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.