The Mission of Father Maciel

La Iglesia del silencio

by Fernando M. González
Mexico City: Tusquets, 356 pp., 299 pesos

Money Paved the Way for Maciel’s Influence

by Jason Berry
National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2010

Maciel despojó a 900 mujeres

by Eugenia Jiménez
Milenio, May 3, 2010
guillermoprieto_1-062410.jpg
Plinio Lepri/AP Images
Pope John Paul II blessing Father Marcial Maciel at the Vatican, November 30, 2004

Of all the terrible sexual scandals the hierarchs in the Vatican find themselves tangled in, none is likely to do more institutional damage than the astounding and still unfolding story of the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel. The crimes committed against children by other priests and bishops may provoke rage, but they also make one want to look away. With Father Maciel, on the other hand, one can hardly tear oneself from the ghastly drama as it unfolds, page by page, revelation by revelation, in the Mexican press.

Father Maciel, who was born in Mexico and died in 2008 at the age of eighty-seven, was known around the Catholic world. Against ordinarily insurmountable obstacles, he founded what was to become one of the most dynamic, profitable, and conservative religious orders of the twentieth century, which today has almost eight hundred priests and approximately 70,000 men and women around the world who participate in the lay movement Regnum Christi. The Legion of Christ, nearly seventy years old as an order, is comparatively small, but it is influential: it operates fifteen universities, and some 140,000 students are enrolled in its schools (in New York, its members teach in eleven parish schools). And its leadership has long enjoyed remarkable access to the Vatican hierarchy.

A great achiever and close associate of Pope John Paul II, Maciel was also a bigamist, pederast, dope fiend, and plagiarist. He came from the fervently religious state of Michoacán in the southwest of Mexico and grew up during the years of the Cristero War (1926–1929), a savage conflict that pitched traditional Catholics (Cristeros) in provincial Mexico against the anticlerical government in the capital. One of his uncles was the commanding general of the Cristeros. Another four uncles were bishops. One of them, Rafael Guízar Valencia, brought him into a clandestine seminary in Mexico City. As a twenty-year-old who had not even taken his vows, Maciel created a new religious order with the help of another uncle.

The new order was intended to be both cosmopolitan and strict, but given its founder’s young age and general lack of education, it is not surprising that the Legion of Christ’s aims were poorly defined (although in a fascinating study of Maciel by the historian and psychoanalyst Fernando M. González we learn that one of the order’s statutes specified that priests should be decenti sint conspectu, attractione corripiant, or graceful and attractive). At the age of twenty-seven the young Father Maciel had an audience with Pope Pius XII, who, according to the Legionaries’ official history, urged him to use the order “to form and to win for Christ the leaders of Latin America and the world.” This has been the order’s unwavering mission for six decades, and with remarkable speed it emerged as a conservative force to rival even Opus Dei.

Maciel’s discourse was very much within …

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