The secret TV series about Marcial Maciel, from the Legionaries of Christ

Marcial Maciel’s secret TV show: the self-portrait of a demon

Twenty-five years have passed since a group of eight ex-Legionaries, in their 50s, denounced having been abused by Marcial Maciel, founder of the powerful religious congregation the Legionaries of Christ. The news scandalized the world. Now a revealing discovery, the transcriptions of a television series that never saw the light, with which Maciel hoped to clean his image at the beginning of the millennium, reveals new nuances of the schemes he used to establish the organization. Jose Barba, moral leader and representative of the first victims, shares memories and revelations.

Tiempo de lectura: 21 minutos

In my hands I have a rare jewel: a television series which Marcial Maciel starred a few years before his death. The Legionaries of Christ recorded it between 2002 and 2003, portraying Maciel as a hero of the faith and, occasionally, as a victim of slander and misunderstandings amplified by the press. When the show was produced, the world knew that Maciel was a pederast who had abused children and teenagers under his care. But Our Father, as he was called, and his court of faithfuls, believed that it was still possible to sustain the myth: that he was a living saint and the testimonies about his crimes were a conspiracy against the Catholic church.

The Legionaries filmed nineteen episodes, each lasting between seventeen and twenty-six minutes and featuring Marcial Maciel as the protagonist. The show recounts his life, beginning with his birth in 1920 and continuing through 1950 when he settled in Rome with his young seminarians. I have accurate and detailed transcripts of each episode, though I will not explore each one in detail: the omissions and falsifications go far beyond the scope of this article. I will instead describe the clearest contradictions between the truth and the myths about the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, which are narrated in the series that never saw the light. The congregation ended up canning what would have been their founder’s most important television project.

Marcial Maciel promoted the principle of chastity. He portrayed himself as a saint, and he constructed a cult-like organization that controlled every hour of its members’ lives. At the same time, he abused minors; he had multiple wives and children; and he participated in corruption schemes with bishops and cardinals, all while maintaining an extravagant lifestyle in the finest hotels of the United States and Europe. His religious organization sought to bring Christ’s kingdom to earth. Under that pretext, Maciel built his own empire, which came to be valued at 25 billion dollars, between private schools, real estate and investments in tax havens. He discovered a strategy that kept him afloat for decades: playing the victim. He asked his seminary students to help alleviate his “great pains” by giving him genital massages. News of his behavior reached the Vatican at the end of the 40s. Since then, he claimed to be a victim of conspiracies and jealous lies. His detractors, he insisted, were scheming not against him, but against God.

In 1997, a group of eight ex-Legionaries accused Maciel of pederasty. The eight whistleblowers were Felix Alarcon, Jose Antonio Perez Olvera, Fernando Perez Olvera, Juan Jose Vaca, Saul Barrales, Alejandro Espinosa, Arturo Jurado and Jose Barba. They shared the information with an American newspaper and then with a small Mexican television channel. I remember the impact of the scene: grown men recounting the abuses that their teenage bodies had experienced forty or fifty years prior. I write this to refresh the memory of the story that shook my generation, a story that now is scarcely remembered. To forget only feeds the soil of impunity. Because Maciel did not act alone: other Legionaries, Catholic hierarchs, political leaders and magnates protected him from the victims’ accusations.

Twenty-five years after the first public accusations, unanswered questions remain. How did a problematic seminarian become one of the most influential men in the Vatican? How did he maintain his impunity for more than fifty years, despite repeated reports that exposed him as an abuser of minors, a user of drugs and a chronic manipulator? One answer has become clear: Marcial Maciel had the money. He used large quantities of cash to buy properties and bribe cardinals. How did such a fortune come to a boy with no family wealth? Testimonies gathered by Jose Barba —whom I will speak later of — point to narcotrafficking. The first stones of Maciel’s empire were bricks of cocaine.

Jose Barba, 82, Mexico City, October 1, 2022.

***

We meet in a café in the south of Mexico City in 2021. Jose Barba tells me about his years in the Legionaries of Christ and about the research he has carried out, in recent years, to shine light on the dark life of Marcial Maciel. Among the stories he shares, he mentions the existence of a short documentary that Maciel had made in 1952. “Maciel heard one of Pius XII’s speeches about the media, he took it to heart and he made the film”, he remembers. Barba saw the documentary in Ontaneda, Spain, where Maciel established the Legionarie     s’ seminary in a former hot spring hotel.

He remembers a few details: filmed in black and white, half an hour long. It was written by José Luis Legaza, a Jesuit who taught the Legionaries’ classes, and Federico Domínguez, Maciel’s personal secretary. It was directed by an Italian whose name he no longer remembers. The founder did not appear in the short film, but the young seminarians did. The first scene opened with a voiceover: “Light, lots of light through the many symmetrical windows.” Barba notes the irony of speaking about light from within a cult.

“The window of the infirmary was always closed, because of what happened there,” he says, referring to the episodes of sexual abuse, which always took place in the infirmary, where Maciel called on his young disciples to alleviate his alleged ailments.

I set out to find the documentary. I search among my contacts of Legionaries and ex-Legionaries. I travel to cities throughout central Mexico. I write emails. I find nothing about the documentary. I do receive new stories of silence and pain. I speak with people who refuse to talk about their case on the record. They are painful episodes, they say, and they don’t want to relive them. But one ex-priest speaks openly. He tells me how he “vaccinated” businessmen.

“What do you mean by ‘vaccinate’?”

“Predispose them to donate money. The goal was to obtain at least a million dollars from each one. I must have vaccinated at least a hundred.”

To my emails and WhatsApps, I receive negatives: I don’t want to talk, it’s not the time. Some of the Legionaries who I contact, who still belong to the congregation, ask me not to write to them again. Others refer me to official communiqués.

But that is journalism. That is life. You look for one thing and you find another. One source gives me a notebook with transcripts from a television series. It is a spiral-bound volume with a transparent cover. I turn over a blank page and read: “A day in the life: part one. Video by: David Murray. Narrated by: Evaristo Sada.” I find a little more than a hundred pages, printed on both sides. I verify their authenticity. The Legionaries went on to record what is written there. It bears the name of a production company called Apostolate Resource Center, or ARC. On the credits page, David Murray appears as the producer, and father Evaristo Sada, one of the priests closest to Marcial Maciel, as the executive producer. I do not find the 1952 documentary that Barba remembered, but I obtain a television series from 2002. It never saw the light because the Legionaries changed their strategy: they went from defense to avoidance. “We never knew about the Founder’s double life, and we’re just as surprised as you are,” they have said repeatedly. Their version is untenable. Maciel enjoyed the backing and resources of the upper echelons of the Legionaries of Christ.

The television series gives proof of their collusion. That is why it has been buried.

Maciel was an influential man, an intimate friend of John Paul II and close to presidents.

***

“As a child, I had the luck, the joy of being part of a bloody persecution against Christ […] every week we went to the place where they shot two or three men who did not want to deny Christ,” says Marcial Maciel, quoted in the notebook of transcriptions, about his childhood during the Cristero War.

Marcial Maciel was born in Cotija, Michoacan, in 1920, to a family with three bishop uncles and a leader of the Cristero War. His father owned the Poca Sangre ranch, but since a young age, Maciel set off to try his luck without paternal support. When he entered seminary in the diocese of Veracruz —which he was later expelled from — Maciel sought to create his own group to found a religious congregation. He managed to do so: he was only twenty years old when he founded the Legionaries of Christ, in January 1942, with thirteen teenagers who he recruited as seminarians. From there on, he ascended at a meteoric rate. At 35 years old, he had acquired a real estate fortune in Mexico and Europe. A year later, in 1956, the Vatican investigated him for pederasty and drug addiction. The accusations were dropped in 1959. For almost four decades, he faced no opposition, until he was publicly accused in 1997. He not only attempted to canonize himself: his strategy involved first canonizing his own mother, Maura Degallado, known to insiders as “Mamá Maurita.” After his death, his disciples took on the task of elevating him to the highest ranks of Catholicism. Maciel was an influential man, an intimate friend of John Paul      II and close to presidents of Mexico, Spain and Chile, including Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Jose Maria Aznar and Augusto Pinochet, respectively.

“If I stop to reflect, I feel surprised, awed, at the rhythm that the Legionaries have      followed in its development, because so many things have happened in such a short time […], all this is due to the activity of the Holy Spirit, of God, and the way he has permitted me to offer myself to do his work,” Maciel says.

In 2006, the Vatican dismissed the allegations because of his advanced age, inviting him to “a reserved life of prayer and penitence, away from any public ministry.” Maciel died unpunished on January 30, 2008, at 87 years old, in a luxurious mansion in Jacksonville, Florida. For a year, the Legionaries continued to uphold the narrative that their founder was a saint. But the myth collapsed in 2009, when it was made public that Maciel had a wife and daughter in Spain, Hilda Baños and Hilda Rivas Baños, respectively, in addition to his other family in Tijuana. Maciel spent his last years traveling the world: he went to Cancun and Capri with the two Hildas and with other female Legionaries.

In January 2015, the Legionaries of Christ finally recognized that Maciel’s behavior was “extremely serious”: sexual abuse of minors, relationships with adults, the consumption of addictive substances      and the plagiarism of texts. “We find the incongruity of presenting oneself as a priest and a witness of the faith continuously for decades while hiding this immoral behavior to be incomprehensible. We firmly condemn this. We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr. Maciel. Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons.”

In 2020, the Legionaries recognized that “175 minors have been victims of sexual abuse committed by a total of 33 priests from the congregation. This number of victims includes at least sixty minors abused by Fr. Marcial Maciel.”

In the Catholic Church, a pandemic of sexual abuse began to appear. To take just one example, in France, the Sauvé Commission documented 330,000 victims “in ecclesiastical contexts” —churches, religious schools, trips with priests— from 2,900 to 3,300 perpetrators, in the seventy years from 1950 to 2020.

Marcial Maciel

Marcial Maciel at 15 years old.

***

My phone rings, and I see his name on the screen: “Dr. Jose Barba.” Every call can take me down unexpected paths: names, dates, unfamiliar European cities; titles of books and films from the 50s. He has the best memory of any man I’ve ever met. He recalls precise dates of events that occurred seventy years ago, the colors and brands of cars he saw as a teenager, conversations he had thirty years ago. José Barba was, and remains, the moral support of the accusers of Marcial Maciel, along with his friend Arturo Jurado. Twenty-five years after the first accusation, published in 1997 by the Hartford Courant, a newspaper in Connecticut, Barba continues fighting for the truth. The Legionaries’ pleas for forgiveness are insufficient. The congregation never truly sought the truth about the situation, preferring to deflect responsibility away from the structure that covered up Maciel and other abusive priests.

Jose Barba is 83 years old. He was born in one of the most conservative areas of the country —the Jaliscan Highlands— and he grew up in an ultra-right Catholic congregation. I am not surprised, therefore, by his conservative tendencies: he thinks, for example, that the rippled jeans’ trend is a sign of the decay of the times.

He entered the Legionaries of Christ on December 3, 1948, at eleven years old, and he left on October 24, 1964     , without being ordained as a priest. He went on to take up an      academic life. He studied two doctorates in Philology, at Boston College and at Harvard University, and he was a professor his entire life.

In 1989 he began working at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico      , where he taught until his retirement. In 1997, at 57 years old, he made his accusation of Marcial Maciel. The process took him into another world: that of     human rights.      This also      turned him into a detective of history. He has traveled internationally —to Chile, Rome, the United States and various Mexican cities— to speak with Legionaries or ex-Legionaries willing to tell their stories. He almost always ensures that the conversation has a witness, and for many years, that witness has been Arturo Jurado, another victim of Maciel. For more than two decades, he has gone near and far gathering stories, dates, names.

Scenes, stories. He himself witnessed some of them, like in 1959, days after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, when he heard the founder say that he would “raze the island” with two hundred bomber aircrafts, because he was bothered by the fall of dictator Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro’s rise to power. Later, he would find out that Maciel made secret trips to Cuba before the Revolution, accompanied by the young Legionary Francisco de la Isla. Why did Maciel go to Cuba? The question has yet to be answered.

There are scenes he heard from other witnesses, such as one time that Maciel was walking alongside Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar, then the dean      of the Universidad Anahuac, and they passed by a synagogue:

“Our Father said that Hitler wasn’t wrong,” he said to Amenabar —a particularly terrible declaration for a university dean with a significant population of Jewish students.

The truth, the search for the truth. Words that I have heard him say over and over again. The search has led Barba to try to understand the decades of 1940 to 1960, when Maciel went from being a small-town seminarian to one of the most influential men in the Vatican. In a Europe destroyed by the Second World War, Maciel arrived with fresh money.

“Marcial Maciel sustained himself with three main elements: bribes, sex, espionage, and exchanges with people who were well-placed in the Vatican, either directly through sex or through the facilitation of young Legionaries that he placed there.”

He refers to Fernando Vergez Alzaga, born in 1945, a young Legionary who was known as the most beautiful boy in the Legionaries of Christ. Maciel recommended him to the Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, who took him as his personal secretary in 1975. Until Pope Francis, Eduardo Pironio was the highest-ranking Argentine in the Roman Curia. He was in charge of a ministry: he was the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Consecrated Life and Maciel’s superior in the Vatican. From there, Vergez ascended to various positions in the Roman Curia. On October 1, 2021, Pope Francis made him the first cardinal from the Legionaries of Christ and named him president of the Vatican Governatorato     . If a conclave occurs in the next three years, Vergez could become the first Legionary pope.

***

Madrid, 1946. The transcriptions narrate an encounter between Alberto Martín Artrajo, Francisco Franco’s Foreign Minister. According to Maciel’s story, the official gave him 36 scholarships to enroll Mexican seminarians in the Pontificia Universidad de Comillas.

“I went to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and the minister received me and I explained to him the project I had (of bringing Mexican seminarians to Spain) but that I had the problem of scholarships,” Marcial Maciel says, continuing in a joking tone. “What I didn’t understand was how being a minister of Foreign Affairs, he let himself be carried away so easily by a twenty-six-year-old priest.”

Jose Barba, 9 and 12 years old, in Rome and Spain, respectively.

***

By 1954, at 34 years old, Marcial Maciel had accumulated a real estate fortune in Mexico, Spain and Italy. The Legionaries of Christ were the owners of the so-called Apostolic School, known as the Quinta Pacelli, in Tlalpan in southern Mexico City, and of a seminary in Ontaneda, Spain, that had once been a luxury hotel. In March of that year, in the west of the capital, the congregation inaugurated the Cumbres school and bought a twenty thousand-square-meter piece of land in Rome, where the congregation’s headquarters would be built. The trajectory is impressive for a priest without personal wealth.

The Legionaries television series avoids the topic of money. It depicts Maciel, in the mid-40s, “knocking on doors and begging for alms.” In one of the takes, a legionary who walks alongside Maciel says, “it really was the work of a beggar, in every sense of the word.” In the episode “Cobreces,” the voiceover narrates: “Despite the fact that Our Father’s health began to decline, during those founding years, he continued seeking funds to maintain the Cobreces school and the Quinta Pacelli and to finance the construction of the new center in Rome.” The series never clarifies his supposed health issues. His accusers, however, have detailed how Maciel invented illnesses in order to consume pethidine —a synthetic opioid  —and to convince the youth to caress him.

The beggar story is hard for Jose Barba to believe. In the 50s, when Barba was still a young teenager, he remembers asking for money for the Legionaries in churches in Mexico and Europe, but he received very little. In Europe, Barba affirms, there weren’t many millionaire benefactors willing to give their money to a young Mexican priest.

The real estate empire was not a minor asset. The Quinta Pacelli, in Barba’s memories of his time as a student and professor, “was a luxurious quinta with its own lake, pelota court, bowling alley, stables, shooting ranges that were later removed and three main houses, of which remains one, called Casa 3, which is the main entrance.” The Ontaneda property in Cantabria, Barba continues, “was a great hotel —the Grand Hotel of Ontaneda— where members of royalty visited, among them King Alfonso XIII. Its hot spring baths produce more cubic meters per minute of water than any other in Europe, and we had to get used to the smell of those waters, which smell like rotten egg. The baths were so important that there was an express train that arrived from Santander directly to the Ontaneda and Alceda property.”

In those years, the hotel was bought with cash. “Gregorio Lopez, many years later, told me that he had gone to pay for the property with bills in cash.” F     ather Lopez, who died in 2014, told Barba that he brought the money in brown paper bags, which he stored in the baggage compartment of the train. Lopez did not give any more detail. He is one of the other characters that appears in the television series. He speaks briefly, recounting in glowing terms that he attended a mass that Maciel officiated in the 40s: “It was an emotional experience, in the sense that everyone admired how Our Father celebrated the Holy Mass.”

What was the source of the cash that allowed Maciel to buy such highly valued properties? José Barba points to drug trafficking. He bases his claim in a confession from José Domínguez, who at the time was a seminarian and told the story to José Barba and Arturo Jurado.

“Since he joined the Legionaries, on the instructions of Marcial Maciel, José Domínguez had taken drugs to Spain with Carlos de la Isla. They walked from Hendaye to Irun with bags of cocaine, plastic bags held between their legs and stomach with tape. I suppose that was earlier or in 1957 at the latest, because it was in 1957 that José Domínguez and Carlos de la Isla went to Dublin.”

Barba did not know any more details about the origin of the drugs, but he did know about its destination. De la Isla and Domínguez delivered them to “some nuns.”

Jose Dominguez’s brother, Federico, would go on to play a central role in the story of the Legionaries of Christ. The founder’s personal secretary from 1948 to 1952, he was the first to dare to denounce in writing Maciel’s addiction to narcotics and his ploys to convince young men to caress his sexual organs. In an extensive letter from 1954, directed to the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Mexico, he also told of the bribes that Maciel used to obtain confidential information in the Vatican.

Jose Barba also documented the testimony of another ex-legionary named Alfonso (whose surnames I will omit), who was his peer in the Legionaries of Christ. He recalls that, in 1952, Maciel took Alfonso on a flight to Europe, via a route that connected Mexico City, New York, Paris and Rome. In the New York airport the following scene occurred: “Maciel had brought us tostadas for Christmas, but the boxes broke and bags of white dust appeared. Frightened, Maciel disappeared from the hall.” Minutes later, when he saw that nothing had happened, Maciel reappeared and continued with the trip with the box of tostadas and bags of white dust. It was the 1950s. Two young men in cassocks did not attract the police’s attention. Airport controls were lax compared to today. Still far in the future was the “war on drugs” that US president Richard Nixon would declare in 1971, heightening surveillance at border crossings.

Many years later, in December 2019, José Barba and Arturo Jurado met with the then-director general of the Legionaries of Christ, the Mexican Eduardo Robles-Gil. It was an official meeting in which both parts, Legionaries and ex-Legionaries, had designated a mediator. José Barba does not tell me the mediator’s name, but he does say that he had occupied the highest roles in Mexico’s judicial system. The ex-Legionaries were pressuring the congregation to offer truth, justice and reparations to its victims. In addition to Barba, other victims, including Jose Antonio Perez Olvera and Arturo Jurado, also attended. In the meetings, they brought to the table issues that unsettled the upper echelons of the Legionaries.

“When we mentioned the tax havens that Raul Olmos had studied, Robles-Gil jumped up, objected and said that that was a lie,” Barba says. He refers to the book El imperio financiero de los Legionarios de Cristo (Grijalbo, 2015), in which the journalist Raul Olmos tells of investments in arms and pornography, and the tangle of false companies in tax havens, that involved money linked to the congregation. A month later, on January 4, 2020, Barba and Jurado had another meeting with Robles-Gil and a handful of priests from the Legionaries’ directorship. At that meeting, which Perez Olvera did not attend, Barba brought up the topic of drug trafficking. He told the highest leaders of the congregation what he had heard from Jose Dominguez: about crossing the border between France and Spain with bags of cocaine taped to his skin in the 50s.

Jose Barba found Robles-Gil’s reaction meaningful: “He remained silent like a statue, without saying a word before or after. And the mediator saw that. And that, for me, was a confession, because that was the moment to scream and say, ‘how can you prove that?’, but he stayed still as a stone statue.”

Those discussions with Robles-Gil did not result in significant agreements.

Legionaries of Christ

The Quinta Pacelli, in Barba’s memory, “was a luxurious quinta with its own lake, pelota court, bowling alley, stables, shooting ranges that were later removed and three main houses, of which remains one, called Casa 3, which is the main entrance. The Legionaries of Christ were founded by Marcial Maciel.

***

It was 2005 and the Vatican had ordered an investigation on Marcial Maciel, and the Legionaries were in crisis. I requested an interview with Maciel. It was denied. But I was offered a spokesperson who would give me the official narrative. Father Rafael Jacome, then 43 years old and the spokesperson of the Legionaries of Christ, received me on January 26 of that year in a house of priests in the opulent neighborhood of Tecamachalco, in the west of Mexico City. He told me that he had known Maciel for 26 years and that he “would put both hands in the fire for his innocence.” Maciel was a spiritual martyr —Jacome used those words— of the slander of his accusers, all false witnesses who had received money to incriminate him. There was one episode that I wanted to ask about: The sabotage of CNI Canal 40, the television channel that broadcast the testimonies of Barba and other ex-Legionaries. The Mexican businessmen close to Maciel responded with an advertising boycott that sent the station into bankruptcy. Jacome accepted it: “we can’t allow them to trample us just because someone decided to say ‘this happened.’ What should reign in this case in the media, and what happened at Canal      40, is an act of justice.” That boycott functioned to intimidate other media outlets who would address the case.

He showed off the Legionaries’ numbers: 600 priests, 2,500 seminarians, 65,000 members of      the Regnum Christi, the secular movement of the Legionaries of Christ, in addition to schools, universities and charity work in various countries. All of this, he said, thanks to the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ of the congregation. Beyond Jacome’s verbiage, it was clear that the Legionaries of Christ we still betting on rehabilitating its founders’ image. They wanted to tell the world that Maciel was enlightened and had served as God’s instrument to create the Legionaries of Christ. Jacome boasted to me that the canonization of “Mama Maurita” was moving forward, and that when the time came, they would also request that Maciel be granted the same honor.

Jacome gave me a gift that afternoon: he gave me Fundación, historia y actualidad de la Legión de Cristo, a book by Angeles Conde and David Murray, the same person who was in charge of the television series. The book argued that Maciel was an instrument of God who had faced terrible slander. The volume had something valuable: it told about the Vatican’s investigation of Maciel in 1956 in order to discover whether he abused young Legionaries. At that time, he took advantage of the complicity of his victims —among them José Barba— who, out of obedience and love for Our Father, lied to the Vatican investigators. That time, Maciel managed to save himself. Fifty years later, in January 2005, the Legionaries of Christ expected that their founder would once again get away with his deeds. He did not.

***

Marcial Maciel in a shot from 1980, on the steps of St. Peter’s Square, at Rome, surrounded by the Legionaries of Christ and with a sign dated 1980. Marcial Maciel s     ays: “I was saying      to Father Lagoa that I really loved the Church more than the Legionaries. If he asked me to sacrifice the Legionaries for the Church to go on, I would sacrifice it.”

The television series I have transcribed is divided into seven sections. Six of them are dedicated to Maciel’s life until 1950: “Cotija and childhood,” “Orizaba,” “Foundation,” “The journey to Europe,” “The years of Comillas” and “Cobreces.” But one of them, perhaps the most interesting, attempts to follow “A day in the life” of the Legionaries’ founder. It is set in the present of 2002 and 2003, when the recording is dated. I note two topics: the presence of the high commands of the Legionaries, and the insistence that Maciel prayed and worked all day despite being over 80 years old.

The transcriptions in my power give me a clue to the images that appear on the screen: at 46 minutes, Maciel appears representing himself. The then-high commands of the Legionaries appear in an act of abject respect. They parade before the camera: Luis Garza Medina, who was vicar general and number-two in the congregation; Evaristo Sada, general secretary, narrates the episode; and Rafel Moreno, Maciel’s personal secretary, appears. Others appear without their role specified: Rafel Ducci and Daniel Brandenburg. I ask myself: how many of them were victims of Maciel’s sexual abuse? Without a doubt, at least one of them was.

Father Rafael Moreno says to the camera: “My apostleship is with Our Father. My greatest difficulty is realizing how sinful, how humanly limited I am, and to spend most of my day with such an extraordinary person.”

Some years after that recording was made, father Moreno will take the bravest step of his life. At nine in the morning on October 19, 2011, he presented himself in the office of Benedict XVI, in the Vatican. The pope’s private secretary, German priest George Gänswein, received him and took      his testimony. Thanks to the Vatileaks —the largest leak of internal documents from the Roman Curia— gathered in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book Las cartas secretas de Benedicto XVI (Martínez Roca México, 2012), we know the details of the father Moreno’s confessions. Gänswein wrote:

Meeting with D. Rafael Moreno, private secretary of MM.
-For 18 years he was private secretary of MM, by whom he suffered abuse.
-He has destroyed evidence against him (incriminating material).
-He wanted to inform PP II in 2003, but he was neither listened to nor believed.
-He wanted to inform cardinal Sodano, he has not given him an audience.
-The cardinal De Paolis has had very little time.

Gänswein’s notes revealed that during the same years that Rafael Moreno recorded the testimony praising Maciel, he had attempted to denounce him (possibly to pope John Paul      II, referred to as PP II), but “he was neither listened to nor believed.” The cardinal Velasio de Paolis was the pontifical delegate for the Legionaries of Christ between 2010 and 2014.

In the transcripts, the testimony of father Luis Garza is also notable. It begins with a predictable compliment: “Whoever lives close to him is before the mystery of God’s plan, which hides behind this man’s personality.” The important part comes later: “We have learned from Our Father an extremely loving way to treat people […] we are all building a family.”

Each interview has its own purpose. That of Luis Garza, then the powerful financial operator of the religious order, was to refute the testimonies about Maciel as an abuser, experiences repeated dozens of times.

I transcribe José Barba’s testimony:

“As I have recounted, [he did to me] a crazy, violent masturbation that caused me extreme damage because the man, I think, was drugged. He had asked me to masturbate him with the pretext that he had pain in his virile parts. My hand froze and he got angry, he took my hand out from the sheets and he scolded me saying ‘you don’t know how to do it.’”

Later, Maciel would attempt to masturbate José Barba, with the pretext of showing him how to do it. Barba’s frenulum ruptured, causing him to bleed, and he left the room weeping. It was Thursday, March 31, 1955.

That was his “extremely loving” way of treating people, as Garza Medina noted.

Jose Barba listens to a Catholic mass at Ciudad de México, October 1, 2022.

***   

About the first accusations of Marcial Maciel in the 40s, the voiceover in the series recounts that Maciel “continues gathering evidence that show the falsity of the accusations.” Though it does not specify what accusations it refers to, they are probably about sexual abuse and drug consumption. Maciel wrote “a document” to defend his innocence, and he delivers it to the Vatican’s ambassador in Spain, the nuncio Gaetano Cicognani:

“With this document, the nuncio was completely convinced of all the malice in this scheme, and from that occasion on he showed himself to be a great friend and defender of the Legionaries of Christ.”

***

“A day in the life” portrays a Marcial Maciel dedicated to prayer and work. Before the sun has risen, the founder’s light goes on in the central headquarters of the Legionaries of Christ, on Via Aurelia 677, Rome. He steps out of his room, bathed and impeccable. He kneels and kisses the feet of a wooden Christ. Then he works all day.

Evaristo Sada, then the secretary general of the Congregation, narrates Maciel’s supposed daily schedule. The image depicts him reading  L’Osservatore Romano and the international press. At seven he eats breakfast, and “he dedicates the morning to office work.” Just to give an idea, says Evaristo Sada in the voiceover, “last year 12,600 letters were sent with advice, instructions and replies.” That does not include emails. Maciel reads correspondence, writes, makes phone calls. “In no way does he limit himself to attending what he receives. He has a program, very clear priorities,” Sada adds.

At the end of the day, night falls. The only light that remains lit is that of Marcial Maciel, who, supposedly, stays up late working. The image is a response to what we really know about Maciel from the testimonies of those close to him: he had no interest in prayer; he lacked intellectual curiosity and he almost never was in his offices. He spent his time traveling, sometimes accompanied by a Legionary, his lover of the moment; he traveled in first class and frequented the best hotels and restaurants.

In 1954, Federico Domínguez, Maciel’s personal secretary, wrote a letter to the then vicar general of the Archdiocese of Mexico, Francisco Orozco, to reveal to him Maciel’s sexual abuse and consumption of narcotic     s. Additionally, in the missive, he writes:

“Father Maciel has not prayed the breviary in at least ten years. He shields himself in physical impossibility [his illnesses] and in the lack of time. But he has time to read superficial magazines like Life and Selecciones […] in the last eight years, very few times have I seen Father Maciel do the morning meditation for an hour, as the rules specify.”

“A day in the life” portrays Maciel as a combination of a religious leader and business executive. Maciel on the steps of the Plaza de San Pedro, surrounded by priests; embracing the cardinal     s of the Vatican Curia of that time, Angelo Sodano and Giovanni Battista Re; talking on the phone to ask where his disciples eat; and serving shredded cheese to other priests as they eat pasta. And the apotheosis: Maciel enters a room full of women (perhaps from the Regnum Christi) who applaud him like the living saint that they believe he is.

This story was printed in the monographic winter issue: “Región de extremos”.


EMILIANO RUIZ PARRA. Ciudad de México, 1982. Estudió Letras Hispánicas, fue reportero de Reforma, es colaborador asiduo de Gatopardo y ha escrito los libros de crónica Ovejas negras, rebeldes de la Iglesia mexicana del siglo XXI (Océano, 2012), Los hijos de la ira. Las víctimas de la alternancia mexicana (Océano, 2015), Obra negra (Tierra Adentro, 2017) y Golondrinas. Un barrio marginal del tamaño del mundo (Debate, 2022). Ha enseñado literatura medieval, ha dado talleres de periodismo narrativo y desde 2020 es titular de la Unidad de Investigaciones Periodísticas de la Coordinación de Difusión Cultural de la UNAM. En esta edición escribió sobre el fundador de los Legionarios de Cristo.

VICTORIA RAZO. Fotógrafa independiente que trabaja entre la Ciudad de México y Veracruz. Su obra se centra en los derechos humanos, temas de género, la migración e historias medioambientales. En 2021, una de sus imágenes fue seleccionada como parte de las fotografías del año de National Geographic. Ha recibido numerosos premios, entre los que se encuentran el Picture of the Year 2022, POY Latam 2021 y Premio de Periodismo de Investigación CEAPP 2018, 2020 y 2021. En 2018, una de sus imágenes fue seleccionada entre las cien fotos del año de la revista Time. En 2017, como parte del colectivo Periodistas de a Pie, recibió el Premio Gabriel García Márquez por el proyecto “Buscadores en un país de desaparecidos”. Sus imágenes se han publicado en medios como National Geographic, The Washington Post, Time, The New York Times, NPR, Los Angeles TimesBloombergVogue, entre otros. Es miembro de Diversify Photo, Women Photograph y Frontline Freelance México.

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