Marcial Maciel

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Marcial Maciel Degollado
Fr. Marcial Maciel LC Late 2004.jpg
Founder and Former General Director of the Legion of Christ
In office
January 3, 1941 – January 20, 2005
Succeeded by Fr. Álvaro Corcuera
Personal details
Born (1920-03-10)10 March 1920
Cotija, Michoacán, Mexico
Died 30 January 2008(2008-01-30) (aged 87)
Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Marcial Maciel Degollado (March 10, 1920 – January 30, 2008) was a Mexican-born Catholic priest who founded the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement. He was respected throughout his career as "the greatest fundraiser of the modern Roman Catholic church" and as a prolific recruiter of new seminarians.[1] Late in his life he was revealed to have sexually abused boys and young men and maintained relationships with at least two women, fathering as many as six children, two of whom he allegedly abused sexually as well.[2][3]

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI removed Maciel from active ministry based on the results of an investigation started under John Paul II concerning sexual impropriety. Maciel was ordered "to conduct a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry."[2][4][5] On March 25, 2010, a communiqué on the Legion's website acknowledged as factual the "reprehensible actions" by Maciel, including sexual abuse of minor seminarians.[6]

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis as his delegate to examine the Legionaries' constitution and to conduct a visitation of its lay affiliate Regnum Christi.[7]


Early life and training[edit]

Maciel was born in Cotija, Michoacán, Mexico, and had numerous relatives who were priests in the Catholic Church. He had a troubled youth.[8] Maciel is the grand-nephew of Bishop Rafael Guízar Valencia, a Mexican saint canonized in 2007. There has been speculation that conduct by Maciel at age 18 contributed to the death of this great uncle, who had a heart attack. According to an investigative report:

The day before Bishop Guizar died, he had been heard shouting angrily at Marcial Maciel. He was giving his eighteen-year-old nephew a dressing down after two women had come to the bishop's house to complain about Maciel, who was their neighbor. Father Orozco, who was among the original group of boys to found the Legion of Christ in 1941, said he heard the women had complained about the "noise" Maciel was making with children he had brought into his home to teach religion. He said that the seminary officials blamed Maciel for his uncle's heart attack.[9]

Maciel was expelled from two seminaries for reasons that have never been explained. He became a priest only after one of his uncles ordained him on November 26, 1944 in Mexico City after he completed private studies.[10]

Maciel founded the Legion of Christ in 1941, with the support of Francisco González Arias, Bishop of Cuernavaca. In 1959 he founded its lay arm Regnum Christi.[citation needed]

Through the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi, Maciel started many schools, a network of universities and numerous charitable institutes.[11]

Sexual abuse scandal and retirement[edit]

In 1997, a group of nine men went public with accusations that they had been abused by Maciel while studying under him in Spain and Rome in the 1940s and 1950s. The group, which included respectable academics and former priests, lodged formal charges at the Vatican in 1998. They were told the following year that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, had shelved the case on orders from Pope John Paul II.[12]

In 2005 Maciel stepped down as head of the order and, a few days before John Paul II died, Cardinal Ratzinger announced his intention of removing "filth" from the Church; many believed he was referring specifically to Maciel.[4] After an investigation had been re-opened by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican requested that Maciel withdraw from his ministry. In May 2006, Ratzinger, then Pope Benedict XVI, disciplined him: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked Maciel to live "a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry”;[13] a canonical trial was ruled out, officially because of his advanced age and poor health.[14] In January 2006 he stepped down as head of the Legion of Christ and tendered its leadership to long-time follower Fr. Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río. In 2007 the order was told to remove the obedience vows requiring religious never to criticise superiors and to inform on any dissent within the order. Maciel moved from Rome to a house he shared with other priests in Jacksonville, Florida, United States where he died in 2008. He never made any apologies, but Fr Alvaro Corcuera, his successor, did apologize to the victims both for Maciel's actions and the inaction of others.[15]


Marcial Maciel died in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, on January 30, 2008, at age 87.[11] He had a private funeral and was buried in his birthplace, Cotija, Michoacán, in early February 2008.


Drug addiction[edit]

During his life, Maciel was the focus of several investigations regarding allegations of drug abuse (he was hospitalised for morphine addiction),[16] and he was also investigated for sexually abusing children. First in 1956, he was investigated for drug (morphine) abuse, after which he was cleared and returned as head of the Congregation.

Mistresses and children[edit]

Revelations continued, in July 2009, when a Spanish daily published an interview with a woman who had a child with Maciel in 1986 and now lives in a luxury apartment in Madrid which Maciel purchased for her.[17] A day later, Mexican media reported that an attorney, José Bonilla, will represent three of a possible total of six of Maciel's children in a civil lawsuit to recover Maciel's estate. The lawyer claimed that Maciel owned several properties in Mexico and around the world in his own name.[18][19]

In February 2009, news broke that Maciel had indeed led a double life[20] and Fr. Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río, LC, the General Director, took it upon himself to visit each of the Legionary Territories and publicly apologize for Maciel's behaviour. Additionally, the Legion has publicly acknowledged that Maciel had indeed fathered a daughter.[21] As a result of all these acknowledgements Pope Benedict XVI personally intervened and initiated a formal Vatican visitation of all Legionary houses.[22]


In 1959 Maciel published a book, El salterio de mis días (The Psalter of My Days), which was widely read among members of the Legion and partially translated into English. It was a memoir of experiences of persecution. On December 11, 2009, the Agencia Católica de Informaciones of Lima, Peru, sister agency of the Catholic News Agency, reported that a Legion of Christ internal memorandum acknowledged, without using the word "plagiarism," that the book copied the memoir of a Spanish Christian Democrat politician and journalist, Luis Lucia.[23] Although the Legion's memorandum described Maciel's book as "a slight rewriting," a Spanish Legionary familiar with it stated that it copied Lucia's memoir "80 percent in style and content."[23] Lucia's memoir was titled El salterio de mis horas (The Psalter of My Hours). He completed it in 1941 while a political prisoner of the Franco regime; an edition published posthumously in Spain in 1956 is believed to have been Maciel's source.[23][24][25]

Relations with the Vatican[edit]

Called to accompany Pope John Paul II on his visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993, Maciel was also appointed by the Pope to the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day (1990). He was a member of the Interdicasterial Commission for a Just Distribution of Clergy (1991), the IV General Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) (1992), the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World (1994), the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for America (1997) and (since 1994) a permanent consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy. The golden anniversary of his priestly ordination was celebrated on 26 November 1994, with 57 Legionary priests ordained on the anniversary's eve. Maciel served as Chancellor of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, which is based in Rome. Maciel collaborated extensively with the pope, either in person or through members of his organization, the Legion of Christ. Pope John Paul II admired Maciel for strictly adhering to the magisterium and the vocations to the Legion of Christ. He received many donations from Mexico's richest.[26] Maciel and the Legion gave the Vatican money, and some journalists have speculated for years that this kept the Church from acting over allegations of sex abuse by Maciel.[1]

Investigative journalist Jason Berry wrote in an April 2010 article in the National Catholic Reporter, "the charismatic" founder of the Legion of Christ "sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end ... Maciel was buying support for his group and defence for himself, should his astounding secret life become known." Berry and his late colleague Gerald Renner wrote the 2004 book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, and the related TV documentary Vows of Silence on Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ. According to Berry, Maciel's key supporters, who provided him with a protective shield, included Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state from 1991 to 2006, under both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul II (1978-2005).[27]

The New York Times reported claims that even under Cardinal Ratzinger, who took an immediate interest in the case, the investigation into Maciel remained stalled. "Other factors delayed a reckoning. Some questioned the accounts of abuse; one of the original nine complainants recanted."[28]

Maciel wrote extensively on the formation of priests and other matters pertaining to Church governance. His main stated purpose for the Legion of Christ was to form and motivate enterprising lay members of the Catholic Church to take an active part in the Church's mission. In particular, this initiative focused on the members of the movement Regnum Christi, for example, through spiritual direction. Regnum Christi was founded by Maciel as well.

Formal denunciation[edit]

On May 1, 2010, two years after Maciel's death, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would name a delegate to the Legion to review the Legionaries of Christ following revelations that the order's founder sexually abused numerous underage seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. In a statement, the Vatican denounced Maciel for creating a "system of power" that enabled him to lead an "immoral" double life "devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment."[29] The Vatican issued the statement after Benedict met with five bishops who investigated the Legion to determine its future.[30] The Vatican statement was unusually explicit in its denunciation of Maciel's crimes and deception.

The "very serious and objectively immoral acts" of Maciel, which were "confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies," represented "true crimes and manifest a life without scruples or authentic religious sentiment," the Vatican said.[30] The Vatican also stated that the Legion created a "mechanism of defense" around Maciel to shield him from accusations and suppress damaging witnesses from reporting abuse. "It made him untouchable," the Vatican said. The statement decried the "lamentable disgracing and expulsion of those who doubted" Maciel's virtue. The Vatican statement did not address whether the Legion's current leadership would face any sanctions.[31] Actions taken by the current Legion leadership will be scrutinized; but no specific sanctions were mentioned, amid suspicion that at least some of the current leaders must have been aware of Maciel's sins and crimes.[citation needed] The Vatican acknowledged the "hardships" faced by Maciel's accusers through the years when they were ostracized or ridiculed, and commended their "courage and perseverance to demand the truth."[26]

As a follow-up to this communique, on July 9, 2010, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Velasio De Paolis was named as the papal delegate to the Legion.[32]


  1. ^ a b Berry, Jason (April 6, 2010). "Money paved way for Maciel's influence in the Vatican". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Godoy, Emilio (May 3, 2010). "Pope Rewrites Epitaph for Legion of Christ Founder". IPS News. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  3. ^ Mexico City, Mexico, March 4, 2010 / 06:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News). The Legionaries of Christ released two statements today responding to the dramatic revelations by a woman and her three sons who claim to be the wife and children of Fr. Marcial Maciel.
  4. ^ a b Telegraph 2006-02-02
  5. ^ "Catholic order to be overhauled after founder's abuse". BBC News. 2010-05-01. Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  6. ^ "COMMUNIQUÉ On the current circumstances of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement". Legionaries of Christ. 25 March 2010. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Pope Reins In Catholic Order Tied to Abuse (New York Times, May 2, 2010)
  8. ^ "Analysis: Legion of Christ Founder leaves a flawed legacy" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  9. ^ Berry and Renner (2004): 155
  10. ^ Berry, Jason (2008-02-22). "Fr. Marcial Maciel leaves behind a flawed legacy". National Catholic Reporter ( Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  11. ^ a b Our History - Legion of Christ, archived from the original on March 3, 2014, retrieved December 30, 2015 
  12. ^ Tuckman, Jo (April 29, 2008). "The Rev Marcial Maciel". The Guardian (London). 
  13. ^ Catholic News Agency 2009-02-03
  14. ^ Pope to appoint new head of disgraced Legionaries order
  15. ^ "Communique", Regnum Christi, March 25, 2010
  16. ^ "Inside look at the Legionaries of Christ". 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-09-19. [dead link]
  17. ^ Periodista Digital 2009-08-09
  18. ^ Milenio 2009-08-11
  19. ^ La Jornada 2009-08-11
  20. ^ "Legionaries of Christ acknowledge founder’s ‘inappropriate’ behavior". Catholic News Agency. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  21. ^ Thompson, Damien. 2009-02-04
  22. ^ Catholic News Agency, March 3, 2009.
  23. ^ a b c CNA Staff (December 18, 2009). "Legion of Christ discloses Fr. Maciel's plagiarism to its members". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved December 30, 2015. 
  24. ^ El Mundo, 2009-12-12
  25. ^ Boudet, Jean (8 July 2014). "Finding God in Franco’s Prison: A new edition of Luis Lucia’s Psalter of my Hours". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Vatican orders overhaul in Mexico after investigation of sexual abuse - Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2010)
  27. ^ "Pope Rewrites Epitaph for Legion of Christ Founder". Inter Press Service. 2010-05-03. Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  28. ^ Wakin, Daniel J.; McKinley Jr, James C. (May 2, 2010). "Abuse Case Offers a View of the Vatican's Politics". The New York Times. 
  29. ^ Statement of the Holy See - Legion of Christ
  30. ^ a b "Fr. Maciel guilty, 'profound' revision of Legion needed, report Apostolic Visitors", Catholic News Agency, May 1, 2010
  31. ^ Pope Benedict to Overhaul Legion of Christ
  32. ^ Pope Benedict XVI names Papal Delegate for the Legion of Christ - Regnum Christi


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