Roberta Garza felt a familiar tearing this week on reading an Associated Press report that her older brother, Father Luis Garza, 58, had been accused of sexual abuse in a civil lawsuit filed in Waterbury, Conn.
The siblings have not spoken in several years. Roberta is a columnist for Milenio newspaper in Mexico City. Luis, for nearly two decades the second-ranking figure in Rome of the Legion of Christ, now seems to her an exiled figure, cast into an outback as the Philippines regional director of the Legionaries.
In the lawsuit, an adult identified as “John Roe 1” alleges that Father Garza, and two other priests, including the late Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Legion’s charismatic founder, abused the plaintiff as a young adolescent at a center the order ran near Mexico City in the early 1990s.
Father Maciel launched the order in Mexico in 1941, established a campus in Rome in the 1950s, and later an American headquarters in Cheshire, Conn. Maciel, who died in 2008, was the greatest fundraiser of the modern church. He was celebrated by Pope John Paul II for inspiring young men like Garza to become priests, for Maciel’s record in launching prep schools, several universities and religious colleges in Latin America, North America and Europe.
Although it is a comparatively small order of 2,400 priests (the Jesuits have 11,900) the Wall Street Journal reported in 2004 that the Legion had a $650 million operating budget. The Legion website featured video and photographs of Maciel in the company of John Paul, who in 1994 called him “an efficacious guide to youth.”
That world changed in 2006 when Pope Benedict dismissed the 86-year old Maciel to “a reserved life of prayer and penitence” after a Vatican investigation into pedophilia accusations shadowing Maciel. John Allen of the independent weekly National Catholic Reporter quoted an unnamed Vatican official saying that Maciel had “more than twenty but less than one hundred” victims over many years.
Maciel was 70 in 1990, when the new lawsuit charges that he began abusing the alleged victim, who is now in his early forties.
“I don’t know whether the allegations against Luis in the lawsuit are true or not,” Roberta Garza told The Daily Beast.
“But I know that Luis lied to us, his family, for years after he knew the truth about Maciel.”
Legion of Christ spokesman Jim Fair issued a statement, saying that Father Garza “categorically denies his involvement in this or any other abuse and has said he will cooperate fully in any inquiry regarding this matter.”
Attorney Michael Reck told The Daily Beast that Maciel, Garza and Father Jose Sabin sexually assaulted the plaintiff, a young American who had a period of study in a Legion school in Mexico, in 1990-91.
Reck said that the priests individually abused the boy in his early adolescence, on numerous occasions. The youth had relatives near Mexico City, who helped him return to his native California, ending his experience with the Legion schools.
According to Reck, the plaintiff took action after seeing Alex Gibney’s recent HBO documentary on the clergy abuse crisis, Mea Maxima Culpa, which has a strand on Maciel. “John Roe 1” reported the abuse to the Legion and sought legal representation from attorney Jeff Anderson, an interviewee in the film, according to Reck, a member of the law firm.
Father Garza was a key figure in the Legion’s strategy of defending Maciel from pedophilia accusations while he was alive; but he
has not been previously accused of sexual misconduct.
A Vatican investigation of the Legion after Maciel’s death led to a rewriting of their bylaws and an internal shake up. Pope Francis maintained Benedict’s decision to reform the religious order despite the cult-like tactics Maciel instilled to secure lockstep loyalty to himself.
Garza was vicar-general in Rome, the second in command, from 1992 to 2011. After the Vatican intervention he left Rome in 2012 for Atlanta, as the order’s North American director. He subsequently went to the Philippines, where he is today -- “a big growth area for us with a lot of schools,” Fair, the Legion spokesman told The Daily Beast.
Still, the Philippines is a far cry from his once-lofty post in Rome.
Roberta Garza Medina grew up in one of the wealthiest families in Latin America, the youngest sibling with four brothers and three sisters.
The Garzas’ roots are in Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial capital. A grandfather founded Alfa, an agribusiness company that became a multinational which her eldest brother, Dionisio, ran as CEO for many years. A sister, Paulina, recently left Regnum Christi, the lay group associared with the Legion, which raises money and helps staff the order’s schools. After many years in a Regnum Christi house for celibate, “consecrated woman” in Rome, she recently returned to Monterrey.
Roberta has long been estranged from Luis and rarely speaks with the older siblings who support the Legion and Regnum Christi. Maciel had the impact of a meat cleaver on the once close-knit family. As the years passed, the siblings grew factionalized. They socialize occasionally but Roberta and a brother hold strongly negative view of the Legion.
Known to his followers as “Nuestro Padre” (Our Father), Maciel courted the Garza parents as major donors in the 1970s, while building the education network, stressing the Legion’s mission to restore a fallen, post-Vatican II church to orthodoxy. Nevertheless, in Mexico they aquired a cycnical nickname – “millionaires of Christ.”
Other top supporters included Carlos Slim, the Mexico City telecommunications magnet who became a major New York Times stockholder, and the late William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s CIA director whose seven-figure donation funded the construction of a building at the Legion’s Cheshire, Connecticut campus, where a staff of 20 worked on fundraising in the growth years.
As a girl, Roberta cherished conversations in a family that “rarely watched TV. We had an environment of open, candid discussions,” she says. Her mother donated jewelry and money to the Legion. “One of my aunts gave Maciel a house.”
Roberta attended a boarding school in France and immersed herself in literature. Back in Monterrey for high school, she saw Maciel as cultivating her parents and older siblings for money-as-redemption.
Luis graduated from the Legion school in Monterrey and entered Stanford University, where he studied engineering and had a Regnum Christi roommate. After graduation in 1978, Garza joined the Legion and eight years later became a priest. He rose in the ranks, clearly in Maciel’s favor, and became a key figure in guiding Legion finances as its second in command.
Accusations of pedophilia and drug addiction by Maciel broke in a 1997 Hartford Courant investigation by this writer and Gerald Renner. Maciel denied the charges without giving an interview; the Vatican refused any comment.
Before the 1997 report, a Legion lawyer tried to pressure the Courant into dropping the story, claiming it would be libelous.
At the time, according to Christopher Kunze, an ex-priest now living in Wisconsin, “Luis Garza traveled to the majority of Legionary houses of formation (in nearly 20 countries) obliging all members to observe absolute silence under pain of mortal sin regarding any information we might receive via personal meeting, phone conversation, postal service, or e-mail on ‘false accusations against the Founder,’ “ Kunze said in an email.
“Garza had everyone sign a document that none of us would ever take legal action against the Legion of Christ. At the time, we did not know the subject matter of accusations against Fr. Maciel nor why we might be inclined to sue the Congregation [religious order.] All of our consumption of news material was highly censored. The Hartford Courant article was known likely to only a few members.”
Kunze, Garza and all Legionaries had taken the “private vows” never to speak ill of Maciel or superiors, and to report any criticism of the founder to their superiors. Kunze and other ex-Legionaries have spoken or written about the psychological weight of “the private vows” that undergirded Maciel’s cult of personality. The Vatican abolished the private vows after Maciel’s death in an investigation that included rewriting the Legion bylaws that Maciel used to shield his sex life.
Kunze discovered the 1997 article many months later on the internet while working in a Vatican office, Congregation for the Clergy. He left the priesthood in 2000, returned to America, married and has children.
The Legion took no legal action against the Hartford Courant, though shortly after the report, the order mounted a website, LegionaryFacts.org, which attacked Maciel’s accusers and posted supportive statements of him and the order from George Wiegel, a biographer of John Paul and NBC Vatican affairs commentator; First Things editor Father Richard John Neuhaus; Catholic League president William Donohue; Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who became U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President George W. Bush, and media commentator Bill Bennett, among others.
While it is unknown what Garza knew about Maciel’s victims, if anything at all, he played a leading role in the 1998 campaign to attack the accusers.
In 1998, eight of Maciel’s victims—a Spanish priest and seven middle-aged Mexicans who had given us on the record interviews—filed a canon law case at the Vatican asking Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to excommunicate Maciel from the church.
Pope John Paul II never wavered from his view of Maciel as a revitalizing figure, drawing young men to an order promoting orthodoxy.
The pope is supreme arbiter of canon law. John Paul was passive on the abuse charges against Maciel, consistent with his failure to confront the larger clergy abuse crisis. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State was close to Maciel and received financial gifts from the Legion, as several priests told me for previous reporting. Sodano put pressure on Ratzinger to abort the case. But, in late 2004, when an ailing John Paul with five months to live, again celebrated Maciel at a Vatican ceremony, Ratzinger broke ranks and ordered an investigation, realizing that whomever the next pope might be, he shouldn’t inherit a cover-up.
After Ratzinger became Benedict in 2005, the canon lawyer he delegated to investigate Maciel, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, gave the new pope a report that sealed Maciel’s fate – sort of.
“Maciel was a con man, a pedophile and a drug abuser,” Roberta tells The Daily Beast. “Luis was part of the defense after the pope sent Maciel off in 2006. The Legion refused to acknowledge that it was for abusing seminarians.”
Roberta Garza dates Luis’s deception to 2006, when the Vatican order approved by Benedict effectively banished Maciel from Rome to a “reserved life of prayer and penitence.” Scicluna had taken testimony from several dozen ex-Legion seminarians in Europe, the U.S. and Mexico, men who gave graphic accounts of being sexually plundered by Maciel as boys in the 1950s and 60s, saying that he often injected himself with Dolantin, a form of morphine. But the Legion and Garza spun the banishment as a voluntary retirement by a lauded leader of Christ’s flock.
The 2006 expulsion order, typical of the understated language of Vatican documents, never specified what Maciel had done, and “invited” him to a penitential life. “The Legion did spin control in Monterrey to make people believe it was a voluntary retirement,” says Roberta Garza.
The Legion proclaimed its loyalty to the pope, and, in fathomless irony, compared Maciel to Christ for accepting his punishment with "tranquility of conscience." It was a tortured exercise in semantics all around: the Vatican sending Maciel into penitential life without sspecifying what he had done, and singling out the Legion and Regnum Christi for praise, despite their long cover-up, in an effort to keep priests and followers in the fold. The abuse survivors who testified to Scicluna, the Vatican investigator, were furious at not being publicly acknowledged. And the Legion, while pledging fidelity to Benedict, spread the word to supporters that Nuestro Padre, falsely accused like Jesus, would one day be a saint!
Maciel went first to his hometown, Cotija, Mexico, and as later reports confirmed, had a reunion with his former paramour, Norma Hilda Baños, and Normita, their daughter born in 1983, three years after the pair met in Acapulco.
By then, Maciel had long since moved Norma and Normita to Madrid, supporting them with Legion funds. That support is at issue in another lawsuit the Legion faces in Connecticut, brought by a second shadow family of Maciel, represented by the Anderson firm and attorney Joel Faxon.
In 2010, Jose Raul Rivas Gutiérrez, now 33, gave a radio interview in Mexico City, identifying himself as Maciel’s biological son. He and his older brother, Omar, accuse Maciel of sexually abusing them as boys and teenagers. Their mother, Blanca Lara Gutiérrez, has given interviews in Mexico attesting to her long relationship with Maciel, who gave them financial support as well.
Blanca gave birth to Raul just as Maciel was wooing Norma in Acapulco. Omar is Blanca’s son from a previous relationship. Maciel visited the family periodically for short visits, supporting them financially until about the year 2000, as Raul told me in a 2010 interview.
Maciel took Raul and his half-sister Normita, as children, to Rome and a Mass celebrated by John Paul. Raul was photographed with the pope. By putting his own children that close to John Paul, Maciel showed a cynical audacity, and confidence, layered in psychopathic narcissism.
Father Garza gave deposition testimony about Maciel’s daughter in 2012 for a lawsuit in Rhode Island brought by the niece of a deceased widow whose will gave the Legion $60 million. Mary Lou Dauray accused the Legion of using fraud to milk her late aunt, the widow Gabrielle Mee, of the estate.
In early 2008, Norma and Normita were at a Legion condo in a Jacksonville, Fla. gated community as Maciel’s health was slipping.
With no hint of irony, Garza testified that the Legion bought the condo for Maciel to have a place for his “life of penance and absence from public ministry.”
While he visited Maciel, testified Garza, he learned about the identity as of Maciel’s former lover and love-child.
Garza became suspicious of Norma and Normita, sitting poolside with Maciel in his penitential retreat. Mother and daughter were staying at the nearby Sawgrass Hotel. Several other priests, and Maciel’s brother, Javier, were staying at the condo and “knew the women,” stated Garza, inferring that he, Father Garza, did not know “the women.”
A dispassionate take of his testimony might conclude that Garza was trying to portray himself, as duped, cutting distance between himself and the galvanizing priest who had betrayed so many others; that he learned very late of Normita’s existence. Garza might have been so denial-programmed after decades of revering Maciel, raising huge sums for the order through his web of family connections -- and even, reportedly, donating some $3 million of his own inheritance to the Legion -- that the socially rigid priest, staying in a “less expensive” hotel in Jacksonville was boggled at the sight of Normita, 23, who bore a clear resemblance to her father Maciel.
Garza told Dauray’s attorney, Bernard Jackvony, that he asked Norma point blank "if the girl” – Normita – “was the daughter of Father Maciel...She confirmed that."
Insisting that he had to be sure, Garza testified that he researched and found Normita’s birth certificate; he also determined that she had studied at Northern Anahuac, a Legion university in Mexico.
But Garza still didn’t tell the rank-and-file Legionaries who had followed Maciel or the general public.
In the deposition he cast himself as a loyalist betrayed.
Like all Legionaries, Luis Garza had taken the “private vows” never to speak ill of Maciel or superiors, never to seek higher office in the Legion, and to report any criticism of the founder to their superiors. Many ex-Legionaries have spoken and written about the psychological weight of “the private vows,” the most coercive form of secrecy in the order that revolved around a cult of personality in Maciel.
When he “discovered” Normita, Luis Garza, were he to follow the Legion’s iron law, still in effect at the time, had but one person in whom to confide: Maciel’s successor, the new director general, Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, from a prominent family in Mexico City and who, like Garza, adulated Maciel. According to his testimony, Garza only told Corcuera and two other priests.
The Vatican learned about Maciel’s daughter in late 2004 as Cardinal Franc Rodé, who oversaw the congregation for religious orders, told me in a 2012 interview on a joint assignment for GlobalPost and National Catholic Reporter. A priest had shown him a video of Maciel and the young girl. Rodé said he told the papal investigator, Msgr. Scicluna. Did Rodé confront Maciel? No, the cardinal told me. Why? “I was not his confessor.”
Instead, he urged Maciel to step down as director-general. Maciel complied in 2004 and the Legionaries elected Alvaro Corcuera in his place.
In January of 2008, as Maciel lay dying in the Jacksonville condo, Norma, Normita, and several priests, including Garza and Corcuera gathered round him.
According to a report in Madrid’s El Mundo, Maciel recoiled when Corcuera tried to anoint him in the last rites of the church, barking “I said no!”
Maciel “did not believe in God’s pardon,” El Mundo reported, a view which his sordid biographical data might confirm, but an opinion just the same.
But his power reached beyond the grave. Having never acknowledged that Maciel abused anyone, the Legion had put its entire strategy into the paradoxical stance of supporting Pope Benedict while treating Maciel as a wrongly-accused saint. Now, there was a 23-year old daughter at the deathbed with Corcuera and Garza.
The Legion press release on Maciel’s death announced that he had gone to heaven – an opinion the opposite of El Mundo’s that he had no faith.
The pressure on Corcuera as Maciel’s successor must have been enormous. The Vatican had known about Maciel’s daughter, at least, since 2004, but high officials wanted the Legion, not a spokesman for Pope Benedict, to divulge the truth about Maciel.
A year after his death, in early 2009, Corcuera began visiting Legion houses, sharing the truth about the founder’s offspring. When that news broke in the New York Times, the Legion finally issued an apology to Maciel’s many seminary victims, a day late and many dollars short. Dozens of priests began leaving the order. The fundraising strategy built around Maciel tanked. And the Vatican announced it would investigate the Legion.
The task fell to Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, a Vatican canon lawyer, who oversaw a rewriting of the order’s bylaws, getting rid of the “private vow” – but otherwise ignoring the corrosive psychodynamics of the order.
The image of the Vatican as a top-down controlling force of a church that is also the largest organization in the world is something of a myth. The Vatican does intervene in certain messy circumstances, yanking bishops when they get in trouble, while receiving rivers of documents from dioceses and religious orders the world over. Rome also has to approve the defrocking of pedophiles and other clerical criminals.
But the Legion under Maciel was a runaway train from the start. Maciel courted the wealthiest, most conservative Catholics, while keeping his sexual history with youths, so it seems, far from the money supply.
Maciel’s profligate spending to support his secret children, and conceal his life as a pedophile, has raised far-reaching questions. People have donated to the Legion of Christ as a religious charity.
Dauray, the niece of Mrs. Mee, lost her case against the Legion on a technicality; the court held that because she had pledged to give the will’s proceeds to charities in keeping with her aunt’s wishes, she lacked a personal legal standing to sue.
Her attorney, Jackvony, a former Republican lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, told the Daily Beast: “I asked the Rhode Island attorney general to investigate the Legion and become a party in the litigation for interfering with a charitable trust. He refused.”
The Legion of Christ is building a luxury hotel at the Sea of Galilee, near an archeological site said to be the village of St. Mary Magdalene, according to the New York Times and other reports.
The construction began as the Legion closed or divested itself of ownership of several American prep schools, and sold off real estate in Rhode Island and Connecticut amid the tide of lawsuits with ongoing bills for legal defense.
Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans and other orders have campuses and capital drives for their endowments; religious orders have also paid heavily in cases of abusive priests. How many religious orders, which qualify as charities, build and operate five star hotels? Where did the Legion get the money for the big project in Israel?
On reading the lawsuit accusing her brother of sex abuse, Roberta Garza says that she had seen no previous signs to suggest such aberrant behavior by him. But, she was understandably troubled.
“The Legion removed Luis from the U.S. and sent him to the Philippines in what seems like a form of punishment,” she told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know whether I feel sorry for him. I feel really sorry for losing everything I imagined family should be. That’s gone, in no small part thanks to Maciel and the Legion. Luis was instrumental in guiding and covering up for them.”
Jason Berry explored Maciel’s life in a 2008 documentary film, “Vows of Silence,” and in “Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church” (Crown) which won Investigative Reporters and Editors’ 2011 Best Book Award.