Priest's Dual Legacy: Transgressions And Money For years, Father Marcial Maciel evaded accusations of sexual abuse — even as he built a rich and powerful religious organization. He died in 2008, but his Catholic order, the Legion of Christ, now controls billions of dollars. A new report explores whether Maciel's ability to bring money to the Vatican played a role in his treatment.

Priest's Dual Legacy: Transgressions And Money

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Sylvia has still managed to work and yesterday, we heard her reporting on the fifth anniversary of Benedict's election as pope, and how the mounting scandals over pedophile priests could affect his legacy. Today, we'll learn more about an influential and charismatic priest who Pope Benedict punished when no one else would.


Father Marcial Maciel built the conservative Legion of Christ into a powerful Catholic order. Over several decades, Maciel raised millions of dollars for the church. Some estimate the order's assets are worth $20 billion. After Maciel died in 2008, his order revealed that he had fathered a daughter. Others have come forward claiming to be his sons.

MONTAGNE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with some background on Father Maciel. How did he build this order, the Legion of Christ, into such an influential organization?

MONTAGNE: What's so significant about that, Renee, is that he had been thrown out of two seminaries by the time he was 21 for reasons that, in later years, the Legion history referred to as misunderstandings. We now know that he was sexually abused as a boy, had a very troubled family life. He seems to have had this militant sense of spirituality, and he was a genius at fundraising. From the earliest years of his involvement with high church officials, he always had money - lots of it.

MONTAGNE: Before we get to this money trail, which you followed, what was Father Maciel accused of?

MONTAGNE: He was then accused forcefully, in 1976, by a former priest of the Legion, Juan Vaca, in a very detailed dossier of allegations that went to the Vatican. Vaca made a second petition in 1978 and again in 1989, and absolutely nothing happened. In a sense, the Vatican created this guy by not going after him.

MONTAGNE: So, how did Maciel manage to avoid any sort of, almost to the end, any sort of punishment? Was it all about the fact that this was a very rich order and raised so much money for the church?

MONTAGNE: We know that wealthy families who gave money to the Legion of Christ had a pipeline, frankly, to go to private Masses said by Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Palace. One priest told me how he facilitated a $50,000 donation to Monsignor Dziwisz, who is now a cardinal in Krakow. Monsignor Dziwisz lived in the Apostolic Palace and organized the guests at the papal Masses.

B: Needless to say, all of this was a way of buying influence and protection for Father Maciel.

MONTAGNE: And it worked.

MONTAGNE: It absolutely worked until 2006, when he was almost 86 years old. And Pope Benedict, after an investigation that he had ordered in 2004, dismissed him from active ministry and ordered him to a life of prayer and penitence, which is a rather soft punishment. But given how well-protected this man was, I think we have to credit the pope with finally breaking ranks with Cardinal Sodano, the secretary of state, who had defended Maciel for so long.

MONTAGNE: When you were being told about these envelopes, you know, filled with cash, real bundles of money, what leads you to understand that these were, in some way, bribes rather than to do good works with?

MONTAGNE: Well, Renee, the men I interviewed are priests, and these are men who left the Legion of Christ some years ago. And one of the things that struck me about these interviews - I got to know these men. I spent time with them. These were men who have remade their lives. They were loyal priests, and I think they had been stricken in their consciences. And they were willing to talk because I think they wanted to unburden themselves of a certain sense of guilt.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

MONTAGNE: You're quite welcome. It's been my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Journalist Jason Berry produced "Vows of Silence," a documentary on Father Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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