Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, LC

Father Maciel, The Legionnaries,
and a Grim Culture of Secrecy


[Few clearer and more horrifying examples of clerical sexual abuse and a culture of secrecy can be found than the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who sexually abused seminarians, vilified his accusers, maintained a mistress, fathered a child, and exacted from his followers an oath of silence concerning accusations against him.  Even Pope John Paul II was duped by him.]

THE founder of the Legion of Christ sexually assaulted dozens of boys and girls, men and women, who had placed themselves in his care. He had at least four mistresses, whom he kept in lavish apartments paid for by the Legion. He sired several illegitimate children; two of them also claim to have been abused by their father. [...]  Benedict XVI, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced of his innocence. Immediately after succeeding John Paul, he launched a full investigation of the Legion’s activities, ordering its founder to withdraw from public life. Maciel retired to a gated community in Florida, where he lived with several of his disciples, one of his mistresses, and his daughter. He spent his final years lounging by his swimming pool and nursing a morphine addiction. He was never defrocked.


Story by Rocco Pakma, from Whispers in the Loggia, Feb. 2, 2009

AFTER several days of veiled hinting and internet buzz, earlier today the Legionaries of Christ confirmed unspecified revelations involving misconduct on the part of Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, the controversial order’s disgraced founder, who died at 87 a year ago last weekend.

Publicly stripped of his faculties and “invited” to live a reserved life of prayer and penance by the Holy See in 2006 at the close of a years-long investigation, Maciel’s twilight was clouded by scandals, most prominently involving allegations of pedophilia by a number of former Legionaries -- charges the order had protested vigorously at every turn. While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made no public judgment on the claims in announcing the arrangement and the Legion declared its founder’s innocence anew at the time, the removal was largely taken as an admission of Maciel’s guilt.

in the wake of the 2006 Vatican investigation [Regnum Christi] issued a statement suggesting that the finding was a “new cross that God has allowed [Maciel] to suffer.”

A favorite of Pope John Paul II and many in the Roman Curia, the strictly-ordered, staunchly-conservative and highly-secretive community founded by the Mexican cleric in 1941 garnered equal amounts of praise and scorn for its rapid growth, internal cohesion and -- backed by an exceedingly loyal donor base -- its concerted entry into a host of apostolates. Considered a cult by its critics and a model by its fans, from its beginning the Legion and its lay arm Regnum Christi were heavily rooted in the charism and personality of the founder, known in life as “Padre Nuestro.” Until the practice’s dissolution in 2007 at the behest of Pope Benedict, even criticism of Maciel by Legionaries was banned under a secret vow made by members of the society. Last year, with the twin groups forbidden to work in a handful of US dioceses after complaints over some of their methods, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore made headlines after placing the Premier See’s LC/RC apostolates under a notably stringent oversight.

Though unconfirmed by the Legion, multiple reports indicate that the days since Friday’s anniversary have seen members informed of the founder’s “double life,” its most widely circulated element the reported existence of at least one child born to Maciel and a mistress.

In a statement earlier today, an LC spokesman said simply that “We have learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult for us to understand. We can confirm that there are some aspects of his life that were not appropriate for a Catholic priest.”

In a comment at Amy Welborn’s Charlotte Was Both, Tom Hoopes -- editor of the LC-owned National Catholic Register -- apologized “to the [abuse] victims, who were victims twice, the second time by calumny... to the church, which has been damaged... to those I’ve misled” for his defense of Maciel over the years.

“I did it unwittingly, but this isn’t a time for excuses,” Hoopes wrote. “I seek repentance and forgiveness, and I leave it at that.”

All I want to say is, I’m sorry.

I want to say it here, because I defended Fr. Maciel here, and I need to be on the record regarding that defense:

I’m sorry, to the victims, who were victims twice, the second time by calumny. I’m sorry, to the Church, which has been damaged. I’m sorry, to those I’ve misled.

I did it unwittingly, but this isn’t a time for excuses.

The Church gave me great, great good in Regnum Christi.

The Church did bring justice, and did penalize this man.

Thank God for the Church.

I seek repentance and forgiveness, and I leave it at tha


Maciel’s successor at the Legion’s helm, Fr Alvaro Corcuera del Rio, is traveling around the US to share the information with its branches. In an early January speech in Mexico, the community’s general director sounded the call for a Christocentric renewal of the order.

Neither Maciel’s name nor the impending revelations were mentioned in the address, whose English translation was added to the Legion’s website just in recent days.

Operating in 22 countries, the Legion counts 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians. Regnum Christi has 70,000 members in over 40 countries worldwide.

Text: Open letter to Legionaries by Dr. Germain Grisez


Saturday, January 31, 2009

An open letter to the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, by Dr. Germain Grisez, Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Posted with permission of the author February 5th, 2009.

This morning I found the attached Catholic News Service report posted on the National Catholic Register website, which suffices to convince me that the report’s content is substantially accurate. I attach it so that you may know exactly what has moved me to write this message to you, who are the only Legionaries of Christ I know well and regard as friends.

I hope that you will realize without my saying so that nothing true of Father Maciel could ever lessen my admiration and affection for you, my readiness to associate with you, and my desire to cooperate with you whenever our different vocations make doing so appropriate. As your friend, I am thinking about your plight, and wish to offer the help I can give you.

You must be feeling great pain at your spiritual father’s betrayal of Jesus, of his Church, and of you and all your good and faithful confreres. You also must be feeling great anxiety at the dimmed prospects for the unfolding of your vocations to priestly life and service. I try to imagine and do sympathize with those feelings and pray that the Holy Spirit will console you and strengthen you to console your good and faithful confreres.

In my draft of chapter three of my volume on clerical and consecrated service and life, I wrote:

While good close collaborators never renege on their total self-gift, some do leave the diocese or institute to which they first committed themselves in order to enter another, form an entirely new institute, or undertake a different sort of consecrated life. But they only undertake such a change if convinced that God is calling them to make it. Many saints have discerned such a calling and responded. Their example makes it clear that their commitment to and membership in particular dioceses or institutes is a stable but not always unalterable way of carrying out their fundamental commitment, namely, their self-gift to Jesus and his Church.

If I were you, I would bear in mind that your fundamental commitment is to Jesus and his Church. The question that should be uppermost in your minds is how to continue carrying out that commitment most faithfully and fruitfully.

You and all your good and faithful confreres share a common good that includes realities of great value: your communio with one another, your experience and habits of working together, and material means of carrying on your common service and life. All that should be protected, salvaged, and, if possible, kept intact. I do not think that good end can be realized by the juridical person, the Legionaries of Christ, and its present leadership.

Sex-abuse involving diocesan clerics and members of religious institutes has been dealt with up to now solely by sanctions against those guilty of abusive activities and by measures to prevent such activities. The bishops, religious superiors, and others who were guilty—of complicity in such wrongdoing, lying about it, irresponsibility toward victims, and so on—have in general not honestly admitted, much less rectified, what they did and failed to do. For that reason, the injury to the Church continues to fester. Still, those past experiences might seem to some Legionaries to provide a model by which your present plight can be overcome.

That would be a grave mistake for two reasons.

First, no matter how corrupt the hierarchy may be, faithful Catholics cannot do without it, but we can do without any particular religious institute. Everyone realizes that Father Maciel’s double life required the complicity of associates, some of whom surely are still members of the institute, and some of whom probably are functioning as superiors. Unless those who shared in the betrayal are identified and faithful Legionaries cleanly separate from them, the latter group’s common good will not continue receiving the support of faithful Catholics, and will not be preserved.

Second, when a bishop dies, the diocese’s priests cease cooperating with him. But even after the death of an institute’s saintly founder, its members’ service and life continue as cooperation with him or her. Regardless of Father Maciel’s subjective moral responsibility—which only God knows—the evidence of his objective betrayal of his commitment makes it impossible for you and other good and faithful Legionaries any longer to carry on your service and life as cooperation with him. Unless you and your confreres proceed as quickly as possible to terminate the juridical person, the Legionaries of Christ, and reorganize yourselves into a new institute, the common good you now share will begin to decompose: very few new men will join you, many in formation will leave, some professed members will separate, and the collaboration and support of the lay faithful will shrink.

The Pope is the ultimate superior on earth of every religious institute. Only the Pope can oversee the termination of the Legionaries of Christ, the salvaging of its faithful members and other assets, and their reconstitution into a new institute. Therefore, if I were you, I would at once appeal to the Pope to fulfill his responsibility toward you, to appoint two or three prelates—members neither of the Legionaries nor of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life—as an ad hoc papal commission to conduct a thorough visitation, identify those complicit in Father Maciel’s wrongdoing and its concealment until now, and work closely with faithful, professed members in carrying out an orderly termination of the existing Institute, election of a small group to serve as founders of its replacement, and the preparation of an entirely new and reformed body of particular law for the new institute.

Some of your good and faithful confreres undoubtedly will tell you that following my advice would violate your vow of obedience and constitute grave disloyalty to your superiors. Those sincere men will be mistaken. Your vow is to obey morally acceptable precepts. In the present disaster, it is, in my judgment, your grave moral duty to appeal to the Pope, as your superior, to save the common good of the faithful members of the Legionaries of Christ by terminating the present juridical person, and seeing to the formation of a new institute. I am sure that most who were complicit in Father Maciel’s wrongdoing were constrained by a false sense of loyalty. Do not follow their bad and disastrous example. Remember instead your responsibility to Jesus and to his Church—to all those whose souls are still to be saved by your service and that of the members of the new foundation


The founder of the Legion of Christ sexually assaulted dozens of boys and girls, men and women, who had placed themselves in his care. He had at least four mistresses, whom he kept in lavish apartments paid for by the Legion. He sired several illegitimate children; two of them also claim to have been abused by their father. [...]  Benedict XVI, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced of his innocence. Immediately after succeeding John Paul, he launched a full investigation of the Legion’s activities, ordering its founder to withdraw from public life. Maciel retired to a gated community in Florida, where he lived with several of his disciples, one of his mistresses, and his daughter. He spent his final years lounging by his swimming pool and nursing a morphine addiction. He was never defrocked.




When the sex abuse charges first surfaced, the order issued strenuous denials; in the wake of the 2006 Vatican investigation it issued a statement suggesting that the finding was a new cross that God has allowed [Maciel] to suffer.

In Catholic religious orders, members are taught to identify with the spirituality and values of the founder. That was taken to an extreme in the Legionaries, said the Rev. Stephen Fichter, a priest in New Jersey who left the order after 14 years.

“Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers,” Father Fichter said. “When you become a Legionarie, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”

Father Fichter, once the chief financial officer for the order, said he informed the Vatican three years ago that every time Father Maciel left Rome, “I always had to give him $10,000 in cash — $5,000 in American dollars and $5,000 in the currency of wherever he was going.”

Father Fichter added: “As Legionaries, we were taught a very strict poverty; if I went out of town and bought a Bic pen and a chocolate bar, I would have to turn in the receipts. And yet for Father Maciel there was never any accounting. It was always cash, never any paper trail. And because he was this incredible hero to us, we never even questioned it for a second.”

Mr. Fair said he had no comment about whether Father Maciel had misappropriated money, fathered a child or sexually abused young men.



Vatican, religious order say sex abuse investigation of order's Mexican founder is closed

Associated Press, May 23, 2005

The Legionaries of Christ said Friday that the Vatican notified them a day earlier about the status of the case involving the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degallado. In the late 1990s, nine former seminarians alleged Maciel had abused them when they were young boys or teenagers in Roman Catholic seminaries in Spain and Italy. The alleged abuse occurred in the 1940s-1960s.

Maciel, 85, has denied the allegations and said his accusers plotted to defame him.

"There is no investigation under way and it is not foreseen that there will be one in the future," a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Monday.

Earlier this year, news reports surfaced that the Vatican had reopened the sexual abuse case against Maciel. But Vatican officials at the time said the reports resulted from a misunderstanding.

The Vatican said an official from its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles clergy sex abuse cases, had contacted a lawyer for some of the former seminarians about the case, a move which was mistakenly interpreted as a new Vatican probe.

Benedettini said Monday he did not know when a decision on the case had been made. The Vatican did not explain the reason for its decision.

The Vatican would not say whether this was the first sexual abuse case involving a priest decided under the new pontiff, Benedict XVI, or if it had been decided when Pope John Paul II was still alive.

In January, John Paul hailed Maciel for his "paternal affection and his experience." A few months earlier, the late pope praised Maciel on the 60th anniversary of his ordination, citing his "intense, generous and fruitful" priestly ministry.

The Legionaries said they had not solicited any official statement from the Vatican about the case and suggested a recent Italian media report about the Mexican religious leader might have prompted the Vatican to inform the order about the case's status.

The spokesman for the order declined to comment on the record.

An official at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not say why no case would go forward against Maciel. The new pope headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith beginning in the early 1980s until he was elected pontiff last month.

"The policy of the CDF is not to give statements on individual cases," said the Rev. Charles Scicluna.

When Benedict was elected, one of Maciel's accusers, Juan Vaca, a former priest, expressed hope the allegations would be examined anew.

The Vatican investigated Maciel in the 1950s for alleged drug use, trafficking and misuse of funds but not for sexual misconduct. He was suspended from his duties as head of the order then reinstated after being cleared of all allegations.

Earlier this year, Maciel, citing his age, declined to be re-elected, and a successor was chosen.

Legionaries, with their conservative emphasis on morality, had a high profile under the papacy of John Paul. The order claims a membership of 65,000 people, including hundreds of priests worldwide.



Spokesman: News that founder fathered child causes Legionaries pain

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The Legionaries of Christ only recently found out that their founder had fathered a child, knowledge that has caused the members great suffering, but has not destroyed the gratitude they owe him, said a spokesman for the religious order.

Father Paolo Scarafoni, spokesman at the Legionaries' headquarters in Rome, told Catholic News Service Feb. 4 that, despite the failures and flaws of the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, members of the order are grateful to him for having founded the order and its various ministries.

"We found this out only recently," Father Scarafoni said, referring to the fact that Father Maciel had a daughter.

Asked how the Legionaries came to know about her, Father Scarafoni said, "Frankly, I cannot say and it is not opportune to discuss this further, also because there are people involved" who deserve privacy.

In the past, Father Maciel had been accused of sexually abusing young seminarians in the order, accusations that Father Scarafoni said "have never been proven definitively."

Because the Holy See decided against conducting a canonical trial to investigate the allegations, but rather ordered the then-elderly Father Maciel to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance in May 2006, "we do not know what allegations were made and examined at that time," Father Scarafoni said.

Father Maciel died Jan. 30, 2008, at the age of 87.

The pain the Legionaries are experiencing now "is so great precisely because this is something we did not know before," Father Scarafoni said.

However, he said, "We are serene. Certainly, it is a time of great trial for us and in the face of this there is great suffering."

Father Scarafoni had told the Mexican news agency Notimex that the Legionaries were living through "a process of purification."

He told CNS, "When you are faced with such great pain, it means that you must grow, you must be better, you must be purified spiritually because you must continue to move forward motivated by even higher ideals. This is especially true when you are faced with the unexpected."

At the same time, he said, "there is much gratitude. Our gratitude to him remains very strong because we have received so much that is good from him. This is something we cannot and will not deny."

The priest said the Legionaries of Christ and the lay members of Regnum Christi are dealing with the news "as a family. With prudence and charity we are informing our members and trying to help each other overcome this situation. What is important is not to renounce the great mission that we have."

"The priority is the life and the holiness of each of our members," he said.

A spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ in the United States acknowledged that some aspects of Father Maciel's life "were not appropriate for a Catholic priest."

"We have learned some things about our founder's life that are surprising and hard to understand," Jim Fair, the order's U.S. spokesman, said Feb. 4 in a prepared statement.

Fair declined further comment on the activities of Father Maciel, saying only that Father Maciel now "stands before God's judgment and mercy."

Fair denied rumors that the Legionaries would renounce Father Maciel, saying he will always be considered the order's founder.

"It's one of the mysteries of our faith, that someone can have tremendous flaws but yet the Holy Spirit can work through them," he told CNS in a telephone interview from Chicago.

Despite the unsettling news, Fair said, the order will continue its ministries.

Father Maciel lived the last years of his life under a Vatican order not to practice his priestly ministry in public.

The accusations that Father Maciel sexually abused seminarians first became public in 1997 in a report in The Hartford (Conn.) Courant daily newspaper. In a letter to the paper, Father Maciel denied the allegations, saying "In all cases they are defamations and falsities with no foundation whatsoever."

Father Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in his native Mexico in 1941. The order has about 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide, including 75 priests in the United States and a seminary and novitiate in Connecticut.

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