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Title Legion of Christ - Reporter Atlanta school controversy responds to Legion of Christ

Legion of Christ - Reporter Atlanta school controversy responds to Legion of Christ December 11th, 2000 - The following is reporter Gerald Renner s response to an open letter that appeared on the web site operated by the Legion of Christ. That open letter criticized a story on The Donnellan School in Atlanta. An open letter from the Legionaries of Christ on the organization s Web site chooses to attack me for the stories I have written about them rather than examine what it is about the way they operate that alienates a significant number of people lay and clerical wherever they set up shop. Following the example of the open letter, let me provide some background to put the stories in perspective. [...] I called the seminary to inquire whether I could visit and write a feature story about it. That was the beginning of a runaround and of stonewalling by the Legion that I have long since become familiar with. I was told I had to seek the permission of the national director, Fr. Anthony Bannon, to write anything. But he was never available, despite calls I made to him over the course of several years. I even visited the seminary personally one day to the consternation of the seminarian-receptionist and was again told I had to talk to Fr. Bannon. Finally, one day in 1993, Fr. Bannon himself happened to pick up the phone when I called. He told me in no uncertain terms the order did not want any publicity and that he did not trust the press. The only way he would provide information for an article, he said, if he had the right to review it after it was written, something that is journalistically unacceptable. [...] The religious order is not terribly interested in a whole lot of publicity in what they are doing, Ellenbogen told me. If the fathers are not forthcoming, I cannot tell you anything else. Yet, the order wonders aloud in its open letter why it s called secretive. [...] I m baffled by the open letter s claim that I talked to other ex-seminarians, but as soon as they had something positive to say of the Legion the interview was ended. Poppycock. I ve talked to a number of former Legionary priests and seminarians. Most of them wish anonymity because they want to leave the past behind them and get on with their lives. I never ever ended an interview when someone said something positive about the Legion. The most explosive story of all resulted from a tip from a priest who was not connected to the Legion. Published in the Courant on Feb. 23, 1997, after months of investigation, it began: After decades of silence, nine men have come forward to accuse the head of an international Roman Catholic order of sexually abusing them when they were boys and young men training to be priests. [...] The open letter accuses me of willfully ignoring essential facts that discredit the accusers story. We weighed most carefully all of the essential facts the law firm offered to counter the accusations. The open letter repeats the mantra-like refrains of the defense that we took most seriously but in the course of our investigation thought did not ring true. For example, the Legion claimed that Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar, the former Legion priest who made a deathbed statement accusing Fr. Maciel of having sexually abused him, could not have done so because he was incoherent and in a virtual coma. They produced a supporting statement from a man they said was the physician who took care of Amenabar. But on double-checking we found that the alleged physician, Raul de Anda Gomez, was not a medical doctor at all but a psychotherapist. Furthermore, he did not even attend to Fernandez. The real physician who took care of the dying man, Dr. Gabriela Quintero Calleja, told us that Fernandez made his declaration in full use of his mental faculties. She was a witness to his statement. A psychologist who was among the hospital team that attended to Fernandez supported Dr. Quintero s evaluation. It was such a major discrepancy it called into question everything the Legion was telling us. At the last moment, the day we went to press and so informed the law firm we were doing so, they sprang on us an affidavit from a former priest recanting the earlier accusations he had made against Fr. Maciel. He had originally made his claims in a tearful interview with Mr. Berry and in a detailed affidavit. The retraction read hollowly and without the intimate detail that gave so much credence to his original account. The retraction appeared to have been coerced. We cited both it and his original affidavit. The open letter goes on to say the accusers had a decades-long history of trying to discredit Fr. Maciel. Not true. The Legion from the beginning has tried to link his present-day accusers with those in the 1950s whose complaints against Fr. Maciel led to his temporary suspension under Pope Pius XII. The nature of the complaints against Fr. Maciel, whether they were of a sexual nature or mismanagement, remains in dispute. But those making the accusations today were young boys in seminary in the late 1950s. They say they lied at the time to Vatican investigators to protect the man they called Nuestro Padre. [...] The open letter says my story argues that the Legionaries make a practice of taking over schools that others have worked to start. Exactly so. Talk to the parents in Cincinnati who lost control when they suddenly found their board taken over by Regnum Christi and given to the order. Or talk to parents of an independent school in Calgary newly awakened to the possibility (fear?) of taking direction from the Legion. Or talk to San Diego parents who have fended off the Legion. Now the Legion may certainly have inspired lay leaders of Regnum Christi to try to get a school going. But the other parents they involve are seldom aware they are part of a front group working for eventual control by the Legion and are shocked when it happens. [...] My attempts to reach those who felt differently were to no avail. The board told parents it would be destructive to talk to the media. My calls for comment to key people at the school went unanswered to Fr. Hopkins, the Legion priest; Msgr. Edward Dillon, the school president; and to Frank Hanna III, the wealthy Regnum Christi board member. I was told Hanna was a key player in the decision to make Donnellan a Legion school. Mr. Hanna s wife told me he did not want to talk to me. She refused to give me his office number. [...] The only one who agreed to speak to me was Matthew S. Coles, the lawyer for both the school and the archdiocese. Here it is again, I thought: déjà vu. Dealing with the Legion means going through a lawyer. But most of what Coles had to say was for background only, not for quotation. [...] This is a summary extract of the complete open letter as it appeared in National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 11, 2000