By Damien Fisher and Simcha Fisher
The scandal-plagued Roman Catholic order the Legionaries of Christ has released a report acknowledging four sexual predators among its priests and brothers in all of North America. Two were from the now-closed Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH, according to the letter sent out on Saturday.
The Legionaries of Christ released the letter just days before Christmas, along with a report that acknowledges the decades of horrific abuse by their founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, a conman, incestuous sexual predator, and drug addict.
In the letter sent out to members of the Legionaries and its lay apostolates, Fr. John Connor, North American director for the order stated that a commission tasked with reviewing Legionaries’ abuse files found 175 minors were abused by 33 Legion priests worldwide. That figure includes 60 victims of Maciel alone, according to the report.
In New Hampshire, Francisco Cardona, now deceased, and Fernando Cutanda, now laicized, both abused students at the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, according to the Legionary commission’s report.
“We abhor the actions of those priests who have misused their priestly authority for their own purposes,” Connor wrote in his letter.
According to the commission’s report, the vast majority of the victims were boys between the ages of 11 and 16, and of the 33 priests who committed abuse, 14 were themselves victims of abuse by Legionaries.
In the Legionaries’ minor seminaries, or high schools, 15 priests worldwide abused 65 victims, according to the report. Another 90 students were abused by 54 seminarians in formation. 46 of these seminarians did not reach the priesthood, the report states.
“It is worth noting that 111 of the victims were either victims of Father Maciel, or were victims of his victims or of a victim of one of his victims. This represents 63.43 percent of the 175 victims of priests in the Congregation. Today, none of these 11 priests involved in this chain of abuses publicly exercises priestly ministry in the Congregation. Three of them have passed away,” the report states.
The Legion report strives to distance its current character from the crimes of its founder; yet even after Maciel’s crimes were revealed, the Legion continued to celebrate Maciel’s birthday, hang photos of him in their centers, and refer to him as “Nuestro Padre” until they formally forbade these practices in December of 2010. Steve Skojec, who lived in and worked with Legion communities for several years, describes the spiritual manipulation inherent in the Legion’s very structure, and notes that they continued to extol Maciel and his legacy as late as January of 2019.
“A total of 33 priests of the Congregation committed abuse as priests or deacons. This number represents 2.44 percent of the 1,353 ordained throughout the history of the Congregation,” the report states. “The last known case of sexual abuse in a minor seminary of the Congregation occurred seven years ago, in 2012.”
But the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN cites FBI statistics noting that out of every 1,000 sexual assault, only 230 victims will come forward to report their abuse to police. These statistics suggest that the true number of victims of abuse by Legionaires is closer to 700 than 175.
The Legion has launched an accountability site called Zero Abuse through which victims can report their allegations of abuse to the Legion. On its homepage, the site says “the Legionaries of Christ seek to be transparent regarding the abuses committed by some of its members throughout its history.”
Abusive Legion clerics from NH not included in Diocesan list
Earlier this year, the Diocese of Manchester published its own list of known abusers, naming 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include details of the accusations.
The Manchester list also did not include any Legionary clerics, nor did it include monks or religious brothers who are not priests, even if they lived and worked in New Hampshire.
Thomas Bebbington, spokesman for the Manchester Diocese, said when the Manchester list was released that the bishop has no control over the Legionaries.
“The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester,” Bebbington said. “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese. They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.”
Bebbington also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges.
Lawsuit alleged Fr. Carroll knew of abuse at his school
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in Center Harbor, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property.
The lawsuit states that the alleged victim told a Legionaries of Christ priest, identified in the lawsuit as Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening after feeling guilt and shame. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of ICAS at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.”
According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.
Envelopes of cash and cured Spanish hams
Marcial Maciel’s now notorious behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, the sexual abuse of his own children and others. As outlined in Jason Berry’s reporting on the Legion, Maciel got away with his crimes thanks to the wide-spread corruption inside the Vatican.
“For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican,” Berry wrote.
The Vatican’s own assessment of Maciel, leveled in 2010, is devastating in its frankness describing Maciel’s true nature.
“The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder,” the Vatican statement reads. “Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.”
Legionaries will review the report on the Legionaries
According to Connor’s letter, the report will be reviewed by members of the Legionaries in Rome.
“This report will be reviewed by the Legionaries of Christ General Chapter delegates when they meet in mid-January, in Rome,” Connor wrote. “The delegates will also review several proposals for next steps in continuing our worldwide efforts for safer environments in all areas of our ministries.”
According to the commission’s report, Marcial Maciel had complete control over the order, from its 1949 founding until 2005, including control over how allegations of abuse were investigated and handled. He was considered “the superior general and the highest authority” within the organization.
“According to the Constitutions of the Congregation at that time, Father Maciel, as superior general, had direct responsibility for all important government decisions, including appointments, admissions to priesthood, investigations and sanctions, and the pastoral assignments of all members,” the report states.
Pope Benedict XVI barred Maciel from active ministry in 2006 after his history of pedophilia became incontrovertible.