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Vatican investigates Legionaries of Christ

The Catholic Church looks into cult allegations — and $1,000 hams.

Christmas gifts were divided into category by declining levels of importance, the Legionary continued. For weeks, “eight or 10 brothers prepared the baskets in the basement. Fine Spanish hams cost quite a lot — 30 euros per kilo. You can spend $1,000 for a large one,” said one of the Legion priests who spoke on condition that his name not be used.

Another priest here who left the Legion years ago recounted how Maciel in 1946 arrived in war-ravaged Rome and presented Cardinal Clemente Micara, then the vicar of Rome, with $10,000 cash.

“That was an enormous amount in those days,” the former Legion preist said.

Micara would return the favor at a pivotal moment in Maciel’s life.

In 1956 the Legionary founder was suspended by Pope Pius XII while hospitalized for morphine painkiller addiction, amidst abuse allegations in the seminary.

Barba and others have stated that as boys he abused they lied to protect Maciel in questioning by Vatican officials. “We obeyed our vows to the Legion,” he said. “You must realize, it was the only world we knew.”

When Pius died in 1959, Micara had Maciel reinstated, though whether the cardinal had the formal power to abort a papal investigation is in doubt. Micara would preside at the opening of the Guadalupe Basilica Maciel built in Rome.

Letters accusing Maciel that several men sent to the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s were ignored.

Pope John Paul II was impressed with the sight of dozens of Legionaries in formation, and the large number of men ordained in the 1990s. John Paul’s presence in Legion videos was pivotal to its marketing efforts.

The 1998 charges Barba filed in Ratzinger’s tribunal sat dormant for six years, a sign of Sodano’s power over the process, he says. In late 2004, with John Paul’s health failing, Ratzinger — perhaps sensing he would one day become pope — ordered Scicluna the canon lawyer to begin his investigation. When the report was done, Ratzinger had become pope.

Adena, the news editor and inactive priest, faults John Paul for failing to investigate Maciel. “Hard questions must be asked as the Vatican considers him for sainthood.”

Adena considers Benedict’s 2006 order removing Maciel from active ministry “a mistake. He should be have been excommunicated. But he was protected because of the money he was bringing into the church.”

Last week in Atlanta, a small liberal arts school, Southern Catholic College announced that it merged with the Legion “to attract students from across North America,” the SCC president Jeremiah J. Ashcroft stated. "This expanded reach and support greatly enhances our ability to achieve our mission to prepare moral and ethical leaders who will enlighten society and glorify God."

Jason Berry is coauthor of “Vows of Silence” a book on the Maciel case. He is producer of a film based on the book, which recently screened as part of RomaFictionFest. He is working on a book about church financial conflicts.

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Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the age of Maciel when he died.