Thursday, September 29, 2011

The muddied waters since the death of Maciel


In an exclusive interview from Rome with Catholic News Agency, Jesus Colina the Spanish journalist who founded Zenith  the Vatican based news agency in 1997, explained the details behind his departure. 
Zenith is a non-profit international news agency comprising a team of professionals and volunteers whose stated objective is to inform about the "world seen from Rome," with professionalism and faithfulness to the truth. It is promoted by the religious congregation of the Legionaries of Christ; two Legionary priests offer consultation services and collaborate in writing the "Analysis" and "Liturgy" columns. 
Colina co-authored a book with Maciel, entitled (in Spanish) "Marcial Maciel: Christ My Life."

The journalist's remarks in the interview provide an interesting perspective from which to evaluate the muddied waters of the Legion of Christ's ongoing response to the awful facts which came to light about their founder. The scandal led to a formal condemnation of Maciel by the Holy See in 2006.

Here are the highlights from the interview with Mr. Colina:
  • Father Oscar Nader LC,( Chairman of the Board of Zenit) thinks Colina does not offer a clear idea of the institutional identity of Zenit that the Legionaries of Christ wish to communicate from now on.
  • This is the culmination of a gradual mutual loss of trust which began several years ago. 
  • The manner in which the Legion of Christ hid the information about Fr. Marcial Maciel, which was discovered bit by bit by the press, led to the breakdown of trust.
  • Despite the statement issued by the Holy See in 2006, the Legion continued to present Fr. Maciel as a role model, even at his death and after his death, maintaining this myth of sanctity that the congregation had promoted during his life.
  • Since the Vatican statement was issued calling on Fr. Maciel to retire and to publicly acknowledge his lies and crimes, the impression was spread among the religious and those close to the Legionaries that the Pope had unjustly punished him.
  •  Zenit staff asked the board to establish a totally separate and transparent management in order to guarantee independence in response to any accusations. In practice this has not been done.  Colina is morally convinced that the money received from readers goes directly to Zenit, but he cannot demonstrate this formally and administratively.
  • His continuous complaints about this situation led the superiors of the Legionaries to also lose trust in him.  When he proposed allowing other Catholic entities to have a seat on the board of Zenit, in order to address these questions and provide for an editorial future and greater ecclesial representation, not only was the proposal ignored, it led to his firing as well.
  • He never had any doubts about Fr. Maciel until the Vatican published the statement calling on him to retire to a life of prayer and penance.
  •  "The Maciel case and its understandably tragic consequences cannot blur the human, spiritual and professional adventure experienced by those lucky enough to spend their lives offering news coverage of the life of the Pope and the Holy See." "All this depth and holiness cannot be clouded by Fr. Maciel’s lies." 
  • "Honestly I know many priests and seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ and I consider them to be authentic Christians and, in a certain sense, martyrs of the situation they are confronting with so much love for Christ and the Church."

Founder of Zenith News Agency resigns


CNS (Catholic News Services) in a bulletin dated today, September 29 2011, reports Spanish journalist Jesus Colina, who established the Catholic news agency Zenit in 1997 and helped build it into a seven-language agency with about 450,000 email subscribers around the world, says he has been asked to resign because he resisted pressures to identify the agency and its work more closely with Zenit's sponsoring organization, the Legionaries of Christ.
According to CNS, Colina said 
One issue of contention was that Legionary officials were less than candid with Zenit about the facts regarding the scandal surrounding the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries, who was discovered to have sexually abused seminarians and fathered children.
Another issue, Colina said, was a debate over the financial transparency of Zenit. He said that two years ago, Zenit had asked that its finances be clearly separated from the Legionaries order; the concern was that accusations of financial scandal connected with the Father Maciel case could undermine the trust needed in its annual fundraising efforts.
According to Zenith's website:
Our team is made up of writers and editors, translators, technical staff and administrators. All are committed to making their best effort in offering ZENIT their professional collaboration or volunteer services. 
Staffers come from a variety of spiritualities in the Church. Some are religious or consecrated men and women, others are lay people who come from Church groups, both young and ancient (Franciscan and Ignatian spiritualities, Opus Dei, communities from the Charismatic Renewal, Regnum Christi, the Teresian Institute, or parish leaders). Others are committed Catholics with no particular affiliation. Several married couples work for ZENIT. 
ZENIT is promoted by the religious congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. Two Legionary priests offer consultation services and collaborate in writing the "Analysis" and "Liturgy" columns. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

A new TV program about Maciel


Thanks to Google TV I was able to watch the 30 minute Milenio program live on the big screen. Here are some quick reactions:

The trailers and teasers promised more than the program delivered. Borderline "much ado about nothing' as so often happens in the wake of somewhat sensational promos.
Overall, nothing new was revealed other than photos of the deceased founder. I wonder who took these photos and for what purpose, why they were released (and by whom) to the media. Showing them, without any  reference other than to suggest that those people who were there post-mortem knowingly protected Maciel and his misdeeds, was in poor taste.
The visuals were mostly a collage of existing photos and video - one short vintage sequence I particularly noticed had Maciel speaking flanked on either side by two Legionaries for whom I have great respect: Fr. David Owen (my peer and a great friend when I was LC) and Fr. Carlos Zancajo an outstanding priest, spiritual advisor and outspoken superior. (Fr. Zancajo seems to have disappeared from the LC radar - I'm told he is in Venezuela...It was nice to see him, if only fleetingly.)  The image of Maciel speaking is dubbed with something he said at a different time.
The (relatively) long preliminary interview with Barba provided sought-after shock value as, once again, we were treated to a portion of the interview where he describes in detail his first sexual molestation by Maciel.
Nelly Ramirez acquitted herself well - her comments were fair, balanced and brave. The program seemed to be a prelude to the forthcoming relaunch of her book, in Spain.
One takeaway is a succinct chronology of milestones related to the Maciel scandal:

1997:  Ex Legionaries of Christ reported sexual abuse by Marcial Maciel on Mexico's CNI-Canal 40 TV.
1998:  Attorney Martha Wegan gives the Vatican the case file.
2006:  The complaint is filed at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
2009:   Fr. Alvaro Corcuera LC acknowledge the crimes of Father Maciel.
2010, February: Fr. Luis Garza LC apologizes to victims of Maciel.
2010, March: The order publicly acknowledges in writing the abuses of its founder and condemns his behavior.

The broadcast probably served to affirm the Mexican mainstream media's willingness to discuss the Legionaries on prime-time TV; since the debacle about the 1997 Canal 40 program and the pressure brought to bear on the station by LC supporters, Mexican TV has veered away from the Maciel scandal.presumably for fear of repercussions.
The program, not unreasonably I suppose, presented a one-dimensional view of the Congregation. No mention was made of the significant apostolates the Legionaries have organized in Mexico and throughout the world. 
The focus was entirely on Maciel's crimes, the suggestion of collusion by the major superiors and that he allegedly died unrepentant. When the broadcast somewhat abruptly came to an end after 30 minutes I found myself expecting another 30 minutes of conclusions, suggestions, allegations or whatever. I wondered it in part it  was not a gambit to attract ratings and audience.
Anyone familiar with the Legionaries learned nothing new. Those - in Mexico - who do not know anything about them probably were not overly interested. Others probably got an overview of the scandal with hardly any context of Maciel's undeniable "achievements" - schools, universities, clinics, outreach, missions, recruitment,  influence, and fundraising.
All in all, it was a reasonably fair and balanced presentation. Ciro Gomez is an excellent, respected, mostly impartial (I think) journalist and Milenio is a fairly mainstream news outlet.

Tonight's Mexico's Milenio TV will air a presentation (@ 9:30 PM and repeated at 23:30 PM, (Mexico City time) that will surely generate more questions than answers. It's called "The Kingdom of Marcial Maciel" and it promises to show never before seen images of the last days of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The program, "El Reino de Marcial Maciel" claims that Maciel travelled the world with his wife and daughter, supported by Legionary Superiors who, years later, would claim to have been surprised by the news that he had a family and was leading a double life.

The program will include the opinions of Nelly Ramírez Mota Velasco who will make a formal presentation of her book "The Kindgom of Marcial Maciel" this coming Thursday at the Miguel Angel de Quevedo branch of theh Gandhi bookstore in Mexico City at 7:00 PM.

As far as I can tell, the program will be available streaming live at

The TV trailer already released on the Milenio site (also available on Youtube)   presents Maciel deathbed scenes. This teaser has me wondering how the media got access to such intimate photographs. No doubt the program will add lots of fuel to the fire of the Maciel scandal. I just hope it also provides - or provokes - some straightforward answers, especially from the Legionaries themselves.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who is in charge of the Kingdom of Marcial Maciel?


I am way overdue with a review I promised Nelly Ramirez of her book: "El Reino de Marcial Maciel: la vida oculta de la Legion y el Regnum Christi." ("The Kingdom of Marical Maciel: the hidden life of the Legion and Regnum Christi")

For twelve years Nelly was a full-time consecrated member of the Regnum Christi Movement, the branch of the Legionaries of Christ for lay people. She left the Regnum Christi after learning the sordid details of Fr. Marcial Maciel's double life and because she disagreed with the apparent unwillingness of Legionary Superiors to transparently deal with the revelations.

This morning, I read a review of the book by my former colleague in the Legion, Fr. James Farfaglia which served to jolt me into action. Fr. James is now pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, located in Corpus Christi. We have stayed in touch "virtually."  He has written a couple of books and is a frequent contributor to

Nelly contacted me before she published her book and I've met with her in Mexico, subsequent to the publication. She is a charming young lady, quite shy and (at the time) still going through the difficult process of adjustment to lay life. I've seen her TV interviews and I've felt that she has been often quite "manipulated" by astute journalists in order to fuel harsh condemnations of her experience in Regnum Christi. I believe she published her book in order to promote honest reflection about the Legionary "phenomenon" with the commendable objective of "waking up" those Legionaries and Regnum Christi members who she believes remain in denial about the founder's life and works. This is an objective she clearly states in her Introduction.

Fr. James prefaces his review writing:
"Thousands of scandalized and disappointed former Legionaries of Christ, Regnum Christi members and generous benefactors are wondering what will happen to the shipwrecked religious order. In an explosive new book which has been rocking the news in Mexico, Nelly Ramírez Mota Velasco tells all in an objective and clear manner, free from any venom."
Contrary to his opinion, I submit that Nelly's book is not "explosive," it has not "rocked the news" in Mexico, and it is most certainly not "a fast read" as he says in his review.  Frankly, there is very little new information in the book. It has gained whatever traction it has among those who are aggressively opposed to the Legionaries of Christ and who do not support the Vatican's attempt to reform the congregation. I do agree that the author is not motivated by "venom," but when one reads the prologues which introduce her topic,  and the context of many reviews, it seems quite clear that the author and her intentions have been well "used" by those with mostly an anti-Vatican agenda.

Like Fr. James, I too was a Legionary of Christ for some 20 years. I knew him when he was a novice in Connecticut; I documented my experience of those times in an autobiography "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and almost lost his mind."

Unlike Fr.James and Nelly, I knew Maciel well. Indeed I also got to know the Garza family quite well at about the time Fr. Luis Garza Medina was considering becoming a Legionary priest. Based on my own experience and the reactions to the Maciel scandal,  my bias is that "El Reino de Marcial Maciel" contributes little - despite the author's state intentions - to understanding how Maciel managed to deceive and manipulate so many good people, including Fr. James and three Popes. In my opinion, this is the real issue with the scandal surrounding the Legion of Christ, especially for those of us who want to ensure that such deceit does not easily happen again.

"El Reino de Maciel" is not available in English. It is quite a "technical" read with detailed analysis of the Legion's approach to religious discipline and the practice of the evangelical counsels. It documents what I believe - as does Nelly - that the essential flaw in the Legion is a dysfunctional understanding of the virtue and vow of Obedience.

Granted the author was a consecrated member of "Regnum Christi" I hoped for a first hand description of the daily life and challenges experienced by consecrated women in the movement - an area that is shrouded in mystery even to most Legionary priests. Instead, Nelly focuses mostly on the Legionaries. She contributes very little information about her personal experiences and the feelings that must have plagued her as she went through the years of formation and subsequent apostolate. I have the abiding sensation that much of the Legion-related material was written by a Legionary "ghost writer."  It reads more like a bureaucratic report with names and places well documented although there is not much substantial new information.

An analysis of the Legionary constitutions by a canon lawyer contributes little to the discussion, probably because there are no "explosive" findings. The Legion's  essential structure was not so very different from similar congregations in the Catholic Church pre-Vatican Council. I suspect this fact is lost on many people not old enough to have known the religious priests, brothers and nuns who were such a part of the Catholic experience in the 1950s and 1960s. Like the Legionaries, their visits home were seriously restricted, their correspondence was monitored, they often could not stay overnight at their parent's homes, and their understanding of "poverty" (for instance) would be quite shocking to today's mindset. As a result of Vatican II they changed. The Legion did not, because, I think, Maciel realized that the "old" ways produced more vocations and presented the challenge young, idealistic people were seeking at the time. Worse yet, as his congregation expanded, the founding Legionaries understanding of the three religious vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience became "institutionally" distorted resulting in psychologically damaging behaviors and cult-like behavior.

Personally, I was most impacted and moved by some of the personal letters written by Maciel and presented in the Appendices of "El Reino de Maciel." Reading his prose again, in the light of what we now know, chilled my bones and rekindled unpleasant memories.  I imagine that former Legionaries will have the same experience and may well find those last appendices the most interesting part of Nelly's book

In general, I think it fair to say the book is a tedious read and of interest mostly to those who still have a somewhat obsessive interest in the Legionary rules and regulations. Only someone who has very little knowledge of the facts, or who is looking for incendiary information to fan the flames of scandal, would find the contents "explosive." Persons not deeply interested in the theme and who might have a somewhat unbiased perspective will probably not have the steadfastness to peruse all the details.

Nelly discusses "Grupo Integer" and, again, provides names and places. I don't think she makes a strong case to suggest Fr. Garza's involvement is more than that of an astute business administrator who sought to organize the Legion's tangled web of assets to bring some order to Maciel's chaotic foundational model. The Catholic Church, as Jason Berry the intrepid New Orleans reporter again points out in his new book, has hardly been a model of transparent finances. Group Integer is easily portrayed as a convenient red herring which plays nicely into the hands of conspiracy theorists. It's certainly a new model for the financial management of a religious congregation and it's clearly not a "transparent" endeavor. Time and further  investigation will tell if it is indeed an evil empire. There is not much in the author's expose to take us beyond anecdotal criticism of some of its operations.

Fr. James uses the title of his review to ask: "who is in really in charge of the Legionaries of Christ? I submit the answer to this very basic question is Pope Benedict.  After an exhaustive investigation, the Pope appointed an oversight commission and sent his Delegate to the Legionaries. He explicitly says that he wants the Legion of Christ to succeed and he actively supports their reform. The process is not yet completed. But we know who is in charge. Hence, I continue to believe that the "problem" presented by the Maciel and Legionary phenomenon cuts close to the heart of the Catholic Church. In some way, all Catholics are involved and connected to this scandal. As Benedict said to reporters on his plane en route to his visit to Germany, "I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims [of sex abuse], would say: 'This isn't my church anymore.' Then, in his homily at the Olympic Stadium he went on to say,
"To abide in Christ means ..., to abide in the Church as well. The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. They stand firm together against the storm and they offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, but we believe with the whole Church."
"Standing firm against the storm" and "offering one another protection" is not easily reconciled with the more rational reaction "This isn't my Church anymore." How we react to the Church's on-going intervention with the Legionaries of Christ is an interesting test of where we stand and a good gymnasium to flex our thinking.