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No, Marcial Maciel was not like Mary Magdalene, at all - UPDATED

Don't miss Jason Berry's lengthy update on the Legion of Christ's ventures in the Holy Land, in the National Catholic Reporter this week. How has the order coped with diminishment and disgrace following the belated exposure and censure of its founder, serial sexual abuser and all-around con artist Marcial Maciel? Oh, you know, they're working on it.

"Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes.

"But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."

Berry quotes the above from a booklet promoting the Legion's new project, the $100 million Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee. (Learn more at this website -- but be warned, there's a startling autoplaying introductory video.) The author is Fr. Juan María Solana. [UPDATE: Solana has apologized and the booklet has been withdrawn: see below.]

When the allegations against Maciel were first surfacing in the media, I remember hearing that rank-and-file Legionaries themselves were shielded from the worst of it. That, at least, was the excuse offered for why some priests didn't leave the order sooner. Given the amount of control Maciel and his fellow leaders exerted over the lives of their recruits, it seems plausible. But Maciel is dead; his corruption and crimes are definitively exposed; the order is supposedly reforming itself under Rome's supervision. So what's the excuse now for someone in a leadership position with the LCs to be referring to Maciel as having had any kind of "deliverance" (when, in fact, he and the order denied the allegations against him to the end of his life, even after Benedict removed him from ministry and ordered him to a life of repentance), or using his story as an example of how "We should be quieter and less condemning"?

I understand how awkward it must be for anyone who remains with the Legion of Christ to talk about their founder, given that the order itself has always been directly based in the spiritual leadership of Maciel. But if you can't talk about him honestly, non-defensively, with a sense of shame and sorrow and not self-pity, then maybe just don't talk about him at all.

It is hard to believe that any person would apply that last paragraph of Solana's to Maciel, given how he escaped censure for so very long, and how in fact it was his accusers, and those who broadcast their stories, whose reputations were attacked. Andrew Sullivan compiled a helpful reminder of just how widespread defense of Maciel was among high-profile Catholics, and how vituperative their attacks on people like Jason Berry could be. I have tried to find an original source for some of those comments, but as near as I can tell they were mostly gathered from a collection of supportive letters posted on a site run by the Legion -- -- which is now inactive. But Richard John Neuhaus's lengthy defense of the Legion and Maciel in First Things, from March 2002, is worth reading in full, and still online here -- scroll down to "Feathers of Scandal," and keep on reading through several more subheds. He goes back and forth between attacking the journalists who'd reported on Maciel's past and praising the holiness of Maciel's person and project, always, of course, maintaining the tone of one who's above all this sordid business but must reluctantly stoop to explain it. There's even a swipe at the Jesuits along the way. It's really vintage stuff.

Berry's article details the Legion of Christ's diminished presence in the United States and elsewhere, including the sale of a number of properties (at least one "at a fire-sale price") and the closings of schools and seminaries. Fundraising goes on, however, for this Holy Land project. I can't imagine who, at this point, would have the LCs at the top of their philanthropic giving list. But raising money is one thing the founder was indisputably good at.

I also have to wonder why, if the Legion is naming its new complex after St. Mary Magdalene, their notion of who she was and what she stands for seems so constrained and frankly out-of-date (at least based on the excerpts Berry cites from the booklet Magdala: God Really Loves Women). All we actually know about her story before she began following Jesus is that she was named by Luke among "some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven spirits had gone out" (Lk 8:2). Her traditional association with the woman taken in adultery and/or the woman who washed Jesus's feet with her hair is, basically, an error in scriptural interpretation that, helped along by a misogynistic tendency to associate women with sexual sin (and not much else), became the standard take for too many years. But that approach has been discredited for a long time, and she is now lauded as "Apostle to the Apostles," one of Jesus's most faithful followers, the first witness to the resurrection. Not a bad figure to hang a ministry on. (And that ministry may be more appropriate than Solana's reference to "women who have suffered tremendously because of moral problems" makes it sound. When I looked at the project site for more information, I found only this description: "The location of Magdala and the person of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel inspire us to have a center which highlights the role of women as seen in the gospel and in religions as well.") But a very bad figure to compare to Marcial Maciel. Even if, as Fr. Solana begins by observing, "Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene." The sad thing is, he would have sounded much less foolish if he'd just stopped there.

UPDATE 8/28: I have just received a statement via email from the Legion of Christ's communications director, Jim Fair, apologizing for the comparison of Maciel and Mary Magdalene in the Magdala booklet. I will paste it here:

Dear friends in Christ,

The past five years have been a time of challenge and change for the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. We have faced the disappointment of horrible scandal – and embraced the hope of renewal.

We have undergone an intense self-examination and revision of our constitutions and statutes. We are firmly set on a path of reform that I believe will make us better servants of Christ and His Church.

Unfortunately, this week we experienced what must feel like a detour from our path forward. It is not.

I want to assure you that we are, indeed, determined to stay on course. And I want to share this response from Fr Juan Solana, director of the Magdala Center:

"I personally and profoundly apologize for my reflections in the booklet, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, published this summer by the Magdala Center in Jerusalem, which is managed by the Legion of Christ. The passages in question suggest a comparison between Mary Magdalene and Legion Founder Marcial Maciel, which clearly is inappropriate and poorly chosen. I was trying to make a point about compassion and forgiveness in light of the Legion’s history, but realize now that my words were awkward and suggest a reverence for our founder that we clearly reject. Again, I’m sorry for any hurt this has caused. And we are no longer distributing the booklet. – Fr Juan Solana LC"

I have known Fr Juan for many years and appreciate his response. Please keep him in your prayers and continue to pray for the success of the Magdala Project, which draws support from Christians of all denominations, Jews and Bible scholars from around the world.

Yours in Christ,
Fr John Connor LC



Commenting Guidelines


This works on my computer:  

What appeared above cuts off part of the URL; still, it should work. I don't know if the same abbreviation will be repeated.

If nothing woeks, try going first to and then enter the full URL. 

BTW, Mickens also notes: "there are still houses that reportedly have been slow to take down these photos of Maciel. …"

Others still go to Maciel's tomb in Mexico to celebrate him. I guess it's all those decades of a private vow never to say anything bad about Maciel, and to report those who did. Who succumbs to that kind of raw self-serving dictatorship?

Re: the update apologizing for the comparison between Maciel and Magdala, Legion statements always seem to have a manufactured quality; just too smooth, but also a sticky brand of false spirituality. Inauthentic comes to mind, despite the ever so humble perfect word choice.


Pardon me, but I cannot abide any more statements from hierarchs and clergy made in the passive voice:  "I’m sorry for any hurt this has caused..."

There is a new book out about an apology as more defense or apologia than admission of culpability. I read a great review and must search out the title. 

Carolyn Disco


You have to lob off the end of the link to get it:


Oh, this apology really makes me feel better, NOT!

Journalist Michael Kinsley has it just about right:  

"A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."

Really, I don't think we can ever expect these men who have lived their whole lives denying the truth of their own existence as an oppressive personality cult to emerge from their conditioning as long as they are allowed to maintain the integrity of their group.  This Juan Solana is totally clueless - sadly, the same could be said for the hierarchs in the Vatican.  

Their being allowed to continue as a religious foundation with the tacit approval of the Vatican is similar to allowing the Branch Dividians or Jim Jones Peoples Temple to live on.

It's time for the Vatican to suppress this group once and for all, for their own good and the general welfare of the church.  

Alan:  Thanks!  This one works.

But I don't understand how you did it.  You wrote, "You have to lob off the end of the link to get it."  What does "lob off the end of the link" mean?



The origina link had sthis at the end /Â /   after francis/



That should have been "original" and "had this".

Thanks, Alan.

Thank you, Jim Pauwels. I did go to the link. Interesting read. Neuhaus really danced around the issue of his having taken a stance of "moral certitude." As long as it's not canonically adjudicated, I guess it never happened. I wonder if, when he wrote this, he was aware of Maciel's wife, mistress and children and that he even abused his own son. Neuhaus sure gives him a free pass even alluding to Pope Alexander VI, "Popes, too, make mistakes." I feel free to express my disgust with this whole episode, since Cardinal Ratzinger had to feel the same way as head of the CDF, but was prevented from acting on this issue by the powers at that time and that would have been Sodano, Secretary of State at the top of the list. He was Maciel's greatest defender as long as the bribes- $50,000 and up- were paid to allow Maciel and his wealthy supporters into the Pauline Chapel for a private liturgy with JP II. I often think that had Ratzinger not been elected, Maciel might never have been exposed. Benedict had the courage to publicly judge (and it wasn't canonical !!!!! It was Pontifical!!!) banish Maciel to a monastery "for penitence and prayer," where, it is said, that he even refused the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Neuhaus doesn't think that was too bad since we are all called to "penitence and prayer."   

greg - right.  To be honest, I haven't followed the whole Maciel saga nearly as closely as many other posters and commenters here on dotCom, so the timelines regarding which sordid and horrific details became known when are pretty fuzzy to me.  If those details re: wife/mistress/children were generally known at that time in 2006, then it's a pretty safe bet that Neuhaus knew about them; he was famous for reading everything.   The whole piece reads as an elaborate explanation to LC/RC members and their supporters for the volte-face (if it even amounts to that).  

It seems that he continued to defend Maciel and LC right up to the point that the Vatican announced its disposition of Maciel's case - the piece that Mollie highlights in her post was published only 5 months or so before the one I referred to.  Then, faced with the dilemma of siding with Benedict or continuing to support his friends, he chose the former.  Better late than never.  

Did Mary Ann Glendon ever apologize for her staunch support of the Legion and Maciel---and her implication that his victims were liars and enemies of the Church?  I don't think so.

Of course, we now know that her daughter was getting up to sexual hi-jinks with Fr. Thomas Williams in that general time frame and bore his child (if I am not mistaken, this was also during the 10 years that Fr. Williams was living in the same house as Maciel.)

So Mrs. Glendon certainly must have known that there was a stench about the Legion--if your daughter has been impregnated by a priest living with and closely associated with a supposed saint, it stands to reason that a mother should question just what is happening in that house, especially when 9 men have accused the supposed saint of sexual abuse---but I have never heard her retract any of it, even now, all these years later.

Her daughter married Fr. Williams last December a decade or more after bearing his child. 

It all stinks to high heaven.



Hi, may I just say something?  It seems to me that Fr. Maciel and Mary Ann Glendon deserve whatever opprobrium is heaped upon them in these posts and comments, Fr. Maciel for everything he did and failed to do, and Glendon for defending him when that clearly wasn't/isn't tenable.

But I don't think she deserves criticism for her adult daughter having a relationship with Williams.  Attempts to tar Glendon for that, it seems to me, are out of bounds.  Presumably, whatever happened in that relationship was consensual and between adults, and happened without Glendon's involvement or permission.  If Williams was a towering hypocrite, then go after him, too, I guess.  But I don't see that any of it reflects upon Glendon one way or the other.  And that Williams left the priesthood and married the mother of his child seems like an honorable thing to do.  

It is not that uncommon that priests leaving the priesthood to in order to marry. The usual attitude around here toward those circumstances is empathy and support.  Perhaps Williams forfeited a claim to that defaul expectation, but I just don't think the schadenfreude is very becoming.   Just my view.


Jim P, --

Leaving the order and marrying his mistress TEN YEARS AFTER she bore him a child and ONLY once the glare of publicity forced him out into the open... is AN HONORABLE THING TO DO? And he's a supposedly a moral theologian? Come on. Is it an honorable thing to do to put down something you've stolen once the police arrive? No, it is not. It's called surrendering when you've been caught. Honorable, forsooth. 

He was living the charism of the founder, on a smaller scale. The self-deception and puffed up ego at work in putting off the resolution of this affair is mind-boggling. Had he not been caught out, he'd probably still be pretending and living a double life.

The point of bringing Mary Ann Glendon's daughter's affairs into this is that she is obviously, necessarily biased by her family circumstances. It's a study in human  psychology to ask why a woman defends the religious order of her grandson's father under such circumstances, but surely you see that bias enters into it one way or the other? 

Do Jim Fair and the LC realize yet that there's no evidence Mary Magdalene ever did anything to be forgiven FOR?

Glad to see that the back story on Mary Ann Glendon and her sellout to the Legion of Christ is getting out there.

@ Angela Stockton:  Sadly, Mary Magdalene is probably Christianity's seminal example of trashing the messenger, blaming it on the woman.  The original sin of Catholic patriarchy, if you will.

Whatever her relationship really was with Jesus [after all these centuries the record has been throughly scrubbed], without Mary Magdalene the belief of the Resurrection would never have emerged from the primitive Jesus movement in Jerusalem.

Without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity, no Catholic Church.

Hi, Rita, I didn't know the specifics of WIlliams and Glendon's daughter - all I really knew was what was reported here in comments.  Thanks (I think - it's a sordid story) for the further details.

Is she obviously, necessarily biased by her family's circumstances in defending the order?  I don't know that it's either obvious or necessary.  I'm trying to put myself in her shoes and imagining how I'd feel if a public-figure, prominent priest did that to one of my daughters.  As you say, it's a study of human psychology, but my psychology wouldn't point me in that direction.  

But my larger point is that the business about Glendon's daughter, as presented by two commenters who aired that dirty laundry here - it was presented as a way to smear Glendon by exulting in the travails of her family.  And that's pretty low.  I think we should take Glendon's words as meaning what she said, without searching out psychological movites to mitigate those statements.  Nor should we resort to playing the "plus, her daughter is a tramp" card.  


Jim P., @ 12:14, 

Thanks for your reply. The implication that Mary Ann Glendon's daughter is a tramp hadn't even occurred to me, frankly, although I can't say what other commenters were thinking. 

I do, however, stand by my statement that these events necessarily create a bias. This sort of an episode creates a seismic shock to any family, and I can't believe that a conservative Catholic family feels that shock any less than anyone else would. So no, I would not take her evaluation of the LC as any way objective or disinterested, knowing this was in the family background for ten years and more.

Let me put it this way: She has got a major elephant in the living room to protect, deny, hide, worry about, or whatever. If it happened in your family, and you pretended it didn't influence your judgment about the LC, I'd suggest you go to therapy.

Hi, Rita - sure, things that happen in my family influence what I say and do.  I just have a hard time imagining that I'd want to defend this spectacular fraudster and his order after what happened to my daughter.  I'd think I'd be leading the charge to have Maciel removed and the order abolished.


Btw, this Rod Dreher post notes that Glendon's daughter, Elizabeth Zev, was professionally affiliated with ZENIT, which was owned by the Legion (and which Williams apparently ran).  Dreher's take on Glendon, Zev, Williams and the Legion scandals seems to me to strike the right notes.


I had asked in a previous comment whether the Vatican was still overseeing the Legion of Christ.  This news story reports that earlier this year the order emerged from 'receivership' and held an assembly to elect new leaders.  Whether Francis has approved the new leadership, I don't know.



My experience as a child and a parent suggests to me that there can be considerable delay in a parent determining the truth of a childs behavior.  For one, most children dont freely offer the complete truth of their failings, and even when confronted with the truth, often deny it, creating a quandry over who to believe.  And I dont think those behaviors improve as children grow into adults.  Something to think about.