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An interview with the Legion's new U.S. territory director.
BY Joan Frawley DesmondRegister Senior Editor
Legionary Father Luis Garza was appointed director of the Legion of Christ’s newly combined North American territory July 15. He had served as the congregation’s vicar general, No. 2 in the congregation’s hierarchy under the general director and founder Father Marcial Maciel from 1992-2005 and Father Alvaro Corcuera from 2005-2011.
Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Father Garza attended the Legion’s primary and secondary schools in Mexico before earning an undergraduate degree in engineering at Stanford University. In Rome, he received licenciates in theology and philosophy and a doctorate in canon law.
Father Garza will oversee the newly combined Atlanta and Thornwood, N.Y., territories into one North American territory. He remains a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy; he was appointed to that five-year position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.
In his role with the once pre-eminent congregation that now faces demands for radical reform in the wake of revelations that for decades Father Maciel led a double life, Father Garza has managed the considerable logistical and personnel challenges generated by the scandal’s impact on the Legion and Regnum Christi.
Throughout the years since the scandal broke, Father Garza and other members of the congregation have been accused of ignoring credible allegations against the founder, while demonizing the victims who came forward over the years.
In a July 19 interview, Father Garza offers a startling portrait of his relationship with Father Maciel. The granting of this interview reflects Legionary efforts to increase transparency, but it will likely raise more questions than it resolves. For example, Father Garza says that he didn’t question the founder’s innocence until almost the very end. Also troubling is Father Garza’s revelation that, as yet, there has been no investigation to determine who may have known about and thereby been at minimum complicit with Father Maciel in his double life.
When, precisely, did you know about Father Marcial Maciel’s record of sexual abuse?
There had been accusations in the press since the 1990s. The Holy See issued a communiqué in May 2006 that was more shocking. In fact, a month before, the Holy See communicated to us that the founder was found guilty of the charges against him. I didn’t believe that, I am sorry to say.
In June 2006, there was the appearance of a lady with whom Father [Maciel] had a child. At that time, I decided to do an investigation of my own, and by September of that year, I was sure he had fathered a child. Little by little, more evidence came in. By 2008, we had most of the picture.
Some have called for your resignation. Have you offered it?
After the 2005 general chapter [assembly of all members of the congregation], when Father Alvaro Corcuera took Father Maciel’s place, I told him that I was thinking about resigning. Given Father Maciel’s issues, we decided it would be better for me to stay on. Again, in 2009, I presented a letter of resignation to Father Alvaro, and he asked me not to resign during the ongoing investigation and visitation.
When Cardinal [Velasio] De Paolis was appointed the papal delegate, I offered to resign, but he asked me to stay on and help. I told him, “I’m ready whenever you want me to leave my post.” A month ago, the idea about moving to the U.S. came up, and I agreed to go.
Shouldn’t you have known about Father Maciel’s crimes and double life? It’s hard to understand how you and other leaders completely missed or ignored the inevitable red flags.
What you cannot understand is that I never really dealt in a personal manner with Father Maciel. I just went in every two weeks to do my job — to present issues to him. Then I would leave. I never knew where he went. He never allowed anyone to enter his life. I didn’t even have his cell phone number.
I was 40 years younger. He was the founder. He didn’t allow me to go into his personal life. He would tell those working more closely with him, “Don’t tell anyone what you do with me.”
I visited the motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, when Mother Teresa was still alive. She prayed with all the sisters in the chapel, and she would be the last to get up from her knees after Mass. That is normal behavior for a founder. Father Maciel’s behavior is not normal. Critics would call the inability to act on such puzzling behavior a form of blind faith.
After years and years of revering the founder, and the Holy See praising him, we accepted it.
What are some key changes in the Legion’s religious formation that are designed to transform the environment that enabled the founder’s behavior?
Liberty of conscience: the capacity to be healthily critical of what you see and hear. The Holy See asked us to abolish the private vow of not criticizing superiors. Members no longer go to confession with superiors.
What are your most urgent priorities as the new director of the Legion’s U.S. territory?
My first priority is meeting and working with Legionaries and members of Regnum Christi. We need to rekindle enthusiasm so that we can serve the Church in the task of the New Evangelization. They are our treasure. I need to see how they are doing and help them develop their personal holiness.
In the past, we were in a growing-and-developing period, moving into new territories and countries. We were enthusiastic, doing a lot of work for the Church, and we were happy about it. We were part of a big tide of New Evangelization.
But now, following the revelations about our founder, we have come to a new level of self-understanding and analysis, leading to a realistic and humble understanding that sees our efforts not as the work of man, but of God.
It’s good to grow, but our spirit needs to be different and more focused on Christ. This period of reflection can be seen as a “low point,” but it’s also a high point, because it will help purify our efforts.
Given your long history in the Legion leadership, how do you plan to repair the order’s credibility — and your own — with the U.S. bishops?
Credibility is something you earn. I hope to beg their patience. We want to do things in a manner that will allow them to give us advice and feedback to correct our ways.
New protocols have already been adopted. Now, the papal delegate is directing our efforts and the analysis of our institutional life. Any future problems that arise will be addressed with his assistance.
Why are there no Americans on the three international commissions dealing with the congregation?
I don’t know, to be very frank. The members were picked by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the papal delegate. Father [Anthony] Bannon is a member of one commission, and while he was born in Ireland, he knows the American mentality and created much of the development and growth in the U.S.
The commission dealing with victims is composed of Mexicans and Spaniards because the victims were from those countries.
In Rome, at the Center for Higher Studies, our major seminary, two of the three directors of the seminary are Americans, Father Joseph Burtka and Father Timothy Mulcahey.
The general counsel of the Legion [an advisory board with additional responsibility to set policy] is composed of four people from Spain, Mexico, Ireland and America. The cardinal appointed two more members of the counsel from Spain.
What is the charism of the Legion of Christ?
We have a deep, Christ-centered spirituality, enthusiastic, directed to families and youth. We live a liturgy that is traditional and joyful. We have a disciplined life — more like monks more than normal priests. We have a deeply rooted community life. That is all part of the patrimony.
From an apostolic point of view: We are here in the Church today to form lay apostles to put them at the service of the Church as real apostles of the New Evangelization, with the goal of confronting secular culture. We do education, youth and family activity, always with the idea of promoting lay leadership.
We have dismantled everything to analyze it better and see if it’s good and worthy as we move forward. In 2010, the Holy Father said we need to rediscover how to put our work at the service of Christ. Most Legionaries give a lot of value to this.
You once vowed, “If it turns out that anyone culpably cooperated in [Father Maciel’s] misdeeds, we will act according to the principles of Christian justice and charity, holding these people responsible for their actions.” Has anyone been held responsible? Are any investigations pending at this point?
The internal investigation — as far as establishing the actual responsibility of individuals other than the founder — has not taken place yet. From the press, there have been generic accusations, but there haven’t been formal accusations.
The papal delegate is still thinking about this. He is a jurist and canon lawyer, and from a legal point of view, he needs a credible accusation to begin an investigation.
The cardinal may be waiting for a better time to do it. We have spoken with him about it, both personally and publicly — in meetings of the general counsel. If this is not clarified, the Legion’s credibility will be at stake.
Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.