Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The first apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ: a timeline

(Drawn from Fernando M. González Los Legionarios de Cristo; testimonios y documentos inéditos (Mexico City: Tusquets Editores 2006))

24 August 1954 Legionary Brother Federico Domínguez, prefect of studies of the Legionary apostolic school in Mexico City, reports Maciel’s shortcomings in a long letter to Rev. Francisco Orozco Lomelí, vicar general of the Mexico City archdiocese: Maciel doesn’t follow the religious rule, disrespects confidentiality in matters of conscience, uses “lies, distortions, exaggerations,” and acts as if “the ends justify the means.” He lacks the spirit of religious poverty, travels first class, eats luxurious food rather than that prepared for the community, spends more time in the houses of women donors than in his own religious houses. He considers his desire for sexual gratification to be a urological problem. He gives himself narcotic injections and carefully conceals it. “Under the effect of the drugs, he makes magnificent plans of apostolate and talks publicly about the private defects of those he is with. This is understood by the religious who don’t know what is going on as a proof of Father Maciel’s ‘spiritual clairvoyance.’”

3 January 1956 Legionary novice master Father Rafael Arumí finds Maciel in a stupor in the Legionary house in Rome and summons from Mexico Father Luis Ferreira Correa, rector of the apostolic school at Tlalpan in Mexico City and Legionary vicar general. The crisis lasts for days. Arumí, Ferreira, and Father Antonio Lagoa consider Maciel’s replacement as superior and how to deal with the scandal.

28 January 1956 Franciscan Callisto Lopinot, a consultor to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, writes to the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious that he knows from a Catholic doctor in Rome (Walter Behrens) that Father Maciel is addicted to narcotics.

February 1956 Cardinal Valerio Valeri, prefect of the Vatican Congregation of the Affairs of Religious, approves the new name “Legionaries of Christ.”

spring 1956 Valeri sees Maciel in poor condition detoxing in Salvator Mundi Hospital in Rome in the presence of Juan Vaca.

summer 1956 By June at least four Mexican bishops know at least something about the Maciel problem, the archbishops of Mexico City, Morelia, and Yucatan and the bishop of Cuernavaca.

14 August 1956 Cuernavaca Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo writes to Arcadio Larraona, Secretary of the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious, recommending Maciel’s removal and an investigation of three charges: “devious and lying behavior, use of narcotic drugs, acts of sodomy with boys of the congregation.”

23 August 1956 Legionary Father Luis Ferreira Correa, rector of the apostolic school at Tlalpan in Mexico City and Legionary vicar general, reports in a long letter to Rev. Francisco Orozco Lomelí, vicar general of the Mexico City archdiocese, a number of cases of Maciel’s “impurely touching” apostolic school boys and his explanation that he was in pain and must have been unconscious. He reports the story of Maciel’s drug crisis in Rome in early January, specifying Dolantin, Sedol, and Demerol, and tells of Maciel’s lies and evasions and his theory of a urological problem that requires emission of semen.

31 August 1956 Mexico City Archbishop Miguel Darío Miranda writes to Arcadio Larraona agreeing that “immediate intervention is necessary” in the Maciel case and reiterating the charges: “sins against the sixth commandment committed with members of the congregation,” drug addiction, and mendacity to achieve his ends.

August or September 1956 Maciel asks Legionary José Domínguez, Federico’s brother, to help draft an official fourth religious vow, never to criticize a superior and to report those who do.

15 September 1956 Maciel in a long letter addressed to all the Legionaries of the Front of Mexico explains the “second private vow”:
The vow in question is a formal commitment contracted with God which consists in: First, not expressing externally, in any way, either orally, in writing, or by physical gestures, anything which might result in the detriment of the person or the AUTHORITY of the Superior. Secondly, notifying your Superior as a soon as possible if you should realize that another member of the Institute has faulted against the vow thus understood…

The Private Vow has as its specific purpose the safeguarding of the criterion and principle of authority in the Legion and the making of a more efficacious government through the absolute ADHERENCE to the Superior as authority and as a person in order to ultimately obtain a compact and internal union as Christ ardently desired in the last supper: ‘That they all may be one… (John 17.21)’…

The Private Vow guards against all external criticism, not only [of] acts of government and authority of the Superior but also his entire human personality: temperament, character, physical, intellectual and moral defects and his way of proceeding in any area outside the exercise of his authority. Consequently the Superior MUST SIMPLY BE RESPECTED regardless of any negative aspect whatsoever.
Maciel intends the fruits of the vow to be the “COMPACT UNION between Superiors and subjects,” “THE PRACTICE OF CHARITY,” and “SELF DOMINION.”
I am well aware that because of the strong conflicting forces of our nature it is not an easy vow to fulfill. But it is Christ who has wished to inspire this providential means in his Legion and who will give strength to each and every one who makes it up and who forms its ranks so that this vow may be held in esteem and fulfilled as something that truly constitutes the heart of the Legion.
20 September 1956 Larraona sends the documentation to Domenico Tardini, Secretary of the Roman Curia, suggesting the Pope be informed and that Maciel step down and find help.

21 September Msgr. Sapinelli, an official of the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious, asks Angelo Dell’Acqua, a deputy at the Secretariat of State, to send back to the Apostolic Delegation in Mexico City Maciel’s suspension as superior general. The document is signed by Cardinal Valeri. The relaying of Maciel’s suspension through the Apostolic Delegation in Mexico, as Larraona had asked, sidesteps Giuseppe Pizzardo, Secretary of the Holy Office, a Maciel friend.

3 October Maciel, having arrived in Rome by October 1, writes Cardinal Valeri, respectfully accepting suspension by the Congregation and exile to Spain, “with absolute submission and unconditional compliance,” and agreeing “to go to a clinic, suspended for that time from the exercise of my responsibility of superior general of the Institute,” though claiming good health and declaring himself the victim of calumny.

Legionary administration is taken up by Legionary Fathers Lagoa, Arumí, and Ferreira, as vicar general, assisted by Brother Domínguez.

10 October Maciel gives a tearful farewell speech to the congregation: “The Legion is said to be a good work, but what is the chance that the Legion, the tree, the branches, and the fruits are good, but I, the trunk, am evil? What sense is there in that?”

13 October Cardinal Valeri appoints as apostolic visitator Anastasio (of the Holy Rosary) Ballestrero, general superior of the Discalced Carmelites.

October 1956 to February 1957 Anastasio investigates of the Legionary College in Rome, assisted by Discalced Carmelite vicar general, Benjamin (of the Holy Trinity) Lachaert.

first week of December 1956 Discalced Carmelite Father Ippolito (of the Holy Family) visits the Legionary apostolic school in Ontaneda (Santander) Spain.

11 February 1957 Anastasio reports, concluding the Legion was “juridical chaos” with structures in violation of canon law and spiritually fragile; its young members had been “fanaticized” by the founder; “but it is substantially healthy and well-intentioned and offers hope insofar as it can be freed from fanaticism. Which seems doubtful.” He recommends: return Legionary headquarters and schools to Mexico from Rome and Spain; allow the Legion new members only at the discretion of the Holy See; add Mexican episcopal oversight; name an appropriate new superior from outside the institute; revise the Constitutions radically, abolishing the idiosyncratic Legionary vows. “Maciel must be removed from office as fundamentally responsible for the many serious juridical irregularities and administrative abuses. Silence about the rest appears prudent for internal and external reasons, at least for the moment.”

10 July 1957 Cardinal Valeri names Nepomucenum rector Msgr. Alfredo Bontempi and Franciscan missionary to Chile Polidoro van Vlierberghe as apostolic visitators for Rome and Mexico and Spain. Polidoro adopts Maciel’s versions of events.

15 January 1958 Anastasio criticizes Polidoro’s perspective to Larraona, but does not prevail. He writes, “The problem of this visitation is precisely to try to avoid the passion pro and con. At least for now it’s necessary to prescind from personalities and judge deeds with a strictly juridical criterion.”

24 January 1958 Bontempi tells the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious that he is impressed by the Legionary “spirit of piety” and has told Arumí that his report will reflect favorably on the founder because “the tree is known by its fruits.”

10 September 1958 Redemptorist Domenico Mozicarelli, an official at the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious, proposes the compromise that concludes Maciel case: leave to Valeri when eventually to restore Maciel, reserve the right to further visitations, appoint to the congregation the counsel general and financial officer required by canon law, and forbid Maciel from giving spiritual direction, hearing confession, or having access to the internal forum of members of the congregation.

9 October 1958 Pope Pius XII dies.

13 October 1958 Congregation of the Affairs of Religious writes Cardinal Clemente Micara, vicar general of Rome, reinstating Maciel on the terms of the Mozzicarelli compromise.

28 October Pope John XXIII is elected.

6 February 1959 Cardinal Micara writes Maciel, reinstating him.

19 June 2003 Legionary Father Antonio Lagoa, administrator of the Legion during the years of the apostolic visitation, who had died 5 September 2001 at 80, is eulogized by Maciel as “close to me in the great trials and tribulations of the Legion: he remained faithful, unmoved, and he unconditionally bore witness to his love for Christ by fulfilling his mission.”


  1. How could Cardinal Micara make a decision to reinstate Fr. Maciel when the new Pope had not yet been elected? I thought no business could be conducted by the dicasteries while the Seat is Vacant.