By now, probably everyone has heard of the scandal involving the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the deceased founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who has been exposed not only as the father of a child but for sexually molesting young priests.
The evidence against him was so overwhelming that Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 took Father Degollado out of public ministry and instructed him to lead a life of prayer and penance for all his sins. The Mexican-born priest died in January 2008.
(The Legionaries of Christ is a Catholic group founded in 1941 whose goal is to promote Christ’s kingdom through education, service to the poor and evangelization. They have 800 priests and can be found in 22 countries.)
So I sent one of our interns, Christina Graw, to Catholic University to gather reactions. Most people she talked to said they either had not heard of the Maciel scandal or if they had, they were “used to this kind of thing” in the church.
“This scandal has nothing to do with the fundamentals of our religion,” sophomore Katie Callahan told her. “I’m outraged and its a big disappointment. It reflects upon the entire Catholic church poorly.”
“This is an embarassment of the Catholic Church, but it hasn’t really changed my view very much,” said Connor Donnelly, a sophomore. “I am actually not that surprised. I am kind of used to it.”
Most of the students she talked with were not overly concerned.
“People outside of the church will see the church as unstable,” said Maribeth Armenio, a sophomore. “There are a lot of good people in the church despite the bad ones.”
The Legionaries, by the way, run the Bethesda Retreat Center on 7007 Bethesda Road in Bethesda. According to the Archdiocese of Washington directory, they have a residence on Norton Road in Potomac for several priests and monks.
“We are terribly sorry because it brings the church scandal,” said Jim Fair, the Chicago-based spokesman for the Legionaries. “We are trying to get our people through the grieving by reaching out to anyone who has been hurt.
“We have lost a perfect model but we have not lost our model of Christ,” he added. “It is like losing a member of the family.
Graw then called some former Legion members, who have formed a website here as part network, part support group and part warning to those considering joining the Legion.
“People are confused and distraught right now,” said Glenn Favare, a member of the Legion for 14 years. He is now an attorney in the District.
“The Legion needs to do damage control,” said Juan Vaca, a former Legionaries priest. “They must do more than apologize.”
She also located an on-line apology from the Rev. Thomas Berg, a Legion priest and the executive director for the Westchester (Conn.) Institute of Ethics and the Human Person.
“In shock, sorrow, and with a humbled spirit, I want to express my deepest sorrow for anyone who, in anyway, has been hurt by the moral failings of Fr. Maciel,” he wrote at westchesterinstitute.net.
- Julia Duin, religion editor