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Marcial Maciel Degollado

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Marcial Maciel Degollado

Marcial Maciel Degollado
Founder and Former General Director of the Legion of Christ
In office
January 3, 1941 – January 20, 2005
Succeeded by Fr. Álvaro Corcuera
Personal details
Born (1920-03-10)10 March 1920
Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán, Mexico
Died 30 January 2008(2008-01-30) (aged 87)
Jacksonville, Florida, United States

Marcial Maciel Degollado (March 10, 1920 – January 30, 2008) was a Mexican-born Roman Catholic priest who founded the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement. Late in his life, he was revealed to have abused boys and maintained relationships with at least two women, fathering up to six children, two of whom he allegedly abused as well.[1][2]

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI removed Maciel from active ministry based on the results of an investigation concerning sexual impropriety started under John Paul II. Maciel was ordered to spend the rest of his days in prayer and penance.[3][4] On March 25, 2010, a communiqué on the Legion's website acknowledged as factual "reprehensible actions" by Maciel, including sexual abuse of minor seminarians.[5]

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis his delegate to examine the Legionaries’ constitution and conduct a visitation of its lay affiliate Regnum Christi.[6]


Maciel was born in Cotija, Michoacán, Mexico, and became a priest after a troubled youth.[7]

Maciel was expelled from two seminaries for reasons that have never been explained. He became a priest only when one of his uncles ordained him after private studies.[8]

Maciel founded the Legion of Christ in 1941, with the support of Francisco González Arias, Bishop of Cuernavaca, and its lay arm Regnum Christi in 1959. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in Mexico City on November 26, 1944.

Maciel is the grand-nephew of a Mexican saint canonized in 2007, Rafael Guízar Valencia, who also was an integral part of the founding of the Legion of Christ.[9] There has been speculation that conduct by Maciel contributed to the death of this great uncle. According to an investigative report:

The day before Bishop Guizar died, he had been heard shouting angrily at Marcial Maciel. He was giving his eighteen-year-old nephew a dressing down after two women had come to the bishop's house to complain about Maciel, who was their neighbor. Father Orozco, who was among the original group of boys to found the Legion of Christ in 1941, said he heard the women had complained about the "noise" Maciel was making with children he had brought into his home to teach religion. He said that the seminary officials blamed Maciel for his uncle's heart attack.[10]

Through the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi, Maciel started many schools, a network of Universities and a large number of charitable institutes. In January 2006 he stepped down as head of the Legion of Christ and tendered its leadership to long-time follower Fr. Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río.

Marcial Maciel died in Jacksonville, Florida, United States, on January 30, 2008, at age 87.[11] He had a private funeral and was buried in his birthplace, Cotija, Michoacán, in early February 2008.


During his life, Maciel was the focus of several investigations regarding allegations of drug abuse (he was hospitalised for morphine addiction),[12] and he was also investigated for sexually abusing children. First in 1956, he was investigated for drug (morphine) abuse, after which he was cleared and returned as head of the Congregation.

In 1997, a group of nine men went public with accusations that they had been abused by Maciel while studying under him in Spain and Rome in the 1940s and 1950s. They described how he would feign to have an illness in his groin and claim he had been given papal permission to receive help massaging out the pain. The group, which included respectable academics and former priests, lodged formal charges at the Vatican in 1998, but were told the following year that the case had been shelved by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (on orders from Pope John Paul II), then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict.[13]

In 2005 Maciel stepped down as head of the order and, a few days before John Paul II died, Cardinal Ratzinger announced his intention of removing "filth" from the Church; many believed he was referring specifically to Maciel.[3] Shortly being succeed as general director, after an investigation had been re-opened by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican requested that Maciel withdraw from his ministry in lieu of further investigation and prosecution. In May 2006, Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, disciplined him: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asked Maciel to live "a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry”;[14] a canonical trial was ruled out because of his advanced age and poor health.[15] No explanation was given to the public or to the Legionaries of Christ. The Vatican announced that Maciel would not be tried under canonical law because of his age. Further sanction came in 2007, when the order was told to remove obedience vows requiring religious never to criticise superiors and to inform on any dissent within the order. Maciel moved from Rome to the house he shared with other priests in Jacksonville, Florida, United States where he died in 2008. He never made any apologies but Fr Alvaro Corcuera, his successor, apologized to the victims both for Maciel's actions and the inaction of others.[16]

Revelations continued, in July 2009, a Spanish daily published an interview with a woman who had a child with Maciel in 1986 and now lives in a luxury apartment in Madrid which Maciel purchased for her.[17] A day later, Mexican media reported that an attorney, José Bonilla, will represent three of a possible total of six of Maciel's children in a civil suit to recover Maciel's estate. The lawyer claimed that there are several properties in Mexico and around the world which Maciel owned in his own name.[18][19]

In February 2009, news broke that Maciel had indeed led a double life[20] and Fr. Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río, LC, the General Director, took it upon himself to visit each of the Legionary Territories and publicly apologize for Maciel's behaviour. Additionally it has been publicly acknowledged by the Legion that Maciel had in fact fathered a daughter.[21] As a result of all these acknowledgements Pope Benedict XVI personally intervened and a formal Vatican visitation of all Legionary houses was initiated.[22]


In 1959, Maciel published a book, El salterio de mis días ("The psalter of my days"), which was subsequently widely read among members of the Legion and partially translated into English. It was a memoir of experiences of persecution. On December 11, 2009, the Lima, Peru, Agencia Católica de Informaciones (ACI, Catholic News Agency) reported, without using the word "plagiarism," an internal memorandum revealing that the book copied "80 percent in style and content" the posthumously published memoir of a Spanish politician, Luis Lucia Lucia (es:Luis Lucia Lucia), who died in 1943. This memoir, written in 1941 (while its author was held as a political prisoner of the Franco regime), had been published in 1956 in Valencia, Spain.[23][24]

History with Vatican

Called to accompany Pope John Paul II on his visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993, Maciel was also appointed by the Pope to the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day (1990). He was a member of the Interdicasterial Commission for a Just Distribution of Clergy (1991), the IV General Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) (1992), the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World (1994), the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for America (1997) and (since 1994) a permanent consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy. The golden anniversary of his priestly ordination was celebrated on 26 November 1994, with 57 Legionary priests ordained on the anniversary's eve. Maciel served as Chancellor of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, which is based in Rome. Maciel collaborated extensively with the pope, either in person or through members of his organization, the Legion of Christ. Pope John Paul II admired Maciel for strictly adhering to the magisterium and the vocations to the Legion of Christ. He received many donations from Mexico's richest.[25] Maciel and the Legion gave the Vatican money, and some claim that for years, this kept the Church from acting over allegations of sex abuse by Maciel.

Investigative journalist Jason Berry wrote in an April 2010 article in the National Catholic Reporter, "the charismatic" founder of the Legion of Christ "sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end ... Maciel was buying support for his group and defence for himself, should his astounding secret life become known." Berry and his late colleague Gerald Renner wrote the 2004 book "Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II", and the related TV documentary "Vows of Silence" on Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ. According to Berry, Maciel's key supporters, who provided him with a protective shield, included Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state from 1991 to 2006; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of late Pope John Paul II (1978-2005).[26]

The New York Times - based on someone who talked to a bishop who allegedly heard it from Ratzinger - accused Cardinal Ratzinger of having personally stalled investigations into Maciel.[27]

Maciel wrote extensively on the formation of priests and other matters pertaining to Church governance. In founding the religious order, his main stated purpose for the Legion of Christ was for the organization to form and motivate enterprising lay members of the Catholic Church to take an active part in the Church's mission. In particular, this initiative focused on the members of the Church Movement Regnum Christi, for example, through spiritual direction. Regnum Christi was founded by Maciel as well.

Formal denunciation by the Vatican

On May 1, 2010 the Vatican said that the pope would name a delegate to the Legion to review the Legionaries of Christ following revelations that the order's founder sexually abused numerous underage seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. In a statement, the Vatican denounced Maciel for creating a "system of power" that enabled him to lead an "immoral" double life "devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment."[28] The Vatican issued the statement after Pope Benedict XVI met with five bishops who investigated the Legion to determine its future.[29] The Vatican statement was unusual in its explicit denunciation of Maciel's crimes and deception.[30]

The "very serious and objectively immoral acts" of Maciel, which were "confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies" represent "true crimes and manifest a life without scruples or authentic religious sentiment", the Vatican said.[31] The Vatican also stated that the Legion created a "mechanism of defense" around Maciel to shield him from accusations and suppress damaging witnesses from reporting abuse. "It made him untouchable," the Vatican said. The statement decried "the lamentable disgracing and expulsion of those who doubted" Maciel's virtue. The Vatican statement did not address whether the Legion's current leadership would face any sanctions.[32] Actions taken by the current Legion leadership will be scrutinized; but no specific sanctions were mentioned, amid suspicion that at least some of the current leaders must have been aware of Maciel's sins. The Vatican acknowledged the "hardships" faced by Maciel's accusers through the years when they were ostracized or ridiculed, and commended their "courage and perseverance to demand the truth."[25]

As a follow-up to this communique, on July 9, 2010, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Velasio De Paolis was named as the papal delegate to the Legion.[33]



  • (Spanish) ACI Prensa. 2009 December 11. Legión de Cristo da a conocer a sus miembros plagio de P. Maciel en libro espiritual (Legion of Christ announces to its members plagiarism of Father Maciel in a spiritual work).
  • Associated Press. 2006 October 16. Pope Benedict bestows sainthood in ceremony.
  • Berry, Jason. National Catholic Reporter, Apr. 06, 2010
  • Berry, Jason. National Catholic Reporter, Apr. 12, 2010
  • Berry, Jason, and Renner, Gerald. 2004. Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-4441-9
  • Vows of Silence, a one-hour documentary on Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ
  • Catholic News Agency. 2009 February 3. Legionaries of Christ acknowledge founder’s ‘inappropriate’ behavior.
  • Catholic News Agency. 2009 March 31. Pope initiates Apostolic Visitation of the Legion of Christ.
  • Conde, Angeles, and Murray, David. 2005. The Legion of Christ: A History. Circle Press. ISBN 0-9743661-2-9
  • (Spanish) La Jornada (Mexico). 2009 August 11. Reclaman derechos hereditarios tres hijos más de Marcial Maciel (Three more children of Marcial Maciel demand there inheritance).
  • Los Angeles Times. 2008 February 1. Catholic order’s founder was rebuked for sex abuse.
  • Maciel, Marcial. 2003. Christ is My Life. Circle Press. ISBN 1-928832-97-0
  • (Spanish) Milenio 2009 August 11 Tres hijos de Maciel pelearán sus bienes.
  • (Spanish) El Mundo (Madrid). 2009-12-12. Maciel plagió el libro de cabecera de los Legionarios.
  • (Spanish) Periodista Digital (Madrid). 2009 August 9. La hija del pecador Legionario de Cristo.
  • Telegraph (UK). 2008 February 2. Obituary of the Reverend Marcial Maciel
  • Thompson, Damian. 2009 February 4. Legionaries of Christ face disaster after founder's double life is exposed

External links

  • WorldCat catalog)
  • Important audios about Marcial Maciel scandal on MVS RADIO WITH CARMEN ARISTEGUI - SPANISH: Mi padre abusó de nosotros: Hijos de Maciel
  • Legionaries founder Maciel fathered children, internal investigation reveals
  • Legionaries of Christ
  • National Catholic Reporter article
  • Regnum Christi
  • Marcial Maciel, historia de un criminal
  • "El salterio de mis horas" Luis Lucia Lucia

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