In this HISTORIC photo, Bundrowes House, Bundoran, Co. Donegal, late 1960, we see Fr. Marcial Maciel surrounded by the earliest group of Irish recruits: from left Sean X, Declan French, Francis Coleman, Maurice Oliver McGowan (the first Irishman ordained in the LC and the first ordained Irish priest to leave), Marcial Maciel, Pearse Allen (6' 4"), Fr. Neftali Sanchez-Tinoco, James Whiston, unidentified cassocked sandy-haired; on the far right is is Fr. Felix Alarcon, one of his victims; next to Felix is James Coindreau, the recruiter ( at that time a seminarian passing for a priest). Their stories are in "Our Father (Maciel) who art in bed..."
[Excerpt from the only sex abuse chapter in Our Father, who art in bed]
Celibate or Hibernate?
In the light of sexual scandals in the Legion, which I learned
about years after I left, I add the following considerations.
During my nine-year training to be a Legionary, and indeed
during the remaining fourteen years as a Legionary priest, I
was never aware of sexual improprieties of any kind in the
order. Nor was I ever approached by a confrere or
superior in a sexually inappropriate way.
Regarding other temptations of the flesh, I must add that during all
seminary training from postulancy to the deaconate
vow of celibacy, I was never outside the “cloister” walls of a
Legionary formation center on my own, and thus never met
an attractive woman. Apparently, in order to be chosen as our
cook, a woman had to be old and ugly. It seems reasonable to
conclude that my commitment to celibacy was, like everything
else in the Legion “formation system,” an unprocessed foregone
conclusion: “I assume, therefore I have a vocation to celibacy.”
I admit I felt fleeting attraction for that Venezuelan
benefactress, Nora. Accompanied by her rather provocative
daughter, she was allowed to flit around the college in Rome
some time during my Theology studies. She must have been
contributing in no uncertain terms to the “economy of the
Legion” for Father Maciel to permit that. Although it was kind
of strange to have a woman “in the community,” with access to
the semi-private areas in our house, all Legionaries knew that
when The Founder was around exceptions could be made to
regular observance of the rules. Anyway, my infatuation with
La Señora must have lasted all of twenty seconds, that is, while
we were together in the elevator between floors at Via Aurelia
677. And there were only four floors! I may have been slightly
troubled about it at the time. Looking back, it just proves that
I had not been totally neutered by the Legion.
Most Legionaries will attest that the atmosphere
surrounding us regarding sexuality and chastity was eerily
“antiseptic,” like that sterile smell of disinfectant you got when
entering a hospital. There was a communal belief that the Legion
had been protected from impurity by a special gift from the
Blessed Virgin Mary. So that purity was a given, and impure
thoughts, feelings, or actions were unusual, out of place, and
unexpected in the Legion. It was “Don’t think. It's not happening.”
Some guys were kicked out because of voyeurism: looking into the
showers or dressing rooms when other guys were changing, or
for other offenses that to mature eyes might not appear serious.
But the superiors would never speak publicly of these transgressions.
Sex was taboo, hidden, like the nudes in L’Enciclopedia dell’Arte
in our library.
According to the rules, or norms, we were allowed six
movies a year, never in a public theater, but in our own house,
16mm or Super-8. The projectionist and superior previewed
the movie beforehand. Whenever a remotely erotic or simply
romantic scene appeared, a card was inserted between the lens
and the film to block out the bad images.
There is a standing joke about the Irish Book on Sex: all
the pages are blank; a good metaphor for our Legion sexual education.
We received no explanation of the physiology of the sexes, drives,
attraction, falling in love, and love-making. Who would talk
about something as “repugnant” and “impure” as that? Novice
Instructor, Rector, Superior, and Spiritual Director Rafael Arumí,
or obsessive compulsive Assistant Superior and Spiritual Director
Octavio Acevedo, not-too-bright Rector, Superior, and Spiritual
Director Alfredo Torres, or dog-lover and horticulturalist, Rector,
Superior, and Spiritual Director Juan Manuel Dueñas-Rojas?
Where would you find a manual, a booklet, or even some pictures?
All the remotely sensual illustrations in the Encyclopedia of Art
had been papered over. I’m sure some creative souls did their
own research…but not me.
My plate was full with my constant doubts of Faith. On the
other hand, I must admit I had found a very helpful book about
how to handle adolescent changes at the Salamanca Novitiate. It
was called “You are becoming a man.” I considered myself a normal and
healthy adolescent, with normal urges, practicing self-control
and abstinence. There might be the occasional wet dream. That
would be part of confession and spiritual direction. When I revealed this to
Father Dueñas, spiritual director, rector and superior in Rome, he
made the recommendation: “Be more careful, and try not to
let that happen again.” I’m glad Irish Christian Brother Moore had explained
things a little better back in the seventh grade.
So, regarding sex everything was silenced; it was not
mentioned among us; no education, neutral, neutered, frozen.
As a heterosexual I may have been impervious to any intrusion from superior or peer.
Father Maciel, in his later confrontations with me, appeared to
express this sentiment regarding the opposite sex:
“Women, because of their sexuality and sensuality, are
the root of all evil.” Because we were forbidden from talking
about anything personal among ourselves, I have no idea of
how others fared—whethe struggling with their impulses, sexual identity
or homosexual feelings. Testimonies of ex-Legionaries now
demonstrate that some members, no matter their orientation,
were sexually approached by unscrupulous superiors, novice
masters and spiritual directors. But most of us had no inkling
of anything improper going on.
This enigma is partially solved
by the testimony of one of the original accusers, José Pérez
Olvera, who exited as I was entering: “It seemed that nothing
mattered more than the virtue of purity. We were wholesome
boys, but they drummed the idea of purity into us to such a
degree that we ended up being fixated on it. For us everything
was a sin. The obsession with offending God was so great that
I couldn’t even touch my penis when I went to the bathroom.
I ended up going to a Trappist monastery next door to confess.
This from the time I was a boy, from the time I entered at
age eleven. And I want to tell you that in Rome we were
surrounded by paintings of nudes. A virgin breast-feeding a
child was a sin. It was aberrant. The hypocrisy got to the point
that they would put little pieces of paper on art book pictures
so that things would not be seen [which produced the opposite
effect]. I lived in anguish. One could never feel serene. It was
as if God had not created sex. And to top it all off, Father
Marcial was a total hypocrite; it did not matter to him that he
had destroyed us.”23
I know one of my Legionary colleagues was seriously
troubled for years for having smuggled a girlie magazine
into the seminary. Once discovered, he was haunted by his
superior’s warning that such an act of impurity demonstrated
a serious moral shortcoming which seriously jeopardized his
Legionary calling. That Legion-induced guilt hung like a sword
of Damocles over his conscience for many years. He was led
to believe that if he abandoned the Legion he would lose his
priesthood: his depraved inclination would make it impossible
for him to carry on as a priest, for no bishop would ever accept
such a deviant priest into his diocese. Another ex-Legionary
colleague, Hector Carlos—calling me out of the blue after 37
years—told me that when the Legion was trying to dump him,
his spiritual director gratuitously told him, “You don’t have a
vocation to celibacy, because you masturbate.” “Who told you I
masturbate?” retorted my recently recovered companion.