The Legion of Christ: Sex, Abuse, Money and Lies—The Fall of Father Maciel
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There is also the question of the Legionaries’ fund-raising tactics, which have come under increasing scrutiny. For reporter Jason Berry, “the question of fraud to me just shouts out like a scream in the night.” In fact, during the past year relatives of two major benefactors in Rhode Island have sued the Legion for recovery of millions of dollars in donations that they claim were coerced from devout, elderly Catholics by Legionaries and members of Regnum Christi at a time when both the religious order and the Vatican were aware of grave improprieties in Maciel’s conduct.
Finally, money moves in mysterious ways in the Catholic Church, but especially in the Legion. Whatever monies do exist may be so well hidden as to be unrecoverable, at least anytime soon, because Legion of Christ funds are controlled not by the order but by Grupo Integer, a Mexican holding company that manages all of the order’s finances and properties. It is believed to be run, if not in name then in actuality, by the Rev. Luis Garza Medina, a member of one of Mexico’s most powerful families.
Whatever may eventually be awarded by the jury in New Haven, no amount of money is likely to heal the souls of Maciel’s sons.
“In each of these cases, these men were betrayed in a triple way,” says attorney Anderson. “Each trusted this man as their father. They trusted him as an authority figure. And then they came to learn that he was a very powerful and internationally known priest. And when he violated them sexually and repeatedly, he in essence robbed each of them of who they could have been, and shaped who they are.”
As for Juan Vaca, healing has come at the end of a long mental and emotional process of distancing himself from life as a victim and “analyzing the dynamics,” as he says, that allowed Marcial Maciel to inflict so much damage for so long.
Now 76 and married with a teenaged daughter, Vaca is a professor of psychology and sociology at Mercy College in New York and still a practicing Catholic. Years ago he accepted a small, out-of-court settlement from the Legion in order to put the ordeal behind him.
“This is one of the reasons I went into psychology,” he says of his healing process. “Maciel created the Legion of Christ to have his own kingdom—a kingdom to sexually abuse boys. I also wanted to analyze that the Vatican allowed such a monster to prosper for many, many years? My conclusion was that the Catholic hierarchy is corrupt, and Benedict XVI was a very weak man in all respects. To me he is guilty of covering up, he’s guilty of enabling.
“At this point I am over anger,” he continues. “I forgave him [Maciel] in my heart because that belongs to God. I forgave also the Legionaries who damaged my reputation. I understand. I am at peace with myself. I know all the evils, not only in the Catholic Church. It’s a fact of life. I know where all these evils are coming from—it’s not a mystery. Benedict XVI once said that the Maciel case is a mystery for him, and I sent him a letter saying, no, it’s not a mystery. I explained the dynamics that made this monster prevail for so many decades.
“I won’t let any evil damage my life anymore.”
Onward Christian Soldiers
At its height, the Legion of Christ claimed 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, though Jason Berry discounts these numbers. “The Legion, I think, is a cult,” he says, “and it’s pretty hard to get any accurate information from them.”
Today, it continues to operate in Connecticut and elsewhere, if on a smaller scale, with a strange mix of secrecy, awareness and youthful fervor.
Jim Fair, a legion spokesperson, declined Connecticut Magazine’s request for an interview with Legionaries or a visit to the order’s headquarters in Cheshire. Yet daily Mass in the legion’s chapel is open to the public, and one Friday morning in late spring this writer arrived a few minutes before the start of the 7:30 a.m. Mass.
A long drive winds through 107 acres of rolling lawns and mature trees before reaching a complex of flat-roofed brick buildings hidden from the main road, designed in the tradition of no-nonsense Roman Catholic institutions. The late William Casey, director of the CIA under Ronald Reagan, and his wife reportedly made a seven-figure donation to the Legion for construction of one of the buildings here.
On this morning, the door leading to the chapel is wide open to the sun and air. In the middle of the large, marble-floored foyer, a young Asian brother appears stationed to welcome outsiders.
Two minutes before the start of the Mass, some 70 novitiates and seminarians begin filing into the chapel. Like the greeter, they are dressed in a ankle-length black cassocks bound at the waist with a wide black sash and, like him, too, they are startlingly young-looking, all the more boyish for their short, neatly combed hair and for the innocence with which they yawn and wipe sleep from their eyes. They are also serious-looking, even pious, and with the exception of a handful of fair-haired young men, they are tall and dark.
Following the service, conducted in Latin and made the more ancient and solemn with Gregorian chants—another young seminarian is stationed near the outer door. He is fresh-faced, enthusiastic and talkative. Originally from Atlanta, he is studying at the Cheshire headquarters for two years before leaving to recruit new members.
Asked what impact Maciel’s legacy has had on his vocation and faith, he says, “I came in after the scandal, so it didn’t affect me. But,” he adds, as if to fortify his commitment to the Legion, “God works through broken instruments, which is mind-boggling and mysterious.”
“Mind-boggling and mysterious.” The same could be said of the actions and inactions of popes Pius XII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sodano, members of Regnum Christi, and everyone else complicit in the travesty that was Marcial Maciel and his Legion of Christ.