'The Legionaries Aren't Rich'

May 2006

We received a letter from Barry Almon of Ossining, New York. He says: "I can't believe you dissed the Legionaries of Christ. I don't think you understand just how the Legionaries practice poverty. Their seminarians have to beg for all the food they consume. They eat donated hotdog buns, for instance. They don't use money to buy food because they don't have money. It's really easy to read an article or hear someone talk about how the Legionaries have so much money, but this just ain't reality. Please accept this letter as my official cancelation of my subscription."

We also heard from Mary Ann Hogan (letters, June 2005) that at Legionaries' seminary in Thornwood, N.Y., the seminarians "during the winter months, they live in 40 degree temperatures to help conserve the cost of fuel."

The Legionaries are still a small order, but are one of the richest organizations in the Church, with a $650 million yearly budget. And Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the order, is known for his opulent lifestyle. According to Vows of Silence by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, two independent journalists who know more about the Legionaries than anyone else, Maciel has "thought nothing of paying $9,000 a ticket to fly the Atlantic aboard the supersonic Concorde and renting a helicopter to appointments in Mexico, Colombia, and Connecticut." At the Legionaries' Rome headquarters, "Maciel courted influential figures in the Curia at lavish dinners.... with fine china, crystal, and a cart of cocktails," and, for some cardinals, Maciel sent his Mercedes to pick them up.

Mr. Almon: You say the Legionaries' seminarians "beg for all the food they consume. They eat donated hotdog buns, for instance." It shouldn't be too hard for you to figure out what's going on here -- but of course you don't want to know, because you've canceled your subscription.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

New Oxford Notes: May 2006

Read our posting policy Add a comment
A few years ago, I met a young woman from Slovakia who was once a fledgling member of Regnum Christi, the Legion's lay affiliation. She was living as a "consecrated woman," in a large, historical estate near Detroit, owned by the Legion. While carrying out her Legion-given apostolate (fundraising for some purpose or other) she and her house mates were told to "dumpster dive" for their food. In other words, they would go to the dumpsters in the rear of the local supermarkets and root around for thrown out food, presumably including hot dog buns. It is also interesting to note that these women were not allowed to use the electricity in the mansion. They dined by candlelight. Posted by: nortemp
May 05, 2006 10:26 AM EDT
Neocon schmeocon... NOR has been labeled and falsely accused itself and you would think might take someone’s opinion, point of view and context for what it is...nothing. Not to say that there are not problems associated with the Legionnaires. Matthew 13:25-40 suggests supporting the good wheat. When did the rich become evil? Let’s make it even harder for those of wealth to find the narrow gate. There appears to be a lot of wishful weed pulling by those who may end up in the same lot. Slicing and dicing the world into micro labeled categories is a no win game. There really are only two groups. Figure it out and choose. Posted by: mykleone
May 15, 2006 12:33 PM EDT
It's not the wealth as such (though isn't money the root of all evil?) - it's the disjuncture & apparent hypocrisy in Fr. Marciel enjoying a life of luxury, and hob-nobbing with the rich & powerful while his followers are - as the first writer says - living in unpleasant conditions.

(I can second his story - I've been friends with several Regnum Christi members, and they told me tales of their diet- such as living off bolony sandwiches for a week, things like that - wierd stuff..)

I obviously can't speak to the stories of Fr. Maciel's opulant lifestyle, but I can say that the cult of personality he has is odd. I dislike the tendency we Catholics have delopped of turning certain figures in celebities - e.g., Pope John Paul, Mother Theresa.

I was at a talk Mother gave in Rome ten years ago, and was shocked by the mob hysteria that surrounded her when she left. She needed body guards and a diversionary car to protect herself. It was - unpleasant & extreme, like you would expect at a rock concert (and even there it would have been weird) - not appropriate (to say the least!) from Catholics, approaching a living saint.

Anyway, Fr, Maciel seems to have feet of clay. Which is sad. Maybe, though, it will temper this tendecy to adulation (as opposed to respect) and convince the Legion to open up a few more schools for poor kids, rather than focusing on those academies they run for the snotty offspring of Latin America's elite.
Posted by: chascurtis
May 22, 2006 05:30 AM EDT
I think it was St. Paul who said that he was all things to all people. To consort with the rich is not a sin. And if the rich want to give money to the poor, is that so atrocious? As for Father Maciel, if he is guilty of the accusations, shame on him and God will judge him, but if he is not, then shame on the accusers. But why attack this organization like this? By the way, I lived on bologna sandwiches for a month when I was in college! Posted by: ragcia149
May 27, 2006 04:49 PM EDT
If anything could be acurately called a cult, it is the Legionaries of Christ. I challenge anyone in doubt to read "Vows of Silence" that is extremely well documented. Besides, if the sexual abuse allegations were false about Maciel then why haven't the Legionaries sued the authors or the publisher for slander and libel? C'mon Catholics, pull your heads out of the sand. If it looks like a skunk, smells like a skunk, creeps like a skunk - It is a skunk! Posted by: gwolak
May 28, 2006 11:50 PM EDT
We had recently been courted by Regnum Christi and after much prayer, research, and frankly one too many instances of feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.... we have decided it would not be good for our family's spiritual growth! While we saw many good fruits in this organization, we clearly saw that they were recruiting exclusively from the wealthy and then cutting them off from their past ministries in the Church and thereby their connections with normal/poor folk. We were told we would have to give up all the other parish groups we belonged to and do nothing but Regnum Christi. Certainly there is nothing wrong with recruiting the rich...but to what end? If they are cutting those people off from regular folks then it looks like they are telling members to focus on personal piety at the expense of charity to others. My brother in law attended their seminary in New York but was doomed on day one when they told him that his time for personal discernment was over and from that time forward the Legionaries would discern his calling for him! By the way...on a funny note...has anyone noticed that the Legionaries priests ALL look the same down to the slicked back hair parted on the same side??? Posted by: rpkammerer
August 08, 2007 03:36 PM EDT
I lived with the Legionaries for a couple years as a layman, attended one of their High Schools, was captain of (what I was told to be) the first young men's Regnum Christi team in the country, went on missions with their Youth For the Third Millenium Apostolate (one of which I directed), even spent a few days in the seminary with them and taught at one of their schools.

The Legionaries and Regnum Christi are without question an order that draws good men and good women to their ranks. The bad news is that they then pervert their religious sensibilities into something else.

I've sat in the dining room in Cheshire, CT and been presented moldy doughnuts for breakfast. I worked in the house of apostolate in Atlanta where we (at the time) went soliciting donations from grocery stores while living in what must have been at least a half million dollar home.

I was there during the fund drive to buy thornwood, when they raised tens of millions of dollars in a matter of months. I later visited Thornwood to see a friend without official permission, and was found out because they have a bank of security cameras monitoring areas all over the building.

There are dichotomies within the group, to be sure. Poverty is lived in a very strict sense that a Legionary owns nothing - but what he is given by the order or those who support it is often (though not always) extravagant. I've never eaten better than when living in one of their centers, with women involved in the apostolate cooking lavish dinners for us every night, and our trips to the supermarket in this place were not restricted to begging. The fundraisers I came into contact with rode around in a Range Rover and did their best to impress the rich, and I mingled with pro-athletes (and even the owner of an NFL team), wealthy executives and the like. The line of cars coming to pick up the kids at my high school were one luxury brand after another.

There are many problems with the group, and this least of all concerns me. But it would be foolish to say that they are "not rich." When the scandal about Fr. Maciel was originally slated to break in 1996, they flew hundreds of us to the seminary in Connecticut to inform us that something was coming in the press - on about 24 hours' notice. I've always wondered what that trip cost...
Posted by: jskojec
January 14, 2008 08:54 AM EST
Add a comment