Shocking News about the Legionaries

David Gibson has a story that has been percolating on the web for the last few days, about the late founder of the ultraconservative Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who had been publicly sanctioned in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI after an extensive investigation of charges of abuse levied by former members of the LC seminarians, now adults. 

Advertisement

Now comes news that Maciel had fathered a child, and that the Legion of Christ is about to "renounce" him as their founder.

Here is Gibson: "The late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the venerated and vilified founder of the powerful conservative Catholic order, the Legionaries of Christ, may have been a father in the biological as well. At American Papist, Thomas Peters confirms rumors circulating in recent days of scandalous news coming down the pipe about a prominent Catholic....Now it turns out Maciel may have fathered at least one child, a woman now in her early 20’s, and may have illicitly used funds to support his family and a ’double life.’  That’s on Gibson’s Pontifications blog here.  

That portion of the story has been confirmed to me by a former Legionary member, who sadly described those LCs he still was in touch with as "shattered" by the news.   The New York Times has the story here, though LC officials are not confirming it.  However, as Laurie Goodstein reports, "[T]he order’s general director, the Rev. Álvaro Corcuera, is quietly visiting its religious communities and seminaries in the United States and informing members that their founder led a double life, current and former Legionaries said."

The news is doubly surprising. 

For one thing, Father Maciel’s abuse was against young men, and so most probably assumed, when the abuse revelations were made public, that he was homosexual.  Most psychiatrists and psychologists, however, say that sexual abuse against minors is not so much an indication of sexual orientation--whether homosexual or heterosexual--as much as it indicates a stunted or malformed sexuality overall.  This is not to deny that most of the clergy sexual abuse was against adolescent boys and even men, and perpetrated by gay men, but rather to point out how the question of abuse is more complex than is usually thought, and whose solution is more complex than simply barring gay men from holy orders. 

But the bigger surprise, if the reports are correct about the "renouncement" is this: For a religious order to "renounce" its founder is nearly unprecedented.  Yet even a downplaying of the founder could be a serious blow to the order.  (One of our bloggers commented on this part of the story: see below.)

The "charism," or guiding spirit, of an order comes from its founder.  His (or her) writings, letters and spiritual practices are carefully studied and emulated by members of the order; such study makes up a large part of the members’ early training.  Jesuits pore over the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola; Franciscans of St. Francis of Assisi; Dominicans of St. Dominic.  The founder or foundress is considered as the spiritual father or mother of the order.  (Jesuits, for example, are often called "Sons of Ignatius.")  Statues, portraits and holy cards of the founder abound in the communities and works of the order.  The influence of the founder or foundress on the life of the religious order he or she founded cannot be overstated.  This is one reason why canonization of the founder is so important to religious orders; it is an implicit approval of the order itself: the two are inextricably linked.

A few founders have run into difficulties after their orders were set up (St. Francis of Assisi was nearly kicked out of his own order by Franciscans who found his poverty too extreme), but in those rare cases, the order always welcomes back the founder as an essential--the essential--part of the history and spirituality of the order.  As one example, note the photo above, from CNS, is captioned, "Legionaries of Christ take part in a Jan. 31 [2008] memorial service in honor of their founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, at the Irish Institute in San Pedro Garza, a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico."  The Legionaries generally refer to Father Maciel as "Nuestro Padre."

It would be as if the Dominicans said, "We’re through with St. Dominic."

James Martin, SJ

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 8 months ago
The Legionaries of Christ, have no choice but to suppress itself as quickly as possible. The priests and seminarians should be incardinated into an existing order with the same basic values. While no order would be exactly the same, some like the Society of Jesus have founders whose charisms are well documented. The sooner this is done the less disturbing will the effect be on the lay people, Regnum Christi. Until the LC is dissolved any well meaning priest cannot continue with the tag of LC after their name. The LC reminder of their founder will always negate their words. All orders and dioceses have had bad apples and these bad apples have spoiled the bushel, until a strong leader has come along to bring them back to their founders charisms. In this case the founder is the bad apple and all of his writings become suspect. It would be better for B-XVI to find a place for them to reinvent themselves. In Christ, Fr. Marty
8 years 8 months ago
Celibacy that consumes itself with sexual deniability is a neurosis. Eventually, a dysfunctionally suppressed nature will assert itself, sometimes in extremely unexplained, disastrous, and pyrotechnic behavioral patterns.. The thought of scandalous consequences fades into the background as the need to satisfy long denied urges surface with relentless force. Initially, the sense of guilt is grim and remorseless; but with each occurring delictum, this behavior passes into the overall persona and becomes identified by the principal as accepted, guiltless activity that merely needs to be concealed for the good of others. From what has been disclosed, it appears that Degollado was a sexual neurotic, in serious need of psychotherapy. It is obvious he was not a candidate for celibate life, and probably not for married life either. Sexual perverts, under the guise of religious fervor, are most adept at concealing their proclivities from others and sublimating their prurient interests within themselves. That said, the psychological, emotional, and spiritual devastation visited upon others by such individuals is permanent and without relief. Many of Degollado’s adherents are going to need some serious counseling.
8 years 8 months ago
It is indeed shocking news. Some saints have been great sinners who were converted to the light and changed their ways afterwards. It is sad that the order may be reversed in this case. Whatever the truth might be, it must be a serious blow to the credibility of the order and its members. It is only hoped that those within the order and without will look within themselves and see if they are following the truth of the Gospel of Christ in their lives. And, if the order wants to salvage any truth from current scandal, it will have to look beyond the sins of the founder to the charism of the order to see if it is worth salvaging.
8 years 8 months ago
Dominicans might well pore over the writings of Aquinas, and even of Hervaeus Natalis and Durandus of Saint-Pourçain, but certainly not over the writings of Saint Dominic. For of such there are perhaps two brief letters written to nuns. Just saying.
8 years 8 months ago
Just to set the record straight, Aaron: I do not think the consecrated women have been told not to talk with each other or others about the matter. I have talked with two of the consecrated (yesterday and today), and they have told me what they had been told and shared their struggles with me. We need to pray for all the members of the movement.
8 years 8 months ago
I'm pretty sure that those complaining abour Fr. Martin's suggestion's regarding who were the most prevalent offender's in the abuse scandal didn't bother to really read what he said: "This is not to deny that most of the clergy sexual abuse was against adolescent boys and even men, and perpetrated by gay men" This does not suggest that pedophilia is primarily a problem among gay men. Rather, it states what is well known and true: The scandal of abuse in the Church was perpetrated against adolescent boys (who had reached puberty and therefore sexual maturity, age 13-17) and men. The numbers in this regard are staggering. We did not have a pedophilia problem in the Church we had a homosexual one.
8 years 8 months ago
History teaches us that religious orders can survive just about anything - there is no major religious order that has not had its down moments. But no religious order can survive having a fraud as its founder. The sooner the Legionaries of Christ are dissolved, the better. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of its members are fine, upstanding priests and could serve the Church decorously elsewhere - they must be given this opportunity.
8 years 8 months ago
'... but rather to point out how the question of abuse is more complex than is usually thought, and whose solution is more complex than simply barring gay men from holy orders' Yes, and to add to this, more complex than simply allowing married men into holy orders as others like to suggest. Children and adolescents have been raped by people with same or other sex attraction, single or married, clergy or laity. Until people understand that at the root of this is a perversion that can't be boxed into neat little categories, we're only going to have the same fabricated answers on what to do about pedophilia. As far as the LC, I'm sure there are some who will suggest there have been Dominicans or Jesuits who have been accused of such wrongs. Indeed there have been, how can one possibly imagine these orders as they are if it was Dominic or Ignatius who were the perpetrators.
8 years 8 months ago
I am unsure if kicking him out is the just thing to do. However, I do not believe he should continue in his current position.
8 years 8 months ago
We are glad that the truth is finally emerging about Maciel and this secretive, trouble organization. We hope that anyone who has been hurt will seek help and begin to heal from thee horrific crimes. Barbara Dorris Outreach Director Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests 314-862-7688 [email protected]
8 years 8 months ago
I may be wrong, but I believe Fr. Maciel's current position is pretty unchangeable. AMDG,
8 years 8 months ago
Given all that has been written and spoken about the brainwashing that goes on with religious sects, it is still bewildering that people continue to allow themselves to be drawn into these mind boggling swamps of thought and personality control. They prey upon the unsuspecting, the weak, the searching, the uncertain, with promises of fulfillment, only to offer a stone instead of loaf. (See Matt. 7:9) Those having and overwhelming desire to rush pell-mell into some religious association because it seems so comforting and understanding, and seems too good to be true should realize that it probably is. Take a breath, count to ten, then sit down and read, very slowly, Matt.24:23 seq. Surely, no one needs a religious sect to find Christ and the peace that He brings.
8 years 8 months ago
I can confirm that several allegations against Fr Maciel have been proven true, but I can also confirm that the Legion is not 'renouncing' him as founder. Obviously, he can no longer be held up as an example to follow, but the charism that he passed on, such as the constitutions of the order and the statutes of the Regnum Christi movement, are still approved by the Church.
8 years 8 months ago
'This is not to deny that most of the clergy sexual abuse was against adolescent boys and even men, and perpetrated by gay men, but rather to point out how the question of abuse is more complex than is usually thought, and whose solution is more complex than simply barring gay men from holy orders.' Actually, I read something fascinating a while ago, based upon the findings of some professionals who had been treating such abusive adults for decades. They found that most of the men who abuse young (pre-pubescent) identify as 'straight.' They are attracted to the soft, 'girlish' figures of the young boys (rather than the musculature that comes with puberty and development). They would also get aroused by women but not men. Thus they seem more like 'sick heterosexuals' than homosexuals. We need to be careful about just assigning all (or most) blame to "gay" priests.
8 years 8 months ago
Corcuera may supposedly be following the same steps as Maciel: controlling and spinning the 'allegations' and how they are received by Legionaries. I imagine limited information or specifics will be given to the Legionaries in their communities, who will doubtelessly be forbidden to talk about the matter among themselves, with outsiders (non-legionaries) and possibly even with their superiors. So even if the allegations are admitted, the Legionaries will probably not be able to talk about or explore what that means for themselves of the Legion: silence as always. Chances are though, that Corcuera will only mention that there are more allegations (which he will not detail) and that legionaries should be careful reading newspapers or watching the news that there may be articles they should avoid or turn over. This happened in 1998 when the Hartford Courant first published the allegations against Maciel about sex abuse - the communities (and I was in one) were told that serious allegations had been made in the public media but the details of these were not given to the communities. We were forbidden to mention the allegations to anyone, we were forbidden to even acknowledge that we were told about them, we were to be vigilant about the media, that some family members may want to talk about it or send us newspaper clips - always we had to change the subject and never enter into debate or conversation about the subject. We had a three day tridduum (adoration, more silence, special rosaries etc)for Maciel at that point, I think they tried to make it in thanksgiving for him and for his continued strength in moments of trial... Something positive. If Corcuera acts differently to this - i.e., not simply as a damage limiter - it may indeed be indicative of change.
8 years 8 months ago
While the focus of this article is on Maciel and not other topics, there are a few who would disagree with the author's statement: 'This is not to deny that most of the clergy sexual abuse was against adolescent boys and even men...' Acording to psychologists, Richard Sipe,counselor and former Benedictine monk, and Gary Schoener, Director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneappolis, girls, young adolescent females, and women of all ages have been abused in numbers equal to those of males. The abuse of girls and women by priest clergy has not been reported, studied or researched with equal diligence. As a result, homosexuals have been unfairly scape-goated and priestly celibacy has not been honestly evaluated by the Vatican. Angela Bonavoglia author of Good Catholic Girls and How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church also discusses this in her book. One of her conclusions is that church leaders and hierarchy consider the abuse of males to be far more harmful than the abuse of females. The lack of reporting and study of the abuse of girls and women in equal numbers would be a good topic for a future article in America.
8 years 8 months ago
Unfortunately, Barabara, at this point SNAP has lost all credibility. Sending the hurting to SNAP would be the same as sending them to the local witchdoctor, village idiot or local homeless person. I pray these people seek out real help, real healing from good people.
8 years 8 months ago
I'm pretty sure that those complaining abour Fr. Martin's suggestion's regarding who were the most prevalent offender's in the abuse scandal didn't bother to really read what he said: 'This is not to deny that most of the clergy sexual abuse was against adolescent boys and even men, and perpetrated by gay men.' This does not suggest that pedophilia is primarily a problem among gay men. Rather, it states what is well known and true: The scandal of abuse in the Church was perpetrated against adolescent boys (who had reached puberty and therefore sexual maturity, age 13-17) and men. The numbers in this regard are staggering. We did not have a pedophilia problem in the Church we had a homosexual one. Still, as this seems to be about something OTHER than this, I am confused why anyone would think even the millions of sins of particular individuals would amount to destroying the ideal itself? What is the percentage of those who are unfaithful to their marriage vows? What is the percentage of those who enter marriage for the power and the "cover" it gives them for their depravity? Yet, no one is suggesting that marriage should be eliminated or that it's "sexual intercourse with one woman for life" that makes one into a pervert.
8 years 8 months ago
Sexual abuse of a young male or female by a person in authority is about POWER and control over them. It seems that the rules drawn up by the founder were like a very rich kid who is given an opportunity to design a candy store. The rules such as the secret vows and promises (to never tell anything bad about a superior and especially the founder) along with poverty chastity and obedience certainly gave a sick individual a lot of power and control over people.
8 years 8 months ago
My godchild and her younger sister (18 and 15) have been indoctrinated for years by the heavy handed recruitment techniques of Regnum Christi. They have lost out on normal social activities which their peers enjoy, all in the name of God--and it sickens me. The sooner Regnum Christi goes out of business, the better. Trying to mold young children into pious automotons from age 11 is a form of child abuse and shame on their parents for allowing this indoctrination.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.