Sexual scandal of Marcial Maciel
The sexual scandal of Marcial Maciel involved accusations that the Roman Catholic priest sexually abused minors and fathered a total of six children by three different women. Marciel was a Mexican priest and the leader of the Legion of Christ for many decades. Described as a charismatic leader and the "greatest fundraiser of the modern Roman Catholic church," he was successful in recruiting seminarians at a time of declining vocations. He was the "highest ranking priest ever disciplined because of sexual abuse allegations."
The scandal was linked with the wider series of international Catholic sex abuse cases reported in the Catholic church. Church authorities were criticized for a slow pace of investigations, with conjecture that it was because Maciel was close to Pope John Paul II and had well-placed connections amongst senior clergy. In 2006 he was forced to retire from active ministry.
In March 2010, the Legion of Christ in a communique acknowledged that "reprehensible actions" by Maciel, including sexual abuse, did take place. The communique stated that "given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life." The Legion had long denied allegations, and since 2006 had not made any official statement one way or the other.
- 1 History of investigations
- 2 Apostolic visitation
- 3 Formal denunciation by the Vatican
- 4 See also
- 5 References
History of investigations
Father Marcial Maciel, a Mexican priest who was the leader of the Legion of Christ, was investigated several times for his behavior. In 1956 the Vatican had him removed as superior and investigated allegations of drug (morphine) abuse. After interviewing members of the then-small congregation, the Vatican cleared him, and he was reinstated in February 1959. There are no records of any members reporting sexual abuse at that time. However, since then two seminarians reported that they lied to investigators; they did not report being abused because Father Maciel had them take a vow never to speak ill of him.
Accusations since the 1970s
Since the 1970s, Marcial Maciel has been accused twice of having repeatedly sexually abused other congregation members, including young children. Maciel's accusers include a priest, a guidance counselor, a professor, an engineer, a lawyer, and a former priest who became a university professor. These seven Mexicans and two Spaniards described themselves as former members of a favored group, known as the "apostolic schoolboys." The abuse allegedly occurred over three decades beginning in the 1940s in Spain and Italy, where boys and young men were taken for schooling. The abuse, they said, involved some 30 boys and young men and extended over at least three decades.
Nine different accusers
In 1998, formal charges were lodged at the Vatican by the nine men who had made the accusations. (One subsequently retracted his story, claiming it had been a fabrication intended to damage the Legion; the other eight continue to maintain these allegations.) The accusations described how Maciel would feign having an illness in his groin and falsely claim to had been given papal permission to receive help massaging away the pain. Fr. Maciel and the Legion originally denied the accusations. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI), examined the allegations. The CDF told the victims the following year that Maciel would not be prosecuted because of his age.
Reopening the case
In 2004, the victims were informed by letter that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had decided to reopen the investigation against Maciel. Shortly after, Maciel stepped down as General Director of the Legion at the Ordinary General Chapter held in January 2005. Fr Alvaro Corcuera was elected by the same General Chapter as the new General Director. The CDF did not prosecute Fr Maciel because of his age.
On 19 May 2006, the Vatican published a communique for the press, instructing Maciel to retire from active ministry to a life of "prayer and penitence". He moved to a house for priests in Jacksonville, Florida, United States, where he died in 2008. Maciel and the Legion continued to deny all accusations until his death in 2008.
On 3 September 2009, an apology on behalf of the Legion was made by Fr. Julio Marti and Fr. Scott Reilly (the territorial directors of the Legion in the US and Canada). They said, "We are deeply saddened and sorry, and we sincerely ask for forgiveness from God and from those who have been hurt through this. We also regret that our inability to detect, and thus accept and remedy, Father Maciel’s failings has caused even more suffering." In 2014 a more formal and extensive apology was made by the General Chapter of the Legionaries of Christ.
On 3 February 2009 the New York Times reported:
"The Legionaries of Christ, an influential Roman Catholic religious order, have been shaken by new revelations that their founder, who died a year ago, had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter just as he and his thriving conservative order were winning the acclaim of Pope John Paul II."
This has been confirmed by the Legion of Christ. The BBC reported that Maciel had a total of six natural children by three different women, two of whom lived in Mexico and one in Switzerland.
Alvaro Corcuera and Thomas Williams have also stated that, given the revelations about the immoral life led by the founder, it is probable that past accusations of sexual abuse by him were true.
The Rev. Thomas V. Berg LC, Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, formally apologized to the victims of Fr. Maciel, "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." A few weeks after the scandal broke, Fr. Berg left the Legion of Christ to become a diocesan priest, transferring the Westchester Institute to the Archdiocese of New York.
Civil suit on behalf of six children
In July 2009, an attorney, José Bonilla, was appointed to represent three of a possible total of six of Maciel's natural children in a civil suit to recover Maciel's estate. The lawyer claimed that Maciel owned several properties in Mexico and around the world in his own name.
Media in Spain had reported an interview with a woman who had a child with Maciel over 20 years ago and lived in a luxury apartment in Madrid which Maciel purchased for her. The woman, Norma Hilda Baños, said that she was abused by Maciel as a minor and later became pregnant by him. She bore him a daughter, named Norma Hilda Rivas.
Reaction of Archbishop O'Brien
In the wake of these revelations, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore told his archdiocesan newspaper that the order must offer "full disclosure of [Maciel's] activities and those who are complicit in them, or knew of them, and of those who are still refusing to offer disclosure", adding that the order's finances should also be subject to "objective scrutiny". He called Maciel "a man with an entrepreneurial genius who, by systematic deception and duplicity, used our faith to manipulate others for his own selfish ends." He criticized the "good deal of secrecy in [Maciel's] own life...[and] in the structures he created." The archbishop welcomed the Vatican's decision in the following March to conduct an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries, and said that the order's abolition "should be on the table".
In early 2009, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order's founder. Vatican authorities named five bishops from five different countries, each one in charge of investigating the Legionaries in a particular part of the world:
- Ricardo Watti Urquidi, Bishop of Tepic, Mexico, in charge of Mexico and Central America, where the Legion has 44 houses, 250 priests and 115-120 religious seminarians;
- Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, in charge of the United States and Canada, where the Legion has 24 houses, 130 priests and 260 religious seminarians;
- Giuseppe Versaldi, Bishop of Alessandria, in charge of Italy, Israel, the Philippines, and South Korea, where the Legion has 16 houses, 200 priests and 420 religious seminarians (in Italy 13, 168 and 418 respectively);
- Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, Archbishop of Concepción, Chile, in charge of Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, where the Legion has 20 houses, 122 priests and 122 religious seminarians;
- Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Bishop of Bilbao, Spain, in charge of Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Holland, Poland, Austria and Hungary, where the Legion has 20 houses, 105 priest, and 160 religious seminarians.
They met with the Pope to wrap up the visitation in April 2010 and the Vatican issued a statement on 1 May 2010.
Formal denunciation by the Vatican
On 1 May 2010, the Vatican named a delegate and appointed a commission to review the Legionaries of Christ. In a statement, the Vatican denounced Marcial Maciel for creating a "system of power" that enabled him to lead an "immoral" double life "devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment" and allowed him to abuse young boys for decades unchecked.
The "very serious and objectively immoral acts" of Marcial Maciel, which were "confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies," represent "true crimes and manifest a life without scruples or authentic religious sentiment," the Vatican said. The Vatican said 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 will face any sanctions. 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. 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."
- Berry, Jason. "Money paved way for Maciel's influence in the Vatican", National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2010
- Tuckman, Jo (29 April 2008). "The Rev Marcial Maciel". The Guardian (London).
- "Communique", Legion of Christ
- "Legionary Timeline". Legion of Christ
- Berry, Jason. "Fr. Marcial Maciel leaves behind a flawed legacy", National Catholic Reporter. 22 Feb 2008
- McKinley Jr, James C. (23 April 2005). "Pope-to-Be Reopened Mexican Sex Abuse Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010., New York Times (23 April 2005)
- El Legionario, by Alejandro Espinoza, Grijalbo, Mexico City, 2003, p. 22.
- Vatican Communiqué, "Father Marcial Maciel Invited to Renounce All Public Ministry"., Zenit News Agency (19 May 2006)
- "Letter from the North American Territorial Directors", Regnum Christi, September 3, 2009
- Goodstein, Laurie (4 February 2009). "Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That Its Founder Led a Double Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- El Mundo, Spanish language website, 4 February 2009, accessed 27 March 2009.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulkCqPdrVTA[dead link]
- "Fr. Berg leaves Legion of Christ to join Archdiocese of New York", Catholic News Agency, May 7, 2009
- RD, "La hija del pecador Legionario de Cristo", 9 de agosto 2009, Periodista Digital(Spanish)
- [dead link]
- John L. Allen Jr., "Abolition of Legionaries should be 'on the table' ", National Catholic Reporter, 3 April 2009, accessed 28 November 2015
- Thavis, John. "Vatican orders apostolic visitation of Legionaries of Christ", Catholic News Service, March 31, 2009
- "Ricardo Watti Urquidi", Catholic Hierarchy
- "Ricardo Ezzati Andrello", Catholic Hierarchy
- "Apostolic visit to Legionaries of Christ to begin July 15", Catholic News Agency, July 1, 2009
- "Fr. Maciel guilty, 'profound' revision of Legion needed, report Apostolic Visitors", Catholic News Agency, May 1, 2010
- Pope Benedict XVI Names Delegate for the Legion of Christ