Critics Cast Doubt on Legion Reform: Curial Overseer Neglects Investigation of Inner Culture, Says Ex-Legionary

By Berry, Jason | National Catholic Reporter, January 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

Critics Cast Doubt on Legion Reform: Curial Overseer Neglects Investigation of Inner Culture, Says Ex-Legionary


Berry, Jason, National Catholic Reporter


Under the dictatorial personality of Legion of Christ founder ft Marcial Maciel Degollado, and during the decades of allegations that he abused his own seminarians, four Irish priests, now in their 60s and 70s, were among his closest confidantes. The four priests wooed wealthy donors, carried out Maciel's orders and put out fires when troubles flared.

Irish Frs. Anthony Bannon, Owen Kearns, Raymond Cosgrave and John Devlin became powerful men in the order Maciel founded in Mexico.

Bannon was the chief fundraiser in America.

Kearns led the media attack against Maciel's pedophilia victims.

Devlin was Maciel's secretary for decades, a keeper of the secrets for whom no detail was too small, according to former Legion insiders.

Cosgrave was Maciel's point man in establishing the Legion in Chile during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

These clerics bolstered Maciel's defenses, according to ex-Legionaries critical of the Vatican for helping the order rebuild since its 2009 revelations that Maciel, in addition to abusing young seminarians, had three children by two women.

The four priests remain important for what they knew of the operation of the Legion and for the influence they continued to exert on the order following Maciel's death in 2008 and the decision the next year to place the order under Vatican control.

According to published reports, Kearns and Bannon were members of a committee drafting a new constitution for the order Cosgrave, who was used by Maciel at times as a kind of troubleshooter in different locations, remains a superior in Chile. He was, according to sources who spoke to NCR on background, charming with big donors. His job in Chile was to make sure the Legion paid for itself and to cement ties with Archbishop Angelo Sodano, the papal nuncio and a supporter of Pinochet. Sodano later would become cardinal secretary of state under Pope John Paul II and one of the staunchest supporters of Maciel in Vatican circles.

Behind the checkered careers of the four priests lie larger questions about the Legion operations.

How did Maciel fmd the millions it took to support two families, while traveling between Rome, New England and Mexico City for decades? How long did his inner circle know about his secret life as they cultivated donors to maintain the order's $650 million annual budget? Have the patterns of duplicity that caused the Legion's continuing scandals suddenly evaporated? A surreal Legion backstory is surfacing as Vatican officials, heedless of warnings by ex-Legionaries, are positioning Pope Francis to take responsibility for the shaky Legion ship. It is the pope who will have to approve the new constitution as well as the newly elected leaders of the order. He will also have to decide whether the Legion needs continued oversight.

A culture of lies

Maciel created a culture of mendacity, structural lying, to protect himself--a culture that permeated the Legion, took on its own afterlife following his death and is still vibrant in the order.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the canon lawyer Pope Benedict XVI appointed in 2010 as delegate, or overseer of the order, has avoided a direct confrontation with the inner culture, according to ex-Legionaries.

At a Mass Jam 8 for the Legion. De Paolis said that the canonical revisions "should be accompanied by a process of examination of life ... and of spiritual renewal" according to Vatican News Service, including "a common mission, a common path to healing."

How such sentiments square with ongoing realities in the Legion is unknown. For instance, two Rhode Island lawsuits, in which Bannon is a central figure, allege that the Legion defrauded elderly benefactors. Those cases, and interviews with past and present Legion insiders, open a viewfinder on the Irish priests' role as enablers of Maciel's designs.

One of the Legionaries who has left the order and is now speaking out is also Irish. …

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