On the Death of Legion of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel
Carolyn Disco, VOTF NH

Many obituaries for Legion of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel, who died January 30, 2008, noted the sexual abuse charges against the priest by eight former seminarians in the 1940s and 1950s; his restriction to a life of penance by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006; and the suspension of the canonical case against him due to age. None went into much detail about the survivors, whose stories deserve recognition on the occasion of Maciel’s passing.

The church never adjudicated the sexual molestation charges, leaving those survivors in limbo. Who are they? They include a Mexico City university professor with a doctorate from Harvard; a faculty member at the US Defense Languages Institute in Monterey, CA; a retired priest in Madrid; a professor of psychology and sociology in Westchester County, New York; and also in Mexico, a lawyer, rancher, former university president, and private school professor.

All wanted to forget what happened and get on with their lives after leaving the Legion. It took many decades of chance encounters for them to find each other, gradually share their abuse histories, and only as Maciel continued gallingly to reap high praise from Pope John Paul II did they finally galvanize and file a canon law case in Rome. None wanted money; they only wanted justice, racked as they were by horrific memories, and fear for other victims after them. How many might there be? To date, John Allen, the veteran journalist at the National Catholic Reporter, reports Vatican sources cite “more than 20 but less than 100” victims.

I have the privilege of knowing Juan Vaca, the professor in Westchester, and his wife and daughter. Taken by Maciel at the age of 10 in Mexico and brought to Spain, where at 12 years Maciel began abusing him, Juan was confused and scared. His heart-rending story opens the book Vows of Silence by Jason Berry and the late Gerald Renner, which is credited with reopening the investigation against Maciel. The Legion founder’s success for decades in fooling elites and good people everywhere shows how vulnerable children had little chance of escaping his manipulations.

Berry and Renner chronicle how the victims were trained to believe that leaving the Legion meant going to hell; the mantra they learned was “lost vocation, sure damnation.” All were required to take additional vows never to say anything against Maciel or the Legion, and report any who did. (Those vows were just abolished recently by Pope Benedict XVI.)

And contrary to all other religious orders, regulations specifically mandated by Canon Law, and sound formation principles, your spiritual director in the Legion also was your supervisor. Boys approaching puberty were given whips for self-flagellation to ward off impure thoughts or acts. All in all, it was an ugly business, made more bizarre by Maciel’s disgusting molestations. Forty years after being abused, Juan’s wife told me of his waking in terror from nightmares, calling Maciel’s name to stop.

Maciel was expelled from two seminaries in Mexico, and ordained only after private study with one of his three bishop uncles. Late in life, he pushed for his mother to be declared a saint, and told supporters not to start his canonization until 30 years after his death. But it is the survivors of abuse, not Maciel, who should in some future generation find official sanctity for their courage, wrested from the depths of pain, to tell the truth.

The Vatican’s denial of a verdict is a searing injustice. At one point, the survivors’ canon lawyer made an astounding and uncharacteristic suggestion that it was “better for eight innocent men to suffer than thousands of people losing their faith.” Her clients believe firmly the lawyer was repeating a rationale by a Vatican official.

Absent canonical ruling, judgment is possible, at least in the court of public opinion. Jason Berry has made a film of the same title as his book. It is in private showings around the country awaiting mass media distribution – a gripping account of innocence lost, and the ravages of money and power at the service of evil. The truth will not be silent forever.

Carolyn B. Disco
Survivor Support Chairman
NH Voice of the Faithful


“I Am Looking for Boys Like You” by Juan Jose Vaca from “Vows of Silence” by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner with minor edits approved by JJV (The Unspeakable Ordeal of Juan Jose Vaca)

ABC News: 4-26-02 “Sexual Abuse Allegations Covered-Up by Vatican; Powerful Cardinal in Vatican Accused of Sexual Abuse Cover-Up” by Brian Ross

In the Vineyard
February 28, 2008

Volume 7, Issue 4
Printer Friendly Version (PDF)

Page One


Gathering for Triduum

On the Death of Legion of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel

Letters to the Editor

Prayerful Voice

Survivor Support Working Group

Priest Support Working Group

Structural Change Working Group

Voice of Renewal/Lay Education

Protecting Our Children



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