s personality.
Religious “with business criteria”Once the group of victims found the courage to speak out, others began to do so too, revealing that the truth was even grimmer. A victims’ association was organized by former Legion and Regnum Christi members, all of whom denounced the sexual abuse they had suffered and other characteristics of the public figure. One of them recalled that on a trip with Maciel somebody asked him what he would have been had he not been ordained a priest and he answered “a businessman,” noting that this was the key to understanding the legionaries: a religious congregation “with business criteria.” Do business criteria mean not compensating the damage they do to people and families, using people like objects while they last and discarding them without caring about justice and charity?
Another line of accusation has been directed towards the legionaries’ leaders for setting themselves up as representatives of “God’s will” who should be revered and allowed to enjoy every privilege. They use the people attracted, seeking their financial contributions without the least interest in social justice. Those who know them from within and have become disenchanted with their behavior emphasize that they are expert at looking after their image, carefully covering up their injustices and disorder.
Control, secrecy, bribes...Other witnesses allege that various strategies and policies more characteristic of sects or cults are used in the congregation. The legionaries have a powerful recruitment program for teenagers and children, considering that all have vocation until their superiors decide otherwise.
Those who join are subjected to total control. Inside there is a complete lack of dialogue, discussion, disagreement or difference of opinion with the institution and they must accept everything their superiors tell them without question. Another feature similar to that of a sect is secrecy. They are forbidden to communicate with people on the outside and must account for all conversations or dealings they have with anyone who doesn’t belong to the group. The silence and control were ramparts behind which its founder dug in.
One of the emerging accusations is that pederasty is only the tip of the iceberg. There are also accusations of manipulation within the organization and even of money laundering. The investigations so far reveal about a hundred accusations by seminarians who say they were victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Maciel. It has been proven that the legionaries are expert at silencing their accusers with bribes or by legal means with the help of powerful networks.
A life of luxury among magnatesColombian writer Fernando Vallejo’s biographical sketch of Maciel suggests that the Church’s bishops must have been envious because Maciel “knew how to live.” He emphasizes the priest’s great ability to conceal and dissimulate his real self, given that he deceived various popes from the 1950s onwards. Maciel invited Pope John Paul II to visit Mexico three times. Rather than provide an example of the poverty he demanded of his disciples, Maciel appeared to live in a paradise: he wore black like all legionaries but his were designer clothes. He owned a Mercedes Benz, a BMW and a Porsche and justified them by citing back problems. He only flew first class. On one of his visits to Medellín he demanded a helicopter to fly him, citing security as the reason. On his trips he would spend $10,000-15,000 dollars on extravagant luxuries. As he had a direct line to the pope, Mexican Presidents had high regard for him and asked him to secure papal audiences and blessings for them.
He was friendly with magnates such as Carlos Slim and the Azcárraga family. From the time of the dictator Francisco Franco on, he entered by the great door in Spain through friends such as Alicia Koplowit. In more recent times the Botella sisters ensured him the backing of José María Aznar’s government. In Italy he could count on President Julio Andreotti’s support. To protect his interests with the far Right in Chile, he interceded for Augusto Pinochet’s freedom when the latter was detained in England. Vallejo’s biographical sketch, corroborated by other sources, allows one to see Maciel living amongst tycoons just like one of them. Big businessmen felt in good company with him, since he justified their way of life and hardly spoke like a prophet.
Drug addict and pederastMaciel and the legionaries have been the subjects of copious academic and journalistic research and evaluations. Several books have been published, among the most outstanding being Pepe Rodríguez’s Pederastia en la Iglesia Católica (Pederasty in the Catholic Church], José Martínez de Velasco’s Los legionarios de Cristo. El nuevo ejército del Papa [The legionaries of Christ: The Pope’s new army], Carlos Fazio’s En el nombre del Padre [In the name of the Father] and Los documentos secretos de los legionarios de Cristo [The secret documents of the legionaries of Christ].
Another book, titled El Legionario (Grijalbo), was written by Alejandro Espinosa, himself a former legionary and relative of Maciel. It portrays Maciel as a drug addict and pederast who used his religious power to protect his vices and transgressions. Espinosa recounts that in 1955 Maciel was banished from Rome accused of pederasty; but the process was suspended, the incriminating documents mysteriously disappeared and Maciel reestablished himself in Rome. In the second half of the 1990s the accusation against him of drug addiction and pederasty reappeared, and the information came out in the Hartford Courant newspaper. Although the legionaries hired an expensive law firm and tried to buy the paper off, they couldn’t deny the accusations.
A consecrated man with In 2006 the Mexican academic and psychoanalyst Fernando González came out with his own book, titled Marcial Maciel. Los legionarios de Cristo: testimonios y documentos inéditos (Marcial Maciel. The legionaries of Christ: Evidence and unpublished documents). It contains documents showing that pederast nuclei were embedded in the organization Maciel founded.
a network of accomplices
According to González, “When the evidence is seen from outside, Maciel’s seduction tactics are somewhere between pathetic and grotesque. Nevertheless, on trying to understand the institutional spiritual surroundings of those implicated in what went on in the legionaries’ congregation, especially Maciel’s personality, one can observe that extremely contradictory elements become inextricably crystallized in the seductions. Elements such as the priest consecrated and sustained in a discourse of purity and resolve, and the sexually perverse individual who skillfully interweaves the discourse of chastity with that of his exceptionality ends up dissolving the borders between what at first exalts and what perturbs and undermines it with a vow of silence about the asymmetrically shared deed.” This specialist in social analysis shows that Maciel’s case is a paradigm for how, in a bond of complicity, the Catholic hierarchy kept information about the sexual and addictive activities of the legionaries’ founder from coming to light at the time.
He shows that the different actors implicated, among them important businessmen, didn’t previously agree to cover up for Maciel. Because the institutional and social network in which Maciel moved was a system that could neutralize the possibility of accusations by those involved, the legionaries called the convincing evidence presented in 1997 implausible. The figure of Maciel was idolized and irrisistable. Analyzing those who dared file charges, the researcher said: “Agreeing to testify to an act of seduction and the way in which those implicated did it means exposing oneself publicly to an inermidad (sic – illegible typo) that can only be understood as the impossibility of bearing for any longer a silence and complicity with a seducer who has ceased representing the exceptional being, and a readiness to face the past to try to understand how one could have taken part in the violent relationship of seduction.”
Protected by John Paul IISurveillance, seduction, ensnaring and silencing were combined in the legionaries’ organization. The accusers’ statements are heartrending, recounting how a power appealing to spirituality and papal license committed terrible crimes against defenseless people.
González’s book presents not only testimony but also three unpublished files that the author used to reveal a web of complicity stretching from the top of the ecclesiastical institution to its base and backed by political elites. In Rome he consulted the files of the Sacred Congregations for the Religious as well as those of Father Luis Ferreira Correa, the Legion’s vicar general from 1956 to 1957, and Flora Barragán de Garza, the group’s first great benefactor, whom Maciel tried to divest of her possessions. Based on a huge quantity of uncovered, classified and thoroughly analyzed information, the author arrives at this conclusion: “It is certain John Paul II protected the pederast founder [of the legionaries] and did so consciously.”
Making him a saint, Given so much evidence, Benedict XVI, upon arriving at the papacy, ordered Maciel to leave Rome, return “to a life dedicated to prayer and penance” in Mexico and give up any form of public ministry, thus saving the priest from an ecclesiastical trial and especially from civil trials. The institutions of the top Catholic hierarchy and Mexican politics managed to protect Maciel while continuing to ignore the victims.
The legionaries still trusted that people would turn against the victims instead of condemning Maciel. They were especially confident that time and short memories would dissipate the accusations against their founder. They were even certain that the power they obtained in the Vatican could raise their founder to the altars. These leaders had assimilated the path and the logic Maciel had taught them: make the abominable look like virtue. They wanted to start by canonizing Maciel’s mother, as in the case of Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine.
For the cause of beatification to prosper, it needs connections in the Vatican and lots of money. As they had both, they managed to get the lady on the first rung of the process: she was now “servant of God.” They also aspired to get Maciel’s great uncle, Bishop Rafael Guízar y Valencia, canonized. Certain that canonization of John Paul II, Maciel’s great protector, would also be quick in coming, they expected it to culminate in an official declaration of the saintliness of the legionaries’ founder. They didn’t fear the usual practice of assigning a devil’s advocate to investigate his life, since they’d already seen it put aside in the canonization of Opus Dei founder José María Escrivá. Nonetheless, they were wrong on all counts and it now remains to see if the Maciel scandal, which has become widely known, doesn’t become an insuperable obstacle to Karol Woltyla’s own beatification process.
A nest of sexual abusersMaciel died in 2008 at the age of 85, but not even his death managed to silence the controversy about him. Despite the evidence, those shaped by the cult to his personality demanded he be left in peace and labeled the proven accusations slander and attacks on the Church. They appealed to the saying, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” seeing as “fruits” the whole web Maciel had woven among the powerful to ennoble himself. They offered the institution itself as another proof of his “fruits,” hiding the fact that it was rotten to the core. His victims also knew that by his fruits Maciel would be known and were demanding justice for this very reason; they called for an examination of his criminal actions.
Bernardo Barranco, the specialist in ecclesiastical matters, explored Maciel’s legacy and concluded that his canonization was out of the question given that he had ended his days stigmatized by sexual abuse of children and impunity. The victims continued to demand that the truth be known. If the legionaries wanted the accusations to end with Maciel’s death, the facts recounted by the victims showed that the whole institution was a nest of abusers.
Maciel’s pederasty and drug addiction had not occurred in isolation, but was organized and accompanied by a group of like-minded men who protected and abetted him. Another thing to take into account was this: the Vatican’s elimination in late 2007 of the private vow forbidding the organization’s members to criticize their superiors had dismantled one of the fundamental cornerstones on which the legionaries’ impunity rested.
Rome’s confidential adviserBernardo Barranco recalled how, during John Paul II’s long papacy, Maciel reached the summit for his organization by becoming the pope’s totally trusted adviser on everything to do with vocations, clergy and the fight against liberation theology. Maciel had already secured a position of privilege and prerogative among the ecclesiastical, economic and political elites in Mexico and now the legionaries’ inner circle had acquired great power and collected a lot of money for their organization through his connections to the fortunes of high-up public figures in Rome. And while the legionaries appeared very strict in matters of personal and familial morality, they were incredibly lax and permissive when it came to businesses management and environmental damage.
Ambiguity and dual discourse has been an essential characteristic of the legionaries. Historian Francisco Martín Moreno laments how the Church hid accusations of sexual abuse by the legionaries’ founders and José Martínez de Velasco, a Spanish researcher and author of two books on the legionaries, appears convinced that the Church was complicit in Maciel’s acts. Nonetheless, some Christians simply hope he will face divine justice for the secrets he took with him to the tomb.
With the Vatican’s complicityThanks to his rigorous investigations, Fernando González has become a specialist on the subject. In his opinion Maciel’s death won’t put an end to the scandal. What is needed is to get inside his organization to see just how far it was complicit in and abetted the crimes of pederasty, drug use, absolution for accomplices and others, although in 2001 then-Cardinal Ratzinger established a 10-year statute of limitations for the latter crime.
Maciel died without ever facing a trial or compensating his victims. If religious organizations carry the imprint of their founder and the legionaries carry the imprint of a pederast, González notes that the internal pederasty networks continued to function after Maciel and gave concrete examples of cases. He considered viable an accusation in Geneva against both the Vatican’s Roman hierarchy and the Legion for complicity with and abetting a pederast. He also argued that the Vatican’s archives would make it possible to prove the enormous complicity of the Secretary of State, the Sacred Congregation of Faith and the Sacred Congregation of Religious, all of which failed to act on the trustworthy information they had.
A double life of Information about Maciel’s hardly saintly life has continued to appear this year. First was the news that he’d had a daughter with a lover. In response, the legionaries’ leaders didn’t resort to their usual excuse that the accusation was a conspiracy against the Church. They claimed they were surprised, saddened and disconcerted by their founder’s double life, but while this information made no one proud, they continued to insist he had done a lot of good as head of the organization and thanked him for the values he had handed down to them.
affairs and pregnancies
Then in a radio interview with journalist Carmen Aristegui, a former legionary revealed that at age 68 Maciel had gotten a 15-year-old girl pregnant, a serious crime of child abuse punishable by civil law. Other people said Maciel had maintained sexual relationships with various women. A Spanish ex-legionary recalled that Maciel was known to have intimate relationships only with well-off women.
Even Alejandro Espinosa, Maciel’s nephew, alleged suffering sexual abuse by his uncle, and stated that he too had witnessed Maciel’s affairs, remembering how he boasted of his conquests. He named a good number of women whom Maciel had exploited economically and with whom he’d had sexual relationships.
Who leaked it and Some believed all these recent revelations came from Rome itself, when they realized they couldn’t block out the sun with a finger and wanted to avert a bigger disaster. This is supposedly why the legionaries accepted some of it. When new information became available, Fernando González was interviewed. He also believes that the legionaries’ acceptance of the existence of Maciel’s daughter shouldn’t be seen as a desire to start unveiling the truth about his character but rather as a ploy to deter future revelations and bury the gravest criminal behavior of the Legion’s founder: that having to do with pederasty. Moreover, up to that point the sexual sphere was the only focus; a fundamental subject—the legionaries’ economic management—continued to be concealed.
why is it accepted now?
Another interpretation of the leaks had to do with Rome’s attempt to uncouple the organization from its founder, to clean up and restructure a religious congregation perceived as valuable. Nonetheless, this strategy didn’t seem to be faring very well.
There had also been talk of intense internal struggles within the Legion and perhaps even a highly complicated conflict over Maciel’s will. In the media it was observed that Maciel had not only seduced and conned various rich women, but also had destroyed the lives of many children who had been sexually abused and regret was expressed that he’d gone to his grave unpunished for all he had done. Faced with proof of the pederasty accusations, the Church would have to cleanse itself and one way to so was to stop protecting the accused and instead ensure that they face justice in the civil courts.
A crumbling legendThe legionaries’ leaders complained about how the case would affect them, but didn’t beg forgiveness from Maciel’s victims or show any intention of making reparation to those he wronged. They went along with trying to distance the institute from its founder, but their language was ambiguous since even while accepting the facts they continued to verbally protect the man who, despite “some defects,” had brought them many values for which they were indebted to him. In their arguments they got at least one thing right: the institution couldn’t be understood without Maciel.
According to Fernando González, a major change had occurred as the legionaries had steadfastly denied their founder’s acts of pederasty and addiction to morphine and now were admitting that he led a double life. Nevertheless González insisted that talking about a “double life” wasn’t enough: they should be talking about many lives since he was a drug addict, a pederast, had sexual relations with women and even had a daughter. To cap their disingenuousness, they still wanted his saintliness to be accepted despite this behavior. It was important too that the defense the organization had originally constructed to defend its founder—alleging a conspiracy against them and the Church—had crumbled.
A Vatican inspection In March of this year the Vatican ordered a team of clerics to conduct an inspection of the Legion. They said they aimed for truth and transparency. Once this news became public, Maciel’s successor said members of his institution were troubled and asked for forgiveness from anyone who felt harmed by Maciel’s actions.
with what results?
It seemed a step forward since they used the word “forgiveness” for the first time, but closer examination of their words suggests they were only seeking forgiveness from those loyal to the organization because the legend had fallen. They said nothing to those wronged by their founder, much less clear a path to repair the serious damage Maciel had caused so many defenseless victims.
Leaving to one side the legionaries’ comments, which ineffectually tried to minimize the inspection’s expected results, it was taken as a sign of the case’s seriousness that notification of the Vatican’s visit was made by the Secretary of State and not the Congregation for the Sacred Life Institutes and Apostolic Life Societies. Another point to emphasize was that now it wasn’t just about the deceased founder, but also about his institution. There was speculation about what might result from this visit: institutional changes, expulsion of some members and even the religious institution’s dissolution. Given that the powerful networks of economic interests supporting the legionaries would be activated, the latter was seen as unlikely unless the Vatican set its sights specifically on the networks of international economic complicity and ensured that a truly evangelical vision would prevail.
One former Mexican legionary felt that the investigation started by Pope Benedict XVI meant something expected of him for a long time was finally being done. He trusted that the pope’s determination wouldn’t waver because Maciel and the congregation’s other leaders had committed “high treason against Christ and the Church.” Spanish journalist Martínez de Velasco also considered the announcement important and long overdue, and advised that the current superiors, all of them close to Maciel, should be thoroughly investigated because he had not acted alone and those who had abetted him should go to prison for their complicity. An ex-legionary from Chile expressed hope that the investigation would bring about the congregation’s renewal.
In the “universal devil” categoryXavier Velasco, a man of letters, published an article in April titled “A bedroom absolution.” It began with the account of an incident that happened 12 years ago when the legionaries’ followers were still convinced they would one day pray to Saint Marcial Maciel. The legionaries had contacted Velasco because they wanted him to announce their institution’s main advantage: while others taught, they formed leaders. Velasco confessed that he was tempted to ask them if instead of forming they didn’t mean “shoe-horning”.
Velasco explained the reasons that had led him to write the article. The first was that “the tarnished cleric from Michoacan, as well as being a child rapist, pedophile, drug addict and father, was one of John Paul II’s confessors.” The second had to do with “a scandalous fault common to many hypocrites, with and without cassocks: forgiving the accomplice. How could the unwary/innocent believer not be encouraged to sin alongside the libertine in a cassock, if he who was going to absolve him absolves the pope? Who would dare to contradict his teachings having once believed in his goodness and seeing him now as a saint? Is there a pious soul in the head of him to whom the Pope confesses his own sins, an extreme hedonist disguised as a shepherd of souls? How to deny, based on the disciple’s silent genuflexed faith, that the graceful accomplice would necessarily leave the place of the incidents even purer than when he entered, after receiving such a huge indulgence? “
The writer went on to reflect that the aggressor connived with his victim for a handful of blessings. He ended by underscoring that the memory of the man who would have been a resplendent new Mexican saint was now likely “to ascend to the category of universal devil.”
Pending responsibilities In the context of the latest revelations about Maciel, a sizable group of people of recognized honor joined with prestigious civil organizations to publish a pamphlet that opened with the question: “When will the Vatican finally stop covering up the crimes of sexual abuse committed by Marcial Maciel?” Given the latest revelations, the objective of those who signed the pamphlet was to get the legionaries and ecclesiastical authorities to publicly distance themselves from what they had previously been complicit in covering up. The signers requested from the legionaries and the ecclesiastical hierarchy a series of things they should have done for some time but that had become imperative in light of what had happened.
for the Catholic Church
First, they asked for an official public declaration to establish responsibility for the canonical and civil crimes committed by Maciel and to ask for pardon for the extensive damage caused to the sexual abuse victims. They also called on the pope to demand a review of the process conducted against Maciel, in which the honor and reputation of all those called to give evidence under an oath of excommunication would be vindicated for having done so in good faith and telling the truth.
Out of respect for the victims and all Catholics, the ecclesiastical elite were obliged not only to clarify the crimes of pederasty but also to pay compensation for the damage done. The Catholic hierarchy was expected to bring about profound institutional change to avoid more innocent boys and girls falling victim to sexual abuse in the future by priests sheltered, protected and concealed by that same Church.
The only conspiracy Civic groups concerned with respect for children’s rights and an important sector of civil society that defends transparency view the evidence as overwhelming, well-founded and decisive. Maciel, the legionaries’ leaders and the top Catholic hierarchy now find themselves in an inextricable bind. Many religious and civil laws have been violated. Both the damage done to the victims of the alleged pederasty practices and that provoked by its concealment and multiple complicities is immense. The top Catholic hierarchy cannot escape the obligation to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, make the results known with total transparency, ask forgiveness for the resulting blame and compensate the victims for the damage done. The latter must not continue to bear the burden of their aggressors’ injustice and impunity at all levels.
Also to be resolved is what all this implies for the legionaries’ organization, not only because its founder was surrounded by a nucleus that favored and protected his perverse practices, but also because the response of the congregation’s leadership revealed the highly questionable and dangerous way it thinks and acts. Rather than investigate the accusations when they surfaced, the leadership enlisted their own and their allies’ organizational machinery—making them accomplices—and employed substantial economic resources to further dishonor the victims and those in the media who listened to them. They thus further victimized those who had suffered Maciel’s abuses and created new victims, those whose professional work was significantly harmed. In order to protect itself, this leadership invented and publicized a non-existent conspiracy supposedly aimed at damaging the Church. In the end the only plot to damage the Church was the pederasty and the institution’s concealment of it.
What carries more weight?Once the legionaries could no longer evade the facts about their founder’s sinful and criminal life, they fell back on a style of argument that showed them up even more: they appealed to the metaphor of scales. They tried to minimize Maciel’s serious crimes by arguing that they were outweighed by all the good he and his organization had done in the world. Those who think like this have a warped vision and damage people over whom they wield influence.
If someone undertakes praiseworthy labor, does it not matter if he wrongs others? Can one violate people’s elemental rights if one compensates for it with other actions? An organization with this behavioral logic is essentially immoral. To try and minimize behavior that attacks people’s human rights and dignity displays a crooked thinking linked exclusively to activism. Such thinking has led many of those loyal to the legionaries to ask about the good Maciel did, as if it might excuse him from responsibility for having trampled on and denigrated many people’s dignity.
Indoctrinated in MacielismA first clue to answer what the legionaries have called Maciel’s “double life” can be found in the gospels when Jesus warns: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” Ironically, these are the very ones who shall be known by their fruits.
Another clue has to do with the complexity of human beings. No one is monochromatic. Good people have flaws and bad people can show goodness. It’s enough to examine the behavior of bloodthirsty and corrupt mafia bosses who are excellent fathers and do charitable works building schools, hospitals and temples in different communities. But no one can be exempted from answering for their actions against others.
In order to save their founder, the legionaries distanced themselves completely from the most basic of lay ethics, not to mention the imperative of Christian love.
An example of the people over whom the legionaries have influence is the case of Mexican President Fox’s first lady for the six years of his administration. This politician boasted that Maciel was her spiritual guide but demonstrated a behavior far from what could be considered moral. Marta Sahagun de Fox dressed ostentatiously with public money even though most of the population lives in poverty. She was accused of favoring the illicit enrichment of her circle, and in her unrestrained ambition encouraged the serious reversal of democracy Mexico suffers today. Was she distorted by association with Maciel’s thinking, or was it a case of “birds of a feather”?
Money, sex and powerIt’s impossible to take Maciel out of the legionaries because we can’t forget that the legionaries and their followers have been indoctrinated with Macielism. We also mustn’t minimize the intrinsic relationship between Maciel’s personality and the addiction to money, power and perversion.
The teachings of Mexican psychoanalyst Raúl Páramo can be applied to this case. In his book Psicoanálisis y lo social (Psychoanalysis and Society) he warns that addiction will be less detectable as such in an environment where it is widespread. One such addiction—to money—is intrinsically insatiable as “it becomes an end in itself, over and above any other value.” Páramo emphasizes that money encourages the idea of its convertibility into many things, including power or fame. It is perceived as something that allows everything. The author stresses that he uses the word “allows” in both its meanings: at the material level to be able to do something and the moral level, wherein money grants permission to do anything. In this way, money overrules morality. In becoming a substitute for all values, it acquires “its maximum potential as seducer and oppressor: everything is within its reach” and it feeds fantasies of omnipotence. On arriving at the conviction that money can do everything, it follows that “one can trample others’ rights underfoot.”
Addiction to money degrades and corrupts because it leads to trading what cannot be traded: love, truth and loyalty. Keeping this in mind, it would be appropriate for the just-initiated Vatican investigation to examine whether Maciel’s organization is not a rotten fruit that should be separated from the rest so it doesn’t spoil everything.
Jorge Alonso is envío’s correspondent in Mexico.