Analysis: Who Was Father Maciel’s Moderator?

August 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Maciel, Legionaries of Christ

As the scandal-drama surrounding the late Fr. Marcial Maciel unfolds, more and more pointed questions are rising to the surface. Former Legionary priest James Farfaglia, for example, raises a series of such pertinent questions on his blog.

New questions arose in my mind recently as I studied an online dossier of “censored” documents, which purports to include lengthy excerpts of the constitutions of the Legionaries of Christ. Father Maciel, who served as the Legion’s director general uninterruptedly for decades, mandated that the constitutions not be disclosed to the public and, therefore, few people outside the Legion have any clue what they contain (c.f., 254.2 and 417. §2 & 3).

A careful analysis of the rules which Fr. Maciel put in force yields many remarkable details, such as the fact that he exempted himself from the, now-abrogated, “private vow” in which every temporally or perpetually professed member of the order solemnly promises never to criticize other Legionaries, especially superiors.

What really caught my eye, though, was the section which mandates that a “monitor of the general director” must be appointed who will closely observe and “concern himself with the external aspects of the life of the director general, such as his dress, his diet, and his expenditures.”

(I’m pretty sure, by the way, that the whole “expenditure” thing would fall squarely into the category of Father Maciel’s now-verified, long-term habit of squandering Legionary money [i.e., benefactor donations] on frivolities such as trans-Atlantic flights on the Concorde, posh hotels, luxury cruises, succulent gourmet meals and, at least in his later years, of supplying an affluent upkeep for at least one child he fathered [it seems as though there may be others]).

According to the official description of the “moderator of the general director,” it seems clear that the duties envisioned by the Legion of Christ constitutions was not something akin to those of a confessor or spiritual director, which would concern the internal forum of the conscience and, therefore, would entail a confidential relationship with the subject (Maciel) which could not be revealed to another under pain of serious sin. Rather, the moderator called for by the Legionary constitutions could be likened to a kind of “ombudsman,” whose job it would be to help identify and correct problems with Maciel’s externally discernible lifestyle (i.e., not in the internal forum).

I hadn’t known that the Legionary constitutions required that someone be officially appointed to monitor Father Maciel’s activities. But after checking with a few former Legionary priests and religious about this, and after their review of these documents and verification that they are indeed accurate, several intriguing new questions arise, such as:

1) Who exactly was Father Maciel’s moderator? The constitutions require that this role be fulfilled by a Legionary priest, appointed by the general chapter, who is ” a very spiritual man, with at least ten years of profession in the Congregation, who is at least forty years old, of balanced temperament, gentle and understanding of spirit, faithful and loving of the superiors, with a practical sense, and whose capacity of reserve, discretion, prudence and sensitivity are well-proven and recognized.” If this requirement was fulfilled (the term is for 12 years), there will be records of it, which the apostolic visitators to the Legion of Christ will surely want to study.

2) Did the Legion’s general chapters ever actually appoint a priest to fulfill this constitutionally mandated role as moderator of Father Maciel’s activities? If so, who was he (they), when was he appointed, and what were his findings? Presumably, the Church’s apostolic visitation process will, in due course, obtain and evaluate any documents that pertain to the issue of the monitor of the general director.

3) If the Legion did in fact observe this requirement, then how did the moderator fulfill his mandate to moderate, as the order’s regulations stipulate, “all things related to the spiritual perfection and personal obligations of the director general, dialoguing with him about these things . . . [and to] concern himself with external aspects of the life of the director general, such as his dress, his diet, and his expenditures”? What, if anything, did he report about this?

Clearly, the frauds perpetrated by Fr. Maciel against the members of his own religious order, as well as the Church, his victims, etc., involved activities that would have, should have, could have been observed — and, one would assume, reported — by a genuinely dedicated, sagacious, honest, man of probity who had been formally entrusted with the task of “moderating” the general director.

So, again, it must be asked: Was there ever such a moderator? And if so, who was he? And if no one was ever appointed to this position, why wasn’t it done?

If there was such a moderator, and if he performed his duties to observe Father Maciel’s personal life and give advice or admonishment based on what he observed, did he report what must have been an endless series of strange anomalies in the director’s travels, activities, and personal habits? If he reported them to the general chapter, why was no action ever taken?

After all, the general impression given is that everyone in the Legion — everyone — was caught completely by surprise when the scandal revelations began tumbling out. No one seems to have had even the slightest inkling of what this man was doing in his free time.

One section of the dossier I mention above, goes to the very heart of the sickness of secrecy at work here. It reads:

576. If the person chosen for this post [of moderator] exposes or criticizes aspects of the life of the director general, he should be removed from his post. In such a case, the council general, at the request of the director general, shall proceed to appoint, by deliberative vote, another to take his place, from a group of three proposed by the director general.

In other words, the Legion’s internal laws required that a moderator be appointed to watch closely over Father Maciel’s personal life — something that, if it had been carried out according to the LC constitutions, could have spared the Legion, Regnum Christi, and the Church as a whole all the Maciel-induced misery this scandal has engendered.

But those same laws stipulate that if the moderator were to “expose or criticize” any problems he might find, he would be summarily canned.

Huh? Given the Sword-of-Damocles position into which the constitutions encumber the moderator, what good could he be to the order? What beneficial purpose could he serve?

This disjunction in the LC constitutons would seem to explain why the official Legionary requirement of putting such a moderator in place may simply have been ignored. But if it was not ignored, and the order’s general chapter did, in fact, appoint a priest to do what the constitutions call for, then let’s hope that the appropriate apostolic visitator will have ample opportunity to discuss this issue in detail with that man.

(Read more of my previous commentary on this issue.)

New Allegations Against Fr. Marcial Maciel Surface in Mexican Press

August 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Maciel, Legionaries of Christ

The left-leaning Mexican daily newspaper,
La Jornada, is reporting an explosive new set of paternity allegations against the late Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

Earlier this year, the religious order was rocked to its foundations by revelations of its founder’s fraudulent double life (see my February 3, 2009 commentary on this). New allegations surfaced today in a La Jornada article, which I have translated from the original Spanish and excerpted below:

Three More Children of Marcial Maciel Claim Inheritance Rights

Mexican lawyer José Bonilla Sada has made it known that three [additional] children, born in Mexico, will contest the Legionaries of Christ [claiming] that they should recognize their existence and their rights as heirs to the goods of the religious order’s founder.

The litigant, who has as his assistant one Joaquín Aguilar — a victim of sexual abuse committed by ex-priest Nicholas Aguilar — said that he is confident that there is sufficient proof to demonstrate that even the late Pope John Paul II, along with the Legion, knew of the existence of Maciel’s three other children, now adults, who were legally recognized by their father but whose names will be kept confidential.

Some months ago, the order founded by the late priest, [who was] accused of sexual abuse against minors, admitted the existence of one of his daughters. Her name, according to Bonilla’s account on his blog, is Norma Hilda. She lives in Madrid, Spain, where, along with her mother of the same name, she obtained a non-work related residence visa.

Originally from Guerrero [Mexico], she is approximately 23 years old and maintains a comfortable lifestyle level, such that she does not have to work; she lives in a luxury apartment building and also has other income [rents] from the same building in which she lives. They were acquired by Marcial Maciel with money from benefactors of the congregation.

It was precisely because of this blog that the late priest’s three children contacted José Bonilla to represent them; after which they furnished him with a series of documents that verify their relationship to Maciel: photographs showing that they had met with John Paul II, all kinds of letters, and recordings of high-level leaders in the Legion of Christ discussing this issue.

The litigant maintains that the calligraphic [i.e., handwriting] evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the letters were written by Maciel’s own hand, and that his children can be subjected to DNA testing to demonstrate their blood relationship [with him].

At present, the lawyer is studying [the evidence] and composing a civil law suit, in which it would be determined that his clients have inheritance rights, although he admits that before coming to that point he hopes to reach a settlement with the Legion of Christ.

“I suppose,” said Bonilla, “that he [Maciel] did leave them money. Our team is working on this, and some informants have have told us that it is a significant amount. One must remember that the Legion surrounded and was for [i.e. at the disposal of] the founder; practically speaking, everything was his.

He indicated that the deceased [priest’s] children seek their existence be acknowledged and, eventually, they are contemplating making known [publicly] the life they had at their father’s side, in the sense of how it developed, which is to say, what he counseled them, what he taught them, and that they have rights of inheritance. (link to original La Jornada article in Spanish)

Developing . . .

Father Maciel and His Thousand-Dollar Hams

Journalist Jason Berry, a long-time nemesis of the disgraced, recently deceased Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, levels more unsavory accusations about the priest’s bizarre double life:

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI recently appointed five bishops from as many countries to investigate the Legionaries of Christ, a religious order founded in 1941 by the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest who is accused of sexually abusing young seminarians, and who left a grown daughter who was born out-of-wedlock.

Even after death, Maciel wields power through the influence he secured. While the American Catholic Church has been publicly battered by two decades of priest sexual abuse scandals that erupted in the press and devastated church finances with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on compensating victims and legal fees, the Maciel scandal has gone largely unnoticed by most of the American press.

There’s a reason: For decades, the Legion shunned the media while Maciel cultivated relationships with some of the most powerful, conservative Catholics in the world. He also forced his priests and seminarians to take vows never to criticize him, or any superior. The legion built a network of prep schools and an astonishing database of donors. In Maciel’s militant spirituality, Legionaries — and their wing of lay supporters, Regnum Christi — see themselves as saving the church from a corrupted world. Behind the silence he imposed, Maciel was corrupt — abusing seminarians and using money in ways that several past and present seminarians liken to bribery, in forging ties with church officials.

The silence Maciel imposed on his followers allowed Maciel to pursue a double life.

Maciel, who was born into a wealthy ranching family in Mexico, wooed cardinals and bishops with money, fine wines, $1,000 hams and even a new car — and in so doing secured support for his religious order inside the Roman Curia.

Now, as the investigating bishops, called “visitators” — from America, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Chile — begin travels for interviews in the order’s far-flung religious houses, two Vatican officials are in the Legion’s corner.

Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals and the former Secretary of State, and Franc Rode, the cardinal who oversees religious congregations, were both longtime allies of Maciel and strong supporters of the order today.

The issue facing Benedict has no precedent in modern church history: whether to dismantle a movement with a $650 million budget yet only about 700 priests and 2,500 seminarians, or to keep the brand name and try to reform an organization still run as a cult of personality to its founder. Excessive materialism and psychological coercion tactics continue Maciel’s legacy.

Two years ago Benedict abolished the “secret vows” by which each Legionary swore never to criticize Maciel or any superior, and to report any criticism to the leadership. The vows helped facilitate Maciel’s secret life of sexual plunder. . . . (continue reading)

Legionary Priest: “This Is More Than Just a Crisis In Management”

February 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Legionaries of Christ

Legionary of Christ priest, Fr. Thomas Berg, a friend of mine whom I’ve quoted here before, has just released a new statement regarding the unfolding crisis in the Legion of Christ:

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 your 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 be 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
P.S. Please spread my message far and wide to as many RC members as you can.

Legionary Priest Expresses “Shock and Sorrow” at Fr. Maciel’s Moral Failings

February 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Maciel, Legionaries of Christ

I’ve known and admired Father Thomas Berg, L.C., as a friend for many years. I admire him even more after reading his brief but forthright statement, posted publicly today, which reads in part:

“In shock, sorrow, and with a humbled spirit, I want to express my deepest sorrow for anyone who, in any way, has been hurt by the moral failings of Fr. Maciel. Of my readers, I ask your prayers for each of them. They count not only on my prayers, but also on the personal acts of reparation that I intend to do to implore for each of them the grace, healing, and comfort that only God can give. I am so sorry for each of them, and for the scandal this has caused to the entire Church.” (read more)

This Is No Time for Happy-Face Stickers

February 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Maciel, Legionaries of Christ

Last night, as many of you are learning this morning, some very sad allegations about Fr. Marcial Maciel’s duplicitous actions began seeping 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 sexual (and other) sins. Let’s keep in mind a few important 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 faithful and dedicated Legionary priests and seminarians (there are thousands of them, don’t forget) 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, seemed to merit their trust.

If nothing else, this sordid saga proves the powerful truth of Scripture’s warning: “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 to happen, if it be 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 don 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 sucumb 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 commenteers 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) have caused and will continue to 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 sharp knives 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.

Click for more on the Legionaries of Christ situation.