Information surfacing about the life of Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, has forced many to view Fr. Maciel’s writings in a new light. I think this is a good thing. However, let’s not forget those who worked tirelessly for years to bring these allegations to light. Many of these folks were dismissed by Orthodox Catholics as anti-Catholic media bearing a hidden agenda.
Like the police now kicking themselves over the missed opportunity three years ago to rescue Jaycee Lee Dugard, we as orthodox Catholics need to look at why we missed the opportunity during the Boston fallout to investigate the accusations against Fr. Maciel.
With that in mind, and surprised by Jose Bonilla’s allegation that Legion superiors have known about Fr. Maciel’s children for 15 years, I’m re-reading this article written by Gerald Renner in 2000. Renner is the Hartford Courant reporter who worked closely with Jason Berry to give voice to Fr. Maciel’s victims. His article is a response to the Legion’s following open letter dismissing his investigative reporting into the Legion.
Here are some passages from Renner’s letter that in retrospect take on new meaning, in my opinion. I’ve bolded certain parts that really stood out to me:
I was told I had to seek the permission of the national director, Fr. Anthony Bannon, to write anything. But he was never available, despite calls I made to him over the course of several years. I even visited the seminary personally one day to the consternation of the seminarian-receptionist and was again told I had to talk to Fr. Bannon.
Finally, one day in 1993, Fr. Bannon himself happened to pick up the phone when I called. He told me in no uncertain terms the order did not want any publicity and that he did not trust the press. The only way he would provide information for an article, he said, if he had the right to review it after it was written, something that is journalistically unacceptable.
Which raises the question: Did Fr. Bannon know anything at the time? If so, what? For an order this focused on recruitment and building the Kingdom, why would they shy away from free publicity? As Renner muses later on the piece, “Yet, the order wonders aloud in its open letter why it’s called secretive.”
Here’s another passage that I read differently now in retrospect:
I got a call from a man who said he had been a seminarian in the Legion at Cheshire and in a satellite seminary the Legion ran near Mount Kisco, N.Y. He said he and another novice had fled from the seminary without permission when their religious superiors kept rebuffing their pleas to leave.
It was such a bizarre claim that I was skeptical. Was this a religious nut or what? But he sounded stable. We had a personal meeting, and he repeated his story convincingly. He put me in touch with three other former novices. Two of them said they had similar experiences of being psychologically coerced by overzealous religious superiors. The third, who had been in a Legion-operated seminary in Mexico said he had to beg for his passport and clothes to go home after being repeatedly rebuffed.
I turned to Fr. Bannon for response only to be told by his secretary that the Courant was only trying to stir up “scandal” and that he did not expect Fr. Bannon to respond. Only after the article appeared did Fr. Bannon send a statement denying the accusations. His statement was published in the Courant.
And let’s not forget this passage in which Renner explains why Maciel’s earliest victims, like Jaycee Lee Dugard, didn’t avail themselves of an earlier opportunity to come forward: “But those making the accusations today were young boys in seminary in the late 1950s. They say they lied at the time to Vatican investigators to protect the man they called ‘Nuestro Padre.'”