Catholics scrutinize enigmatic Opus Dei

Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2003
By Ron Grossman, Tribune staff reporter

Depending on the eye of the beholder, the teaching kitchens of Lexington College, bedecked with pots and pans, mark either a place where young people learn an employable skill in a Christian setting, or a clandestine battlefield in an intense struggle for the soul of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lexington College, a school on Chicago’s Near West Side that specializes in food-service management, is run by Opus Dei, a tiny religious movement brought to public attention by the best seller “The Da Vinci Code,” a kind of ecclesiastical mystery novel featuring a Machiavellian Opus Dei operative who takes orders from a sinister, off-stage presence called “The Teacher.”
Earlier, the group briefly made headlines when it was learned that Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent turned Russian spy, sent his children to a Washington-area private school run by Opus Dei–Latin for the “Work of God.” Recently, the group opened a new multistory headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, a sign of its abundant financial resources. All of this has shone a spotlight on a group that has been something of a mystery, even to other U.S. Catholics. Yet it has tentacles of influence stretching all the way to the Holy See, where the pope’s spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member.

Hanssen’s story set off a brief but intense frenzy of speculation about who else in the nation’s capital might be associated with the group that, in other countries, has been politically cozy with the far right. Speculation has it that its members have risen to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Supreme Court and the FBI.

Opus Dei’s policy is to not disclose who is or isn’t a member. But officials say that if public figures belonged to the group, surely that would have been known in a culture where the lives of the famous are open secrets.

The movement’s critics–and some of the most vocal are Catholics–don’t buy that argument. They claim a pledge of secrecy is written into the rules of the group, which some see as an underground conspiracy aimed at capturing power in the church by stealthily boring from within.

“What possible activity could any Catholic group be engaged in that justifies secrecy?” wrote Catharine Henningsen, in SALT, a liberal Catholic journal of which she is the editor.

Opus Dei members respond that they aren’t secretive but simply value privacy. “We just built a 17-story headquarters in New York,” said spokesman Brian Finnerty. “How can you operate a secret society from a skyscraper at 34th and Lexington?”

Indeed, Opus Dei, whose first U.S. outpost was in Chicago, consistently produces diametrically opposite responses–depending on whether a question is being answered from inside or outside the group.

Liberal Catholics say it is theologically antediluvian and decry it for pandering to ultraconservatives unreconciled to more recent changes in the church. Opus Dei supporters claim their founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was on to the need for updating Catholicism three decades before the reformist Vatican II Council of the 1960s.

Former members claim it is a cult that pressures psychologically vulnerable college students into joining. Group members say Opus Dei has provided a meaning to their lives that they lacked in a secular and materialistic society.

Critics are put off because, as part of their devotional regimen, some Opus Dei members inflict pain on themselves that seems to border on masochism. Supporters respond that mortification of the flesh is an ancient and honorable Christian practice that puts them spiritually in touch with the great saints of the past.

Opus Dei members are furious about the unflattering portrayal in Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” where their religious regimen seems to inspire not piety but evildoing. They also point to the novel’s historical inaccuracies.

Some critics alleged that Escriva’s character faults made him ineligible for sainthood. An English priest, and former member, claimed that Opus Dei’s founder told him Adolf Hitler had been “badly treated” because “he could never have killed 6 million Jews. It only could have been 4 million at most.” Supporters say Escriva would not have said such a thing, and they note that a third of all Catholic bishops supported his candidacy for sainthood, which was proclaimed in 2002.

Numbers small

Critics and supporters agree on one thing: The group has stirred up a fuss way beyond its numbers. Of the estimated 1 billion or more Catholics in the world, only about 85,000 belong to Opus Dei.

There are about 3,000 members in the U.S., divided as in other countries into two principal categories: “supernumeraries” (about 70 percent), who live in the secular world and may marry, and “numeraries” (about 30 percent), who live communally in Opus Dei residences, called Centers, and are pledged to celibacy. Revolving around them is a support group, the “cooperators,” who aid the movement with prayers and financial contributions.

Despite the monasticlike existence of the numeraries, Opus Dei members are not, for the most part, clergy. Only about 2 percent are priests and some were lay members for years before being ordained. That makes the movement unusual in the Catholic Church, a hierarchical organization.

It was precisely that top-down approach to religion that inspired leaders of the Protestant Reformation to leave the Catholic Church. Indeed, when Opus Dei members stress their movement’s emphasis on ordinary believers, they sound more like Martin Luther or John Calvin than like the ultraconservative Catholics their critics say they are.

`Era of the laity’

“This is the era of the laity,” said Sharon Hefferan, who runs Metro Achievement Center, an Opus Dei tutoring program for Chicago public school students housed in the same building as Lexington College.

It is a busy place. Young professional women come from their Loop offices to the Center to volunteer, helping girls from Chicago’s less fortunate neighborhoods with homework. Lexington College, named after the West Side street where it began, has been training women for the hotel and restaurant industry since 1977.

“The clergy have a role, and that’s fine,” said Hefferan, who joined the movement in 1988. “But ultimately the church is about lay people.”

Still, if there is a modernist side to Opus Dei, other aspects make its critics say that it seems a throwback to the fire-and-brimstone preachers of the Middle Ages.

Sharon Clasen, who lives in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, was introduced to the group as a Boston College freshman. The dormitories were full, so a friend recommended Bayridge, an off-campus women’s residence hall run by Opus Dei. She moved in, was attracted by the warm and supportive atmosphere and eventually became a member.

“After I joined, they gave me a barbed-wire chain to wear on my leg for two hours a day and a whip to hit my buttocks with,” said Clasen, who has since left the group.

Privation and pain

Rev. Marty Miller, chaplain at Lexington College, said Opus Dei’s use of privation and pain reflects a sinner’s need for physical penance. Because everyone falls into that category, members are expected to sleep on the floor or a board one night a week. The whip, he said, is called a “discipline,” the leg binding is a “cilice.”

“It hurts a bit, but I don’t tighten it too much,” Miller said. “It’s said that our founder would draw it so tight, he drew blood.”

Opus Dei’s founder–and members always capitalize the title and speak of him with reverence–was a Spaniard who entered the priesthood on the eve of his homeland’s civil war of the 1930s. Because the church was identified with the ruling class, many priests were killed, a fate Escriva narrowly escaped by going into hiding. When Gen. Francisco Franco won the war, Escriva allied his movement with Franco’s authoritarian regime, with several Opus Dei members occupying key positions in his government. Opus Dei officials, however, currently downplay Escriva’s actively supporting Franco.

During the subsequent Cold War, Opus Dei expanded to other parts of Western Europe and the Americas, attracting support by projecting itself as a bulwark against the advance of communism. Along the way, it drew to its ranks some financial whiz kids who reportedly made the movement fabulously wealthy. In his book “Their Kingdom Come,” critic Robert Hutchison says Opus Dei has even bailed out a hard-pressed papacy.

Escriva’s insight was to recognize that the task of maintaining a viable Christian presence in an increasingly secular world was too big for the clergy alone.

Elite corps

Opus Dei is based on the idea that lay people can spread the Gospel by going out from their Centers to regular jobs and making workplace contact with others. By Escriva’s design, Opus Dei was to be the shock troops, or the elite corps ready and able to take on church problems wherever they may be–a position traditionally occupied by religious orders, such as the Jesuits.

Pope John Paul II gave the movement a unique status in the church, making it a “personal prelature.” That exempts the group from the jurisdiction of local bishops, a move Opus Dei had long campaigned for and which previous popes resisted. Some observers think the pope, a conservative, saw the movement as a useful ally in the church’s version of the culture wars–the struggles between progressives and traditionalists ongoing since Vatican II.

On the other hand, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a noted liberal, gave Opus Dei priests control of a Chicago parish, St. Mary of the Angels, on the Near Northwest Side, a privilege the movement enjoys in few other places.

The movement’s success has provoked resentment in other quarters of the church, said James Hitchcock, a history professor at St. Louis University, a Jesuit school.

“In some cases, it’s produced almost a paranoia,” Hitchcock said. “There are Jesuits who hear you express conservative religious views and say: `Are you a covert member of Opus Dei?'”

Recruiting among students

Escriva sought recruits at Spain’s universities, judging that there was a critical mass of alienated students put off by the secular atmosphere of modern education. His movement still follows that approach, proselytizing on college campuses and operating high schools, including two in the Chicago area. Opus Dei also runs charitable programs locally and nationally.

“They appeal to the idealism of youth,” said William Dinges, a professor at Washington’s Catholic University.

Kristina Bucholz first made contact with Opus Dei through an after-school program the movement ran in Puerto Rico. She joined and was sent to a Center near Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“You’re told you are the elite guard of God,” said Bucholz, who says she quit out of resentment for having her life tightly controlled. Ex-members report that they were isolated from their families and their reading was censored. Opus Dei officials deny using coercive methods.

Tammy DiNicola was introduced to the group when a member she met at Boston College brought her to functions at the Opus Dei house. She remembers being idealistic and looking for a way to serve God.

“What I didn’t realize was that I was a target for recruitment,” DiNicola said. “But when I joined, they said you should have 10 to 15 friends that you’re working on. You had to fill out forms each month and have meetings to develop strategies to get them to join.”

Bucholz and DiNicola are bitter when they look back at their experiences, but officials of Opus Dei say others have decided that the life is not for them but remain supporters.

Peg Bruer was a numerary for almost 18 years.

“I stopped being a member when I realized my vocation in life was being married,” said Bruer, who lives in the Los Angeles area.

Notable departure

Still, there have been notable defections from the higher ranks.

Maria del Carmen Tapia was Escriva’s personal secretary and a regional director of Opus Dei in South America. In a memoir, “Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei,” she recalls an Escriva far different from the movement’s reverential portrait. The “Founder,” by her experience, was dictatorial and threw temper tantrums.

“I gradually realized that by isolating its members Opus Dei makes them overly dependent, even childish,” Tapia wrote. “Similarly, its lack of ecumenical spirit makes its members inflexible in human relations.”

Yet for former members, no less than loyal members, the experience of Opus Dei has shaped their lives for years afterward. DiNicola and her mother run a support group, the Opus Dei Awareness Network, or ODAN, that helps former members make contact and counsels current members wrestling with the issue of leaving, or their families.

Hefferan, who runs the Chicago tutoring program, said her commitment to Escriva’s principles is as real a presence in her life as it was when she joined 15 years ago. Working with needy kids in Metro Achievement Center and performing Opus Dei’s rituals are part of a seamless spiritual existence, she said.

“It’s a quiet apostolate,” she said. “Opus Dei is our humble effort to live a life in imitation of the life of Christ.”

– – –

Interest persists in Opus Dei

The 85,000-member Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928 to give Catholics a vocational path for daily life emphasizing prayer, sacrifice and fidelity to the pope. The first U.S. chapter opened in Chicago in 1949. Today, there are 3,000 members in the U.S.

ORGANIZATION AND ACTIVITIES

Opus Dei operates spiritual retreat centers, a college and several schools, including the Midtown Educational Foundation in Chicago. Members fall into two main categories:

NUMERARIES

About 30% of members

– Live in Opus Dei residences (men and women separately)

– Pledged to celibacy

– Attend daily mass and spiritual readings

– Men can work outside Opus Dei

– They wear a sharp band of wire around the thigh two hours daily and whip them-selves for minutes each week

SUPERNUMERARIES

About 70% of members

– Can be married

– Live with their families

– Volunteer in Opus Dei centers and schools

Supporters of Opus Dei who make financial contributions but are not members are called “cooperators.”

Sources: Prelature of Opus Dei in the U.S., staff reporting
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0312070395dec07,1,85937.story?coll=chi-news-hed

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Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Issue Date:  November 21, 2003

Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Perhaps in some arcane Vatican understanding of things lies the explanation for how Fr. Marcial Maciel cannot only remain a priest in good standing but be heralded by one of the highest authorities in the church for the “great work that you do.”

Maciel is founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order with U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. He received the praise and several embraces from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state ( see story), during a ceremony marking the opening of the academic year at Regina Apostolorum, the university operated by the Legionaries in Rome.

Maciel may be a papal favorite — he has traveled with the pope in the past and has shown up more recently at papal events in Rome — but he is also the target of accusations of sexual abuse by nine former members of the Legionaries of Christ.

We have argued on this page against the zero tolerance policy initially adopted by the bishops last year, and we believe that priests deserve due process and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, the law requires that accusations of sexual abuse be turned over to police, and it is certainly wise to remove from ministry priests who have been credibly accused.

In Maciel’s case, the nature of the allegations and the credibility of the alleged victims would make it an easy call almost anywhere except the Vatican. No U.S. priest superior facing detailed and public accusations by nine former members of an order would last 10 minutes in active ministry.

How bizarre, then, that a head of an international order remains in place even though he would immediately be removed from ministry and turned over to legal authorities if he were living under church norms effective in the United States.

The alleged victims, who first went public with their accusations in 1997, included a retired priest in good standing in Madrid; a psychology professor in New York; a professor at the U.S. Defense Languages School in Monterey, Calif.; and in Mexico, a Harvard-trained scholar of Latin American studies; a lawyer; a rancher; an engineer; a schoolteacher; and another former priest who was a university president and who left a statement of alleged abuse and gave accounts to several witnesses before his death in 1995.

They have repeatedly said they are not seeking money, but justice and the prevention of further abuse.

Their case has been championed by respected theologians and conservative Catholics, who took it to Rome, where it was received by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but never adjudicated.

In simplest terms, the accusers never got a hearing at the highest levels.

In the Maciel case, the church is sending disturbing mixed signals. What are officials saying, first of all, to victims everywhere who are pressing their own cases? What does it say to other priests who have been sidelined or dismissed from active ministry altogether for accusations far less severe than those made against Maciel? (Details of the accusations can be found in previous stories now available in our archives at www.NCRonline.org ‘keyword Maciel’). And what message is it sending the wider culture, which is deeply skeptical of the ability of church leaders, who remain above accountability, to correct their course?

Vatican officials ought to understand, at the very least, that their promises about combating sexual abuse by priests remain empty until Maciel’s accusers receive a thorough and objective hearing.

The kids are back at school and to hell with the consequences: Virgen del Bosque school outskirts Madrid, Spain

Madrid parents protest LC school takeover

 

By Giles Tremlett

 

The Guardian/September 20, 2003

 

Madrid — We have been freewheeling through the park on the bike again this week, one boy on the crossbar and the other in the kiddy seat, slaloming through parents, kids and dogs on our way to school.

It is the end of a hard slog of a summer. The holidays started on June 20 and ended on Monday. That is 12 weeks, or nigh on a quarter of the year. Try organising your life around that, especially when the Madrid oven is turned up to maximum and temperatures outside are going over 40C (104F) .

On Monday the kids may have looked a bit glum, but the parents were giving high fives. A Madrid child’s life, you might think, is golden. There are hours of freedom, of loving parental attention and family cosiness.

But there is a more worrying cost. Spanish children spend, at least in secondary education, 559 hours a year at school. The EU average is 678 hours. Doing the maths, I discover that my kids will have had a full year less of education by the time they reach 18 than the average European child. They will, according to one study, have had two years less than German, Belgian, Scottish or Dutch kids.

My kids are at a mega-school. Fourteen hundred pupils are spread over two buildings. Entry is at three and exit is at 18 (or later if, as Spanish kids sometimes do, you are made to repeat a year). They go in unable to wipe their own bums and come out, if those lounging on the benches along Paseo John Lennon are typical, as expert joint rollers.

It is also a concertado school, roughly equivalent to a grant-maintained grammar, owned by a progressive charity, funded by the state and topped up with cash from the parents. The majority of concertados are run by religious communities. Ours, however, is a radically secular school. Children at the religious schools have to say their prayers. Ours have obligatory anti-war demonstrations.

The concertado system is either a good way for the state to control private – especially religious – schools or a tax-funded cop-out for middle-class parents who do not trust the state system.

It is not without its risks, as the parents of the Virgen del Bosque school on the outskirts of Madrid discovered this week. Four days after the start of term they found they had a new headteacher who informed them the teachers’ cooperative which owned the school had sold out.

The buyers were the Legionaries of Christ, a radical, Mexico-based Catholic group that makes the fearsomely conservative Opus Dei, another accumulator of Madrid schools, look wet.

The liberal, secular charter is to be rewritten. “Hopefully the boys and girls who study with us will end up marrying because that would mean there would be fewer divorces and separations,” the head declared.

The parents are outraged. But have they started withdrawing their children? No. It is too late to start looking for a school place now. But, I suspect, another emotion is at play. By the time the holidays are over Madrid parents have gone slightly mad. They no longer care whether their headteacher is a self-proclaimed servant of God, or has a trident and horns.

 

Catholic gathering gets mixed reaction Legion of Christ faces its critics

By Joshua S. Howes Tribune staff reporter Published July 17, 2003

Depending on one’s point of view, the Legion of Christ’s visit to Chicago this weekend is either cause for celebration and religious recommitment or an insult to the Roman Catholic community, especially survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy.

The Rome-based order of priests, whose founder has faced allegations of sexual abuse but is said to be a personal friend of Pope John Paul II, will hold a Youth and Family Encounter from Thursday afternoon through Sunday at Navy Pier.

——————————————————————————–
The agenda includes speeches, masses, apostolic training seminars and a keynote address by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Organizers say they intend to renew participants’ spiritual drive and commitment to the faith, particularly for teenagers who might be confused by “all the negative headlines recently” about the Catholic Church.

But controversy has followed the Legion to Chicago. On Saturday the group announced that its 83-year-old founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, will not attend the Navy Pier conference, which requires registration to attend, because of urgent business in Rome.

The Legion’s chorus of critics, led by former priests, say Maciel is ducking out to escape further scrutiny regarding allegations made in 1997 by nine former Legionaries that Maciel molested them when they were teenage seminarians in Italy and Spain in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Maciel also skipped last year’s conference in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the Legion, Jim Fair, dismissed the accusations against Maciel and the organization, saying the Vatican looked into the allegations and found no evidence of abuse.

Critics say the investigation was flawed and incomplete. They allege top Vatican officials protect Maciel because of his fundraising abilities, conservative politics and friendship with the pope.

To the group’s opponents, the Chicago conference is objectionable whether or not Maciel attends.

“To place Maciel, or his organization, as a model for the youth in Chicago or anywhere, my God, that is an aberration,” said Arturo Jurado of Monterey, Calif., a former priest who contends Maciel sexually molested him in 1957.

Others say the Legion’s leaders manipulate priests and seminarians into a cult-like devotion to Maciel. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Legionaries take a vow never to criticize or question the order.

Former seminarian Todd Carpunky, now a Chicago lawyer, said he worries that the conference’s unstated goal is to recruit teenagers. The archdiocese of Chicago, he says, should warn young Catholics about the Legion’s recruiting and control techniques.

Warning from ex-member

Carpunky said that after he joined a Legion seminary in Connecticut at age 16 in 1991, his superiors censored his mail and reading material, lied to him when other members left the seminary, encouraged him to flagellate himself and for months refused permission to see a doctor when he was suffering from a gall bladder infection that spread to his liver and almost killed him.

“The archdiocese and the church in general know what the Legion does,” he said. “We are their flock, and [the Legion] are the wolves preying on their flock, and they’re doing nothing about it.”

Legion supporters say such accusations are groundless and the product of disgruntled ex-Legionaries.

Fair, the group’s spokesman, said similar charges of abuse were brought against St. Francis of Assisi when he founded the Franciscans and many other founders of religious orders.

“With success and growth comes calumny and slander; it’s an almost consistent pattern across the board,” said Fair.

A spokesman for the Chicago archdiocese said the Legionaries are not within its jurisdiction. “The Catholic Church is a big tent,” said James Dwyer. “A wide variety of Catholic organizations meet in Chicago, and just because they do does not imply endorsement of what they do … nor condemnation.”

Cardinal not attending
Cardinal Francis George does not plan to attend the conference, Dwyer said.

Organizers of the event say more than 6,000 Chicago-area residents have registered to attend, many of them members of the Legion’s international lay movement, Regnum Christi, which they say has more than 60,000 members. The organizations also operate two K-through-12 schools and numerous outreach ministries in the Chicago area.

Scholars said the Legion’s evangelism and continued growth is consistent with the increase in the power and numbers of conservative Catholic organizations under Pope John Paul II.

“The [conservative movement] perceives itself to be under a threat that is growing, and is pushing back,” said Jay Demerath, a professor of sociology specializing in religion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I suspect [the Legion] is trying to send a message to American Catholics that traditions are important and need to be upheld … that all is not moving in a liberal direction.”

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

Catholics plan Mather university

The Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation of priests active in 20 countries, plans to create a private Catholic university at two locations in the Sacramento region.

The proposal, which they’d call the University of Sacramento, is the latest of several higher education ventures to target the capital area.

The group plans to open a graduate school of education by 2005, followed by a 250-acre, full-service residential campus in 2007 that would ultimately have 7,000 students plus 800 faculty members and other employees. A feasibility study for a bioethics institute is also under way.

The Legion is talking with Sacramento county and city officials about buying land to build the campus at Mather Field, and leasing at least 55,000 square feet in downtown or midtown Sacramento for a graduate school of education.

The project is so enticing that officials here are mulling special efforts on a real estate deal to land the school.

The first full Legion university slated for the United States, the project could be a $1.2 billion economic bonanza for the area. Construction alone is expected to cost upwards of $350 million, with ripple effects of a large local payroll and spending in the community by faculty, staff and students.

The Legion raises about $20 million a year to cover its programs. It would also seek to raise money locally.

Area is rich in Catholics: “It is a massive project. We’ve been talking to the Legion for some months now and hope they can build the campus at Mather,” said county economic development director Paul Hahn. “It’s a good use the community needs. From an economic standpoint, we lack a private university and the array of talent it attracts.”

The Legion is looking for a break on the land in exchange, Hahn said. “We need to put together the deal points. It’s no mystery the county is very interested and willing to do some things we haven’t done for a while.”

The pitch is one of three private university proposals to surface in recent months.

Mather Eyed for Catholic College

The Legion of Christ considers the former Air Force base as the site for a private four-year university.
By Terri Hardy — Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, November 8, 2002

A conservative Catholic order is moving forward with plans to build a private university in the Sacramento region and has been in serious discussions with city and county officials about where it could locate a campus.

As its first step, the Legion of Christ wants to open a downtown graduate school with an eye toward establishing a four-year core campus in another location — possibly at the former Mather Air Force Base.

The group has secured the name “University of Sacramento,” said Barry Sugarman, vice president of institutional development for the university project.

“We’re committed to the Sacramento region,” Sugarman said. “We’re ready to go.”

The Legion of Christ is a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests founded in 1941 in Mexico. It operates 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile and Italy and a graduate school of psychology in Virginia.

The Legion has been looking for about two years for the right area in the United States to build its first full-fledged university. After analyzing several locations for their economic strength, household income and Catholic population, they zeroed in on the Sacramento region, Sugarman said.

Their choice was decided when Legion officials discovered the metropolitan region was the largest in the state without a private four-year university.

Legion officials have toured possible buildings and met with Betty Masuoka, Sacramento’s assistant city manager who oversees economic development, Sugarman said. They envision starting with a graduate school of education, which would include a credential program and perhaps a school of ethics.

Once they start operations there, the Legion plans to build its four-year residential campus.

Sugarman and others have met with Sacramento County officials on several occasions about settling at Mather Field. County officials said they were impressed after touring the Legion’s Mexico City university recently while on a trade mission with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hahn, Sacramento County’s economic development director, said.

Now, the only thing left is to ink the deal, Hahn said.

“We’ve pretty much said we’re open to hearing any offers,” Hahn said.

Hahn said county officials are unconcerned about allegations resurrected this year surrounding the Legion’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

In 1997, nine former priests accused Maciel of sexually abusing them during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Legion officials have denied the allegations.

Legion spokesman Jay Dunlap said Vatican officials did not investigate the charges because they believed the claims to be without merit.

Closer to home, some parishioners at Sacramento’s Our Lady of Guadalupe have complained about the Legion’s priests there, saying they were aloof and made some people feel unwelcome. In September 2000, several parents became angry when a priest asked some teenage girls what they considered to be sexually inappropriate questions during confession.

The Sacramento diocese investigated the confession complaints and the priest involved said he had been trained to ask such questions in Mexico. Dunlap called the incident a “cultural clash.” He said the church is vital and thriving.

Earlier this year, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos proposed donating land west of Roseville for a private college campus. A team of education, business and civic leaders — many with ties to Tsakopoulos — formed the Regional University Committee to find a likely candidate.

But developer Eli Broad offered another Placer County parcel for a college. Tsakopoulos responded by identifying several other sites in the region — either near or on land he would like to develop — as possible university locations. Mather Field was one of the targeted properties.

In July, the Diocese of Sacramento paved the way for the Legion to locate in the region when Bishop William Weigand gave formal permission to develop a campus here.

“It has always been Bishop Weigand’s dream to have a Catholic University in Sacramento,” the Rev. Jim Murphy said Thursday. “We’re tired of rooting for San Francisco (Catholic) teams. It’s time we had our own.”

Legion Considers Former Air Force Base (CA) for Catholic College

The Legion of Christ considers the former Air Force base as the site for a private four-year university.

 

By Terri Hardy

 

Sacramento Bee
Friday, November 8, 2002

 

A conservative Catholic order is moving forward with plans to build a private university in the Sacramento region and has been in serious discussions with city and county officials about where it could locate a campus.

As its first step, the Legion of Christ wants to open a downtown graduate school with an eye toward establishing a four-year core campus in another location — possibly at the former Mather Air Force Base.

The group has secured the name University of Sacramento, said Barry Sugarman, vice president of institutional development for the university project.

We’re committed to the Sacramento region,” Sugarman said. We’re ready to go.”

The Legion of Christ is a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests founded in 1941 in Mexico. It operates 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile and Italy and a graduate school of psychology in Virginia.

The Legion has been looking for about two years for the right area in the United States to build its first full-fledged university. After analyzing several locations for their economic strength, household income and Catholic population, they zeroed in on the Sacramento region, Sugarman said.

Their choice was decided when Legion officials discovered the metropolitan region was the largest in the state without a private four-year university.

Legion officials have toured possible buildings and met with Betty Masuoka, Sacramento’s assistant city manager who oversees economic development, Sugarman said. They envision starting with a graduate school of education, which would include a credential program and perhaps a school of ethics.

Once they start operations there, the Legion plans to build its four-year residential campus.

Sugarman and others have met with Sacramento County officials on several occasions about settling at Mather Field. County officials said they were impressed after touring the Legion’s Mexico City university recently while on a trade mission with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hahn, Sacramento County’s economic development director, said.

Now, the only thing left is to ink the deal, Hahn said.

We’ve pretty much said we’re open to hearing any offers, Hahn said.

Hahn said county officials are unconcerned about allegations resurrected this year surrounding the Legion’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

In 1997, nine former priests accused Maciel of sexually abusing them during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Legion officials have denied the allegations.

Legion spokesman Jay Dunlap said Vatican officials did not investigate the charges because they believed the claims to be without merit.

Closer to home, some parishioners at Sacramento’s Our Lady of Guadalupe have complained about the Legion’s priests there, saying they were aloof and made some people feel unwelcome. In September 2000, several parents became angry when a priest asked some teenage girls what they considered to be sexually inappropriate questions during confession.

The Sacramento diocese investigated the confession complaints and the priest involved said he had been trained to ask such questions in Mexico. Dunlap called the incident acultural clash. He said the church is vital and thriving.

Earlier this year, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos proposed donating land west of Roseville for a private college campus. A team of education, business and civic leaders — many with ties to Tsakopoulos — formed the Regional University Committee to find a likely candidate.

But developer Eli Broad offered another Placer County parcel for a college. Tsakopoulos responded by identifying several other sites in the region — either near or on land he would like to develop — as possible university locations. Mather Field was one of the targeted properties.

In July, the Diocese of Sacramento paved the way for the Legion to locate in the region when Bishop William Weigand gave formal permission to develop a campus here.

It has always been Bishop Weigand’s dream to have a Catholic University in Sacramento,” the Rev. Jim Murphy said Thursday. We’re tired of rooting for San Francisco (Catholic) teams. It’s time we had our own.

About the Writer
—————————

The Bee’s Terri Hardy can be reached at (916) 321-1073 or thardy@sacbee.com.

 

Fr Neuhaus: Why [did the accusers] wait until now and with what intentions?

Concluding Dialogue with Fr. Neuhaus

 

By J. Paul Lennon, MA

 

FR. NEUHAUS’S RESPONSE

Thursday, 12 September 2002 16:57:33 -0500
Subject: LC
From: ‘Richard John Neuhaus” <rjn@firstthings.com>
To: irishmexican43@yahoo.com

Mr. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

I thank you for your thoughtful response.

Not for the sake of argument, but because i would really like to understand: Why do you think the accusers have come forward at this time and in this way? If they had the access they seek in Rome, what would they say they think should be done with regard to Fr. Maciel and the LC, and why?

Sincerely,

(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus
==================================

 

REV NEUHAUS DEFENDS MACIEL PART III

Dear Father Neuhaus:

Thanks for the continuing dialogue. Am I right in believing that your defense of Father Maciel in First Things was a response the Renner-Berry article in the NCR in December 2001 and was based on your limited knowledge of Father Maciel and the inner workings of the Legion?

I will attempt to answer the questions you raised my previous letter. I take the liberty of doing so because you have not published my previous critique of your article in your magazine. I believe the answers I try to formulate are already somehow present in the accusers’ writings with which you are already somewhat familiar.

I would also like to mention there is at least one important document that has not been translated into English and therefore not available to the English speaking public. It is an ‘Open Letter to the Pope’ written in November 1997 when the accusers made a conjoint formal effort to reach the Pope and Vatican authorities with their ‘case against’ Fr. Maciel.

In following essay I stand corrected by the the ‘witnesses’ more precise knowledge of facts and circumstances.

I- WHY [DID THE ACCUSERS] WAIT UNTIL NOW?

Which ‘now’ are you referring to? The Hartford Courant articles of 1997? The continuous attempts to reach the Vatican? The short answer is: they have been writing and speaking for decades but nobody was listening or paying any attention. It was only after the articles appeared in the Courant thaT they started getting some publicity, credibility and attention. They despair of ecclesiastical action and want to pressure church authorities to do something to hold Father Maciel accountable for his past actions before Father Maciel dies, and/or before they die.

Accusations against or rumors about Father Maciel and his sexual behavior towards junior seminarians were known inside the religious community since he was in Mexico City with the first group of students [c.1940]. Another cluster of accusations/rumors stem from the time he was in Comillas, Northern Spain with his boys [c.1947]. These recent accusations that have reached the press and TV refer to behavior in the Collegio Massimo in Rome in the early 50s and are different in the sense that witnesses have come forward and given sworn testimony.These are described by Alejandro Espinosa in clear and lurid detail in his recent book, El Legionario.

Just like any ‘movement’ the accusers’ efforts have been long developing. We know that they probably did not discuss these issues among themselves while in the Legion. There was the private vow and even a more radical tradition about not discussing personal issues with confreres. Besides, Marcial Maciel had sworn each individual victim to secrecy and he was the supreme authority. Barba, vg, states that MM told him not to mention what happened to Father Lagoa, the rector in Rome at that time because ‘he would not understand’. Some of these students were in different stages of ‘formation’, that is ‘novitiate’ ‘juniorate’, philosophy student…and so did not speak to each other across community lines. Though several may have belonged to the same ‘community’ as Vaca reports that he was told to go and summon other brothers to the infirmary, and he would hardly do that across lines.

The investigation of Father Maciel and the Legion in 1955/56 and leading to the Vatican investigation did stem from his visible and unusual attraction for some of the junior seminarians and from other issues such as use of morphine, fund-raising and money… The Vatican ‘visitors’, sent by the S.C. for Religious, naturally questioned the students about Father Maciel’s behavior. The students were either too ashamed, immature, ignorant, afraid or felt a sense of loyalty to Father Maciel to mention any sexual misbehaviors. Remember that at the time of the investigations Father Maciel had been the father, sole provider, confidant, spiritual director and principal educator of the students since they were 11 years old or younger. When questioned they would not say anything to incriminate Father Maciel or to jeopardize the Legion and their vocations in it. They had been told that the visitors were coming to ‘destroy the Legion’.

Later, and at different times in the late 50s and early 60s, some ‘accusers’ left or were dismissed from the Legion individually. The leaving was usually orchestrated to be sudden and quiet, late at night, early morning, when the community was at prayer, in Mass, etc. One was not allowed to tell companions that he was leaving. And so each one went home to his town or village and was never heard of again and they did not speak to each other again. [That is the way it was, the way I witnesed it, and the way it still is.] Others stayed in the Legion: Juan José Vaca, Félix Alarcón, Miguel Díaz, Juan- Manuel Fernández-Amenábar…. Naturally, there would be absolutely no contact between the ones who left and those who stayed, and probably no intra-group confidences among each other in the group that stayed [that would be against the ‘private vows’ in a very serious way as it meant criticizing the Founder. Besides, to what superior would they reveal it, when the vow obliged them to voice their concerns to the top LC superior, and this would have been the perpetrator himself].
Juan Jose Vaca, an assertive type, is the one who probably demonstrated most awareness and courage in directly and formally demanding accountability. Despite having a prolonged sexual relationship with his superior and being MM’s ‘accomplice’ in procuring more victims for him, he questioned MM on several occasions about the morality of their actions. This would be almost apologetically along the lines of: ‘Father, I don’t feel good about these actions. I know you absolved me and told me not to worry, but…’ As he got older and more uncomfortable he began confronting Fr. Maciel as early as the 60s when the Mexican bishops were staying at the Collegio Massimo on the Via Aurelia Nova 677. He says MM minimized the issues but gave Vaca an interesting position [in charge of logistics for the 30 Mexican bishops, with freedom to move in and out of the community, do the shopping, go on errands to the Vatican…]. Vaca confronted MM again around the time of his priestly ordination [1969]. Soon after ordination MM made Vaca –who spoke English because he had spent some time in Ireland- superior of the Legion in the US. When Vaca was on his way out of the Legion in the 70s and threatened to expose MM the latter supposedly tried to bribe Vaca offering him any position he wanted in the Legion. After Vaca left the Legion and was in the diocese of Rockville Center he approached his pastor, later the bishop and sent documentation to Rome by courier [via de Vatican Embassy in Washington, 1978]. In the 80s Vaca got his dispensation and got married in the NY area and lives there with his wife and daughter. He never returned to his native Mexico and so did not have much contact with Legionaries of ex-Legionaries.

Barba, for his part, made a ‘good’ transition out of the Legion much earlier, around 1962. He had always been a ‘brain’ and ‘idealistic’ and after leaving was able to study at Harvard and get his doctorate. He returned to Mexico and kept contact with the Legion at that time even working as a teacher for a while at the Anahuac University. He was friendly with people inside and outside the Legion and had an encyclopedic memory for people and events. In the 70s, when he was married with children, he must have started to remember and face up to his own sexual abuse. At first he thought we was the only one. When he started opening up others told him that they too had been victims. Nobody was very keen on coming forward. They wanted to keep their secret buried and get on with their lives. He would not let it rest and found some echo in Alejandro Espinoza, Jose Antonio Pérez-Olvera and others in Mexico and in Jurado who was in San Diego. I believe that Vaca and Barba approached several others they knew had been victims but these did not want to testify and preferred to be anonymous and so are not mentioned in any public statements
Around the 90s the group must have started to gel when Barba and Vaca began making contact and discussing their efforts. Barba, for his part, in Mexico had started to write and approach ecclesiastical authorities. Barba was a personal friend of Amenabar who was ill at the Sanatorio Espanyol hospital in Mexico City. Amenabar told Barba about his abuse. There was a Mexican diocesan priest who heard Amenabar’s confession and confidences, Father Athié, who held a position in the Archbishop of Mexico’s curia. He became convinced that Amenabar wanted to tell his story before he died. Felix Alarcón, who was aware of Vaca’s accusations and had confirmed them to Rockville Center authorities, still an active priest, was contacted and was willing to admit his abuse.

I believe the witnesses agreed to speak to the press when approached by the Courant reporter who had previously picked up on some unusual goings on in the Legion’s novitiate in CT, i.e. novices ‘escaping’ over the wall of the novitiate. The victims spoke with the reporters because they were frustrated with not getting a satisfactory response from local ecclesiastical authorities in Mexico, being told to wait, to ‘leave it in God’s hands’, to ‘forgive and forget’ ‘wait until Father Maciel dies’ or sworn to secrecy…and by Rome’s silence.
When Father Maciel was called ‘a leader and defender of youth’ by the Pope they became particularly indignant and this galvanized their resolve to write an open letter to the Pope and attempt to lodge a formal complaint at the Vatican.
++++++

II- WHAT DID THEY EXPECT FROM THE VATICAN?

They wanted an independent investigation into the allegations. They accused Father Maciel of breaking several canons, of sexually abusing them and of absolving them after the abuse [‘absolutio complicis’ c. 1378]. The corresponding sanctions would cause him to be defrocked and excommunicated.

They wanted the Vatican to review the Constitutions and Traditions, to investigate and reform Legion practices. To have a ‘clean’ General Chapter without the ever- present pressure and control of MM.
Many ex-Legionaries and ex-Regnum Christi wish: that Church Authorities examine and investigate the behavior of Father Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, particularly the way it recruits, retains and controls members and later handles dissident and exiting members.

Because Father Maciel, the official church and the Vatican are stonewalling and avoiding accountability the victims are getting more and more frustrated and some of them have begun to write their individual memoirs as a last resort to redress their abuse before they die.
++++++++++++=

SUMMARIZING:
The testimonies of the eight living ex-members accusing Father Maciel of sexual assault must be read in the context of the founder’s charistmatic powers of persuasion and manipulation, and the Legion’s private vows of family secrecy, solidarity, and control. This control, during and after membership, limited the possibility of a conspiracy to a large extent. The youth, powerlessness and inexperience of the victims at the time of the abuse should also be taken into consideration.
Sincerely,

J. Paul Lennon MA

=================================================
FR. NEUHAUS’ ANSWER

circa 17/18 Septebmer, 2002

“Mr. J. Paul Lennon

Dear Mr. Lennon,

Thank you for your further responses to my questions.

You have given me much to think about, and I will be

doing that.

Cordially,

(The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus

====================================

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 16:49:19 -700 (PDT)
From: “J. Paul Lennon” <irishmexican43@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: thanks
To: “Richard John Neuhaus” <rjn@firstthings.com>

“Father Neuhaus:

I appreciate your interest, time and the honest dialoque. May the Holy Spirit guide us in these delicate matters. Don’t think that I never question my own intentions and honesty in these very serious matters, and when I realize that I am a small minority among many who have greaT respect for Father Maciel. I think you referred to him as ‘venerable’ or ‘revered’ or something. But I, like many others who had him on a pedestal, lost respect for him over a period of years based on his behavior. Don’t forget that I was ‘educated’ as a Legionary for many years with the teaching never to speak ill of others. Unfortunately, I can tell you that when Father Maciel ‘lets his guard down’ with an intimate ‘petite comite’ around the table, for instance, with a glass of Johnny Walker in his hand, he does not alway practice what he so lavishly preaches. There is much talk of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ of the Legion, and the ‘enemies’ are fair game, no matter who they are. Regarding the sexual abuse, when I hear my brothers’ testimonies I continue to feel sad and indignant. Maybe I give them too much credence, but that is where I am and who I am.

Sincerely,

J.Paul Lennon, MA

Mary Therese Helmeuller – My Experiences with RC Recruitment Tactics

By Mary Therese Helmeuller

 

Mary Therese Helmueller
137 E. Downs Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55117

Mary Ann Glendon
1575 Massachusetts Ave.
Harvard Law School
Cambridge MA 02138

Dear Mary Ann Glendon,

April 16, 2002

Thank you for defending the celibacy of the Priesthood in your recent interview on the ABC news program This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I agree with you that a renewal of the seminaries is definitely necessary. However, the renewal must not only include the seminaries but also some religious orders and dioceses.

It is understandable that while looking at the Legionaries of Christ one can be quickly impressed with the reported overflowing seminaries but some one with your intelligence, accomplishment, and importance should be aware of the excellent priests, and seminarians who are leaving, and those who have already left.

I am confident you will understand the gravity of the issues below, since you are a member of the Boston Archdiocese’s Social Justice Commission and having also served as a representative of the Vatican at the Beijing Conference for Women.

I experienced the recruiting techniques of the Legionaries of Christ through Regnum Christi in February of 1995, when Norma, a consecrated woman, called and said you have been chosen by the Holy Father to participate in a project as a reporter for the Beijing Conference. Well, it sounded strange but who was I to say NO to the Holy Father? However strange or unlikely this was I trusted them because they were a part of the Legionaries of Christ. Norma went on to say this is a secret project and no one is to know about it-not even your family. Your life may even be required of you. She continued by explaining that I would need to go to Rome for training and that we would be instructedby Vatican officials.

So I quickly spoke to Al Matt at the Wanderer who gave me a press pass and then I worked to get the required clearance documents from the United Nations. All the while there was great pressure to come to Rhode Island to consecrate myself.

I was invited to a retreat in the formation house of Regnum Christi in Rhode Island during Holy Week, April 1995. I was told that there would be a necessary meeting afterwards of the women who were going to Beijing. So I decided to go. There was no meeting but there was a lot of pressure to enter the consecrated life! And this I would not consider doing at such a fast and quick pace.

So several months later I received the necessary documents from the United Nations and I made reservations, with payments, to a hotel in Beijing that was required for reporters. Finally I made my flight arrangements to Rome —all at my own expense.

When I arrived at the Mother House of Regnum Christi in Rome I explained who I was and why I was there. The consecrated woman at the door replied I ‘m sure the Holy Father would approve if he knew about it!

I stayed three weeks at the “Mother House” and was with the top Regnum Christi women including Patricia Bannon (Father Anthony Bannon’s sister). There were approximately 8-12 of us who were planning to go to the Beijing Conference. I was the only one with documents as a reporter and so it was decided that the others would go as observers. All the while there was increasing pressure to consecrate myself.

With each passing day it became obvious there would be no training sessions or meetings with Vatican Officials. Finally, several days before the conference began, a Legionary priest from Spain came and so did the 27 year old Mother Superior , Maleni, who outlined the program for Beijing. Why were they going to Beijing? The number one, important goal was RECRUITING [Spanish ‘Captacion’]: a technique that includes attracting attention by smiling, flattery, and charm until you can actually ‘get’ the person for the RC cause. We were told to show them what kind of a woman you are.

When I announced, that as a reporter, I was going to associate myself with Fr. Paul Marx and the pro life groups during the Beijing conference I was told No you can’t do that; they are too negative. I was shocked and disgusted to hear this coming from consecrated women with years of so called religious formation.

Wasn’t there something more important happening at the Beijing Conference other than recruiting for Regnum Christi? I wondered if this was the intention of the generous donor who gave $40,000.00 for this project? In the end, I refused to participate in this ridiculous project of recruiting that ultimately mocked the importance of defending human life and the family.

Before leaving, I confronted Norma, a consecrated woman, with everything: the lies, the disrespect, the arrogance, the cult like pressure, the mind control, the secrecy, etc. I clearly had felt used as well as emotionally and psychologically abused. I demanded some answers. Norma finally admitted that this Beijing project was used as the hook to get me consecrated. The hook is a recruiting technique taught by the Legionaries to increase numbers.

Then after revealing the truth, Norma warned and threatened me: There will be serious repercussions if any of this is made public; and you know what I mean. I understood it to mean that my brother John, who had final vows in the Legion would be made to suffer. So out of fear I remained silent but gradually could not contain the injustice. While praying for my brother to get out of the Legion I began sharing my experience with others in hopes of helping other young woman and their families.

I eventually spoke to Fr. Anthony Bailleres L.C. by phone and reported everything to him. As of yet there has been no apology for wasting my time or for the thousands of dollars I had spent on their fabricated lie. It took until December of 1998 for my brother to leave the Legion but from 1995-1998 he had literally suffered through hell. After asking a few questions and showing concern for fellow Legionaries who were obviously suffering depression and mental breakdowns, my brother John was sent to a Legionary house in Rhode Island to cook and clean for Fr. David Chavez L.C.

Fr. Chavez L.C. bragged of ‘breaking’ four previous vocations!!! Now after 11 years and final vows in the Legion, my brother was asked to start thinking about getting married!Daily Mass was not offered and so he walked 1 and ½ miles one way to Mass each day. It was forbidden for my brother to talk to anyone outside the house and when he asked permission to contact Bishop Carlson he was denied.

Thanks be to God my brother finally left the Legionaries of Christ and he was ordained a priest by Bishop Carlson on June 23rd 2002. He is now serving in the largest parish of the Sioux Falls Diocese.

Mary Ann, I am very grateful for all your work in our society and in the Catholic Church. However, I think it is time to reflect: Why are good priests and good seminarians leaving the Legionaries of Christ? (Some whom you know and perhaps are unaware of their change) What kind of religious formation would permit or even promote a recruiting technique referred to as the hook in which lies, deceit and abuse are used to gain numbers? What kind of spiritual direction is there when a seminarian with 11 years and his final vows is forced into isolation and demanded to think of getting married? Is isolation proper treatment for asking questions or showing concern? Is 3-6 years of fundraising really considered part of a solid priestly formation? Or should it be considered as cheap labor? If everything is fine with the Legionaries of Christ, then why the secrecy? the lies? the arrogance? the destruction? and the injustices? Whose Kingdom are they building? Christ’s or Fr. Maciel’s?

There is so much more to say and even more to question but, as you mentioned in your interview, it is indeed a time for reflection.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this letter.

Mary Therese Helmueller
137 E. Downs Ave.
St. Paul MN 55117
Tel: 651-488-8468
Fax: 651-488-6827
Email: mthelmueller@hotmail.com

P.S. I am a college graduate with a BA in Nursing. I have 15 years in Critical Care and I have also studied in Mexico and speak Spanish. I own a company incorporated in the state of Minnesota that conducts international pilgrimages to approved Catholic Shrines.

CC: Bishop Robert J. Carlson
CC: Al Matt-Wanderer

*****************
As a postscript to this testimony we offer this short note written by Fr. John Helmueller, an ex Legionary that was later ordained a diocesan priest. He writes it to a fellow ex Legionary of Christ who was told to get married when they suddenly kicked him out after several years of stringing him along in a Legionary vocation:

Dear xLC,

Thanks for your note. Believe it or not, I was told the same thing while I was in the Rhode Island house. In virtue of my vow of obedience, Fr. Jose said I had to forget the priesthood and think about getting married. I tried to compromise with him. I said I would try it for three days, but I couldn’t help thinking how stupid this exercise was. Keep in mind I was already perpetually professed! I had already given my whole life to God! I was in my 11th year of LC formation! Some of my classmates were already Deacons! Why was I supposed to start doubting my vocation now! It didn’t make sense to me.

Well, I better stop writing or I’ll get upset. For me, the LC is history. It’s a book on the shelf and that’s where it’s going to stay. I don’t understand what is going on in the LC. The leaders seem hell-bent on self-destruction without knowing it or admitting it. They feel somehow superior to the rest, Super Priests, and the LC feeds right into this. Too bad a lot of innocent men are still stuck in there with them.

FJH

 

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