The Legionaries of Christ may be seeing a turn in fortune following the unresolved consequences of a disgraced founder with the development of the Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land. The order is conducting a major fundraising drive to cover the projected $100 million cost of the complex, with newly discovered ruins of a synagogue Jesus may have visited, and the planned archaeological park, women’s institute, media center, and luxury hotel the Legion will own. The center’s assistant director said the Legion has raised $40 million from benefactors toward the finished work.
The Legion’s Holy Land expansion is a stark contrast to what has been called the “fire sale” of assets in the Americas sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion, and occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States. For example, the order took a $16 million loss on the sale of its Thornwood, New York center. Meanwhile, the downsizing in other parts of the world has been extensive, with major sales of properties and closure of order schools, academies, and seminaries worldwide in recent years.
And a Vatican property under Legion control for 49 years, the Pontifical Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, with a library, five-star hotel accommodations, conference space, and a hospitality school for Arab Christians also is a huge asset as a required stop for any papal visit because the Vatican owns it. All revenues to Notre Dame of Jerusalem reportedly go back into operations.
In contrast, the Legion of Christ, not the Holy See, is in charge of Magdala Center. A Jesuit canon lawyer, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, was recently appointed as a special adviser to the order for this ambitious new venture in the midst of so much legal action and such internal chaos currently reflected in the order. The Legion has yet to receive approval from Pope Francis for reworked constitutions, which were submitted to him months ago.
In a side note to the development of the new center in Israel, a booklet intended to promote it, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material that demonstrates the hold the order’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, still has on certain top-ranking Legionaries in spite of the prolonged scandal in recent years about him and its negative impact on the organization. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays Maciel as harshly judged. (National Catholic Reporter, 8/26/14) [IT 6.1 2015]
In the past two years there have been several apparently ritual murders of young people involved in small satanic cults in the Johannesburg area. A clinical psychologist has offered a number of possible reasons that youth have become associated in such groups. (Destiny Connect, 11/11/13) [IT 5.2]In recent actions in a process of reform that began in 2009, the Legionaries of Christ elected new leaders and formally apologized to victims of their disgraced founder, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008. Following Maciel’s death in 2008, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation and investigation after learning about at least one illegitimate child Maciel had fathered and minors he had sexually abused. In 2010, Following a Vatican statement that Maciel had been guilty of “seriously and objectively immoral behavior” and “real crimes” and had lived a “life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious meaning,” Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to supervise the Legionaries’ reform.
The Legionaries’ statement expressed “deep sorrow” for Degollado’s “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” and says they will change leaders more frequently and appoint advisory councils to “prevent potential arbitrary behavior and abuses of authority” The statement also includes data on changes in Legionaries membership numbers and other details (see http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/legionaries-christ-elect-new-leaders-apologize-founders-victims).
In ongoing efforts to redress these wrongs, the extraordinary general chapter members comprising 61 priests from 11 countries admitted and apologized for a “long institutional silence” in response to the accusations against the late friar. Chapter members also expressed a desire to maintain “friendship and fraternal dialogue” with former Legionaries, and noted they have been learning to “freely debate” the governance of their congregation.
Before adjournment at the end of February, the chapter was to approve a revised constitution, which Pope Francis also must approve before it takes effect. (Catholic News Service, 2/6/2014) [IT 5.2]
Although the scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christ has elected a new superior and governing council, the Holy See apparently does not trust the Legion’s choices and has appointed two reformist priests to serve on the order’s governing council. The Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil [Orvananos], the new general director chosen by the Legionaries, was a favorite of the organization’s disgraced late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Priests who have left the order call Robles Gil a “spiritual son” of Macial and say his election does not represent a break with the past. (AP, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]
Father Robles Gil, the first elected leader of the Legionaries of Christ, has told the Catholic News Service that neither he nor any other Legionary leader knew about Father Maciel’s crimes before 2006, when the Vatican disciplined the founder, instructing him to follow a “life reserved to prayer and penitence, renouncing all public ministry.” Only after Maciel’s death in 2008 did Robles Gil believe in the founder’s guilt, when Maciel’s successor personally told him the accusations were true. The new general director later sat on a commission dealing with some of Maciel’s victims, seven of whom received what he describes as “symbolic” amounts of financial compensation for sexual abuse.
Robles Gil acknowledges that some members may still feel close to the founder. “Someone can have a father who committed sins, who abandoned his mother, and continue loving his father,” he said. “Someone can read the books of Oscar Wilde and enjoy the books of Oscar Wilde without worrying whether he was a sinner or not.” That God chose to found the congregation through an instrument as flawed as Maciel is an example of the “mystery of human liberty,” he said. “But tell me what good work … wasn’t made by a sinner? … this sin may be bigger and more incoherent, but all the good things in the world, in history, have been made by sinners.”Acknowledging that Maciel’s disgrace is a serious handicap for the congregation, Robles Gil said Maciel can no longer serve as such a “reference point” for members. The Legionaries no longer assign Maciel’s published works, considered free of doctrinal error, to their seminarians. “If you cannot present someone as a teacher, neither can you present his writings for the purpose of priestly formation,” Robles Gil said. (Catholic News Service, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]
The Legionaries of Christ founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Delgado, deceased in early 2008, apparently had an affair and fathered a daughter during the reign of Pope John Paul II, who praised the Mexican-born priest and his thriving religious order. In 2007, Pope Benedict forced Maciel to leave public ministry following accusations by more than a dozen men that he had sexually abused them when they were students. The Legionaires former chief financial officer, the Rev. Stephen Fichter, says: “Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers. When you become a Legionary, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. As Legionaries, we were taught a very strict poverty; if I went out of town and bought a Bic pen and a chocolate bar, I would have to turn in the receipts. And yet, for Father Macel, there was never any accounting. It was always cash, never any paper trail. And because he was this incredible hero to us, we never even questioned it for a second.” . . . Jay Dunlap, the Legionaries’ first communications director, now retired, who was hired in 1998 to refute the sexual abuse allegations against Maciel, has apologized on his blog to the victims for denying or doubting their testimonies. “It is now clear,” Dunlap wrote, “that Father Maciel did, in fact, abuse his power and abuse young people in his charge.” Dunlap also said that adulation of Maciel led to “hero worship.” Father Thomas Berg, a senior fellow at the Legionaries’ ethics research institute, accused his superiors of ineptness in failing to adequately respond to the earlier revelations about Maciel. Jason Berry, a journalist who has been investigating alleged Legionaries abuses, is encouraged by the apologies made by many members who formerly defended the organization. “It’s a sign of the split within the Legion,” he added. [csr 8.1, 2009)
Roman Catholic Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, of Baltimore, has issued a set of directives regarding the Legionaries of Christ and its lay movement, Regnum Christi, demanding an accounting from them of all personnel and activities in the archdiocese, and barring the two groups from one-on-one spiritual counseling with anyone under the age of 18. [csr 7.3 2008)
“There seems to be a tendency, in one-on-one counseling,” O’Brien added, “to say: ‘We represent God. You can tell us anything, and you better believe that what we tell you is from God, too. If your parents disagree, we know better. We’re in the God business, and they’re really not.’ This is a caricature, but it’s there.” O’Brien went on, during his long interview with the National Catholic reporter, to say he believes that the problem with the Legionaries can’t be fixed because they’re “so deeply ingrained. There’s a sense of secrecy right from the seminary. The seminarians move two-by-two wherever they go. If one criticizes anything about the institution, the other one has to report it . . . All this flows into Regnum Christi as well. Nothing happens in Regnum Christi without the Legionaries.” [csr 7.3 2008)
The Legion of Christ, a fast-growing world-wide Roman Catholic religious order, is suing former member John Paul Lennon in a Virginia court to block him from disseminating, on his group’s website (regainnetwork.org), material the Legion considers “malicious disinformation,” as well as private letters and documents that the Legion says is stolen property. Lennon, a child and family therapist in Arlington, and head of Regain, an association of former Legion members, their relatives, and friends, calls the order a dangerous cult. The internal Legion documents that appeared on the web page reveal rules of conduct that include directives on how members must butter their bread, sit in a chair, and part their hair, as well as vows they must take never to criticize the order and to report anyone who does. Order members, says Lennon, “can watch only certain television programs, they don’t have radios, and they can’t use the phone without permission from their superiors.” Phone calls are monitored, he adds. Lennon, who has analyzed the daily lives of Legionaries for the International Cultic Studies Association, likens the Legion’s lawsuit to “a 21st-century Inquisition” that aims to shut down Regain through litigation. [csr 6.3 2007]
Pope Benedict XVI has called clerical sex abuses “egregious crimes” that have damaged the Church and its clergy, and that in order “to rebuild confidence and trust,” it is necessary to learn what had happened in the past and prevent it from happening again. In May, the Pope asked Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, to stop celebrating mass in public and take on a life of “prayer and penance.” The Vatican had investigated allegations that Maciel sexually abused seminarians many years ago. [csr 5.3 2006]