Sanctuary in the proposed new center. Picture: National Catholic Reporter
The scandal-battered Legionaries of Christ, still facing the unresolved consequences of a disgraced founder, may be seeing a turn in their fortunes with the development of the Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land. The order is conducting a major fundraising drive to cover the projected $100 million cost.
The complex, with newly discovered ruins of a synagogue Jesus may have visited, will contain an archaeological park, women's institute, media center and a luxury hotel the Legion will own. Eduardo Guerra, the center's assistant director, said that the Legion has raised $40 million from benefactors toward the finished work.
Whether the center can overcome its founder's reputation and the fallout from the prolonged scandal is an open question. While the order is still reeling from revelations that its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, was a sexual predator, abusing young seminarians and living a double life that included fathering three children by two women from Mexico, he still has his loyalists.
A booklet intended to promote the new center, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material demonstrating Maciel's posthumous hold on certain top-rank Legionaries. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays the Legion founder as harshly judged. In the quotation from the text that follows, the speaker is Fr. Juan María Solana, who heads the Magdala project:
"The priest speaks his heart: "Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes.
"But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."
The Legion's expansion in the Holy Land stands out in stark contrast to the "fire sale" of assets in the Americas, as one priest calls it, sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion. The Legion's economic boom in Israel also occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States.
In Connecticut, the Legion has been sued by Maciel's son and the son's half-brother, alleging that Maciel sexually abused them as teenagers in America.
Separate Rhode Island lawsuits seek to recover millions of dollars from the wills of two elderly Catholics who, relatives allege, were defrauded by Legion fundraising practices that promoted Maciel as a saintly figure.
Source: National Catholic Reporter