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Pope Francis grants plenary indulgence to controversial Legionaries of Christ

In observance of the Legionaries of Christ 75th anniversary, Pope Francis granted the group, which has been plagued by revelations of sexual abuse, a plenary indulgence (removal of all temporal punishment). In 2006, Pope Benedict removed the leader, Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008. Francis’s latest move follows the group’s apology to its victims, an independent evaluation of the organization, and the Vatican’s approval of the Legion’s constitutional reforms. (UPI, 10/29/15) [IT 7.1 2016]

The Legionaries of Christ may be seeing a turn in fortune following the unresolved consequences of a disgraced founder with the development of the Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land. The order is conducting a major fundraising drive to cover the projected $100 million cost of the complex, with newly discovered ruins of a synagogue Jesus may have visited, and the planned archaeological park, women’s institute, media center, and luxury hotel the Legion will own. The center’s assistant director said the Legion has raised $40 million from benefactors toward the finished work.

The Legion’s Holy Land expansion is a stark contrast to what has been called the “fire sale” of assets in the Americas sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion, and occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States. For example, the order took a $16 million loss on the sale of its Thornwood, New York center. Meanwhile, the downsizing in other parts of the world has been extensive, with major sales of properties and closure of order schools, academies, and seminaries worldwide in recent years.

And a Vatican property under Legion control for 49 years, the Pontifical Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, with a library, five-star hotel accommodations, conference space, and a hospitality school for Arab Christians also is a huge asset as a required stop for any papal visit because the Vatican owns it. All revenues to Notre Dame of Jerusalem reportedly go back into operations.

In contrast, the Legion of Christ, not the Holy See, is in charge of Magdala Center. A Jesuit canon lawyer, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, was recently appointed as a special adviser to the order for this ambitious new venture in the midst of so much legal action and such internal chaos currently reflected in the order. The Legion has yet to receive approval from Pope Francis for reworked constitutions, which were submitted to him months ago.

In a side note to the development of the new center in Israel, a booklet intended to promote it, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material that demonstrates the hold the order’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, still has on certain top-ranking Legionaries in spite of the prolonged scandal in recent years about him and its negative impact on the organization. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays Maciel as harshly judged. (National Catholic Reporter, 8/26/14) [IT 6.1 2015]

Elizabeth Kunze, who spent 16 years as a consecrated celibate in Regnum Christi, has denounced the order and says the Vatican effort to reform it was faked. Kunze, who reviews her involvement in Regnum Christi and the recent history of the organization, calls it a “cult,” adding, “People inside the Legion have not been given clear information about what has happened. There is fear to speak openly or to question.” Father Peter Byrne, now leaving the order, reports more than sixty dissident priests have already done so, and hundreds more have left their training before reaching the priesthood. (National Catholic Reporter, 12/27/13) [IT 5.2] 

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has accused the Vatican of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, imposing a “code of silence” on clerics, and shifting abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes.” The Vatican said the report that contains the charges was “distorted” and “unfair,” and ignored steps taken in the past decade to protect children. (Reuters, 2/5/14) [IT 5.2]

In the past two years there have been several apparently ritual murders of young people involved in small satanic cults in the Johannesburg area. A clinical psychologist has offered a number of possible reasons that youth have become associated in such groups. (Destiny Connect, 11/11/13) [IT 5.2]

In recent actions in a process of reform that began in 2009, the Legionaries of Christ elected new leaders and formally apologized to victims of their disgraced founder, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008. Following Maciel’s death in 2008, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation and investigation after learning about at least one illegitimate child Maciel had fathered and minors he had sexually abused. In 2010, Following a Vatican statement that Maciel had been guilty of “seriously and objectively immoral behavior” and “real crimes” and had lived a “life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious meaning,” Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to supervise the Legionaries' reform.

The Legionaries’ statement expressed “deep sorrow” for Degollado’s “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” and says they will change leaders more frequently and appoint advisory councils to “prevent potential arbitrary behavior and abuses of authority” The statement also includes data on changes in Legionaries membership numbers and other details (see http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/legionaries-christ-elect-new-leaders-apologize-founders-victims).

In ongoing efforts to redress these wrongs, the extraordinary general chapter members comprising 61 priests from 11 countries admitted and apologized for a “long institutional silence” in response to the accusations against the late friar. Chapter members also expressed a desire to maintain “friendship and fraternal dialogue” with former Legionaries, and noted they have been learning to “freely debate” the governance of their congregation.

Before adjournment at the end of February, the chapter was to approve a revised constitution, which Pope Francis also must approve before it takes effect. (Catholic News Service, 2/6/2014) [IT 5.2]

Although the scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christ has elected a new superior and governing council, the Holy See apparently does not trust the Legion’s choices and has appointed two reformist priests to serve on the order’s governing council. The Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil [Orvananos], the new general director chosen by the Legionaries, was a favorite of the organization’s disgraced late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Priests who have left the order call Robles Gil a “spiritual son” of Macial and say his election does not represent a break with the past. (AP, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]

Father Robles Gil, the first elected leader of the Legionaries of Christ, has told the Catholic News Service that neither he nor any other Legionary leader knew about Father Maciel’s crimes before 2006, when the Vatican disciplined the founder, instructing him to follow a “life reserved to prayer and penitence, renouncing all public ministry.” Only after Maciel’s death in 2008 did Robles Gil believe in the founder’s guilt, when Maciel’s successor personally told him the accusations were true. The new general director later sat on a commission dealing with some of Maciel’s victims, seven of whom received what he describes as “symbolic” amounts of financial compensation for sexual abuse.

Robles Gil acknowledges that some members may still feel close to the founder. “Someone can have a father who committed sins, who abandoned his mother, and continue loving his father,” he said. “Someone can read the books of Oscar Wilde and enjoy the books of Oscar Wilde without worrying whether he was a sinner or not.” That God chose to found the congregation through an instrument as flawed as Maciel is an example of the “mystery of human liberty,” he said. “But tell me what good work … wasn’t made by a sinner? … this sin may be bigger and more incoherent, but all the good things in the world, in history, have been made by sinners.”Acknowledging that Maciel’s disgrace is a serious handicap for the congregation, Robles Gil said Maciel can no longer serve as such a “reference point” for members. The Legionaries no longer assign Maciel’s published works, considered free of doctrinal error, to their seminarians. “If you cannot present someone as a teacher, neither can you present his writings for the purpose of priestly formation,” Robles Gil said. (Catholic News Service, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]
 

A group of Roman Catholic organizations in Mexico has petitioned the Vatican to halt the process leading to the canonization of the late Pope John Paul II until the United Nations concludes its investigation to determine whether or not he had any part in the conspiracy to cover up priestly pedophilia. Signers of the appeal, including two former members of the Legionaries of Christ, called also for investigations of sexual abuse by Mexican priests that have not yet been addressed by religious or civil authorities—in particular, cases involving the late Father Maciel [founder of the Legionaries of Christ] and Father Nicolas Aguilar in Mexico, and Father Carlos Lopez in California. (Latinos Post, 7/28/13) [IT 5.1 2014] 

Pope Francis has confirmed that the Legionaries of Christ, in support of the reform of the organization ordered by the Vatican, will convene a general assembly in early 2014 to elect new leadership and approve a revised set of constitutions. These would be, the Pope said, “fundamental steps in the path toward authentic and profound renewal.” Many of the order’s priests are convinced that “no reform is possible when the founder of a religious order has been so discredited and when the essential spirit guiding it is so undefined.” A former member of Regnum Christi [a lay organization associated with the Legionaries] suggested that the reform process has thus far been cosmetic and has not addressed the cult-like dynamic that created the order’s problems. “They misled the church before,” she said, “and that same duplicity is so deeply embedded in the congregation that they can proceed in no other way.” (Yahoo News, 6/26/13) [IT 4.3 2013] 

Thousands of pages of recently released testimony [reviewed in this lengthy article] in the Rhode Island lawsuit contesting the will of Gabrielle Mee—who left her millions to the Legion of Christ—detail the order’s decades-long concealment of founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado’s wife and child, whom he secretly supported. The testimony also reveals the process by which Legion officials gained control of Mee’s fortune and spent portions of it for noncharitable and personal purposes, and how and why the Vatican, during the reign of Pope Paul II, ignored problems with the Legion and its leader, despite damaging evidence, until Pope Benedict sent Maciel Degollado into a life of reflection and penitence. (National Catholic Reporter, 2/18/13) [IT 4.2 2013] 

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has dismissed a case alleging that the Legionaries of Christ defrauded a wealthy widow, the late Gabrielle Mee. He said Mee’s niece did not have the legal standing to sue. Nevertheless, Judge Michael Silverstein said, “The transfer of millions of dollars worth of assets—through will, trust, and gifts—from a steadfastly spiritual woman to her trusted, but clandestinely dubious spiritual leaders—raises a red flag to this Court.” The judge’s 39-page ruling details how the Legionaries manipulated and influenced Mee. Silverstein’s decision also reviews the order’s questionable fundraising tactics. The results of their appeals for money are much diminished in the wake of the sex scandal involving the order’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado, who himself was brought into the process to persuade Mees to give her millions to the organization. (National Catholic Reporter, 9/17/12) [IT 3.3 2012] 

Following an investigation into “some allegations of gravely immoral acts and more serious offenses,” the Legionaries of Christ has concluded that “seven [of the allegations] had a semblance of truth” and has forwarded them to the Vatican. The accused priests have been restricted in their ministries for the duration of the investigation. (The New York Times, 5/11/12) [IT 3.2 2012]

News from Legionaries of Christ. The powerful vicar of the Legionaries of Christ, Luis Garza Medina, has fallen and is now spending his last days as Vicar General. This coming August 1st (2012), he definitely will leave the position and all his responsibilities in Rome. On Friday, July 15, 2011, the congregation advised that the Mexican priest will be the future Superior in the United States. [IT 2.3 2011] 

The Legionaries of Christ, in the aftermath of the revelations concerning the scandalous secret life of the order’s founder, has forbidden the placement of photographs of Father Marcial Maciel Delgado “alone or with the Holy Father anywhere in Legionary or Regnum Christi centers.” However, members of the order and of the related lay association “may privately keep a photograph of the founder, read his writings, or listen to his talks.” His writings won’t be for sale, but their content can be used in preaching without citing the author. (National Catholic Reporter, 12/14/10) [IT 2.1 2011] 

The head of the papal office that has taken over running the Legionaries of Christ has told the organization’s leaders and members that they must reform—be thoroughly “purified”— and that the process will take three years or more. Archbishop Velasio De Paolis added that he believes the order is still viable and suggested that once reformed, it could play a part in the papal effort to revitalize Christianity. In response to the sexual scandal involving the order’s founder, several prominent Legion priests have left to become diocesan priests, and dozens of consecrated members of the Legion’s lay branch, Regnum Christi, have quit; several have called the movement cult-like. De Paolis said that resistance to change by the Legion’s leadership—the Legion’s vicar general reportedly refused to give up some of his duties—“will be a certain shipwreck.” He also said that a commission would likely be formed to deal with claims against the Legion. The Vatican has said that the Legion needs to review how it exercised authority and deal with charges that superiors had unchecked ability to manipulate subordinates. (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/27/10) [IT 2.1 2011] 

The revelations about Legionaries of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel continue to surface. He was not only a pederast, but a bigamist, dope fiend, and plagiarist [according to a lengthy article by Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books]. In 1998, a Mexican woman, Lara Gutiérrez, claimed Maciel had been her common law husband for 21 years and that she had borne him two children. She said she knew him as a private detective or “CIA Agent” who, because of his work, only occasionally appeared at home. Ten years after meeting this woman, Maciel began a long-lasting relationship with a 19-year-old waitress from Acapulco—he told her he was an “oil broker”—and fathered a daughter with her. Other women alleging similar experiences have since come forward. In 1956, Maciel was suspended for two years as head of the order when it became known that his students and seminarians were procuring morphine for him. Some time later, it was discovered that Maciel’s Psalter of My Days, required reading in Legionary institutions, has been copied virtually in its entirety from a book written by a Spanish priest sentenced to life in prison after the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps one reason Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope Paul, favored Maciel was the latter’s large donations to the Polish Solidarity movement, money collected from the conservative Mexican elite, which Maciel assiduously cultivated. Maciel’s profound political conservatism stemmed in part from his coming of age during the savage Cristero War of 1926–1929 fought between traditional Catholics in provincial Mexico and the anti-clerical government in the capital. One of his uncles was commanding general of the Cristeros and four other uncles were bishops at the time. [IT 1.2 2010] 

Raul Gonzalez, 30, who claims to be the son of Legionaries of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel, has filed a lawsuit in Connecticut alleging that his father sexually abused him. Gonzalez told ABC News Nightline that he thought his father worked for the CIA, or an international company, until he saw Maciel’s picture in a 1997 magazine article about the priest’s alleged sexual abuse of seminarians. In the Nightline interview, which details the nature of the sexual abuse he suffered, Gonzalez claims Maciel “gained influence and protection from the Vatican through giving substantial monies to Vatican officials” and by providing other benefits and gifts. “My dad [Maciel] told my mom that when [Pope] John Paul dies, he [Maciel] was going to be in trouble.” [IT 1.2 2010] 

The Vicar General of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Luis Garza Medina, says that neither he nor his General Director, nor other leaders, knew about founder Fr. Marcial Maciel’s double life. Medina stated that when evidence of Fr. Maciel’s “reproachable actions” began to emerge, “we gradually began [in 2008] to personally inform the superiors of the congregation, the religious, the religious members of the Legion of Christ, the consecrated men and women, and the other members of the Regnum Christi Movement. . . and finally the media and society.” [IT 1.2 2010] 

When two Mexican seminarians in 1998 delivered to the Vatican a case accusing the Rev. Marcial Maciel Delgado of sexual abuse, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, asked to meet them, say witnesses, and the case was soon accepted. A year later, however, Ratzinger halted the inquiry because, he told a Mexican bishop— according to priests who later spoke with the bishop—that the case could not be opened because “[Maciel] was a person very beloved by Pope Paul [Benedict’s predecessor] and had done a lot of good for the church. I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent.” In 2006, however, Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, removed Maciel from priestly duties and banished him to a life of prayer and penitence. Earlier this year, the Pope appointed a special delegate to run Maciel’s Legionaries of Christ and establish a commission to examine its constitution. [IT 1.2 2010] 

The report of an investigation into the Legionaries of Christ (Legion of Christ), the rich, ultra-conservative Roman Catholic religious order founded by the late Rev. Marcial Maciel Delgado, was scheduled for release in mid-March. Maciel, an accused pedophile with two mistresses and three children, and close ally of Pope John Paul II, was forced to retire in 2006. One of the reporters who exposed Maciel says: “He was a criminal of epic proportions who gained the trust of John Paul II and created a movement that is as close to a cult as anything we’ve seen in the church.” Legion priests all wear their hair parted on the left and black, double-breasted suits. A Legion spokesman said: “We’re shocked and disappointed by all of this,” adding that the order has “toned down the veneration” of Maciel. The spokesman continued: “It’s hard to reconcile the guy we now know with the man who built hundreds of seminaries. . . It’s a little as if we found out Abraham Lincoln was a serial pedophile after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” A former member who heads an association of former Legionaries, says: “It was nothing short of mind control. He conned everybody.” Several others said that the misuse of sex and power helped grow the order. “Maciel always told me to recruit the most handsome boys from the best families. They were trained to approach rich women. I’m not saying they had sexual relationships with these women, but they did know how to charm them.” A former member of Regnum Christi, the Legion’s women’s auxiliary, said: “They are spiritual seducers. They are the only priests I’ve seen who have swept people off their feet. These men woo women because they want access to our children and our husband’s wallets.” Pope Benedict XVI will decide whether to install new Legion leaders or take over the organization. [IT 1.1 2010]

The Legionaries of Christ founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Delgado, deceased in early 2008, apparently had an affair and fathered a daughter during the reign of Pope John Paul II, who praised the Mexican-born priest and his thriving religious order. In 2007, Pope Benedict forced Maciel to leave public ministry following accusations by more than a dozen men that he had sexually abused them when they were students. The Legionaires former chief financial officer, the Rev. Stephen Fichter, says: “Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers. When you become a Legionary, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. 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 Macel, 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.” . . . Jay Dunlap, the Legionaries’ first communications director, now retired, who was hired in 1998 to refute the sexual abuse allegations against Maciel, has apologized on his blog to the victims for denying or doubting their testimonies. “It is now clear,” Dunlap wrote, “that Father Maciel did, in fact, abuse his power and abuse young people in his charge.” Dunlap also said that adulation of Maciel led to “hero worship.” Father Thomas Berg, a senior fellow at the Legionaries’ ethics research institute, accused his superiors of ineptness in failing to adequately respond to the earlier revelations about Maciel. Jason Berry, a journalist who has been investigating alleged Legionaries abuses, is encouraged by the apologies made by many members who formerly defended the organization. “It’s a sign of the split within the Legion,” he added. [csr 8.1, 2009)

Roman Catholic Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, of Baltimore, has issued a set of directives regarding the Legionaries of Christ and its lay movement, Regnum Christi, demanding an accounting from them of all personnel and activities in the archdiocese, and barring the two groups from one-on-one spiritual counseling with anyone under the age of 18. [csr 7.3 2008) 

O’Brien is concerned that the Legionaries and Regnum Christi practice “heavily persuasive methods on young people, especially high schoolers, regarding vocations.” Both groups, part of the constellation of “new movements” within Catholicism, are known for their missionary zeal. He directed the two organizations to inform the archdiocese of summer programs they run and provide the names of participants, as well as the names of candidates for the priesthood or religious life, so that the information can be reviewed “with the parents and pastors of these candidates. I want to ensure that encouragement of vocations is carried out in a way that respects the rights of parents in the upbringing of their children and the rights of young persons themselves to be able to make free and fully informed decisions about their futures. [csr 7.3 2008)

“There seems to be a tendency, in one-on-one counseling,” O’Brien added, “to say: ‘We represent God. You can tell us anything, and you better believe that what we tell you is from God, too. If your parents disagree, we know better. We’re in the God business, and they’re really not.’ This is a caricature, but it’s there.” O’Brien went on, during his long interview with the National Catholic reporter, to say he believes that the problem with the Legionaries can’t be fixed because they’re “so deeply ingrained. There’s a sense of secrecy right from the seminary. The seminarians move two-by-two wherever they go. If one criticizes anything about the institution, the other one has to report it . . . All this flows into Regnum Christi as well. Nothing happens in Regnum Christi without the Legionaries.” [csr 7.3 2008)

Dozens of Mount Pleasant, NY, residents at a late December town hall meeting objected strenuously to Legion of Christ plans to build a co-educational liberal arts university in this Westchester County municipality. Some in the town fear a loss of revenue on land that now generates $1 million in taxes. One resident referred to the recent Vatican censure of the order’s founder for molesting teenage students . . . Meanwhile, Pope Benedict in December directed the Legion to eliminate “private vows” enjoining members to avoid criticizing superiors. The Legion’s critics argue that the vows hinder reform of the organization. [csr 7.1 2008)

The Legion of Christ, a fast-growing world-wide Roman Catholic religious order, is suing former member John Paul Lennon in a Virginia court to block him from disseminating, on his group’s website (regainnetwork.org), material the Legion considers “malicious disinformation,” as well as private letters and documents that the Legion says is stolen property. Lennon, a child and family therapist in Arlington, and head of Regain, an association of former Legion members, their relatives, and friends, calls the order a dangerous cult. The internal Legion documents that appeared on the web page reveal rules of conduct that include directives on how members must butter their bread, sit in a chair, and part their hair, as well as vows they must take never to criticize the order and to report anyone who does. Order members, says Lennon, “can watch only certain television programs, they don’t have radios, and they can’t use the phone without permission from their superiors.” Phone calls are monitored, he adds. Lennon, who has analyzed the daily lives of Legionaries for the International Cultic Studies Association, likens the Legion’s lawsuit to “a 21st-century Inquisition” that aims to shut down Regain through litigation. [csr 6.3 2007]

Pope Benedict XVI has called clerical sex abuses “egregious crimes” that have damaged the Church and its clergy, and that in order “to rebuild confidence and trust," it is necessary to learn what had happened in the past and prevent it from happening again. In May, the Pope asked Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, to stop celebrating mass in public and take on a life of “prayer and penance.” The Vatican had investigated allegations that Maciel sexually abused seminarians many years ago. [csr 5.3 2006]

Links

ReGAIN: Regnum Christi and Legion of Christ Awareness International Network
ReGAIN's mission is to outreach, unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement. Past and present members and all those who quest for justice and truth, resolution and healing are invited to join in this endeavor.

Bad Fruits of the Legion of Christ Catholic Religious Order – Paul Lennon (6 – 9)

The Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi: A Parent’s Perspective – Peter Kingsland (10-13A)

“By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them”: How Good and Bad Works Can Deceive – the Case of the Legion of Christ – Michael Langone

Book Review: Our Father, Who Art in Bed: A Naïve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ (John Paul Lennon) – Joe Szimhart; Reviewer

Aspects of Concern Regarding Legion of Christ Mind Control Reflected in Its Rules, Norms, and Ex-Member Testimonies. J. Paul Lennon

Reflections on the Legion of Christ: 2003-2006. Michael D. Langone,

Are There Abuses of Human Rights in the Legion of Christ? J. Paul Lennon