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July 20, 2009

Father Maciel and His Thousand-Dollar Hams

Journalist Jason Berry, a long-time nemesis of the disgraced, recently deceased Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, levels more unsavory accusations about the priest's bizarre double life:

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI recently appointed five bishops from as many countries to investigate the Legionaries of Christ, a religious order founded in 1941 by the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest who is accused of sexually abusing young seminarians, and who left a grown daughter who was born out-of-wedlock.

Even after death, Maciel wields power through the influence he secured. While the American Catholic Church has been publicly battered by two decades of priest sexual abuse scandals that erupted in the press and devastated church finances with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on compensating victims and legal fees, the Maciel scandal has gone largely unnoticed by most of the American press.

There’s a reason: For decades, the Legion shunned the media while Maciel cultivated relationships with some of the most powerful, conservative Catholics in the world. He also forced his priests and seminarians to take vows never to criticize him, or any superior. The legion built a network of prep schools and an astonishing database of donors. In Maciel's militant spirituality, Legionaries — and their wing of lay supporters, Regnum Christi — see themselves as saving the church from a corrupted world. Behind the silence he imposed, Maciel was corrupt — abusing seminarians and using money in ways that several past and present seminarians liken to bribery, in forging ties with church officials.

The silence Maciel imposed on his followers allowed Maciel to pursue a double life.

Maciel, who was born into a wealthy ranching family in Mexico, wooed cardinals and bishops with money, fine wines, $1,000 hams and even a new car — and in so doing secured support for his religious order inside the Roman Curia.

Now, as the investigating bishops, called “visitators” — from America, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Chile — begin travels for interviews in the order’s far-flung religious houses, two Vatican officials are in the Legion’s corner.

Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals and the former Secretary of State, and Franc Rode, the cardinal who oversees religious congregations, were both longtime allies of Maciel and strong supporters of the order today.

The issue facing Benedict has no precedent in modern church history: whether to dismantle a movement with a $650 million budget yet only about 700 priests and 2,500 seminarians, or to keep the brand name and try to reform an organization still run as a cult of personality to its founder. Excessive materialism and psychological coercion tactics continue Maciel’s legacy.

Two years ago Benedict abolished the “secret vows” by which each Legionary swore never to criticize Maciel or any superior, and to report any criticism to the leadership. The vows helped facilitate Maciel’s secret life of sexual plunder. . . . (continue reading)


  1. Back when I attended a high school run by the Legionaries of Christ, I always sensed something strange about them. It was as thought they were a people of some cult. Robotic in nature. The brothers and priests appeared to be very holy, and some I knew probably were. With a sense of distrust, I always threw away the little envelopes they'd mail to my parents asking for donations. They are VERY good about asking for donations. I still find mail from them asking for donations on a regular basis when I visit my parents. My suspicions were right. Something was wrong with the Legionaries of Christ.

  2. Maciel's appeal confused me, because while reading Christ is My Life all the alarm bells went off and it seemed obvious to me he was a transparent fraud, huckster and self promoter.

    But lots of sensible people believed well of him.

    How did he fool so many?