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Background: The Catholic Church, Legion of Christ, Regnum Christi, Marcial Maciel, San Patricios

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Jack Keogh's autobiography covers twenty years of his life from adolescence in Dublin, Ireland, to adulthood as a Catholic Priest in the Legion of Christ and onwards: transitioning to a new life as husband, father and international management consultant. During those twenty years his life was intertwined with the Legion of Christ, a religious congregation, Regnum Christi, a movement for lay persons, and the controversial founder of both organizations, Father Marcial Maciel.

However, the book is NOT about the Legion of Christ nor Father Maciel - it is Jack's story, told with candor. It offers a realistic insight into the inner workings of a Mexican congregation caught up in a global controversy, while holding to a non-judgmental outlook since Jack left the Legionaries long before the allegations about the founder were made public.

Some readers, totally unfamiliar with the Catholic Church and the Legionaries of Christ, asked for background information to help them understand the nuances of the stories. The following information is for them.


The Catholic Church

(see here for more information - some of the material below is adapted from a longer article)

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with more than a billion members. The Church's leader is the Pope, currently Pope Benedict XVI, who holds supreme authority in concert with the College of Bishops of which he is the head. The Pope resides in Rome, Italy at the Vatican (which is a State separate from Italy). His Church is the Basilica of Saint Peter.

In the Church, the Pope holds primacy of jurisdiction in matters of faith, morals, discipline and Church governance and is the head of state of the Vatican City. For advice and assistance in governing, the Pope may turn to the College of Cardinals, the next highest level in the hierarchy.[When a pope dies or resigns, members of the College of Cardinals who are under age 80 meet to elect a new pope.

The Catholic Church is organized in a system of dioceses, each one overseen by a Bishop. Dioceses are sub-divided into individual communities called parishes, each staffed by one or more priests. Cardinals who serve in the Vatican bureaucracy reside in Rome. Others may head a diocese and only make stipulated visits to Rome.

Priests may be assisted by deacons. Only priests and bishops are allowed to administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance or Confession) and Anointing of the Sick. Only bishops can administer the sacrament of Holy Orders, which ordains someone into the clergy.

The ordained priesthood is generally restricted to celibate men.

Ordained Catholics, as well as members of the laity, may join a Religious Order or Congregation as monks or nuns. Members of these congregations take additional vows confirming their desire to follow the three "evangelical counsels" of poverty, chastity and obedience. The vow of chastity forbids all voluntary sexual pleasure, whether interior or exterior. Strictly speaking, it differs from the vow of celibacy (or abstinence from marriage). Diocesan priests, who are not members of Religious Congregations promise obedience to their Bishop and they take a vow of celibacy. They do not necessarily commit to a vow of poverty. So, even though many of us think that priests are all alike, the reality is that there are substantial differences between diocesan priests and priests who are members of a Congregation. Some Religious Congregations of men never become ordained priests although they take vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Examples would be the Marist Brothers or the Brothers of the Christian Schools. More often than not they are called "Brothers" whereas priests are addressed as "Father" and nuns as "Sister."

Examples of religious Congregations or Orders are the Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, the Sisters of Mercy, School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Legionaries of Christ. Members of Religious Congregations tend to live in communities. Each Congregation or Order has a special "personality" and mission. Traditionally, for instance, Franciscans emphasize a life of poverty, Dominicans "specialize" in preaching.

Men preparing for the priesthood are called "seminarians" because they attend "seminary schools." Members of Religious Congregations go through various stages of preparation before committing to making their "final" vows. Most Congregations have their candidates begin with a one or two year Novitiate at the end of which the candidates take "temporary" vows for three years. The stages of study for the priesthood are often referred to as a "Juniorate" (in the Legion it is a period of one or two years dedicated to the study of classical humanities,) then Philosophy, and finally Theology.

Fr. Marcial Maciel

Father Marcial Maciel, LC, was born on March 10, 1920, in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacan, Mexico. In May 19, 2006, the Holy See’s Press Office issued a communiqué as the conclusion of a canonical investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had begun in 2004. At that time, the CDF reached sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Fr Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians. Father Maciel, LC, died in the United States on January 30, 2008. His mortal remains are laid to rest in his Mexican hometown.

The Legion of Christ

The Legion of Christ is a religious congregation of pontifical right, founded in 1941. Its stated mission is to extend the Kingdom of Christ in society according to the requirements of Christian justice and charity, and in close collaboration with the bishops and the pastoral plans of each diocese. Today the Legion has over 800 priests and 2,500 major and minor seminarians, with houses in 22 countries.

The Founder and First Superior General, Father Maciel declined re-election as Superior General in 2005. Father Álvaro Corcuera, who studied at the Irish Institute in Mexico City, when Jack was there, was elected as his successor.

In May 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after an examination of accusations brought forward against Father Maciel, invited him to “a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry."

The Vatican note at that time recognized "the distinguished apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of Regnum Christi," saying they were "acknowledged with gratitude."

In early 2009, the Legionaries said they had learned that Maciel had fathered a daughter and that Maciel had had a longstanding relationship with the child's mother.

On March 26, 2010 the Legion acknowledged that Father Maciel, sexually abused young seminarians, and they asked forgiveness for failing to believe his accusers.

Following the death of the founder, Pope Benedict XVI ordered an "Apostolic Visitation" - a high level Vatican inquiry - of the Legionaries. The results of the inquiry have not yet been made public.

In Mexico, the order reaches the upper strata of business, and government. For almost all his life, Father Maciel was treated as an extraordinary leader, revered by his followers.

Regnum Christi

Regnum Christi is an apostolic movement founded by Father Marcial Maciel, LC, in the Church and at the service of the Church. Regnum Christi helps its members live out their baptismal commitments –personal holiness and apostolic action– according to its charism.

The Regnum Christi Movement includes laymen and women, deacons, and diocesan priests. They contribute to spreading Christ’s message to humanity by undertaking personal, organized apostolic activity. One of the unique characteristics of Regnum Christi is its close relationship with the Legionaries of Christ.

Regnum Christi´s current membership consists of about 65,000 youths, adults, deacons and priests in more than 30 countries.

The Scandal

The Legionaries of Christ now admit their late founder, Fr.Marcial Maciel, fathered at least one child and molested underage seminarians:

"We later came to know that Fr Maciel had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts. After that, two other people surfaced, blood brothers who say they are his children from his relationship with another woman.

We find reprehensible these and all the actions in the life of Fr Maciel that were contrary to his Christian, religious, and priestly duties. We declare that they are not what we strive to live in the Legion of Christ and in the Regnum Christi Movement."

Pope Benedict XVI ordered a Vatican investigation of the Congregation in 2009. The results are expected soon. They will come in the midst of a "perfect storm" for the Legion because the Holy Father and the Church is under intense pressure to aggressively deal with the scandals of abuse. A secondary issue in the scandal surrounding Fr. Maciel is the need to find out if any Legionaries deliberately covered up for the founder's misdeeds. Legionary leadership will come in for close scrutiny and may be replaced by the Vatican. Legionaries, during my time, were intensely loyal to Fr. Maciel, although I believe most of them had no clue about his double life.

The Vatican Response

The Vatican announced on May 1, 2010, its initial steps toward reforming the Legionaries of Christ. Pope Benedict will name a personal delegate with authority over the order and a commission to study its constitutions. The statement is unusually blunt and to the point. Ultimately, it is a helpful and pastoral summation of the current state of affairs.

The Vatican indicated that the Legionaries would need to undergo changes, including a redefinition of the order’s religious charism and a revision of the way authority is exercised among its members. This, in Vatican parlance, translates into a refoundation - rather than outright supression - of the Congregation. The Pope will have the final word on whatever changes are eventually imposed.


The San Patricios

The St. Patrick Battalion (El Batallón de San Patricio) was a unique unit of the Mexican Army during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The unit consisted of several hundred soldiers, who’d deserted the U.S. Army, because they believed they had more in common with the Mexicans. I had never heard of them during my schooling in Ireland. After defecting, they fought on the Mexican side in five major battles. Unofficially, the group was called the Irish Volunteers, or the “Colorados” (red guards) because of the many redheaded and ruddy-complexioned men in it. They’re considered heroes in Mexico because of their exemplary performance on the battlefield. They were ultimately defeated, suffering severe casualties at the Battle of Churubusco, which was the Mexican army’s Waterloo. General and President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who commanded the Mexican forces, stated afterwards, “if I could have commanded a few hundred more men like the San Patricios, Mexico would have won the battle.”

The musical souls of two nations, Ireland and Mexico, are movingly brought to life in "San Patricio," the latest international collaboration by six-time Grammy winners The Chieftains - the leading practitioners of Irish traditional music for the past four decades. The album features multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Ry Cooder, another multiple-Grammy winner, who co-produced with The Chieftains' Paddy Moloney.

It tells the nearly forgotten story of the brave San Patricio battalion - a downtrodden group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).