Legion of Christ reloaded – A new abuse crisis through the eyes of an ex member
Dr Balázs Puskás had been a consecrated member of the Regnum Christi, the lay branch of the scandal torn Congregation of the Legion of Christ from 1998 until 2010. Just recently, the religious order became, yet again, the focal point of media interest, due to serious accusations of sexual abuse committed by several of its priests. We asked Balázs about his experiences and his opinions about the recent situation. (Picture above is only illustration)
So many years in an organisation that was so full of abuse. One might think you also ran the risk of becoming a victim…
No, it did not happen to me thank God. Although I had “the honor” of living at the headquarters of the Legion for almost two years and I had several meetings with Maciel (the founder and then general director of both the Legion and of the Regnum Christi – editor’s note), he never approached me; probably because I was not appealing enough for him…
Was it also because you were an adult at that time and he was more interested in teenage boys?
His main sexual interest certainly was underage boys, but he also was a practising homosexual.
I know two priests who both left the Legion and were targeted by Maciel. One in the pool, the other one in a car… They were both over 30 when this had happened.
Later he also turned his attention towards women. When he died, he left behind two “widows” in different countries, and fathered several children. But yes, his weak point was young boys, to such an extent that he also abused his own son.
Well, whatever happened, the Legion and the Regnum Christi survived and moved on. What is this new, hysterical media thunderstorm about the Legion, ten years after the scandals broke?
This is not a hysteria at all. This is a huge scandal that seems to be strong enough to finally force the Legion to change its unchristian policies regarding its dealings with the victims.
There are hundreds of victims out there, victims of sexual abuse committed by Legionary priests…
You say hundreds, but the Legion recently admitted a total number of 175 victims.
And that number is close enough to 200, is it not? But I believe there are more than that. Maciel alone abused around one hundred minor seminarians from his own seminaries. Some of these people left, but others stayed and several of them got into positions of authority. Maciel trusted them; he thought there was a “special bond” between himself and this elect group. He named many of these victims territorial directors, novice instructors, prefects, community directors or school directors. Some of these people turned into predators: so we are talking about dozens of people in leadership positions, who had been in direct contact with minors, some of them for decades. So yes, there are many more out there who have not raised their voices yet.
What has happened that stirred the waters again?
Months ago a Mexican woman, Ana Lucia Salazar posted her story on Legioleaks (a Facebook group of mostly ex-Legionaries and consecrated members – editor’s note), recounting how a Legionary priest, Fernando Martinez abused her when she was eight years old, in a Legionary school in Cancún, Mexico. She asked the ‘Legioleakers’ to help her find Martinez. From her initial post, a whole campaign started, thousands of supporters joined to seek truth for her. We discovered Martinez residing in Italy, and the whole matter aroused the interest of the press. The Legion felt pressured to react. They only do so when they feel cornered… They issued several communiques, and all this led to that document you mentioned, in which they say that there were 175 victims of Maciel and others.
Through this process, more victims came out. The stories are heart-breaking; they were innocent girls who put all their trust in the school director who also was a priest – and he raped them. It is no surprise that the press picked the story up and the Legion felt unprecedented pressure. And this time it was not only the secular media: the most important Catholic sites also started to write about the issue, and they formulated harsh criticism.
About the Legion’s pathetic way of dealing with the victims. About the fact that there is no one responsible but Maciel so far.
“The solitary criminal is Maciel. No one knew anything. No one helped him at all. There is no cover-up. There are no others involved in his – and in the other abusers’ crimes.” This is the ever tiring narrative of the Legion all this time.
And not only the press, but also the Mexican Bishops’ Conference criticised them for avoiding responsibility and the compensation of the victims. And not only the victims of Fernando Martinez, but in general. Hardly any of them got any compensation and none of them were treated with the due respect and charity they would have deserved.
You mean the Legion did not pay the victims throughout all these years? But how is that possible? Entire dioceses went bankrupt for way less than what the Legion’s members committed…
Exactly: how is that possible? They paid smaller sums here and there to priests who left the Legion or to consecrated who left the Regnum Christi, but most of the victims never received anything, and their perpetrators mostly got away from going to jail.
The victims never got the chance to tell their stories to the Legionaries of today so that they could learn from their past. Back in 2010, before I left, I proposed to the then major superiors to invite the magnificent 8 (that is how we call those people who left the Legion decades ago because of the abuse they had to suffer, and thanks to their tireless effort that Pope Benedict XVI finally condemned Maciel). These people sacrificed themselves for the truth, what they did was and is an enormous service to the Legion and the Church:
It is thanks to them that such a high profile criminal like Maciel was discovered. And instead of receiving applause, recognition and financial compensation (that they actually never ever asked for), the Legion has done everything possible to discredit them and to hide them from the younger generation of Legionaries.
This is absurd, but this is how the Legion operates. Instead of facing its own past and present reality, instead of trying to get rid of sin and crime that infected them so deeply, instead of becoming transparent, instead of practising charity towards the victims and justice towards the perpetrators in their ranks, they still protect the abusers and hide themselves from all kinds of responsibility. And this is a religious order, a fraternity of men who are supposed to imitate Christ…
So yes, how is that possible?
Do you think there is a chance for them to change with the new leadership they just elected?
It is a good question. If you just look at the fact that the new general director is not a Mexican for the first time ever (he is an American), that might indicate some change in the culture of the Legion. But if you look closely at the members of his general council, they don’t give much hope: those who made gestures towards the victims or raised concerns are not there.
Both the superior general and the council members were in leadership positions either at times of Maciel or of his immediate successor Alvaro Corcuera, who practically was chosen by Maciel as his follower. I think this election is more of a facade than a real change in their attitudes.
But let us give them the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.