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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 [UPDATE: Solana has apologized and the booklet has been withdrawn: see below.]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

A 100 million dollar facility for a disgraced order. Is God served here or Mammon? Sickening stuff. Like jihadist Islam. Get people who are seeking absolute orders and use them. This is truly nausea stuff. 


She had a problematic past before her deliverance

As you say, not so!  Duke NT professor Mark Goodacre has an interesting past podcast about her and how we have to "unlearn" the fiction of her as a repentant prostitute  ... "Mary Magdalene: the first woman apostle" ...

Another reason to suppress this group completely.  Once a cult; always a cult.

This is a sick joke, right?  Nobody would actually say or do this, would they? 

Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene.

My initials are JP. Hey, maybe I'm a pope!

Nothing makes me more angry than the power the LC wielded to work great injustice;

Did Neuhaus--or Weigel--or Glendon ever APOLOGIZE to those actual victims whose names they dragged through the mud, whose character they assaulted? 

It is all the cult of appearances--RJN liked them because they looked good, acted conspicuously orthodox, and had money. A thin veneer over a lot of rot.

It really bothers me how many people associated with the LC dusted themselves off and reinvented themselves--with no accountability or checking.

. How many dioceses have taken in ex LC priests--no scrutiny, no reformation, no nothing.

I have never seen an article by anyone involved in RC or LC that involves deep soul-searching, saying "how was I duped," "how was I harmed by this spiritual formation," and "how have I harmed others"?"

Mainly they just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. 

You can't have it both ways. You can't say spiritual formation matters. . . unitl it doen't becaue the people who formed you and the formation you received were severely twisted.

And I don't buy the "I ddin't know." Even before the accusations came out, it was apparent that there was something deeply wrong with that order.

John P - in that case, I want to be JPII.  

John Prior

I always knew you were Papa in petto.

"It really bothers me how many people associated with the LC dusted themselves off and reinvented themselves--with no accountability or checking."

It takes a lot of humility to admit that youv'e been duped. I met recently a young man who had been in the LC sminary for 8 years.  He said he left before the Maciel issue became known and because he discerned that he had a vocation to marriage. No remorse, anger or anything like that.

I have to take his comment on face value but I hope that he didn't see the quizzical look on my face.

(In addition, I guess that I find it hard to understand how someone would be so certain that he or she had a vocation to marriage without falling in love with someone.  But, maybe it's just me.)

The statement by Solana, suggesting that Maciel's reputation has been unjustly defiled, is a huge red flag.  Is the Holy See still supervising the order in some way?  I note in Jason Berry's article that one of the people he interviewed stated that there is no outside control or supervision.

The initials thing is just inane.

Regarding Mary Magdalene, though: both Mark and Luke note that she had seven demons cast from her, which it seems to me can reasonably be construed as a "problematic past", without resorting to intimations of prostitution.  Perhaps the Legion thinks of itself (or would like us to think of it) as having been exorcised of its past demons.  

In addition, Daniel Harrington, SJ notes that MM seems to serve Mark's literary purpose: "Mary Magdalene is the principle of continuity insofar as she saw Jesus die (15:40), knew where he was buried (15:47) and went to the tomb on Easter (16:1)" [NJBC 41:107].  No doubt, the Legion would love to have continuity of its own, and may be identifying their new building project with MM for that purpose.   But ...if that is the reason for naming their complex after her, then the initials thing isn't an inanity, it's another huge red flag: surely the only conceivably acceptable continuity for the Legion is a continuity from which Maciel is utterly expurgated.

Finally, the pre-reformed liturgy explicitly identified MM with the sinful woman who anoints Jesus' feet in Luke 7.  The reformed liturgy has severed that connection, utilizing readings, antiphons and prayers that focus on the Resurrection.  Does the Legion have an attachment to the old liturgy?  I am not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if this thread of MM-as-penitent-woman continues to run through the spirituality of the Legion.


Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene.


No, more like Marilyn Manson.

When looking at any person's life, we need to consider the sweep of their entire life. Mary Magdalen was the first witness to the resurrection, the first to proclaim the gospel (ironic that now women are literally barred from proclaiming the gospel at mass!). Jesus did not ask her to fondle the apostle's children, to divert funds away from the community and bring them to the apostle's mistress's children. That is what Maciel is known as because that is, in fact, who he was.

Second, some traditions hold that she spent her remaining years in the desert as a contemplative (once seen as the highest vocation and maybe it is). She did not go on a self promotional tour misrepresenting herself.

Furthermore, the Vatican requested that all his writings and picture be removed from all LC houses. This is blatant disregard certainly of the spirit of that directive. We have had enough of Nazi loving, holocaust denying SSPX bishops, this is all we don't need.


"... the Vatican requested that all his writings and picture be removed from all LC houses."

They didn't demand it?

The Maciel/Legionnaire of Christ debacle shows the tremendous results that money can buy. The Senate and House are held in disrepute by the vast majority of Americans. Their ratings are abysmally low. Yet the vast majority of incumbents get re-elected. Money is the reason.  So here are the new leaders selling the lie again. They bought Cardinal Soldano who fought for them to the end. Now they are buying others. The architects who are arranging the building can care less about morals. The red carpet usually prevails over a good conscience. 

If the order was really serious about changing directions and owning its true legacy, it should change its name to the Order of St. Mathias. That would be appropriate given that Mathias was the apostle who replaced Judas.

I guess we should just be grateful Maciel didn't die a decade earlier.  If so, his canonization might have been put on the fast track by the powers-that-be a la Escriva.   Can you imagine trying to explain St. Marcial the child molester? 

If past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and if the same folks are still attracted to both the name "LC/RC" and its underlying philosophy and psychology, then Rome needs to disband this outfit once and for all.  A doggy pile by any other name is still a doggy pile.

Thank you Helen.  "Requested" certainly strikes me as high level pussyfooting around.  

We were involved with this outfit for some years.  We still know a lot of people who are.  The rotteness at the core is not something that can be "reformed".  There is nothing to REform to--the original form was founded on  lies, deceit, fraud, drug addiction, and sexual predation of the worst kind, priest-on-child. 

There have been whispers from the inside that eventually Maciel will be vindicated, and some who are now on the outside have noted an attempt at a slow white-wash.  This comparison to Mary Magdalene (quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach and is a massive insult to her) is probably just an attempt to start floating some of the white wash more publicly to see what sticks.

The sad part is that a lot of Catholics will probably read it and won't even see it as a red flag.  Blech.

A while ago there was a PBS Frontline documentary  - "Secrets of the Vatican" - that had a part about Maciel ... an interview with a priest he corrupted and also an interview with his son. Very disturbing.   There was a bit about abuse victims advocate Fr. Tom Doyle too.  You can watch it here ...

Mickey Mouse. Marilyn Manson.


I don't think you meant "an interview with a priest he corrupted" but rather "an interview with a priest he abused."

Yes, you're right.

MM (Maryknoll Misionaries) are the the initials of the Maryknoll priests and sisters who have a h*** of a lot more credibility than the Legionaries of Christ.

MM. Yup.

Won't the real Slim Shady please stand up?Stand back, he's cleaning out his closet...

Or maybe Michael Milken - hundreds of millions in ill-gotten gains...

How about Maia Morgenstern - known for fictional portrayal of a saint.


Weren't the Jesuits once suppressed by the Vatican for the better part of a century because of their involvement in political intrique?

Couldn't we expect that the LofC at least merits the Vatican equivalent of the death penalty for their twisted development into a personal cult around the deification of Marciel?  And the seeming congenital defect of the LofC for misuse of money?

The problem here of course is that all that ill-gotten money over decades has bought-off all too many corrupt hierarchs, especially in the Vatican curia.  Jason Berry indicates in his books [Vows of Silence; Render Unto Rome] that Marciel understood that he needed a sustained presence in Rome because he needed the protection for Vatican hierarchs for his criminal enterprise - which he bought essentially with bribes in the form of charitiable donations into the pockets of Vatican operatives.

I must say the appropriation by the LofC of the slander of Mary Magdalene as a whore is really rich.  Of course, blaming it on the woman in our religious tradition goes all the way back to Genesis.  Whenever the hierarchy boys' concupiscence for money, power and sex gets the best of them, they hide behind the canard of blaming the seductress.

Besides, if modern exegetes are to be believed, Mary Magdalene could well have been more the "Beloved Disciple" than John the Apostle.  Mary Magdalene apparently vied with James, Peter and Paul for leadership of the nascent Jesus movement.  It was Mary Magdalene that the birth of the beliefs in the resurrection mythology are first sourced in both the NT and the non-canonicals.

[Is the recent Vatican attempts to suppress the LCWR just a modern version of this disturbing part of our Christian history?]

The hierarchs of the early church understood very well that if they wanted to keep control of the Jesus movement they needed trash the reputation of Mary Magdalene.  I guess somethings never change.  

@ Helen

"I find it hard to understand how someone would be so certain that he or she had a vocation to marriage without falling in love with someone."

I can't decide if you're being facetious or not.  Without having met The One, a person can certainly be aware that he or she has a healthy libido, and that the Church's only approved outlet for it is marriage.

We have an ex-LC priest in our rural Wisconsin parish.  Can't say I recommend the experience.  The number of refugees seeking sanity in neighboring parishes is growing.  Our bishop (Morlino) has already wrecked one parish in the diocese; why stop at just one?

Shayne:  I know that you are referring to Morlino's debacle in Platteville.  I'm originally from Cuba City.  Are you willing to divulge the location of your parish?



St Clement, Lancaster.

St Rose is such a nice parish.  We have been attending either Sts Thomas or Andrew in the twin cities of Potosi/Tennyson, or else at the Sinsinawa Mound, which is exceptional in so many ways.

St. Mary's in Plateville has the sacrament of Reconciliation seven days a week.  St Clement's has it six days a week.  It seems that they're doing something right. 

Frank Gibbons, 


Amazing!  You can't admit it either it seems. Unfortunately the sacrament has often been an occasion for abuse. Would you send your son or daughter to them?

Resurrection mythology?! The first proclamation was he is risen! But the mistake of identifying Mary magdalen as the prostitite can be attributed to pope Gregory the great not the early church.

Back to the LC, I don't see much of this story around the other Catholic media and it should be!

I really don't see how the schedule of Reconciliation can serve as any measure of a parish's health, spiritual or otherwise.  It's a ridiculous statement. 

Shayne LaBudda - by the measuring stick of common pastoral practice in my diocese (Chicago), offering daily reconciliation would be well out of the ordinary.  Daily reconciliation might be indicative of something.  I don't think it was a ridiculous statement.  If penitents are actually showing up every day, it might actually be a sign of spiritual health.  Having 5 or 6 people show up during a weekly one-hour slot, as happens in some parishes around here, is a worrisome sign, probably a sign of the opposite of spiritual health.  

Some statements made around here really are ridiculous.  I've made a few, or more, over the years.  Just a friendly suggestion to disagree with reasonable comments in ways that don't shut down dialogue.  It's advice I should take more often, too.


Admit what?  And who are "them"?

It may be indicative of something- but why are you so sure it is spiritual health? It could be scrupulosity or a desire to impress an in group. The lesson of the LC is don't  judge by externals. There were lots of spiritual maggots eating away at souls that looked very pious from the outside. 

Hi,  Cathleen, I'm not sure whether your comment was addressed to me, but just speaking for myself, I'm not so sure that offering daily reconciliation is indicative of spiritual health.  Nor am I so sure it isn't.  I thought Shayne LaBudda's characterization of another comment as "ridiculous" was over the top.  That's all.

And I agree with you re: the LC, externals and maggots.  Maciel, in additon to being personally abusive, surely was a hornswoggler of epic proportions.  That at least some LC leadership apparently is eager to resuscitate his reputation, strains credulity well past the breaking point.  That is why, in a previous comment, I questioned whether the Holy See was still responsible for overseeing the order.  Just so you know where I stand on the overall issue.


...strains credulity well past the breaking point.

But that's a good thing, isn't it? Credulity should be strained and broken.

Unfortunately the sacrament has often been an occasion for abuse. Would you send your son or daughter to them?


Yes, In a heartbeat!

@ George D:  Mythology in the sense that a group seeks to explain nature, history and customs out of their own shared experiences of their shared reality.  

Surely, with any honest reading of the NT accounts of the resurrection one has to acknowledge that there are competing narratives of the resurrection experience of the primitive Jesus community that are not synchronous, not all that internally or externally consistent, each one revealing more about the religious and political agenda of the writer/editor.  

Obviously, these renditions of the resurrection were retold verbally for decades, changing from detail to detail for each narrator and audience alike, emphasizing a bias or deeply held belief, before they got to the written format that we experience them in the 21st century.

Gregory, Doctor of the Church, didn't just make-up his notions about Mary Magdalene out of thin air.  He read the same scriptures as you and I have.  When you include the non-canonical writings, it should be obvious from any close reading that there were attempts by different factions to marginalize and diminish the role and place of Mary Magdalene [and women in general] from the very beginning of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem after the emergence of the resurrection narratives.

More to my original point:  Who is it that states "the first proclamation was he is risen!"?  I believe the tradition gives that honor to Mary Magdalene.

On your final point about this story and Catholic media, I couldn't agree more.  My guess is that is just cuts too close to the bone.


@ Bruce:  I'd have to say that the "occasion for abuse" certainly tempered any encouragement I gave to my children about the practice of the scarament.

Wouldn't even take a heartbeat for me to try to protect my children from that horror!

Re: the risk of abuse in the sacrament of reconciliation: A practice that's pretty common around here is to have communal reconciliation during Advent and Lent.  Confession and absolution take place individually, both in the traditional 'confessionals' and also at other stations that are set up around the church, consisting simply of chairs, kneelers and screens to protect identity if that is wished.  (The priests from a few different nearby parishes come for these, so there are usually 9-10 different stations in all).  These screened stations are in various corners and nooks of the worship space, so they afford the opportunity for private conversations with priests but also are entirely visible to the large crowd who comes to these services.  It's a safe way to get one's children to the sacrament at least a couple of times a year.


NCR reports that the Legionaires have apologized for the book. An American leader in the order called Solana to protest

Bob Mickens has a meaningful take on Maciel and why the LC is stilll around:

"Why didn’t he (Benedict) just banish him(Maciel) Why? Because the Legionaries of Christ is a large and very wealthy order and puts lots of money in the Vatican’s coffers...

What should have happened was the order should have been disbanded; the members of that order should have been given psychological, spiritual help to discern whether or not they wanted to continue to be priests and find places that could accommodate them, either in dioceses to become diocesan priests or other religious orders. Why this has not been done — the only way I can explain it is it’s too wealthy, it has too much money, it runs a lot of schools, and they’re just afraid to shut this thing down."

I believe Jason Berry reiterated the thought that if the Legion were a small order, it would have been disbanded ages ago.

Follow the money...especially in Rome.


Ms. O'Reilly,

I've been following the abuse scandal for some 30+ years since Berry's revelations in Lafayette,Louisiana. I took your advice and read Neuhayus' defese of Maciel in First Things. I wonder if Neuhaus ever retracted his diatribe against Berry and Renner and admitted that his moral certainty had failed him. I wonder also how Neuhaus felt when BXVI removed Maciel and sent him off to a monastery where he died. 

Papa Francesco should just disband them and be done with them. But then that entails property and money. Would that he were not pressed by some in the Curia who still defend the Legion.


 I wonder if Neuhaus ever retracted his diatribe against Berry and Renner and admitted that his moral certainty had failed him. I wonder also how Neuhaus felt when BXVI removed Maciel and sent him off to a monastery where he died. 

greg Carnevale - as a matter of fact, somehow the conversation in another current thread on dotCom (the one on the Wesolowski extradition) drifted to this very question.  The closest Neuhaus ever came, that I'm aware of, to making the admission you're wondering about was in the August/September 2006 print edition of First Things, in Neuhaus's "On the Square" column for that edition.  It's available here; I am not sure if it is behind a subscriber wall.  If you're able to access it, scroll about 1/3 of the way down (his columns were quite long and this is just one of several topics he touched on that month) and read what is under the headings "Person, Charism and the Legionaries of Christ", and "What We Know".  


Notice Mollie's update with the letter from a Legionnaire leader. All well and good until he asks for prayesfor the Magdala project. Not. Did the nuns ever come near this amoun of money for all the work they do? Money stil seems to be their mantra.

Carolyn Disco: I tried that link and got this:

Not Found

The requested URL /wgbh/pages/frontline/religion/secrets-of-the-vatican/robert-mickens-from-benedict-to-francis/ / was not found on this server.