January 23, 2006

With elite backing, Catholic order has pull in Mexico

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Monday, January 23, 2006

By Jose de Cordoba, The Wall Street Journal

MEXICO CITY -- Two years ago, a handful of Latin American billionaires and some of the world's top financiers gathered at New York's Plaza Hotel. They were honoring Mexican plutocrat Carlos Slim and raising money for schools for poor children run by the Legion of Christ, a fast-growing conservative Roman Catholic order.

Among those giving speeches at the black-tie gala were the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the 85-year-old Mexican founder of the Legion, and Citigroup Inc. Chairman Sanford Weill. Within hours, the diverse group of 500 well-wishers raised $725,000.

The Legion was in its element. Founded in 1941, the order concentrates on ministering to the wealthy and powerful in the belief that by evangelizing society's leaders, the beneficial impact on society is multiplied. Like the Jesuits who centuries ago whispered in the ear of Europe's princes, the Legion's priests today are the confessors and chaplains to some of the most powerful businessmen in Latin America.

"The soul of a trash collector is as important as the soul of Carlos Slim, but if Slim is converted, think of the influence and power for good he would wield," says Luanne Zurlo, a former Goldman Sachs securities analyst who organized the benefit. Mr. Slim, Latin America's richest man with a fortune estimated at $24 billion, says he's not a highly devout Catholic but is helping the Legion create 50 low-cost universities in Latin America. ...

More troubling for the Legion, Father Maciel, the order's founder, has been dogged for nearly a decade by widely publicized accusations that he sexually molested at least eight teenage seminarians from the 1940s through the early 1960s. Father Maciel denies the accusations. Many Catholic activists, angry with the church over cover-ups in priest sex-abuse cases, believe the Vatican has protected Father Maciel because of the Legion's reach and power.

Posted by kshaw at January 23, 2006 12:26 PM