Can Legion of Christ Survive?

Richard Salbato 

Living close to me and attending my Church for daily Mass is a wonderful, traditional Catholic family with five children.  It is wonderful to watch the children and their love of God, which is a great reflection on their father and mother.  Only reason they have not become close friends of mine is that they are members of Regnum Christi, the lay branch of the Legionaries of Christ.  That in itself is not a problem for me, but when asked I cannot lie about my feelings.  On the other hand, members of LC do not associate with people who do not agree with them. Sad!

In spite of the outward appearance of Orthodoxy, over the years the harm this order has done to marriages, schools, children, the wealth of Catholics, and loyalty to the Church cannot be overstated.  When I first started investigating LC and RC, I did not know about the founder, but I did know this had all the signs of a cult, and used psychological mind control over its members.

Later when I found out about all the children that the founder and other leaders of the group sexually abused it did not surprise me, because all the signs were there that this was a Satanically inspired order.  It was cleaver because it appealed to all those Orthodox Catholics who felt left out of a Church, that lost all its reverence, discipline, and made a mockery of holiness.  Because I have made a life time of investigations into cults, I knew this apparent outside appearance of Orthodoxy was only a front.  Satan pretends to be an angel of light. 

Now that I and those who were abused by these orders have been vindicated, it is time to think if the order can survive and should it survive.  After reading the attached articles by ex-members of the order, leaders of the order and their apologies, pros and cons of what they should do, reasons they cannot survive, and the book, Vows of Silence, I have come to my own conclusion. 

Years ago I remember arguing with Patrick Madrid and getting nowhere.  I talked to almost all the people now involved in REGAINNETWORK Not only were some of these people sexually abused by the order, and others mentally abused but even after that they were publicly accused of every sin in the world for even daring to say bad things about the order and it’s founder. 

I know there is nothing good in these two orders, but my problem is that many of the people in it are very good people.  If you read some of the apologies listed below, you might think this order can survive and change.  That would be a good thing if it was possible because the Church needs good orders and good people.  I wish that could be the case.

However, it will never happen for one good reason.  When I go to confession and say that I harmed someone, physically or mentally, I must make restitution to that person.  Apology is not enough.  If I harmed their financial well being, I must restore that.  If I harmed their reputation, I must do everything to restore it, or make restitution some other way, even with money.  This is why the civil courts have what is called, “emotional compensation”.

Now LC and RC have not only denied the accusations against the order and its founder but have ferociously attacked the victims, and anyone who left the order, to the point they needed to join a support group to even survive the attacks.

You will see below that LC and RC have now admitted to being wrong over the past 10 years of attacking these victims, but have apologized for attacking them.  These attacks are still all over the internet and will never go away. 

But based on Catholic Moral Theology, is that enough.  Can we now put it all behind us?  Well! No!  The people abuse by Bishops and priest did not leave it be, because even under civil law, they had a right to restitution.  When LC and RC pay back to the abused with some of their $260,000,000 yearly budget, I will believe they are sorry and have been forgiven by Christ.

Until then I will continue to work towards their total disbandment.

Richard Salbato  



1. To Ex-wife, Removed for privacy

2.  Tom Hoopes February 3, 2009  

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. 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 that.


3. Patrick Madrid

Below is an apology from Patrick Madrid, a Legion spin master, one of Fr Owen Kearns right hand men and a staunch defender of Maciel.  Apparently, the bullshit artist is "sorry".

“Last night, as many of you are just learning this morning, some very sad news about Fr. Marcial Maciel's duplicitous actions, began to seep into the mainstream. While a significant number of people knew ahead of time that this was coming down, no specifics were disclosed publicly until yesterday, and more details will come tumbling out soon in the mainstream press.

“Predictably, the range of reactions to this bad news spans the gamut from outrage and stunned incredulity to something approaching despair to blasé "I-told-you-so" unconcern.

“Regardless of how you react to this unfolding tragedy, be sure you look at it in perspective. Judging from what I've seen in the blogosphere in the past few days, it appears that some people just don't seem to understand what this deplorable situation really entails and what ramifications may arise from it.

“Some have prattled on about how this really isn't bad news. It was long expected and now that it's been proven and publicized, and the temptation to lounge smugly in the worldly-wise posture of "I-told-you-so" may be something too difficult for some to avoid. But we should avoid it, because this story is bigger than just the sum of the embarrassing details of this man's sexual (and other) sins. Let's keep in mind a few points.

“First, this is indeed very bad news — the worst possible kind — for the tens of thousands of good and faithful Catholics in the Legionaries of Christ religious order and its lay-affiliate, the Regnum Christi Movement — the vast majority of whom have, over the years, steadfastly refused to believe any accusation against Fr. Maciel, however plausible and vehemently attested to by those who claim to have been witnesses. Now, these Legionary priests and seminarians (there are thousands of them, all over the world, keep in mind) and the tens of thousands of good-hearted Regnum Christi folk are realizing that they have been duped. They are faced with the stunning, crushing, irrefutable evidence that their trust in this man was in vain, their unshakable faith in his goodness and innocence has finally been shaken to pieces. The gleaming giant of holiness they had admired for so long has been shown to have feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-32).

“Yes, many of Fr. Maciel's ardent followers have been naive in their refusal to consider that there may have been some truth to at least some of the myriad of accusations that mounted against him, but I believe theirs was a naiveté born of sincerity and love for Christ and the Church. This sincere love attached itself firmly (and now we know, undeservedly) to a man who, at least by outward appearances, merited their trust. If nothing else, this sordid saga proves the truth of Scripture's reminder: “Put not your trust in princes, in man in whom there is no salvation. When his spirit departs, he returns to his earth, and on that day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3).

“Second, it is true, as some are saying, that, while painful, this bad news is actually a good thing, at least insofar as it entails light shining in a dark place.

“This may be exactly the necessary impetus — albeit a horrible one — that will lead to a purification and renewal of an organization that could do great good for souls in ways that go way beyond what many critics say was merely good work that had serving the Legion as its ulterior motive. I make no judgment personally on that criticism, as to whether it is legitimate or not, but regardless, this new chapter in the Legionary saga can become the starting point for a very good thing in the Church. It may in fact be a bitter harbinger of a sweet and long-hoped-for outcome: a Legion of Christ that becomes free from the controversies and complaints that have dogged it for decades, a religious order that is seen by others to be truly at the service of the Church as a whole and not, as many of its critics allege, merely at the service of itself. It could be that, by God's grace and the prudent courage and honesty of the group's leadership, there can be a good outcome — possibly a spectacularly good one.

“There may be a viable effort to undertake a thorough reform and reconstitution of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, although there remain nagging reasons to wonder if that will  really happen. It's too early to know. But we should be praying now for that outcome, if it's God's will. Time will tell.

“One thing is for sure, though. If the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement are going to emerge from this crucible in one piece and remain in existence for the long haul, they cannot lapse into robot mode, they cannot wear a happy-face mask and attempt to deny that this is a very serious problem for them. At this precise juncture, denial and dismissal of the clear and present danger that this situation poses to the Legion, will, I believe, sooner or later, prove fatal to its efforts at sustaining itself. 

“Again, we must keep this unfolding situation clearly in perspective and not succumb to the various myopic temptations that beckon: at one end, to shrug and simply ignore it as a non-issue, and at the other end, to join in a gleeful feeding-frenzy of morose delectation. Already, on the blogs, one can see people falling into both camps.

“Third, let's be realistic. No matter what some of the Internet pundits and commentators may be saying, THIS IS BAD NEWS. To call it anything else is to badly misunderstand the import of what's taking place here. These salacious revelations (please God, may there be no more of them) are causing and will cause serious damage, not only to the shell-shocked members of this group (many of whom have spent years in dogged defense of the holiness of Fr. Maciel and who now feel the keen knife of betrayal and fraud sever the bonds of trust they once had in this man), but to the Catholic Church in general.

“Watch and see. You'll soon notice certain people trying to use this scandal to malign Pope John Paul II (a long-time supporter of Fr. Maciel and the Legion), in a way similar to how some are right now attempting to exploit the recent SSPX Bishop Williamson Holocaust-debacle against Pope Benedict XVI.

“As I've been saying all along on my blog, what we need to do is pray earnestly for all the people involved in this mess. They need our prayers, now more than ever. Pray for the soul of Fr. Maciel. Pray for the Catholic Church and also for those outside the Church who will be swayed or disoriented by this scandal, many of them seeing in it confirmation of their worst suspicions about Catholics and Catholicism. And let's not omit to pray for ourselves that we might not fall from our own fidelity to Christ, however firm or tenuous it might be.

“Now is a good time to contemplate the famous maxim that "There, but for the grace of God, go I." If nothing else, these revelations about Fr. Maciel should serve as a cautionary tale to hammer that point home for each one of us.

“Finally, it's worth repeating: Don't lose your sense of perspective. Don't think that this bad news isn't bad news. Let's call it what it is and avoid the temptation to slap a happy-face sticker on it.”

Legion and Regnum Christi Apologizes


To: Jason Berry

From: James Dunlap Jr.  LW/RC communications director

Re: apologies to Father Maciel's victims, 6 February 2009

Greetings, Mr. Berry.

I am Jay Dunlap, the communications director for the Legion of Christ & Regnum Christi from 1998-2006. While I have shifted to full-time duties as a teacher at a Legionary boarding school, I continue to serve in the Legion's communications office.

I need to apologize to the men who's story you have told and whose dogged determination has finally led to revealing the truth about Marcial Maciel. I must also apologize to you as well.

Those of us who trusted Maciel's protestations of innocence because of what he was building for the Church feel deeply, bitterly betrayed for having been so used, but that can be nothing to the sufferings of men who, as mere boys, were taken from their families and subject to brutal manipulation. They are in my prayers.

You, as the teller of their story, have done a service for the Church. If you can, please pass along my personal apology to these victims.  

Sincerely yours,

Jay Dunlap


5. Fr. Thomas Berg, LC,  Feb 8, 2009


To my beloved Regnum Christi Family

A personal note from Fr. Thomas Berg, LC offering guidance and warmest companionship in the midst of this intense suffering.
Dear everyone—Christ's peace.
I write to you this Sunday morning with my heart in my hand. I know personally that so many of our priests, section directors, have been working for hours on end, meeting with groups of RC, first to break the horrible news and then to accompany them, often themselves reduced to the point of tears. Then there have been the endless follow—up phone calls, private conversations. Believe me, we have all been trying to do everything possible to reach out to all of you personally.

But my heart aches because our best efforts have not been enough. I want to reach out to you as a brother and friend this morning and try to assure you, if nothing else, that we are here. I know further efforts are underway to attempt to respond more adequately and formally to the confusion you all feel, not to mention the hurt and betrayal.  I beg you, in the midst of such pain and hurt, please bear with your directors.
At the same time, however, I also beg you forgiveness for the disastrous response which this crisis has received from our upper LC leadership. There is no other way to say it:  in so many respects, Legionary superiors have failed, and failed miserably to respond adequately to this crisis, and not surprisingly, have engendered in many of you and understandable lack of confidence. Those are the facts and your reaction is natural and reasonable.  With all my heart, on their behalf, I apologize. Our superiors are human instruments; I know in their hearts they have trying to do the right thing, under inhuman pressure. Please understand that.
I am not making any excuses, however, for the fumbled media responses (which I believe have been too often unfairly attributed to Jim Fair our communications director who needs your prayers and has earned a very high place in heaven for what he has had to endure this week), for the appearances of being less than forthcoming, for the lack of information, for the confusion of messaging. For that, there is no excuse in a way, and tragically is largely due to the ineptness of many of those in leadership positions to respond with expertise and diligence in a crisis management situation like this.
But it is more than just crisis management. The thing I am most pained about—I share this as a brother—is the near absence of but fleeting suggestions of sorrow, and of apologizing for the harm done, both to alleged victims of Maciel, and, frankly, to all of you.  I am deeply, deeply sorry, and I personally apologize with my heart in my hand to each and every one of you.
I understand your feelings of betrayal.  For twenty-three years I have loved and tried to follow Christ in the Legion. I can say before God, in spite of my many human frailties, I have been faithful. I have also, more than many of you to be honest, gone out on limb after limb, trying to defend Maciel. I have lived my priesthood always with that cloud hanging over me, always having to essentially apologize for being a Legionary.  You feel betrayed?  You feel rage?  I can only say that the rage, and raw emotions that I have felt these past days (the hardest days of my entire life, emotions like I have never experienced) are only a glimpse of the unspeakable hell that victims of priest sexual abuse must go through. My thoughts and my heart have been so often with them these days…
I know that many of you are utterly confused about what you are feeling and about where we go from here.  In no particular order, let me offer my advice and counsel as follows:
1.    Most of you are going through the stages of mourning. Understand that and know what that means. This is a very useful site:
2.    Keep talking to your section directors. Let them know how you feel. Let them know if you are satisfied with their response to you.
3.    Many of you might find it to be a wonderfully freeing and healing experience to offer acts of reparation for those suffering the effects of priestly sexual abuse. You might also find it healing to reach out to persons who, in any way, have found themselves hurt by their experiences with the Legion or RC.
4.    For your own spiritual needs right now:
a.    Remember you are free to speak with anyone, inside or outside the Movement about your pain, your reactions to this tragic news, and for ease of conscience to speak to whomever you believe can best help you at this time. I would encourage you to reach out to and find guidance from priests whose holiness and sound judgment you trust, whether Legionaries or not.
b.    Your spiritual experiences—even when they came through the letters of the Founder—are valid, and real. God was working through those instruments. The sad revelations about Maciel do not change that.  Try to thank God for the past, and sing his praises for the way he has done in your lives through RC. Prayer of thankfulness will help you. Prayer of thanksgiving for this deliverance he has given us now, and for the purification which we are undergoing will also be very helpful. 
c.    If you still find the letters of the founder helpful in prayer, feel free to use them. But it is certainly OK to leave them aside.  Remember that in many ways, the spirit and charism we have lived is Pauline. Continue to nourish your spirit on the letters of St. Paul.
d.    In your meditation, go back to the bedrock truths of your life and ponder them serenely before God and let him use that meditation to soothe your hearts:  the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Redemption, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, your Baptism, your call to a more deeply committed Christian life, and a loving meditation ("Mary meditated on all these things in here heart") of all the wonders God has done in your life.
e.    I also recommend using The Better Part by Fr. Bartunek, and any other spiritual writings of Legionary priests. You might find those helpful. Your section directors should also be able to point you in the direction of other sources on which to nourish your souls. Share your ideas with each other.
Finally, I encourage you to speak to Legionary leadership, and even in the form of petition letters, demand nothing less than full transparency regarding the case of Fr. Maciel. Demand that Fr. Alvaro seek an independent third party investigation (perhaps in the form of a temporary review board or Visitation team from the Holy See) into uncovering any Legionaries who may have been accomplices to Maciel. Demand that a similar body guide Legionary leadership in introducing any needed reforms into the internal culture, methods and religious discipline of the Legion.  
And remember: "Entrust your life to the Lord, and He will act."
Let's pray for each other. With all my love, gratitude to all of you for your fidelity!
In Jesus,
Fr. Thomas Berg, LC

6.  Legionaries Spokesperson, Jim Fair

A spokesperson for the Legionaries of Christ said Feb. 3 the order has recently reached the conclusion that its founder, a Mexican priest named Marcial Maciel Degollado who was close to the late Pope John Paul II, was guilty of conduct that is "surprising, difficult to understand, and inappropriate for a Catholic priest."

The spokesperson, Jim Fair, who works out of the Legionaries' U.S. headquarters in Connecticut, declined to offer any specifics in response to an NCR inquiry.

Speaking on background, however, a Legionary priest in Rome confirmed the order has learned that Maciel, who died in January 2008, apparently fathered a child out of wedlock.

Four former Legionaries or supporters of the Legion, meanwhile, told NCR that priests in the order were recently sharing this news with members and supporters in private briefings in the United States and Mexico.

Fair declined to say whether the Legion's discoveries amount to a confirmation of earlier accusations of sexual abuse leveled against Maciel by ex-members of the order, which first became public in 1997. Those accusations were eventually the subject of an investigation by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ended in 2006 with instructions that Maciel discontinue all public ministries and lead a life of "prayer and penance."

Though the Vatican declined to initiate a formal canonical process against Maciel because of his advanced age, its action was widely seen as a concession that at least some of the charges against him at that time had merit.

Rumors that the Legionaries had reached new damning conclusions about Maciel have built in recent days in the wake of confidential meetings the new superior of the order, Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, has been holding with members to inform them of an internal probe of Maciel's conduct.

Legionary sources told NCR that Corcuera has stressed that Maciel's misconduct was not a "one-time slipup," but rather "a pattern that stretched over years."

These sources said Corcuera and other Legionary officials began their review after Maciel stepped down as the order's superior in January 2006, and after the Vatican's conclusions were issued four months later.

These new statements represent the first time that the Legionaries of Christ have conceded that Maciel was guilty of any misconduct. 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."


7.  Can We separate the Founder from the Order
  February 3, 2009 by Amy

A year ago last week - January 30 - Legionary of Christ founder Marcial Maciel died in Houston and was, a few days later, buried in Mexico, rather than the tomb that had been constructed for him in Rome.
Over the past week, with more intensity over the weekends, rumblings have been heard about the Legionaries of Christ and their founder, Maciel. The rumblings have now reached the level of blogs, so here we go.
The Life After RC (Regnum Christi) blog has the general story
There has also been a war going on over Maciel’s Wikipedia page. (view the “history” tab)

I could always guarantee that a blog post dealing with the Legionaries of Christ or the lay arm, Regnum Christi, would engender scores of comments in very short order. I am sure this one will be no different. Speaking for myself, although I know a few LC priests who seem to be very good men, as well as a few RC members, I have always found the movement to be afflicted with the disease which leads one to equate one’s own particular angle or charism with the totality of the gospel.
Serious problems have surfaced in relationship to the group, both present and past.  Financial questions. Questions of formation. There is much, much to be concerned about, concerns voiced by many observers and several bishops, most notably Archbishop O’Brien of Baltimore, who stepped in and requested complete transparency from LC and RC regarding their apostolates in his see last year.

We should note, in retelling this story, that the charges against Maciel apparently had no traction at the Vatican, for whatever reason, until Benedict XVI became Pope.  In May, 2006, Maciel was ordered to retire to a life of prayer and penance. Here is the text of the communique,  which was intermidably parsed here and other places, but whose meaning is hard to escape.
There are, indeed, good people associated with LC and RC - many of us reading this blog know them.  They need our prayers and great strength - the strength that any and all of us need when we have been deceived in the name of God.

That said, the book on this affair will be long and complex. Torturous, in fact. There will undoubtedly need to be several volumes.  The news coming out now is sketchy and incomplete.  The word is that the leadership is admitting that Maciel fathered at least one child, perhaps two. Some sources are saying that the leadership is admitting the veracity of the previous accusations, as well, but that is fuzzy to me at this point.  Over the past few days, various parties and groups have been informed of this.  After the question of the accusations against Maciel himself, the huge question waiting to be unraveled, but extraordinarily difficult to do because of the group’s obsession with secrecy, is the awareness of the LC leadership of all of this over the years.
The third question is that if the leadership is admitting the truth of the bulk of the many accusations against Maciel…will the victims, long vilified by the movement and its defenders…receive an apology?

The greater point, though - is this:  Movements of all kinds (including religious orders) are a constant source of renewal for the Church. But there are risks and problems associated with any movement, and it is the Church’s responsibility - and by “Church” I mean every one of us - to view movements with open eyes, to see the good, be wary of the bad and call the evil to task.
Secrecy, hero-worship, deification of individuals, reflexive dismissal of critics as wrong-headed or even of the devil, an untoward interest in money and appearance, manipulation of members, demeaning attitudes toward non-members, deceptive means…trouble.

There is another message for church leaders, including pastors and bishops here. Let’s be frank.
What is the appeal of Regnum Christi and its apostolates in the United States? 

The appeal may be negative in some ways, but those I have met who have been drawn to it are thirsting for solid faith content. They know that their children live in a challenging world and have no confidence in what passes for catechesis in the parish or even in many Catholic schools to equip them for that world. They do not see these programs or liturgies seriously oriented toward bringing those participating into a deep, committed relationship with Christ.  So something substantive appears…it appeals.  Take note.

It is wrong to derive the truth about the nature of something simply from anecdotes, but anecdotes can be telling. I have two, regarding Regnum Christi:  I gave a talk in a parish once, mostly to youth. The youth ministry and adult catechesis in the parish had been revived by the enthusiasm and efforts of Regnum Christi members.  A good thing!

As I was carrying my books out to my car, I was assisted by a 14-year old boy, a son of one of the Regnum Christi families.  He was slight and nervous, but seemed particularly anxious to speak with me, which he did at some length.

He told me that he had been at a LC boarding school – pre-seminary, in fact -  for a year, but had come back to be with his family. I do not remember his exact words, but there was a clear sense that he believed that he had failed in his “vocation”  - that there was something wrong with his return home, that he had not tried hard enough, that his return was a revelation of a flaw.
14 years old.

It made me so, so sad. All I could say to him was, as forcefully as I could, that it was normal and good to want to be with your family and that for right now, it was where he belonged.

The second was simply strange.

Back in Fort Wayne, there was a convenience store a few blocks from our house. It was just a normal, busy neighborhood convenience store where I got my Diet Coke refills, gas and would run into neighbors, including the bishop a couple of times. (For his house was in our neighborhood.)
One day, I went in and in front of the counter stood a small table on which stood a large empty plastic container with a hole cut in the lid.  The sign affixed to the display was written in a child’s hand.  It said something like, “Please donate for our birthday party for our founder.”  Next to a photocopy of a picture of Maciel.

Something is not right.

Already, all over the Internet, there are comments indicating that LC and RC can easily get past all of this, that we should focus, not on the apparent sins of the founder, but on the good in the present. We can separate them.  The question is real - can we?  I am not so sure.

Christifidelis. May 1, 2009


8. Theological and Canonical Reflections on Religious Life in View of the Maciel Disgrace

By R. Michael Dunnigan, JD, JCL

“[Maciel] was a man with an entrepreneurial genius who, by systematic deception and duplicity, used our faith to manipulate others for his own selfish ends.”

—Archbishop Edwin O’Brien (Baltimore)


“The problem is if someone’s leading that kind of a double life, I’d be very concerned about the structure they set up that would make it possible to live such a double life.”

—Archbishop Thomas Collins (Toronto)

The name of Marcial Maciel now seems destined to become a byword for duplicity and manipulation of the most craven and cynical kind. Father Maciel (1920-2008), the founder of the Legion of Christ, already had been forced to live out his final years in prayer and penance as a result of credible allegations that he had sexually abused 20 or more boys and young men.

Then, earlier this year, it came to light that Maciel had lived a “double life” for years and that he had fathered at least one child with at least one mistress. (The child, a daughter now 22, was born when Maciel was 68.) There are strong indications that Maciel also committed financial improprieties, possibly including diversion of Legion assets to his family and to his mistress and daughter.

In addition Maciel is suspected of having committed the grave canonical crime of granting sacramental absolution to persons with whom he engaged in sexual sins (cf. cann. 977, 1378 §1). Rumors are circulating suggesting other serious misdeeds as well.

In the wake of Maciel’s disgrace, a lively debate has ensued over the future of the religious congregation that he founded. Some charge that the Legion of Christ is bound so inextricably to the persona of its founder that the congregation cannot continue and must be suppressed or merged into another order or congregation. However, defenders of the Legion and its associated lay organization Regnum Christi argue against suppression, pointing to their good works and the undoubted existence of many faithful members who played no part in the Maciel fraud.

George Weigel effectively has formulated the central question: Can the good that has come from the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi be disentangled from the person and legacy of Fr. Maciel? [G. Weigel, “Saving What Can Be Saved,” 9 Feb. 2009,]

Not surprisingly, this debate has occurred primarily on the practical plane so far, and on that plane, the prospects for the Legion appear bleak. The most urgent practical questions are

· whether any members of the current leadership helped Maciel perpetuate his fraud,
· whether the Legion’s power to attract vocations and lay support can survive the Maciel disgrace,
· whether a congregation that has identified with its founder’s persona to such an extreme degree could possibly distance itself sufficiently from him to cleanse itself of his corruption and to accept reform.

As important as these questions are, the debate about Maciel and the Legion should not be confined to the purely practical plane. Rather, the Maciel disgrace also raises serious theological and canonical questions that to date have received little attention. This scandal provides an occasion to reflect on the meaning and purpose of religious life in the Church, and these reflections suggest that the theological and canonical obstacles facing the Legion are, if anything, even more daunting than the practical challenges. This becomes apparent when one examines the Legion’s arguments in favor of its continued existence.

The Administrative Argument
Legion spokesmen and prominent Legionary priests argue that Maciel’s life of fraud has no impact on the Legion charism or the future life of the congregation. The Legion’s arguments are not frivolous, but they are rather weak, and in the end, they do not withstand analysis.
One of the most frequent arguments in favor of the Legion’s continued operation is that the Holy See’s 1983 approval of the Legion’s constitutions and organizational documents (statutes) amounts to an assurance that the Legion’s charism is a valid path to holiness (cf. G. Matysek,

“Archbishop O’Brien raises concerns about Legion of Christ,” Catholic Review, 25 Feb. 2009 [quoting J. Fair],;

“A Legion Priest [T. Williams] Answers OSV Questions,” 5 Feb. 2009,; “Report: LC ‘town hall meeting’ with vocations director [A. Bannon],” 19 Mar. 2009, In the words of Legionary priest Thomas Williams, “We have the assurance of the Church’s magisterium to rely on.”

Thus, Legion spokesmen seem to be arguing that the Church’s approval of a religious congregation’s constitutions is equivalent to a guarantee from the Church’s magisterium of the validity of the charism and of the perpetual existence of the congregation. This position is not entirely devoid of scholarly support, but it finds little or no basis in the teachings of the Councils that specifically address the Church’s teaching office, namely the First and Second Vatican Councils (cf. A. Dulles, Magisterium [Sapientia, 2007], p. 78). The magisterium is the Church’s teaching office (munus docendi), but the approval of a congregation’s constitutions, by contrast, seems quite clearly to be an exercise of the Church’s governing office (munus regendi) [cf. can. 576]. Such a decision certainly represents a judgment that the congregation’s spirituality is calculated to lead to holiness, but it is no absolute guarantee and is by no means irrevocable.

Both history and canon law make this clear. The Church has indeed seen fit to suppress certain religious communities at various times in her history. The suppression of the Jesuits in the eighteenth century is the most famous example, but by no means the only one (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Religious Life”). In fact, serious sexual misconduct like Maciel’s figured prominently in the suppression of the Piarist order in the seventeenth century (cf. K. Liebreich, Fallen Order [Atlantic, 2004]).

Moreover, the law of the Church expressly provides for the suppression of religious institutes and congregations (cf. can. 584). To be sure, such a step is not to be taken lightly. However, the obstacles to the Holy See’s suppression of a religious community are prudential and administrative, rather than doctrinal. As a result, they are by no means insurmountable and therefore provide no absolute guarantee that a particular religious congregation will continue into the future.

This is especially true in the case of the Legion. That is, given Maciel’s utter duplicity, the Holy See might well conclude that Maciel essentially defrauded the Church in securing her approval of the Legion’s constitutions and statutes. Suppression regrettably would cause pain to innocent Legionary priests and Regnum Christi faithful, but one certainly can imagine the Holy See reaching the conclusion that such a step is necessary for the undoing of the fraud and the prevention of future harm.

The Donatist Argument

Legion members reportedly have cited St. Augustine’s anti-Donatist writings in support of the Legion’s continued existence (cf. “Maciel and Donatism,” 5 Mar. 2009,

The Donatist controversy of the fourth century concerned the relationship between the worthiness of the minister and the validity of the sacraments. During the persecution of Diocletian, some priests had weakened and turned over the sacred books to the Roman authorities. Some of these priests later were reconciled to the Church, but the Donatists refused to accept them as ministers of the sacraments because of their earlier betrayal. Augustine, by contrast, advanced the orthodox Catholic teaching that the validity of the sacraments hinges on the priest’s ordination, not on his personal worthiness.

Although there is indeed a danger in drawing too many conclusions from the unworthiness of a priest, the comparison between the Donatist controversy and the Maciel scandal does not hold.

The most basic reason is that none of the Legion’s critics is impugning the validity of the sacraments administered by Maciel or any other Legionary priest. In addition, with regard to the decision of individual members, departure from the Legion or Regnum Christi is in no way comparable to the decision of the Donatists to separate themselves from the Church (cf. ibid.).

The Legionaries no doubt are aware that the Donatist controversy has no direct application to the Maciel scandal, and almost certainly are invoking it merely as an analogy. Even so, however, the analogy breaks down. The reason is that the context of these two events is essentially different. Donatism concerns the validity of the sacraments, which is judged by a minimal standard, but the Maciel disgrace, because it concerns religious life, implicates a higher standard.

The lesson from the Donatist controversy seems a strange one at first glance: the standard for judging sacramental validity is surprisingly, perhaps even shockingly, low. Thus, the Church recognizes that baptism may be administered not only by a priest, but also by a layman or even a non-Christian (cf. can. 861 §2). With regard to the Eucharist, the sacrament would be valid even if the priest were in a state of mortal sin while celebrating it. Moreover, when one considers the words that are necessary for bare validity of the sacraments, one similarly is surprised to learn how minimal the essential formulas are. This astounding minimalism is a great blessing to the faithful because it assures them that, even in the face of illicit additions and omissions in the liturgy, most attempts to administer the sacraments nonetheless remain valid.

The Maciel scandal, however, is another matter altogether. The key fact is not that it was a priest who committed all of these sins and crimes, but rather that it was a founder of a religious congregation. The standard for sacramental validity may be a minimal one, but the standard for religious life is not. This is why the Donatist analogy ultimately fails. Consideration of Maciel’s double life from the perspective of the very meaning and purpose of religious life sheds light on its true significance and consequences.

A Sign of the Age to Come

Most Catholics have little opportunity to reflect on the meaning of religious life, that is, the life of nuns and brothers who profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Most instinctively categorize brothers and nuns as belonging to a larger category of people, including the clergy, who have some sort of official role in the Church. Catholics who have had the benefit of a thorough formation in the faith can distinguish the distinctive characteristics of some of the major orders, such as the Franciscan embrace of poverty and the Jesuit dedication to teaching. However, even for well-formed Catholics, it often is difficult to describe the basic purpose and meaning of religious life itself.

Moreover, this is even more difficult to articulate in the Vatican II era. Although the Council of Trent had referred to religious life as a state of perfection, Vatican II deliberately avoided using this language (though it certainly did not repudiate it). That is, the Vatican II Fathers chose instead to emphasize the “universal call to holiness” shared by all the faithful. It is clear that religious life does not pertain to governance of the Church, which is the role of the clergy (some of whom, however, also belong to religious orders). Nor is religious life any kind of midway state between the laity and the clergy. Rather, religious life belongs to the holiness of the Church (cf. can. 574).

However, if all the faithful are called to holiness (cf. Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 40), then what is distinctive or unique about the religious state itself? References to the charism of the Legion of Christ frequently appear in the current debate over the Maciel disgrace. Of course the presence of a charism is indeed crucial to religious life, but surprisingly, it seems that even the charism is not the central reality of religious life as such. After all, the Dominicans are superb preachers, but there are many brilliant preachers who belong neither to the Dominicans nor to any other religious order.

What is it then that Jesuit priests and Franciscan nuns share in common as religious that is not shared by those of us among both the laity and clergy who do not belong to any religious community? The answer is that they and their communities are public witnesses to the faith. All Catholics of course are called to witness to the faith, but the religious do so in a distinctively public way. Their witness does not consist only in words or even in deeds, but in the entirety of their lives. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta understood this perfectly. Thus, she insisted that the witness of her Missionaries of Charity was more central even than their heroic work.

“You must tell people what brings us here. Tell them that we are not here for the work; we are here for Jesus. All we do is for him. We are first of all religious. We are not social workers, not teachers, not nurses or doctors; we are religious sisters.” (C. McCarthy, “Nobel-Winner Aided the Poorest,” Washington Post, 6 Sept. 1997, p. A17, )

Those in religious life give witness both to the world and to the rest of the Church (cf. SCRIS & Cong. for Bishops, Mutuae relationes [1978], 11 & 14a). Their first duty is to this mission, even before the specific work of their own communities. “The apostolate of all religious consists first of all in the witness of their consecrated life” (can. 673). This is the reason that members of religious communities take public vows. Catholics often refer to their priests as having taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, this is incorrect. Although priests have obligations of obedience and celibacy (cf. cann. 273, 277), they generally do not make vows unless they enter religious life. The public nature of the religious witness also is the reason that the religious generally wear a distinctive habit. Father Benedict Groeschel, referring to his own Franciscan habit, put it memorably,

“I don’t walk around looking like an ad for The Canterbury Tales for no good reason at all.”

But what exactly is the content of the witness of religious life? What is the message that the rest of us are supposed to take from the presence of the religious among us? The answer is that the religious are a sign of the age to come (cf. LG, 44; Vatican II, Perfectae caritatis, 1; can. 607 §1). They are the eunuchs for the Kingdom of God that the Lord mentions in the Gospel (Mt 19.12), and the meaning of their life of perfect continence is a total gift of self to the Lord. That is, chastity represents dedication to Him “with an undivided heart” (PC, 12). Observance of the Commandments leads to salvation, but religious life represents an even “more generous” service to the Lord (MR, 8). Members of religious communities practice and publicly profess chastity to live lives of integrity and to give the world and the Church a sign of the heavenly kingdom, a sign of the age to come.

The higher standard to which the religious are held is not merely a pious aspiration. On the contrary, it finds concrete expression in the law of the Church. For example, canon 1397 provides penalties for homicide and for using force and fraud to abduct, imprison, mutilate, or gravely wound another person. If a diocesan priest were to commit one of these crimes, then one or more penalties would be applied to him according to the seriousness of the crime. He might be deprived of an office or a privilege, or in an especially serious case, he could be dismissed from the clerical state (cf. can. 1336). When a member of a religious community commits one of these crimes, however, the law provides that he or she must be dismissed from the religious community (cf. can. 695 §1). Thus, if a Norbertine priest were to commit the crime of abduction, he might or might not be dismissed from the clerical state, but the law would require his dismissal from the Norbertine religious community. (With regard to the particular crimes of Maciel himself, canonist Edward Peters persuasively argues that they warranted both Maciel’s expulsion from religious life and his dismissal from the clerical state [“So if Maciel was a criminal (or a sociopath), what of his charism?” 8 Feb. 2009,].)

This higher standard that the Church sets for the religious is the reason that the analogy of the Donatist controversy to the Maciel disgrace falls short. There is no greater mockery of the religious life than the spectacle of a founder of a religious congregation leading a double life of cynical deception and predation. Legion spokesmen pile scandal on top of scandal when they refer to Maciel as if he were merely a weak man or a flawed instrument (cf. C. Wooden, “Spokesman [J. Fair]: News that Founder Fathered Child Causes Legionaries Pain,” 9 Feb. 2009,

The outrage is not that Maciel was a sinner or even that he fell into sexual sin on several occasions. Rather, it is that for years he led a double life, the very antithesis of the life of integrity that is the hallmark of the religious. He played the whole Church, including its cardinals and popes, for suckers. All the while, he not only demanded that his subjects take him as their model, but he also permitted them to defend him publicly and to venerate him as a living saint.

Legion spokesmen insist that God can write straight with crooked lines and that the Holy Spirit can use even flawed instruments to accomplish His purposes. True enough, as far as it goes. But how far does the argument go? At the end of March 2009, news reports appeared that the Holy See would be undertaking a visitation of the Legion and all of its institutions. The key questions likely will be the practical ones concerning how deep of an imprint of his own distorted personality Maciel impressed upon the Legion:

· What is the significance of the vow that Maciel required his subjects to take never to criticize him or other superiors?

What is the connection between Maciel’s alleged abuse of the sacrament of confession and the Legion’s allegedly irregular practices in the area of spiritual direction and confession? (Some accuse the Legion of unlawfully restricting the Legionaries’ choice of spiritual directors and confessors [cf. can. 630].)

Which members of the Legion’s leadership collaborated with Maciel to conceal his double life?

I find it difficult to escape Archbishop Collins’s conclusion, quoted at the head of this article, that the Legion must indeed bear distortions as a result of Maciel’s powerful influence and the extraordinary devotion that the Legionaries had to him. However, even apart from the answers to these factual and practical questions, I hope that the members of the visitation team will reflect profoundly on the meaning of religious life itself. Legion spokesmen are correct that Maciel’s sins and crimes, great as they were, did not prevent the Holy Spirit from working in the lives of Legion members.

But does this necessarily mean that Maciel’s work can continue to wear the Church’s crown? For my own part, I do not see how the Church can continue to hold up, as an example of holiness and integrity of life, a work wrought by a man whose life was a lie, a fraud, and a brazen counter-sign to authentic religious life.

The Once and Future Founder

Many believe that the future of the Legion will depend on its ability to separate itself from its disgraced founder. The Legion is now grappling with this question. On the one hand, it reportedly has ordered the removal of Maciel’s portraits from Legionary schools, but on the other hand, it insists that it will not renounce him. Moreover, one of the Legion’s most accomplished priests, Father Thomas Williams, asserts that Maciel’s writings remain an authentic expression of the Legion’s charism. Many critics, however, urge the Legion utterly to repudiate Maciel and to cleanse itself of everything connected with him.

On this question, the Legion may be more realistic than its critics. Maciel’s imprint on the Legion is extraordinarily deep. All new congregations are closely attached to their founders, but in the case of the Legion and Maciel, the attachment was extreme. Maciel’s birthday was celebrated as a holiday; he was held up as a model of behavior; and his own writings are central to Legionary formation.

In addition, we have concrete evidence as to the difficulty or impossibility of the Legion distancing itself from Maciel. In 2006, the Holy See disciplined Maciel as a result of credible allegations that he had molested numerous boys and young men. The Holy See urged the Legion to distance itself from its founder. However, the Legion was unable to do so.
Legionaries continued to assert that Maciel had been wrongly accused, and they continued to venerate him as a hero (cf. L. Goodstein, “Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That Its Founder Led a Double Life,” New York Times, 3 Feb. 2009,; R. Zoll, “Vatican to Investigate Scandalized Religious Order,” AP, 31 Mar. 2009 [quoting E. O’Brien]).

It is easy to criticize the Legion on this score, but it is likely that any religious congregation placed in a similar situation would have similar difficulties. Again, the key to this scandal is not that it concerns a Catholic priest, but rather that it arises in the context of religious life. The renowned moral theologian Germain Grisez has offered a trenchant observation. The Maciel scandal, he says, is not comparable to a sexual scandal involving a diocesan bishop. A founder cannot be “removed” in the same way that a diocesan bishop can. When the diocesan bishop leaves office, the clergy of the diocese cease collaborating with him. However, even after the death of a religious founder, the members of his congregation never cease collaborating with him in their own service and life (cf. “Text: Open letter to Legionaries by Dr. Germain Grisez,” 5 Feb. 2009,

That is, Legion spokesmen are correct that they cannot go on without their founder. However, they have drawn the wrong conclusion from this. They conclude that they therefore will go on with their founder, but the correct conclusion seems to be that
they simply cannot go on.

In a variation on the “administrative argument” discussed above, several prominent Legionary priests have asserted that the Holy See’s approval of the Legion’s constitutions amounted to the Church taking the Legion’s charism out of Maciel’s hands. The scandal certainly would be more manageable if things were this simple, but they are not. It is true that the members must learn to distinguish between the congregation’s charism and the founder’s personality, but this distinction is not a compartmentalization and the charism remains always linked with the founder.

This may seem difficult to understand, and with good reason. St. Paul complained forcefully about the faithful espousing allegiance to those from whom they had received the Gospel instead of simply to the Lord.

“What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong ot Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1.12-13)

St. Augustine similarly counseled that good sheep put their hope not in the one who gathered them in, but rather in the Lord Whose Blood has redeemed them (Letter 208). However, as Grisez indicates, there nonetheless is a sense in which members of a religious community maintain an enduring relationship with their founder. Thus, venerable communities such as the Order of Friars Minor are referred to most often not by this official name, but rather by the name of Franciscan, which identifies them directly with the name of their glorious founder.

Religious brothers and sisters must indeed put their hope in Christ alone, but at the same time, the living out of their vocation takes place in communities that are bound to maintain fidelity to
“the spirit of the founders” (cf. LG, 45). This was a central theme in the Vatican II teachings on religious life. “[T]he spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained” (PC, 2). Moreover, the Holy See has continued to emphasize the importance of the founders in its pronouncements on religious life since the Council (cf. MR, 8). Religious founders are described as “raised up by God” (“Statutes of Int’l Un. of Superioresses Gen’l,” Canon Law Digest 6, p. 463), and the charisms of religious communities sometimes are called simply the “charism of the Founders” (MR, 11). Moreover, canon law obliges the religious to “observe faithfully the mind and designs of the founders” (can. 578).

What would it mean to maintain fidelity to the “spirit” of Marcial Maciel? What would it mean to “faithfully accept” the “spirit and aims” of this man? Or to follow his “mind and designs”? To ask the question is to answer it.

This is not simply a matter of embarrassment and shame. The Legion is in peril not because it has a scandalous episode in its past, but rather because it is saddled with a founder whose spirit and legacy provide none of the vitality necessary for a religious congregation to endure. This is especially important in times of reform. A religious community almost inevitably requires reform at various stages in its history, and reform means, above all, a return to the founder. Renewal “bear[s] the distinctive mark of the spirit of the Founders” (cf. CLD 6, p. 463).

A religious congregation’s traditions, its founder’s spirit, and the founder’s aims constitute the patrimony of the congregation (cf. PC, 2). This patrimony is a treasury that sustains the congregation and its members in all times, and especially in times of reform. In this sad case, however, Maciel simply has left the Legion with little or no patrimony. That is, his “spirit,” his “aims,” and his “mind and designs” provide nothing on which the Legion can rely. (Cf. E. Peters,
“So if Maciel was a criminal (or a sociopath), what of his charism?8 Feb. 2009,

Grace Abounding

There are several possible futures for the members of the Legion who played no part in Maciel’s deceits. As individuals they could join other congregations or become diocesan priests. As a group they might discern whether they are called to form a new community, or they might seek incorporation into another religious community (cf. can. 582).
However, my own opinion is that the congregation founded by Marcial Maciel, the Legion of Christ itself, cannot survive.

Some have expressed wonder that, despite Maciel’s duplicity and manipulation, good nonetheless could exist in the Legion. However, this is no cause for wonder at all, for “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5.20). Maciel betrayed many, not least of all the faithful members of the Legion who had no part in concealing his crimes. Moreover, all throughout this long betrayal, their Lord remained always in their midst suffering the same betrayal. Though the Legion itself may not survive, the innocent Legionaries have reason to hope that the Lord in His mercy will prevent their good work from being lost.

R. Michael Dunnigan is a canon lawyer and civil lawyer, and he serves as General Counsel to the St. Joseph Foundation in San Antonio, Texas.
Copyright 2009 R. Michael Dunnigan


9.  Double Talk Apology to maintain support of $260 million yearly budget. 


Internet bloggers, some with close Legion contacts, were also active Feb. 3, reflecting the spreading news of the Maciel misconduct.

"The rank and file were told in various places - some on retreat, others in special meetings," wrote Genevieve Kineke, on, referring to the Legionaire priests who were informing Legion members and supporters.

Kineke, a former member of the Legion's lay affiliate Regnum Christi, has written extensively about the order one her website. Regnum Christi, with a membership of roughly 50,000, is pivotal to the order's fundraising and in running the two dozen Legion prep schools in the U.S.

Tom Hoopes, editor of the National Catholic Register, a weekly published by the Legion at its Cheshire, CT, headquarters, issued a Feb. 3 apology as a comment on the blog of a Catholic author,

"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," Hoops wrote.

"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....The Church did bring justice, and did penalize this man...I seek repentance and forgiveness."

In a sign of turmoil within the Legion's ranks, Hoops backed off his statement somewhat later that day, adding: "I'm not saying every accusation against the man is true."

In the tightly-run lay network of Regnum Christi groups, Legion priests have held out Maciel as a saint. Some have said the Vatican punishment was a mistake, even as the order has professed strict obedience to the pope.

Since 1997, when the charges were first reported in the media, the Legion derided them as a conspiracy.

In 1998, Marciel victims filed a formal Vatican complain. It was not until 2004 that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ordered an investigation. When, as Pope Benedict, he approved the punishment, a Vatican source told NCR that "more than twenty but less than 100" victims had testified. However, in punishing Maciel, the Vatican made no mention of the victims while praising the Legion and Regnum Christi.

"We have the same position as the Vatican," Fair told NCR, regarding the sex abuse investigation. "There was no trial. Father Maciel was asked to retire and he did."

That hairsplitting tracks the Legion strategy under Corcuera. He has attempted to demonstrate fealty to Pope Benedict while subtly suggesting the Vatican erred in ousting Maciel from ministry.

The order's website has portrayed Maciel as a spiritual warrior, airbrushing his punishment, to fuel a fundraising engine that supports a $260 million Legion budget, including the prep schools and colleges in several countries.

For many years Maciel had cultivated conservative celebrities and financial figures. As examples, Carlos Slim of Mexico, reportedly one of the world's richest men, became a major backer of Legion schools, and recently made headlines for purchasing a large block of New York Times stock.

Placido Domingo, the internationally renowned tenor, has sung at Legion fundraisers. William Bennett, the CNN commentator, is a regular speaker at Legion conferences. The late Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, was one of Maciel's staunchest defenders. George Wiegel, a biographer of Pope John Paul II, has been a longtime champion of the Legionaries. The outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, was a prominent defender of Maciel and taught at the Legion's university in Rome.

Maciel died at 87 and was buried in his hometown of Cotija, Mexico, a retreat and conference center for the Legion.

"All the major orders - Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans – have founders who are saints," said a former high-ranking Vatican official, unaware of the new allegations. "That's a big hurdle for the Legionaries when you look at Pope Benedict's decision [in 2006.]

The Legion has an idea that his reputation can somehow be rehabilitated - wait long enough, cast doubt on the investigation, and years from now promote him to be a saint."

The order has maintained strong Vatican supporters. On Dec. 14, Cardinal Franc Rodé of the Congregation for Religious told a Regnum Christi gathering in Brasilia: "God has made the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi flourish as the work of his own hands...Know that you can always count on the Pope's esteem and support, as well as on mine."

In recent days, Legion supporters have clearly been shaken. According to a former Regnum Christi member with close ties to the group, when priests in Atlanta delivered the new revelations at a three-day silent retreat, "Women began sobbing."


10.  Why Orthodox Catholics Are Angry With the Legion of Christ

Michael S. Rose

Vows of Silence should be one of the most important books in better than a decade for conservative Catholics in the U.S. and beyond. Alas, it will not be. Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, conscientious and seasoned journalists, undermine their own effort with their openly stated liberal Catholic agenda. Moreover, the subtitle of the book, "The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II" gives a pretty good indication of the authors’ bias. But John Paul is given scant attention. This is not even a book about the papacy or Vatican politics. The book is about Fr. Thomas Doyle, who for two decades has heroically stood up for the victims of priestly sex abuse, and about Fr. Marcial Maciel, who has been accused numerous times of sex abuse, and about his Legion of Christ and its lay affiliate Regnum Christi. The connection of John Paul to the Legion is just this: The Pope has put his weight behind the Legion in the past, which the Legion is quick to point out, repeatedly.

The Legion and its supporters have exploited the authors’ bias in order to dismiss their thorough research. The people who ought to read Vows of Silence, mainly conservative Catholics who would likely be attracted to the manifest signs of Legion orthodoxy, are given a good reason not to take Berry and Renner’s research seriously. Nonetheless, despite their liberal proclivities, the facts they assemble are very much worth examining.

When some of the book’s material regarding sexual abuse allegations against Fr. Maciel were first published in the Hartford Courant, neoconservative, high-tax-bracket Catholics were quick to defend Maciel. With little or no first-hand knowledge of the situations being written about, prominent Catholics such as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, William Donohue of The Catholic League, Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, and Deal Hudson of Crisis magazine all denounced the Courant’s series. Yet none of these defenders met with Maciel’s accusers. The Legion and the neocons, both reputed to be interested in money and power, are allies. It’s “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” But these neocons may come to regret their hasty judgments.

Vows of Silence deals with well-substantiated sexual abuse allegations from nine former Legionaries against Fr. Maciel, including — significantly — men who were high-ranking members of the order before bailing out. Over the past five or so years, the Legion has been denying the allegations, categorizing them as a conspiracy, and publicly assassinating the character of these men without substantial proof — every one a well-respected professional, none of whom is seeking financial compensation.

One of the Legion’s greatest skills seems to be character assassination without substantial evidence. When former Legionary Juan Vaca came forward with sex abuse allegations against Fr. Maciel, the Publisher and Editor in Chief of the Legion-owned National Catholic Register, Fr. Owen Kearns, derided Vaca as “a proud, status-conscious man angered and disappointed at his professional failures,” a man who wanted “greater power in the Legion.” Juan Vaca was Director of the Legionaries in the U.S. when he resigned from the Legion. I have spoken with people who personally know Vaca. They say that Fr. Kearn’s characterization of him couldn’t be further from the truth. Berry and Renner paint the same picture: a mild-mannered, humble man.

The defense of Maciel by the Legion is essential because both Regnum Christi and the Legionaries of Christ are built around a cult of personality, that of Fr. Marcial Maciel. He is called Nuestro Padre (Our Father) and is regarded as a “living saint.” From several accounts, Maciel appears to be a megalomaniac with a penchant for making theatrical appearances with spectacular arrivals, such as flying in on a personal helicopter into a crowd of squealing teens, perhaps in imitation of a rock star.

It is instructive to note here, as an aside, that during the past few years Maciel has canceled his spectacular appearances at the annual family day festivals in the U.S. In 2003 Maciel was scheduled to address the thousands gathered in Chicago. When he failed to arrive and event organizers played a video-taped address from the Legion founder, a reporter speculated in the Chicago Tribune that Fr. Maciel had failed to appear in Chicago because he feared American abuse-victims groups would protest his presence. The Tribune also pointed out that if Maciel were a priest operating in a U.S. diocese, the nine credible allegations of sex abuse would have caused him to be relieved of his priestly duties.

When I spoke to Jay Dunlap, the Legionaries’ Communications Director, the following week about another topic, I asked him if there was any truth to the Tribune’s report. “No,” responded Dunlap. He dismissed the entire article as the immature work of a summer intern from Stanford University. I was expected to believe that this journalist from Stanford was all wet.

Why then did Fr. Maciel fail to appear in Chicago as scheduled? It’s a long story, explained Dunlap. The official Legion PR line was this: Maciel had been on some important pastoral visit to South America. From there, he was scheduled to fly to Chicago. However, said Dunlap, Maciel was diverted by a sudden request from some unnamed cardinal to return to Rome on some urgent business. “When a Vatican cardinal makes a request,” said Dunlap, “Fr. Maciel can’t exactly ignore it.”

Thus, according to the official party line, Fr. Maciel did not appear in Chicago because he was called to Rome by a Vatican cardinal. This explanation would only sound plausible to someone who knows little to nothing about Church hierarchy. Heads of religious orders do not report to or take quotidian orders from “Vatican cardinals.” What urgent business?, I asked Dunlap. Dunno, he said.

Is the public really expected to believe that Maciel’s “urgent business” in Rome couldn’t wait one day — until after he addressed one of the largest gatherings of his lay movement? Given that Berry and Renner report that Maciel has thrown lavish dinners in Rome for prominent Vatican cardinals, perhaps a better explanation would be that Maciel has to come running, Johnny-on-the-spot, to any and all “Vatican cardinals” so as to help guarantee that the cardinals in the Curia will protect him from the sexual allegations swilling about him. Don’t be so naïve as to think that cardinals don’t do that — remember Cardinal Law (now a Vatican cardinal)?

What about Maciel’s scheduled appearance at the Family Gathering in 2002 in Baltimore; why did Maciel also cancel his appearance there? Dunlap was ready with his response: “You’ll remember that was the week before the Pope was scheduled to visit Mexico City.”

Yes, I told him, I remember.

“Well, Fr. Maciel was called to Mexico City to help the city prepare for the Pope’s arrival.”

This explanation was even more far-fetched than the Chicago excuse. Was I supposed to believe that Fr. Maciel “was called” to Mexico in order to hang tinsel a whole week before the Pope’s arrival? And who called him to Mexico City?

The primary reason I called Dunlap in the first place was that Sophia Institute Press (which published two of my books: Ugly As Sin and Priest) had recently published Christ Is My Life by Fr. Maciel, a 304-page book that purported to be a candid interview with Jesús Colina, a Catholic journalist with the Rome-based Zenit News Agency, owned by the Legionaries. The book was being criticized as a propaganda tract used for recruiting new prospects into the movement. The fact that the Legion purchased 16,000 copies of the book just prior to the Chicago festival lends some credence to that claim.

I was asked to review the book for a national newspaper — not the NOR. After reading Christ Is My Life — filled mainly with pious platitudes with little spiritual or theological depth — I discovered that former Legion seminarians and priests were denouncing the book, which was ostensibly autobiographical, as a string of fabrications — a concocted self-hagiography. Given the fact that the “interviewer” was a Regnum Christi member and Legion employee rather than an independent journalist, and that so many former Legion members disputed the historical facts, I felt like I had little to offer by way of a review. Moreover, I was not encouraged by the fact that the Legion’s website was promoting the book as “the fastest-selling Catholic book on the market today.” That the Legion of Christ itself bought up 16,000 books upon publication for free distribution was what made Christ Is My Life a so-called bestseller — a marketing technique that smacks of duplicity.

A booklet on the life and times of Fr. Maciel written by Fr. J. Alberto Villasana, a Legion priest, paints Nuestro Padre as a veritable hero of the Cristero Revolt in Mexico. As a teenager, for example, he is said to have calmed the crowds in a near-riot, to have tended to wounded Cristeros, to have led anti-government protests, and to have miraculously escaped the bullets of a Communist assassin, all the while as a pious seminarian he chose to sleep on newspapers instead of a mattress and use a towel instead of a blanket. (For at least the past decade he’s been chauffeured around in a Mercedes, has paid $9,000 a ticket to fly the supersonic Concorde across the Atlantic, and rents helicopters to keep certain of his appointments in Mexico, Colombia, and the U.S.). Those who knew him at the time, however, including Fr. Rogelio Orozco (one of the original group of boys to form the Legion in 1941) paint a portrait of a self-absorbed, spoiled, and sissified man, who was kicked out of seminary after seminary, and who literally made his teachers “recoil.” Berry and Renner write that Maciel has crafted his own persona: “a heroic, saintly mask to cover his worldly genius at pulling money from the rich while hiding sex with boys in the closet….” The Legion counters by claiming that expulsion after expulsion — at one seminary he was given only half an hour to vacate — was caused by “misunderstandings.”

Berry and Renner are in top form when debunking the string of alleged fabrications put forth in Maciel’s autobiography. They have done their homework, digging into the source material and often finding dead ends: sources that don’t exist, sources that turn out to be nothing more than verbal recountings of incidents from the mouth of Nuestro Padre to some Legion priest-chronicler. Sometimes the authors are even able to identify fault lines in Maciel’s self-hagiography, especially when exact dates are given. For example, Fr. Maciel claimed that in June of 1946 he circumnavigated curial gatekeepers to gain access to Pope Pius XII. According to one of his hagiographic booklets, Nuestro Padre waited while the Holy Father “celebrated a solemn Mass of beatification” and when the ceremony was finished he got into the greeting line and allegedly said: “Holy Father, I am a Mexican priest and I have something important to tell you, but I don’t have anyone to recommend me to you.” First, Maciel had two uncles who were bishops. Second, Berry and Renner discovered that Pius XII never beatified anyone in June of 1946.

Maciel’s exaggerations apparently weren’t limited to his autobiography. According to Federico Dominguez (not one of the accusers), a former Legionary and the secretary to whom Nuestro Padre dictated his letters for years, Fr. Maciel also liked to “exaggerate” in his correspondence with his rich patrons in Mexico: “He would say we had three hundred students but there were only one hundred…. I began to have my doubts about him.”

But exaggeration, invention, and lying weren’t Fr. Maciel’s only problems, attested Dominguez. One evening he went to Fr. Maciel’s bedroom and found him there already in bed — in the dark with an adolescent boy, Juan Vaca.

Chapter after chapter of Vows of Silence is filled with horror stories from former Legion priests, seminarians, and Regnum Christi members. The pages are crammed with charges of brainwashing, manipulation, pederast seduction rituals, character assassination, bribes, drug abuse, gulag-type threats — you name it. The most interesting aspect of this exposé is that even though the authors are avowedly liberal, a good number of the sources quoted are those who are self-defined orthodox Catholics. After all, the Legion consciously cultivates conservative Catholics, using a façade of pious traditionalism to draw them in. It should come as no surprise then that the harshest critics of the Legion are not liberal Catholics, but those who are staunchly conservative in their views of the Church. They are typically family-oriented, faithful Catholics who look to the Holy Father for direction, and embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church without reserve, and often attend Mass daily. Something is making these people very, very angry, and it’s not the Legion’s alleged fidelity to the Pope. Rather, it is the Legion’s manipulative techniques used to lure them and their money into the movement. In short, their problem is with the Legion’s use of “orthodoxy” to manipulate faithful Catholics in order to build an empire, a “parallel church” (as one bishop expressed it).

According to the well-documented and well-researched material presented in Vows of Silence — and my own research over the past five years on Maciel and his order that confirms the facts in the book — the Legion has broken up families, destroyed schools, and pulled the wool over the eyes of many orthodox Catholics. That’s part of the reason the order and its lay affiliate have been banned from certain dioceses, and are unwelcome on many Catholic campuses, including some notable conservative Catholic campuses (though only in an unwritten and informal way, I am told, so they won’t risk losing any big donors).

One of the main problems is that there’s been a rigorously observed media blackout among neoconservative Catholic publications on the serious problems posed by the Legion of Christ, Regnum Christi, and Nuestro Padre. This is perhaps a story in itself.

The Legion’s tentacles are far-reaching, as many staunchly conservative Catholics who have been burned by the Legion or Regnum Christi are afraid to speak out, for fear of retribution.

But thankfully, many talked on the record with Jason Berry and Gerald Renner. My advice is: Read the book and then make up your own mind.