Father Maciel's Alleged 'Seduction Rituals'

By Matt C. Abbott
Renew America
June 1, 2006

I was granted permission to print the following excerpts from Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, authored by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner. I don't necessarily agree with all the authors' conclusions in regard to Catholic theology and moral teaching, but their research on Legionaries of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel is noteworthy.

(Note: The first excerpt, from pages 172175 of the book, contains graphic language.)

Seduction Rituals

Fernando Perez was fourteen when Maciel invited him to sleep on a floor mattress by his bed. He did so for a month. One night, he said, Maciel "was lying in bed, naked, covered with a blanket, writhing in pain. He told me to massage his stomach. 'The pain is lower, under my stomach.' I touched with my hand his penis that was erect."

To a Catholic seminarian with dawning sexuality, the betrayal of chastity by his idealized Nuestro Padre was crushing. For most of the men affected, Maciel's grooming rituals triggered traumatic memories that lasted years. Fernando Perez decided to leave "because I did not have the power to overcome my temptations." He rebelled — in order to get expelled. Maciel "locked me in a room with one bed and a night table, and one window that had to remain was very hard in that jail" — solitary confinement for a month. "For a longer period I would have lost my mind." He was still unruly. Maciel ordered him to pack and walk to the railroad station in town. He left at ten in the morning "and reached the station at 7 PM, very tired, very hungry," without a cent. By eleven that night he was alone and desperate when Maciel appeared with another student and drove him back.

Fernando Perez returned to Mexico by boat in 1950, one of several youths who left at the time when Jesuits were suspicious of Maciel's sexual activity. . "After being a happy child, I became an introverted, negative young man," he reflected, "with fears, feelings of guilt, constantly depressed...reminding me of Maciel's threats of hell." He credited the woman he later married with helping to restore his life.

His younger brother, Jose Antonio Perez Olvera, had also been in the novitiate in Spain and advanced to studies in Rome. A broad-shouldered lawyer of fifty-nine in 1996, Jose Antonio said that he never knew until years later why his older brother had left. While at Mass one morning, Jose Antonio was summoned to Maciel's room, where the founder expressed concern for his sibling gone back to Mexico. "He said my brother masturbated frequently and it was urgent to take him away from save him from vice. I didn't know what to think. I had not spoken of this with my brother."

Maciel needed a sample of his semen to send to a famous doctor in Madrid who would help remedy his brother's problem. Jose Antonio, sixteen, believed "chastity was the number one virtue" yet he submitted as the priest took down his pants, fondled him to orgasm and put the semen in a flask. Maciel said soothingly: "The purpose was right." He told the youth to receive Holy Communion and "never tell anyone of this heroic act."

For Jose Antonio, "This act, coming after six years of strict formation, was being deflowered."

"As sons of the Christian family, as Mexicans, we had been taught that the father should be obeyed. Leaving seminary meant eternal damnation...It was a vindictive God." The sexual encounter made him feel "like an accomplice." From then on he avoided Maciel. With his brother gone, Jose Antonio suffered chronic insomnia, anxiety and stress. "I kept praying to God, If I have to become mad, I will stay here, provided I get salvation." He finally left at twenty-six, after a Spanish priest he trusted told him if he was unhappy he should leave and not worry at all about his soul. He went on to earn a law degree but shame shadowed his ties to the possessive Legion culture. Unburdening the guilt took years.

Jose Antonio Perez Olvera considered the flagellating by seminarians "a form of psychological transference" — punishing themselves for Maciel's sexual pathology. "There is little appreciation for double personalities in Latin cultures." As excuses for his advances, Maciel told some that his doctor had ordered him to release a buildup of semen; to others, that he had a swollen prostate, a statement that betrayed the ignorance of seminarians too young and naive to know that a swollen prostate causes impotence. He also told them that Pope Pius XII had given him a special dispensation for sex due to chronic pain.

Grooming rituals are common to pedophiles. Calling boys to his room, portraying himself as pain-ridden, seeking their healing touch were techniques of the lure. Some resisted, others molested a few times fell out of favor. Those who participated regularly were given more privileged status. "We joked about Vaca sleeping all the time," said Barba, not realizing that Vaca was exhausted from the nights with Nuestro Padre.

Alejandro Espinosa, the restless one whipped for his hyperactivity at Tlalpan in Mexico, was frequetly molested by Maciel in Spain. "The general of this army — it was strictly an army, we were the Legionaries — was telling me that he had a lot of hopes for me in his strategy for the Kingdom of God," he explained. "I wrote him two times a week. I received several letters from him. It was a sign of prestige.... I was called to his room. He spoke about his pain: It is the cross that Jesus Christ is putting on my shoulders. I spent the night in his room."

The strapping Alejandro was called to Maciel's room often. "It was very repulsive to me but I believed my problem was nothing compared to his. I had to be brave....I considered myself like a nurse and accepted as a great distinction that he trusted me." One who resisted Maciel's advances was Saul Barrales Arellano, known as "the charitable one" by his peers. They thought his kindness would make him a natural priest. Sitting in his home in Mexico City, Barrales, a school teacher for many years, was a man of calm dignity. He revealed that Maciel "asked me to manipulate him sexually five or ten times and I refused." But Maciel kept summoning him.

On a daily basis I fervently asked God not to permit this kind of activity to take place...How many times did I have to endure sleeping on the cold floor of a room in almost total darkness, where he called me, close to the bed in which he was laying, in order to prevent other young men from entering into this temptation?

Saul Barrales could only block people from Maciel's room on the nights he slept on the floor. Maciel quit calling him. Vaca and Espinosa were like incest victims, sons with natural longings for paternal love twisted into sexual service of Nuestro Padre's narcissistic tyranny. Many years later, Vaca recalled Maciel's words as they were driving in Spain: "Juan, I know you love me very much now, but a time will come when you will hate me." Vaca was confused at the remark, though it lodged in his thoughts as if surgically implanted.

Excerpt II (from pages 276280)

Survivors were functioning like the chorus of a Greek tragedy, warning that a moral order had been broken. As a clamor rose in Boston for Law's resignation, John Paul told him to stay on. Protestors picketed outside Boston's cathedral when the cardinal said Mass. Father Tom Doyle felt anger more than sorrow toward Law. Cardinal Rivera of Mexico City defended Law as the victim of "a campaign of media persecution...against the entire church" like that of " Nazi Germany and in communist countries."

In his annual letter to priests on Holy Thursday, March 21, John Paul stated:

We are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the "mysterium iniquitatis" at work in the world...[A] dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity...[T]he Church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations.

"Mystery of evil" telegraphed John Paul's abstract view of a crisis that since 1985 had gotten little of his attention. At eighty-two, hobbled with Parkinson's disease, a slumped back, tilted neck and sunken lower lip, his very person seemed a sign of the systemic ills. He had censored any discussion of celibacy as a factor in the crisis. Since mid-century 100,000 men worldwide had left the priesthood — more than the number who had entered. A stream of studies on psychological problems in clerical life had appeared since a psychiatrist gave a paper at a 1971 Vatican bishops' synod. A tradition of ignoring sexual reality had allowed the priesthood to become a huge closet to gay men, many of whom scoffed at celibacy. Women were a greater threat, as John Paul made clear in his 1992 letter barring them from the priesthood. In 2002 Vatican statements exposed a moral myopia in the Roman Curia (from Latin, covir, "men together.")

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos presented John Paul's letter at a news conference. As reporters asked questions of spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the cardinal jotted notes. When given the podium, he said: "The language [English] used is interesting. This by itself is an x-ray of the problem." Ignoring the questions, he read a statement. The crisis stemmed from "pan-sexuality and sexual licentiousness." Three percent of U.S. priests had "tendencies" toward such abuse and only 0.3 per cent were actual pedophiles, he insisted, citing incomplete data from the Chicago archdiocese.

"I would like to know the statistics from other groups and the penalties the others have received and the money the others have paid to victims," he remarked, praising the pope's conferring authority to the CDF [for laicizing clergy molesters.] He emphasized that the Vatican had also expanded the statute of limitations under canon law for such crimes to ten years after a victim's 18th birthday — an important concession especially in developing countries with no age of consent. He defended the secret canonical norms to avoid "a culture of suspicion." Church laws must deal "with internal matters in an internal way." Now he was on a roll, declaring: "The church has never ignored the problem of sexual abuse, above all among its sacred ministers, even before it was on the front pages."

Tom Doyle derided Castrillon's "pansexuality" remark in an Irish Times op-ed piece. "There is a solid principle in political science that says the governing elite of an organization will eventually think it is the organization," he wrote.

The hierarchy is facing off with a faithful who have thrown off the infantile bonds of clerical control and grown up. They are demanding accountability and honesty...As one U.S. victim, Peter Isely said, "The dioceses spend tens of millions of dollars on the highest-priced lawyers and hired the best public relations firms to fight us. And what did we have? All we had was the truth."

The following week, the bishop of Ferns, covering County Wexford, Ireland resigned. Bishop Brendan Comisky had shown great lenience to one of Ireland's worst pedophiles, Father Sean Fortune, who committed suicide in 1999 before trial. Writing again in The Irish Times, Doyle gave one his strongest statements on record:

Priests express their embarrassment to appear in public dressed in clerical garb. The pope is "personally and profoundly" afflicted and worries that the acts of the abusers will taint all men of the cloth. The truth is that most people could care less about their pain and embarrassment....[S]omething is wrong and that wrong can't be sandpapered away by emotional expressions of personal hurt or self-righteous expressions of rage at the abusers. It is precisely this clerical narcissism that produced the crisis in the first place.

In articles and on television, conservatives were blaming the crisis on gay priests. The gay clergy subculture was a factor, for within the priesthood a small strand of regressive homosexuals had preyed on a disproportionate number of victims. But survivors' groups were quick to point out that many of their members were women. No one had complete data. The greater problem was the bishops' pathology of lying and John Paul's failure to confront the sexual secrecy honeycombed through ecclesiastical governing. The Roman Catholic hierarchy showed no maternal grace. Bishops and cardinals, lacking children of their own, had coddled child molesters in a weird parody of incest. Conservatives failed to see how John Paul's litmus test for selecting bishops, like his campaign against "dissident" theologians, stemmed from a notion of faith-as-obedience that wore blinders to the psychodynamics behind the church's state of sin.

Cardinal Karol Wojtyla's experience of a free society ended in his adolescence, with a brief revival of civil freedom during his early studies in Rome. Then, at fifty-eight he vaulted from Communist Poland to the throne of Europe's last fully functioning monarchy. The Vatican has no parliament or independent judiciary. John Paul's belief in moral absolutes served him well as the Soviet empire fell. His governance of the church was hostile to the spirit of an evolving, open church after Vatican II. The church that prevailed over Communist tyranny would maintain authority through its structures. A sexual underworld inside the castle was a force that he, a virgin monarch, could only perceive as scattered sins, not the hungry worms of structural decay.

March 28 saw the resignation of Juliusz Paetz, the 67-year old archbishop of Posnan, Poland, forced out by Cardinal Sodano, the Secretary of State. Paetz denied reports that he had sexually abused seminarians, which Vatican investigators had confirmed the previous November. Paetz claimed the Vatican made no accusation against him nor subjected him to a trial. "Not everyone understood my genuine openness and spontaneity toward people," he told a Polish Catholic news agency.

"Members of the papal court dare not tell the pope the whole truth about the scandals (because that's the way it is around a king: they only tell him what he wants to hear)," wrote Robert Blair Kaiser, an author with seasoned knowledge of the Vatican. Paetz had been part of the papal household in the early 1990s. "I have run into two priests in the last two days who knew Paetz when he was working in the Vatican," continued Kaiser, in his Rome Diary email.

One said, "He was always on the make." The other said he'd been propositioned by Paetz, twice. Paetz was finally banned by the rector of his own seminary for making continual advances on the young men there who were training for the priesthood. "And we cannot tell the Holy Father about Paetz today," said one source of mine inside the Vatican. "The news would kill him."

Having foreclosed dialogue on celibacy, birth control and a priestly role for women, John Paul aborted reform prospects when the church needed them most. As the sexual underworld proliferated, the papal yes-men included the likes of Cardinal Rivera of Mexico, who protected Maciel; Cardinal Groer of Austria, whose personal corruption embodied sexual secrecy; and Law, who in 1997 scorned the Catholic Theological Society of America as "a wasteland" for questioning the church's teaching office, the magisterium. These prelates emulated John Paul's response to sexual corruption: keep quiet, deny, apologize if necessary, and when in doubt, attack the messenger.

"Convinced that they know the truth — whether in religion or in politics — enthusiasts may regard lies for the sake of this truth as justifiable," the philosopher Sissela Bok has written. "They may perpetrate so-called pious frauds to convert the unbelieving or strengthen the conviction of the faithful. They see nothing wrong in telling untruths for what they regard as a much 'higher' truth."

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He is a columnist for and/or contributor to,,,,, and He can be reached at


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