Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ABC NEWS: Rhode Island Records Show Inner Workings of Legion of Christ

Rhode Island Records Show Inner Workings of Legion of Christ
Feb 15, 2013, 5:07 PM

Documents detailing the dubious fundraising practices of a disgraced Roman Catholic religious order called the Legion of Christ were released to the public Friday, showing how the organization took control of an elderly woman's finances and persuaded her to bequeath it $60 million.

The records include the first-ever depositions of high-ranking Legion officials. They shed light on the inner workings of a secretive congregation placed under Vatican receivership after the Holy See determined that its founder was a spiritual fraud who sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children with two women.

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge said last year that the documents raised a red flag because a steadfastly spiritual elderly woman transferred millions to "clandestinely dubious religious leaders." But they had been kept under seal until The Associated Press, The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and The Providence Journal intervened, arguing that they were in the public interest.

Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion in 2010 after a Vatican investigation determined that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had lived a double life. The pope ordered a wholesale reform of the order and named a papal delegate to oversee it.

The Legion scandal is significant because it shows how the Holy See willfully ignored credible allegations of abuse against Maciel for decades, all while holding him up as a model of sainthood for the faithful because he brought in money and vocations to the priesthood. The scandal, which has tarnished the legacy of Pope John Paul II, is the most egregious example of how the Vatican ignored decades of reports about sexually abusive priests because church leaders put the interests of the institution above those of the victims.

The will of Gabrielle Mee, who died at age 96 in 2008, is the focus of the lawsuit. Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray, had alleged that Mee was defrauded by the Legion and unduly influenced by its priests into giving away her fortune. Her late husband was a onetime director of Fleet National Bank, which has since been absorbed by Bank of America.

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled in September that Dauray could not sue, but he noted there was evidence that Mee had been unduly persuaded to change her trusts and will and give the Legion her money. Dauray's lawyer, Bernard Jackvony, said Friday that the documents being released show an orchestrated effort by higher-ups at the Legion to get Mee's money and cover up Maciel's misdeeds.

The Legion says its actions surrounding Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable. It says it did not exert undue influence over her decision-making, and that the gifts she gave to the order were made of her own free will.

Among the documents being released are depositions given by top-ranking leadership of the Legion, including the Rev. Anthony Bannon, who was once Maciel's deputy, and the Rev. Luis Garza, current head of the Legion's North American operations.

In one deposition, Garza acknowledged that he was on a committee of Legion officials that was created to distribute funds from one of Mee's trusts exclusively for Legion activities.


Winfield reported from Rome.

Mexican catholic Father Marcial Maciel
 celebrating the solemn Mass on
 August 15, 2005 in Rome.
(-/AFP/Getty Images)

Legion of Christ documents: Who was Father Marcial Maciel?
New documents offer insight into a sex scandal with connections to Pope Benedict just days after his resignation.

GlobalPost correspondent Jason Berry today published a story explaining the significance of a trove of documents ordered to be released Friday about Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the powerful, ultraconservative Legion of Christ. The documents are expected to illuminate the way in which the Legion handled accusations of rampant child sexual abuse and the siring of several illegitimate children by Maciel over several decades.

Here is a primer on Maciel and his relationships with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II:

Who was Father Marcial Maciel?

Born in Mexico, the Roman Catholic priest founded the powerful, ultraconservative clerical order Legion of Christ in Mexico City in 1941. Dozens of victims in multiple countries made sexual abuse allegations against Maciel over the course of several decades, dating back to the 1950s.

Though he was suspended in 1956 from his leadership of the Legion by Pope Pius XII after being accused of abusing youths in Mexico, Cardinal Clemente Micara, the Vicar of Rome, reinstated him in 1958 after his predecessor’s death and Maciel enjoyed a long and prosperous career despite the claims of as many as 100 victims.

The Legion publicly apologized for Maciel’s alleged actions in 2009, just months after a new set of allegations emerged, including the fact that Maciel fathered several children during his reign as head of the Legion.

In 2010 the Vatican formally denounced Maciel for living a “life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.”

How was Maciel tied to Pope John Paul II?

A man of great charisma, and the greatest fundraiser of the modern church, Maciel cultivated a relationship with John Paul II, using scenes of the two men in video-tapes that the Legion distributed to its growing base of benefactors. Maciel accompanied John Paul on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990 and 1993, and in 1994 he was celebrated in “an open letter by Pope John Paul II celebrating Maciel's 50th anniversary as a priest, appeared in major newspapers of Mexico City, as a paid advertisement, celebrating Maciel as ‘an efficacious guide to youth.’”

[Jason Berry, Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown 2011)]

In 1997 a Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and Jason Berry identified nine seminary victims of Maciel in on-the-record interviews. The Vatican refused to comment. In 1998, the ex-Legionaries filed a recourse in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal seeking Maciel’s ouster. But John Paul continued praising him, and the canon law case went nowhere.

Juan Vaca, who left the Legion priesthood, was the first victim to accuse Maciel.

“If John Paul had acted on the allegations against Maciel that Juan Vaca detailed to the pope in a 1989 letter, in a request for dispensation from his vows as a priest, Maciel's career would have been derailed...”

Vaca entered the Legion in Mexico in 1947, at age 10. Repeatedly abused by Maciel in Spain from age 12 through adolescence in Rome, the young priest went to Orange, Conn., as the Legion's U.S. director. In 1976, when Vaca left the Legion, joining the Diocese of be Rockville Centre, Long Island, N.Y., he sent a blistering 12-page letter to Maciel, naming 20 other victims.

With support of Bishop John R. McGann, he sent the letter to the Vatican in a formal protest, which achieved nothing. With McGann's support he petitioned the Vatican to punish Maciel again, sent via diplomatic pouch from the Vatican Embassy, without action. His final attempt in 1989, again through Vatican channels, included an impassioned cover letter to John Paul specifying what Maciel did.”

[Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Free Press, 2004) and documentary by Berry:]

"My dad told my mom that when John Paul II dies, he was going to be in trouble," said Raul Gonzalez, who filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming that he is one of Maciel’s children and alleging the late priest molested him beginning when he was 7 years old.

How is Maciel tied to Pope Benedict XVI?

A formal request for investigation submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998 was denied by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI.

A book published by three religious scholars last year alleges “that in 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger and his chief canon lawyer, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, modified the statute of limitations in church law regarding sex with minors ‘retroactively in favor of the Legionary founder, and injuring the human rights and legitimate interests of us, his victims.’”

Ratzinger reopened the case in 2004, ordered an investigation of Maciel and was elected pope in 2005. In 2006 the Vatican dismissed Maciel from ministry to “a life of prayer and penitence.” He died in Jacksonville, Florida in 2008 without facing criminal charges. A year later the Legion disclosed that he had a daughter by a paramour from Mexico. Several months later two men came forward claiming to be Maciel’s sons by another woman. The Legion did not dispute their claims.

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