Victim says Legion lied to police about her abuse

Legion falsely told police the victim didn’t want a criminal investigation;
classified criminal sexual abuse as “boundary violations”

By Damien Fisher
The Legionaries of Christ have published a list of credibly accused priests, and they claim they are open to hearing testimony from more survivors of abuse. But what happens when a victim does contact them with a complaint?  Are the allegations taken seriously? How accurate is their list? Do they tell the truth to law enforcement about allegations of criminal abuse?

Ashley (not her real name) thought she could help the Church when she made the agonizing decision to come forward in 2015 and tell authorities about the sexual abuse she suffered from a Legionaries of Christ priest as a middle schooler in the 1990s.

“I wanted to protect anyone he might still be hurting,” she said.

In September of 2015, Ashley and her attorney, Tom Brandt, met with Legion priest Fr. Peter Hopkins and another Legion priest to formally report that the Legion priest assigned to the Highlands, a private Legion school she attended in the Dallas area, repeatedly groomed and molested her in the confessional. The abuse she suffered, as she described it, rises to the level of a criminal offense. But when the diocese released its list of credibly accused abusers last year, Ashley’s abuser wasn’t on it, and he wasn’t on the list the Legion published in December.

Both the Legion officials we spoke to and the Dallas officials we contacted called the criminal abuse “boundary violations.”

Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund, who used that phrase in a letter to Child Protective Services, was not at the meeting. “The diocese refused to send a representative to our meeting,” Ashley said.  

Ashley thought coming forward would protect other young girls. She thought that reporting her abuse would alarm the Church, pushing them to investigate further, root out corruption, and reform the Legion. She expected someone to pursue her abuser.

“I was an optimist,” she said. 

When Ashley saw the records, she realized the Legion apparently lied to police about her case, and about her alleged abuser. 

“They really are not reformed,” she said.

Ashley agreed to tell us her story on the condition of anonymity. The alleged abuser has yet to be criminally charged, and so we are withholding his identity at this time. He has not responded to our requests for an interview. According to the information we have obtained, he is no longer a priest. He is the subject of an active police investigation, as recently as last month. 

Ashley went through years of self-doubt, guilt, and shame before she finally came forward. For years after her abuse, she didn’t understand that what she had endured was abuse.

“I didn’t realize there was a crime committed,” she said.

“If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,” the priest said.

The priest spent months grooming her when she was a middle school student at the Highlands, mostly in the confessional. The assaults took place in 1993 or 1994, around the time Ashley was 12 to 13 years old, according to the statement she gave to the Legion, to the Dallas Diocese, and eventually to police. The priest was a family relation of school officials, and he celebrated mass and heard the confessions of the students, according to her statement. The Highlands School in Irving is a private pre-K through grade 12 school that is part of the Regnum Christi network of schools. Regnum Christi is the lay apostolate of the Legion. 

Ashley was going to confession every two to four weeks during this time, usually after school. After one confession, she went around the confessional to thank the priest, and that is when he first forced her to sit on his lap, she said in her statement.

“He somehow pulled me down into his lap. He did not verbally ask me if I wanted to sit in his lap, but somehow I ended up there,” she said in her statement. 

Ashley was made to feel she had a “special friendship,” with the priest who obligated her to sit in his lap after each confession. Sometimes he would stand and embrace her, and whisper things into her ear, she said. 

“At one point while embracing me, whispering and nuzzling my hair he said ‘If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,’” Ashley said in her statement. “I assumed that he was telling me the truth, that this was in fact spiritual direction.”

That spiritual direction seemed to be taking a different course during her last confession, she said in her statement.

“The last time I remember confessing to him, afterward while embracing me he pressed his body up against me. I could feel his erection touching me through his cassock,” she said in her statement. “I was very uncomfortable with this and had no frame of reference for what was happening or how to respond. So I did nothing and after several minutes he was done embracing me and I left the confessional.”

Ashley started going to a different priest for confession after that, and her alleged abuser cooled toward her in their interactions outside the confessional, she said. In one instance she tried to give him a hug when there were other people around, and he brushed her off. 

“I was hurt and couldn’t understand why his behavior was so different in public,” she said in her statement. “After that I decided that he must have decided that I wasn’t his friend anymore, and to avoid awkwardness I did not return to confession with him.”

It wasn’t until years later, when she had children of her own, that she realized what had happened, and that her alleged abuser had been grooming her and encouraging her to lie to her mother about what they were doing alone.

Legion and Archdiocese both soft pedal criminal abuse allegation 

When she was ready to tell her story in 2015, Ashley got an attorney and  informed the Dallas diocese and then the Legion that she had been abused. With her attorney she pressed these Church officials to contact police, and to contact the Child Protective Services about the priest. She wanted to see some justice done. 

“I did tell the diocese and then the Legion that a police report needed to be filed, and if they did not file one, then I would,” she said.

A report was made to the Texas Child Protective Services department by Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund. The letter Edlund sent provides only scant details from Ashley’s story, and Edlund downplays Ashley’s encounters with the alleged abuser.

“Although this does not appear to be something which must technically be reported to your office, I am doing so out of an abundance of caution,” Edlund wrote.

A Legion priest spoke to police October of 2015. The name of the priest making the report is redacted throughout the police report we obtained, but he is described as the “head priest” at The Highlands at the time. His account to the police is full of inaccurate statements. 

The head priest also downplayed Ashley’s story when he spoke to police. He said it was some “inappropriate” behavior by a former priest at the Highlands. He also told police that Ashley “recalled within her statement feeling what she thought was an erection.”

Legion falsely claimed victim did not want criminal investigation

Strikingly, the Legion priest making the report told police that Ashley did not want to pursue criminal charges.

“According to [the head priest] during his meeting with [Ashley] she didn’t detail that she wanted to pursue any charges,” the police report states. 

Ashley said after reading the report that she realized the priest didn’t tell the truth to police about her meeting with the Legion. When she reported the abuse to Legion priests, she told them she did want a legal investigation pursued, but indicated to them she was not interested in pursuing a lawsuit against the Church.

“I stated in the meeting with Tom Brandt and the Legionaries that my intent in bringing this forward was justice, accountability, and protection of future victims, and that to that end I wanted to see that things were properly reported on the civil and ecclesiastical side, as well as to know that I had done what I could to prevent future victims at his hands,” she said during follow up questions we asked her.

At no time did she state to Legion officials that she did not want to pursue criminal charges, she said. She told them she wanted an investigation. We have made several attempts to speak to her then-attorney, but he has so far declined our requests for comment.

Legion falsely claims there were no other allegations against priest

Further, during the October 2015 police report the unnamed Legion priest made to police, he told the investigators that there were no other allegations against the alleged abuser. 

“I asked if there were any other allegations against [the alleged abuser], and [the head priest] stated that no other complaints or reports had been made against [the alleged abuser]” the police report states.

Ashley said that’s not true. She said that the Legion priests she met with, along with her attorney, also claimed that she was the only person to claim abuse at the hands of her alleged abuser. She said she knows now of at least one former Highlands student who had been abused.

“That’s what I thought was so crazy,” she said. “I don’t remember their exact words, but they definitely said something to the effect that this is the first that we’ve heard of him having issues. I knew that wasn’t true.”

We contacted Legion spokeswoman Gail Gore last year, and she said that Ashley’s case is one of a “boundary violation” and not sexual abuse. Gore has not responded to our recent request to discuss the specifics of this case, including questions about what the Legion told police. 

Not on any list

Ashley’s alleged abuser is nowhere to be found either on the Dallas list of credibly accused priests, or on the Legion list, because he is considered to have committed a “boundary violation.” According to the Legion’s own code of conduct, put out in 2019, a boundary violation is “an infraction of the Code of Conduct that is significant, but does not rise to the level of sexual abuse of a minor or sexual misconduct with an adult.” 

After she made her report, Ashley never heard from investigators with the police or the CPS as she expected. Instead, a representative with Praesidium contacted her. Praesidium is the outside firm that the Legion hired to conduct a child safety audit and to help develop its code of conduct. 

The Legion, which was founded by notorious sexual predator Fr. Marciel Maciel, claims that there are only four credibly accused priests or brothers in all of North America, following their own in-house investigation. However, the order claimed in December when it released the investigative report that there may be more information about “boundary violations” made public at some point in the future.

“In November 2018 we also asked Praesidium to conduct a full review of all our territorial files, this should be finalized soon. Should new information arise we will update the list accordingly. The list does not reflect unsubstantiated claims, open investigations or boundary violations. We are in the process of reviewing our policy on when and how we communicate about boundary violations,” it said in a statement.

After Ashley came forward, her report apparently hit a dead end. She did eventually get a letter from Fr. John Connor, then the Legion’s territorial director for North America, in May of 2016, six months after the police report. He apologized to her for the “boundary violation.” Connor’s letter indicates the Legion took it upon itself to see an “investigation” was done into her allegation. The Legion apparently concluded that the appropriate response to their investigation was an apology, and no more, because what had happened to Ashley wasn’t technically abuse.

“As you know, the Legion asked the safe environment firm Praesidium to investigate. They found what you said very compelling. They concluded that it was clearly a very sad violation of boundaries, totally unbecoming of a priest,” Connor wrote. 

That would have been the end of it, until May of last year.

Raid on Dallas diocese brings Ashley’s case back to life

Ashley’s case came alive again shortly after Dallas police raided the Dallas diocesan offices as part of an effort to uncover information police say was hidden from investigators. 

According to the Dallas Morning News: “The Dallas Police Department’s Child Exploitation Unit last year (in 2018) assigned Detective David Clark, a 20-year veteran, to the full-time job of looking into cases of sex abuse involving minors within the local diocese.

After Clark felt stonewalled by the diocese and its lawyers for months — issues he detailed in a search-warrant affidavit — police officers and FBI agents seized files from the Dallas diocese Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations.”

In the weeks after the Dallas raid, Ashley contacted Dallas police with her story. Soon, investigators sought her out for an interview about what had happened to her at The Highlands. The police wanted to know if she knew of other victims. She did.

“They told me they are building a case against [the alleged abuser], and they have met in person with another woman who was one grade ahead of me, but was there at the same time,” she said.

We have confirmed that police were investigating Ashley’s alleged abuser as recently as January and are looking to build a case for prosecution against him. 

Connor is no longer the North American territorial director, but is now the superior for the worldwide order. He was announced as the next superior for the Legion last month, and soon stories came to light in which Connor, as territorial director, allegedly mishandled a case of “boundary violations” involving a Legion priest, according to the Catholic News Agency.

“The Legion paid them off. I’m free to speak.”

Ashley said she throughout the course of the ordeal in reporting her abuse, she has actually met many good Legion priests. She’s also met many victims of Legion abuse, victims who are not willing or able to come forward.

“I know far too many people who have stories to tell, but they can’t tell them because they signed a non disclosure agreement because they desperately needed the money and the Legion paid them off,” she said. “I’m free to speak.”

An Italian court case alleges that victims have been paid off and told to not tell their stories, or in some cases to lie about what happened. The family of a Legion victim was reportedly offered 15,000 euros in exchange for the recanting his testimony against his abuser, according to Crux.

Though there are Legion priests she respects, Ashley knows what a Legion priest did to her, even if the Legion continues to minimize the criminal abuse she survived by calling it a “boundary violation.” Now that she has seen how the Legion seemingly covered up her abuse, she is ready to see the order die. 

“I would like to see the order suppressed,” she said. “I don’t think this is a legitimate order, but some of the vocations might be legitimate. Highlands should not be in my diocese, and I would like to see the Legion not be in my diocese and not be anywhere.”

Legion acknowledges four abusers, including two in Center Harbor, NH

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.

Legionaries of Christ will publish list of credibly accused priests “soon”

By Damien and Simcha Fisher

The scandal-plagued Legion of Christ will publish a list of its own clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. Gail Gore, spokesperson for the priestly order founded by sexual predator, morphine addict, and charlatan Marcial Maciel, said in a recent email exchange that the Legion will publish its list “soon.”

“We will be releasing our list of Legionaries who have received substantiated claims of sexual abuse soon,” Gore said. “The Legionaries of Christ are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for all children and all people who interact with its members and are involved in its ministries.”

Since 2002, a growing number of dioceses and religious orders in the United States publish their own lists of credibly accused clergy members, but very few include members of the Legionaries of Christ, despite lawsuits, police reports and direct victim statements that name Legion priests. 

There are, for example, no Legionaries on the credibly accused list of clergy in the Diocese of Manchester, despite at least one lawsuit alleging the sexual abuse of children, and subsequent cover-up, at a Legion school in Center Harbor, NH. Legionaries are also absent from the Dallas, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles lists.

We have obtained documents indicating that, in at least one major diocese, Legion officials quashed a police investigation of a Legion priest by lying to detectives about the wishes of the alleged victim. 

Gore has declined to comment on the actions of other dioceses, and she did not respond to questions about how soon the Legion list will be published. 

Maciel’s notorious behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, and the sexual abuse of those children and others. Jason Berry of NCR has reported that Maciel took advantage of widespread corruption inside the Vatican to cover his crimes.

“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 2010 assessment of Maciel is devastating in its frankness about 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.”

Edward Pentin reports that Rome knew about accusations of abuse by Maciel as early as 1943

Pope Benedict XVI barred Maciel from active ministry in 2006 after his history of pedophilia became incontrovertible, but 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 fobade 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 in January of 2019

According to Zenit, “[T]he norms [adopted by the Legionaries in 2010] do allow Legionaries and consecrated members of Regnum Christi to keep a photograph among their personal belongings, and to read Father Maciel’s writings or listen to his talks in private. Additionally, the writings of Father Maciel may be used when giving talks and sermons, but without citing the author.”

When asked whether Maciel’s name will be included on the upcoming list of credibly accused Legion priests, the spokesperson did not respond. 

NH Diocese of Manchester publishes names of 73 accused priests; questions remain

The Diocese of Manchester in NH has published a list of 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 the accusations. 

When asked why the list does not include specific accusations, diocesan spokesman Thomas Bebbington said, “The status is intended to provide enough information so the public is aware that the person is not in ministry and why.”

The list includes more names than are listed on the bishop-accountability.org website, which includes 62 names. Bishop-accountability.org does include details about accusations in most cases.  

The diocesan list includes several categories: Cases concluded canonically or criminally, cases in process, priests accused after laicization, deceased priests, and religious orders/other.

Notably, none of the priests named are affiliated with the scandal-ridden Legion of Christ, which ran a private boarding school for high school boys from 1982 to 2015 in Center Harbor, NH.

The Legion was founded by the late Marcial Maciel, a pedophile priest who allegedly raped some of his own illegitimate children, and it has been perpetually rocked with scandals and accusation of institutional sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse. As recently as January of this year, the Legion continued to extol Maciel.  

When asked for clarification as to why there were no Legion of Christ priests named on the list, Bebbington said, “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. ”

“Incardinated” means “under the bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.” I asked Bebbington if the bishop has any control over whether unincardinated priests work in his diocese, if he has not assigned them to ministry there. He has not yet responded. 
UPDATE:  Bebbington clarified: “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.” He also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges. 

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 NH, 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 says that, feeling guilt and shame, the alleged victim told a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening. Fr. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of I.C.A.S. 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.

The list of accused sexual offenders published by the Diocese of Manchester does not include monks or religious brothers who are not priests.

The Union Leader reports that Bishop Peter Libasci said in a statement about the list:

“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”

He also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”

The Diocese of Manchester is the 136th American diocese to release a list of accused priests (there are 197 dioceses in the U.S.). But in 2002, the diocese was among the first to undergo an investigation by state prosecutors of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in and by the diocese, just after the Boston Globe exposed a similar, even more widespread scandal in the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston. 

In 2003, the Attorney General released a report on their findings, and the Diocese paid $5 million in settlements to 62 victims who were abused in the time period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.

The Attorney General’s report was not an exhaustive list of accusations, but was meant to highlight only details of a much broader and deeper scandal. 

According to the report, John McCormack, who was bishop at the time of the investigation, had a long history of reassigning priests who were known pedophiles and of keeping secret the names and actions of known molesters. McCormack served as Bishop from 1998 until 2011. In 1984 he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Law in managing accusations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to the report, McCormack acknowledged that the diocese of Manchester paid for the legal defense of Gordon MacRae, and said he thought MacRae’s sentence was disproportionately harsh and that the priest wasn’t much of a threat. MacRae was convicted of sexually assaulting several boys, including during a pastoral counseling session inside the St. Bernard church in Keene.  

Before McCormack was bishop, Bishop Odore Gendron served from 1975-1990.  According to the Attorney General’s report, Gendron worked with police to keep secret reports of sexual abuse. According to the report, one of the abusive priests, Paul Aube, personally asked Bishop Gendron not to be assigned to work with youth after he was caught, but the diocese went on to assign him to work in youth ministry in a different parish. He then assaulted other minors, according to the report.

In today’s statement, Bishop Libasci said:

Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust. 

Bishop Libasci, who was appointed in 2011, has spoken several times on the issue of the sex abuse scandal, and has struck a notably different tone from his predecessors. In October of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public, he wrote:

“These revelations have left me sickened, shaken, embarrassed, and heart-broken. I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately.”

He acknowledged at the time that the steps the diocese is taking “are only the first steps” that the diocese needs to take.

“I will rely on my consultation with you, the People of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to identify the best path forward,” he said.

“I have committed myself to the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart,” Libasci said. 

 

We’re on an LDS migration route, and it’s kind of awesome

Our house seems to be on an LDS migration route, and it’s kind of awesome.

Someone apparently gave our name to them as a joke, and now the missionaries just keep coming. These poor gals knock on our door with the papal flag decal, enter past the window on which hangs two kitschy Greek orthodox suncatchers of Mary and Jesus (with sparkly beard!), and take a seat at our table, the Rublev Trinity to their left, a torn poster of Mother Teresa to their right, a Daniel Mitsui print of the resurrection behind them, and of course, front and center, a crucifix hanging from a thumbtack.

Then we invite them for dinner and say grace in Hebrew.

I’ve gotta hand it to these mormons, their poker face is top notch. They are all about finding common ground, at least at first; and so are we. They believe very strongly in the importance of family, and so do we. I gather there is intense pressure for LDS moms (much like moms in some Catholic communities) to present a happy, smiley, calm-and-blessed face to the world at all times — well, it’s nice to be able to sit with someone who just plain thinks it’s neat to have a bunch of kids. It feels good to talk about God and not feel awkward. It doesn’t happen often around here.

We always make it very clear (if our uberCath decor didn’t make the point) that we’re not interested in converting, and that the Church is and always will be our home. But we are still interested in talking to them, for a few reasons.

First, they look discouraged. They are young, and New England is pretty tough territory. We don’t really want to talk to anyone about anything, much less to strangers about Jesus. It’s an act of charity to let them say their bit, because that’s what they’re spending eighteen months trying to do. We don’t pretend they’re persuading us, but we do give them a chance — including a chance to answer questions about what they believe.

And that’s the second reason we invite them in and have a chat. I hope that, after we establish that common ground, I can plant a little seed in their mind that there is something more than what they’ve grown up with.

They generally come in pairs, one more confident than the other. So I ask questions of the less confident one. This time, for instance, I asked whether there was any shred of archeological or DNA or historical evidence that Jesus had, as they claimed, visited to the American continent. They both acknowledged that it was a good question, and then somehow we changed topics.

They also mentioned that women’s relief society was the oldest organization of women in the world and I says to myself, I says, BUT SAINT CLARE . . . But I let it go.

One thing I couldn’t let go of: the idea that Joseph Smith was the only one who could read the golden plates with special glasses. Beyond the comical idea of crystal goggles and an angel named “Moroni” (I suspect both spectacles and the name “Moroni” sounded more exotic to American ears in 1823), I just couldn’t get past the idea that God would do something so important, but be so freaking proprietary about it.

Here is this thing, the Book of Mormon, that appears literally out of the blue and abruptly changes wide, wide swaths of our understanding of what the universe is like, who God is, what life is for, what happens after death and before birth, and so on — and it all gets funnelled through this one guy (aged 14!). And everything hinges on him telling the truth and getting it right.

It seems like the opposite of what God would do if He really wanted people to believe, understand, and, well, meet Him.

We thought back over the Gospels and couldn’t think of another time that God acted like that. There has been a lot of “Go out and tell everyone what you know!” and “Go forth and spread the word!” and “Don’t keep this to yourself! It’s for everyone!” There was a lot of “Nope, you have to let those other guys in, too!” and even a certain amount of, “Oh, sorry, you don’t speak Greek or Aramaic? Well, this must be your lucky day!”  A few times, Jesus told his disciples not to say anything yet, but to wait until after the Resurrection.

But there was nothing about “Here is a secret, and you need special decoder glasses to see it, and there won’t be any evidence, and you just have to believe that this one guy who said this one thing is telling the truth.” That . . . is not how you act when you want people to know the truth. That’s how you act when you’re trying to convince someone that you know something important, so you can make them do what you want.

I asked the younger missionary: “Doesn’t that worry you, at all?”

She paused. They talked a bit about good fruits. So I took a chance and told them about Father Maciel.

Now there was an example of someone who knew how to use secrecy, how to manipulate people with faith. I told them how he set up and designed and organized an entire religious order entirely for the purpose of hiding and perpetuating sexual predation. Every aspect of the lives of seminarians and consecrated women, and the students in LC schools, was organized to make them doubt themselves, trust authority blindly, and never tell anyone what was really going on. The goal was never illumination; the goal was obfustication, so that dark deeds could flourish unchallenged.

This, I said, is what happens when you decide you’re just going to trust this one guy who claims to speak for God, and you have to believe him just as you’d believe God. This is what you get.

There have been good fruits from the Legion of Christ. They do good work. And they’ve also been responsible for countless, countless ruined lives. Children defiled, souls lost. Because they said they were missionaries for Christ, but it was all about putting your faith in that one guy, that one guy who isn’t God.

It’s a complicated thing. Catholics have their own “family issues” to work out, as we struggle with ideas of papal infallibility, the authority of bishops, private revelation, and so on. We do need faith, and not just reason. We do need to put ourselves in the hands of people we trust. But you will never hear a good Catholic say, “Don’t ask that question about our Faith.” You will never hear a true Catholic say, “Don’t read that book about another faith.” You will never hear a Father of the Church say, “God isn’t interested in revealing the truth to someone like you.” And you will never hear God say, “You people stink. I’m leaving for several centuries, so good luck without me.”

Instead, you see Christ, a light in the darkness, illuminating the past, the present, and the future; and after Him, there is no more need for prophets (with or without special goggles).

Anyway, they wanted me to read The Book of Mormon. I said that I would try to read at least some of it if they would read Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, which is my standby for Catholic apologetics. It’s short, and small enough to keep in my purse. I don’t know if they are actually allowed to read it (maybe they will save it for after their 18 months of mission work are up).

You can’t convert anyone by arguing, or by crushing them with logic. But you can encourage people to ask themselves questions, and to show that you, for one, have asked those questions and have happily arrived at an answer that brings peace and joy at least some of the time.

These young LDS women had the guts and the strength to spend their time bringing what they thought was the truth to a very hostile territory. I hope I honored them by offering them my ears, my books, a few hamburgers and chips (I remembered not to give them Coke!*), and some questions. I came away from our conversation with a deep gratitude for my faith, and for its long history of intellectual rigor, and for Christ Himself.

If you are LDS and would like a copy of Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, send me an email with your address and I will do my best to get one sent to you.

***

*EDIT: Some of my friends have let me know it’s a myth that Mormons can’t drink caffeine. Sorry! It was an honest mistake. I am ready to hear I’ve made other errors describing what I understand about LDS theology, as well. Please feel free to make corrections in the comments.

Image:by Versageek via Flickr (Creative Commons)
About the image: The original photo showed a young female LDS missionary. I found the photo on a photo sharing site which had apparently incorrectly tagged it as free for commercial use under Creative Commons. Several of the woman’s friends have contacted me, asking me to take the photo down, which I have done. It sometimes take some time for the image to be updated when it’s attached to shared posts on social media.

They keep telling me to look at the fruits of the Legion of Christ.

Well, the harvest keeps rolling in. Here’s the latest installment:

An Irish-born Chilean priest convicted of sexually abusing a minor while chaplain at a school in Santiago was sentenced to four years of probation Tuesday.

A court in the Chilean capital also banned the Rev. John O’Reilly from any job near children and ordered that his genetic data be added to a registry for abusers.

O’Reilly, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not present during the sentencing. Prosecutors had asked for a 10-year prison sentence.

The court found O’Reilly guilty last month, saying he abused a young girl while he was the spiritual guide at the Cumbres school in the affluent neighborhood of Las Condes.

Relatives had accused the priest of molesting two pre-teen girls between 2010 and 2012. The court absolved him in one case.

O’Reilly arrived in Chile in the mid-1980s and was granted Chilean citizenship in 2008.He is a member of the Legion of Christ, the once-respected conservative order that fell into scandal after it was revealed that its founder had fathered a child and had sexually abused seminarians.

Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down, salt the earth, give the victims of LC and RC support, and beg their forgiveness . And remember that the victims include not only the thousands who were sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abused, but also the good men and women who had the bad fortune to get their religious formation from Maciel’s fundamentally perverse and corrupt design. They are victims too, and should be given a way to escape the nightmare world that Maciel built when he designed the Legion specifically to facilitate predators like himself.

There is nothing that LC and RC did or can do that cannot be done by some other order. Shut. It. Down.