Legion of Christ

The Legion of Christ is a Catholic religious congregation established in 1941 in Mexico by Fr. Marcial Maciel. It enjoyed the favor of Pope John Paul II, possibly in part because of its stand in facing contemporary challenges. It is currently one of the Church's fastest-growing congregations, with a presence in 20 countries, and over 700 priests and 2,500 seminarians, besides the 70,000 members of the Regnum Christi, its lay movement. Critics cite recruitment from their schools of children identified as having vocations to the priesthood and aggressive fundraising required of its priests as two reasons for such rapid growth, particularly in Latin Countries. It also operates several schools in Mexico, other parts of North America, as well as other Latin American countries.

The founder

Marcial Maciel was born on March 10, 1920 into a devout Catholic family living in a fiercely anticlerical Mexico. On June 19, 1936, Maciel—a young seminarian at the time—felt called to establish a new religious order, and in 1941, with the support of the bishop of Cuernavaca, Bishop Francisco González Arias, he founded the Legion of Christ. Maciel was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop González Arias in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on November 26, 1944, after which he continued to build up the Legion and its lay companion, Regnum Christi.

Maciel was asked by Pope John Paul II to accompany him on his visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993, and was appointed, also by Pope John Paul II, to the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the formation of Candidates for the Priesthood in Actual Circumstances (1991). He has been a member of the Interdicasterial Commission for a Just Distribution of Clergy (1991), the IV General Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) (1992), the Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life and Their Mission in the Church and the World (1993), 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. Fr. Marcial Maciel also served as Chancellor of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, which is based in Rome.

In January 2005 Maciel, at age 84, was succeeded by Álvaro Corcuera, LC, as General Director of the Legion shortly after the reopening of a sex abuse allegation by the Vatican. Maciel lived in Cotija, Michoacán, until his death on 30 January 2008.

Since the 1970s, Marcial Maciel has been accused of having repeatedly sexually abused other congregation members, including young children. Maciel's accusers include a priest, a guidance counselor, a professor, an engineer, a lawyer, and a former priest who became a university professor. The men, seven Mexicans and two Spaniards, described themselves as former members of a favored group, known as the "apostolic schoolboys." The abuse allegedly occurred over three decades beginning in the 1940s in Spain and Italy, where boys and young men were taken for schooling. The abuse, they said, involved some 30 boys and young men and extended over at least three decades.

Of the nine men making the accusations, one subsequently retracted his story, claiming it had been a fabrication intended to damage the Legion. The other eight continue to maintain these allegations. Fr. Maciel and the organization deny the accusations. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who is now Pope Benedict XVI), examined the allegations. Shortly after some media reported the reopening of the investigation in late 2004, Fr. Maciel stepped down as leader of the Legion.J. McKinley Jr., cite web | title="Pope-to-Be Reopened Mexican Sex Abuse Inquiry" | url=http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/23/international/worldspecial2/23mexico.html?ex=1146974400&en=99ebcec34c69b4e0&ei=5070, New York Times (April 23, 2005) ]

On May 19, 2006 the Vatican published a communique for press, instructing Maciel to retire to a life of "prayer and penitence". [Vatican Communiqué, cite web | title="Father Marcial Maciel Invited to Renounce All Public Ministry" | url=http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=89444, Zenit News Agency (May 19, 2006) ] The statement said Maciel had been "invited" to withdraw to "a reserved life of prayer and penitence and not carry out his ministry in public". The statement said that the investigation was dropped because of his "advanced age [and] frail health.

In Mexico, the Legionaries said in a statement that he had "accepted the instruction with faith, total calm, with a clear conscience knowing that it is a new cross which God, the Merciful Father, has allowed him to suffer". It said that Maciel declared his innocence "and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way." [P. Pullella, cite web | title="Vatican disciplines Mexican priest after abuse case" | url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/19/AR2006051900296.html, Reuters (May 19, 2006) ]


Members of the Legion take vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. In addition they take private vows not to criticize the actions or the person of their superiors and to inform their superiors if anyone else does.Fr. Marcial Maciel, cite web | title="Private Vow of Legion of Christ" | url=http://www.regainnetwork.org/article.php?a=47246002, (September 15th, 1956) ] The Legion's spirituality can be described as three loves: love for Christ, love for Mary, and love for the Church and Pope.

Love for Christ is, for Legionnaires, a personal experience. Through the Gospel, the Cross, and the Eucharist, Legionaries come to know Christ intimately, and love him in a passionate way by embracing him as their model of holiness.

Love for Mary flows from imitating Christ; the Blessed Virgin is loved as both Mother of the Church and of the individual Legionnaire's vocation. Legionnaires consecrate their spiritual and apostolic lives to her care, and seek to take on her virtues of faith, hope, charity, obedience, humility, and cooperation with Christ's plan of redemption.

Finally, there is Legionnaires' love for Church and Pope. The Church is loved because it is the Body of Christ, and the beginning of his Kingdom on earth. Legionnaires see the Church both as she currently stands and as Christ wants her to be. Thus Legionnaires honor her by faith, submit to her in obedience, win souls for her through evangelisation, and put her above all other earthly things in their lives. This love of the Church leads many in the Legion to speak of being "always in step with the Church, neither ahead nor behind." It also explains the Legionnaires' special affection for the Pope, who is supported in his charism of primacy and magisterium. All bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff, as the Apostles' successors and teachers of the Catholic Faith, are likewise honored.


Many have argued that the congregation incorporates right-wing and conservative politics. The Legion, however, states that its focus is not on political alliances nor activism, but on advancing the Church's social agenda as articulated by the Holy See. Its priests are particularly active on bioethical issues; the Legion's emphasis on bioethics is demonstrated by the fact that its Pontifical Atheneum in Rome, the Regina Apostolorum, is the first university in the world granting bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in bioethics.

The congregation has been compared to Opus Dei because of its views and their mutual fidelity to the Church's Magisterium.

The congregation is pro-life. The Legion of Christ, like the Catholic Church, is also against homosexual activity as it considers the act a sin, and collaborates with psychologists who treat same-sex attraction as a disorder (through conversion therapy).

The Legion as been close to conservatives, like José María Aznar (ex prime minister of Spain) from the Popular Party, Marta Sahagún de Fox (wife of Vicente Fox, ex president of Mexico) from the National Action Party. It has been very close to the richest families in Latin America like the Cisneros family in Venezuela and the Slim Helú family and the Garza Medina family in Mexico.Jose de Cordoba, cite web | title="With elite backing, Catholic order has pull in Mexico" | url=http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06023/643017.stm, The Wall Street Journal (January 23, 2006) ]


As a whole, the Legion is dedicated to advancing the Church's mission in the world, and to this end submits candidates to a rigorous formation of four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. This formation is very controversial, and critics charge that the Legion is producing "robots" who all speak and behave in the same way.

Critics charge that some guidelines restrain members from sharing their inner thoughts and feelings with people they encounter, including their own family members: "Always display happiness and serenity as a manifestation of inner richness. At the other extreme, avoid all sign of depression, insecurity or timidity. Do not display a worried, sad, melancholy or disgusted face, or show an exaggerated form of happiness." as well as: "When receiving family visits, always appear happy, cordial, attentive, grateful and satisfied with the vocation that God has granted you." [ Fr. Marcial Maciel, L.C., Principios y Normas de la Legión de Cristo, Reajo del Roble, Spain, Feast ofPentecost, June 10, 1984] In letters from Marcial Maciel to his followers, he describes the loyalties a legionary should have: [ Marcial Maciel, "Envoy II", letter 70, page 130.] quotation
177. The first duty of a legionary is to love and esteem the Legion. As Nuestro Padre says, it is not a sin to love our Mother who is with all her being dedicated to the expansion of the Kingdom of Christ. On the other hand, when we do this, we are not laboring blindly for we have before our eyes the splendid fruits that the Legion has produced for forty years, the formation of its men and the radiance of its apostolates which confirm that it is work of God and of the Church. 178. To love the Legion is to believe in it and in all that which makes up its specific charism - spirituality, discipline, apostolic methodology. To love the Legion is to intimately know it, accept it in all its fullness, without reticence or diminution. To love the Legion is to actively pledge oneself to it, living its spirit and enriching it with the contribution of all of one’s personality. To love the Legion is to feel oneself fully realized within it and to make it an essential part of one’s own happiness.

Contact with the family is severely restricted as well. High school seminarians are permitted to visit home in few cases:quotation
276. During periods of summer vacation for fifteen days. During this period the Rector and, if the number requires it, the Vice-Rector - each accompanied by another religious - should visit apostolics in their homes to attend to them spiritually and to cultivate the family. 277. During the Christmas holidays for three days. However, all apostolics should celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the vocational center and should do the same during the last day of the year. 278. For the name day or corresponding birthday of their parents for one day. This visit will, however, be subject to the approval of the Rector based on the individual environment of each family. 279. For their parents anniversary for one day. 280. For the wedding, religious profession or priestly ordination of one of their siblings for one day. 281. On the occasion of the death or serious illness of a parent, sibling or grandparent for three days.

Papal support

Since its founding, successive popes have expressed support for the Legion. When Maciel visited Rome in 1946, Pope Pius XII expressed a keen interest in the undertaking and gave it his personal blessing. In light of the order's achievements, particularly in education, Pope Paul VI was pleased to award it the "Decree of Praise" in 1965. The most enthusiastic support has, however, been that of Pope John Paul II, who in an address, picked out the qualities which have made the Legion so successful: [L’Osservatore Romano, cite web | title="Pope's address to the Legionaries of Christ" | url=http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2LEGIO.HTM L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 17 January 2001, page 5]

The Legion's strong commitment to papal authority leads many to believe that the order can look forward to good relations with future occupiers of the Petrine office, though the recent disciplining of the founder leaves this in doubt.

The close relationship between Maciel and Pope John Paul has been cited as one of the reasons that Vatican investigation regarding sex abuse allegations made against Fr. Maciel proceeded extremely slowly although the first allegations were provided to the Pope in the late 1970s.

Controversial recruiting practices

In the United States bishops have barred or severely restricted the Legion and Regnum Christi in six dioceses: St Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Richmond, Virginia; Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana; and Columbus, Ohio – because of its recruiting practices.J. Filteau, cite web | title="Minnesota archbishop bars Legionaries from his archdiocese" | url=http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0407003.htm, Catholic News Service (December-22-2004)] [cite web | author = Diocese of Columbus | title = Diocese of Columbus Bulletin for November 10, 2002 | url = http://saintjosephcathedral.org/sitemap/bulletins/Bulletins_2002/111002.doc | accessmonthday = August 28 | accessyear = 2006 ] [S. Brewster, cite web | title="Some critical of Cheshire order" | url=http://www.regainnetwork.org/article.php?a=47245847, Connecticut Record-Journal (September 18, 2004) ] Since 2008, Archbishop O'Brien of Baltimore has also begun to require greater oversight of the Legion in his archdiocese. [ [http://ncrcafe.org/node/1906 NCR 12 June 2008] ]

Members of Regnum Christi, under supervision of the Legionaries, have organised various ministries, such as youth ministry and small faith communities, which parallel the ministries of the local parishes. Critics feel that it separates persons from the local parish and archdiocese and creates competing structures.

Critics also cite the Legion's bias in favour of recruiting wealthy and/or socially prominent individuals and families. Legion priests tend to be drawn almost exclusively from the upper classes, and once ordained, often move in very exclusive social circles. Critics say assistance and aid to the poor by members of the Legion appears to be tokenism, especially when comparing the number of poor children it educates to the number of wealthy and socially elite children coming out of its schools.G. Renner, cite web | title="Turmoil in Atlanta" | url=http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/archives/110300/110300a.htm, The National Catholic Reporter (November 3, 2000) ]

The Legion has also been charged with recruiting children and instructing them not to tell their parents.


The primary apostolate of Legionary priests and brothers is to attend to the spiritual needs of the members of their lay branch, Regnum Christi. Since Legionary priests and brothers are themselves members of Regnum Christi, often they are put in charge of directing the apostolic projects.

Regnum Christi has many Apostolates for charitable and spiritual welfare. It essentially does not limit itself to any one apostolate, but each member is encouraged to work on his/her area of interest/expertise.

As a spirituality, it encourages its members to work innovatively and systematically. Members are given the option to work on an apostolate not associated with the Legion, a Legion-endorsed apostolate, or to create their own apostolate which may eventually reach Legion endorsement.

In 2006, The Legion launched a test phase of [http://www.missionnetwork.com Mission Network] , in the United States. "Catholic Mission Network, Inc.", is the umbrella organization which oversees and approves all Legionary-endorsed apostolates in the US, soon to be internationally. Its purpose is to provide both 1) structure/supervision of the apostolates, and 2) An overview as to what the Legion/Regnum Christi does as a whole, with brand-name-type recognition.

Regain Lawsuit

In August 2007, the Legion filed a lawsuit against Regain Inc., an organization founded by ex-Legionaries critical of Legion practices and its founder Marcial Maciel. The lawsuit alleges that written property of the Legion, including letters written by Maciel, and copies of unpublished principles and norms "intended only for dissemination and use by Legion members", were stolen and posted online "out of context... as part of a concerted effort to wage a malicious disinformation campaign against the Legion." The Legion has pled that the value of the alleged stolen property is "worth at least $799,999.99."cite web | title ="Verified Complaint, Petition in Detinue for Pretrial Seizure and Application for Injunction" | url=http://regainnetwork.org/lcc/lcc.pdf] The president of Regain has asserted that, to the best of his knowledge, "nothing was obtained improperly", and expressed the opinion that the lawsuit request for information on anonymous message board posters was an action "proving that the Legion is a cult which controls information, stifles freedom of expression and goes after dissenters." [http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/08/controversial-c.html The Blotter: Controversial Catholic Group Alleges Critics Stole Inside Info ] ]

At the conclusion of the lawsuit, the internet discussion board [http://exlegionaries.com exlegionaries.com] about the Legion and its activities was taken down. [Daniela Deane, cite web | title="Outspoken Ex-Priest Sued Over Documents" | url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/05/AR2007090502300.html, The Washington Post (September 6, 2007) ]

Reading list

*Marcial Maciel: "Christ Is My Life," Sophia Institute Press, 2003. ISBN 1-928832-97-0
*Marcial Maciel: "Integral Formation of Catholic Priests," Alba House, 1992. ISBN 0-8189-0629-4
*Anthony Bannon: "Peter on the Shore," Circle Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9651601-0-6
*Patrick Langan: "Founders," Circle Press, 1998. ISBN 0-9651601-1-4
*Jason Berry, Gerald Renner: "Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II," Free Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-4441-9
*Angeles Conde, David Murray: "The Legion of Christ: A History" Circle Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9743661-2-9

ee also

* Zenit News Agency
* National Catholic Register


External links

* [http://www.legionofchrist.org/ Legion of Christ]
* [http://www.regainnetwork.org ReGain Network organization of ex Legionaries and Regnum Christi members]
* [http://www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Censored_Legion_de_Cristo_and_Regnum_Cristi_document_collection Legion of Christ Document Collection]

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