The Holy See and the Legionaries of Christ

By John L. Allen Jr.
National Catholic Reporter [Rome]
December 5, 2004

Several readers have written asking about recent signs of approval from the Holy See for the Legionaries of Christ and their founder, Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. Among other things, the pope recently entrusted to the Legionaries the administration of an important church institution in the Holy Land, Jerusalem's Notre Dame Center. He approved the statutes the Regnum Christi movement, a lay branch of the Legionaries. A top Vatican official ordained 59 new Legionaries of Christ priests from 10 countries in a Rome ceremony. By letter, John Paul II also congratulated Maciel for 60 years of "intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry." The pope said he wanted to join in the "canticle of praise and thanksgiving" for the great things he has accomplished and said Maciel has always been concerned with the "integral promotion of the person."

What should one make of all this, readers have asked, in light of charges from several former members of the Legionaries of Christ that they were sexually abused by Maciel, charges documented in the book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II by American journalists Jason Berry and Gerry Renner?

I think the only honest answer is that the pope and his senior aides obviously do not believe the charges.

I've discussed the case with people in the Holy See, and not everyone is prepared to dismiss out of hand the claims documented in the Berry and Renner book. Most Vatican officials, however, believe the evidence is old and ambiguous, and in any event they say it would not surpass the burden of reasonable doubt in a court of law. Absent a "smoking gun," and given what they regard as the fruits of Maciel's priestly career and the community he founded, they don't see a basis for action.

It's not for me to say whether these conclusions are justified. But from a descriptive point of view, it's not a matter of the pope or the Vatican being ill-informed. They are well aware of the material Berry and Renner have collected, and support Maciel and the Legionaries despite it.

The Legionaries are present in 20 countries, counting 500 priests and 2,500 seminarians.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.