The crimes of Padre Pérez … and Marciel Maciel
The ghost of pedophile, drug-addict, embezzler, apparent blackmailer, and — incidentally — founder of the Legion of Christ, still hovers over the Prelature of Cancún. Despite a troubled path to ordination (his scandalous behavior as a seminarian allegedly caused his uncle, the-Bishop, now Saint Rafael Guizar, to have a fatal heart attack), the Michaocán priest rose to prominence within the Church under John Paul II’s Papacy, as the founder and leader of an order that was seen as a counterweight to “liberation theology”. Although controversial, Legion seminarians and priests took not only the traditional oaths of poverty, chastity, and obedience required in many traditional orders, but also vows of humility and personal allegiance to the Pope… and Marciel Maciel.
Always having an eye towards the “main chance,” The future Papal adviser on Mexican affairs saw as early as 1970 that the planned resort town of Cancún would attract the kind of wealth that he could profitably milk, and through his friendship with then Mexican President Luis Echeverría was able to convince Pope Paul VI to create… not a dioceses (where the regular clergy would normally run things) but a Prelature for “missionaries”… specifically Legion of Christ priests.
Before his downfall and banishment (to Jacksonville, Florida of all places… although how a wanted pedophile was able to get a visa to the United States has never been explained) by Pope Benedict XVI, the Legion of Christ and Maciel had “locked in” Cancún, not only filling Prelature offices (with the present bishop,Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas, plucked from teaching at a Legion of Christ seminary in the United States), but also serving as parish priests to Cancún’s growing service workers.
Enter Padre Pablo Pérez Guajardo. Before and after his ordination in 1991, Padre Peréz had worked for Maciel and the Legion in Rome, in a number of administrative posts. A native of Playa del Carmen, he returned to Mexico in 2006 to care for his terminally ill mother, and after her death was sent by the order “on the road” as a “spiritual director” to would-be wealthy donors to Maciel and his order. Landing in Cancún, was ordered back to Playa del Carmen, and wait.
Padre Pablo … without so much as a by your leave from his Bishop… took up the duties of a normal parish priest in a Mayan working class neighborhood. Seeing that the Prelature’s reason for existence was supposedly to provide priests to the Mayans (at least that’s what Maciel had told Echivierra and Paul VI), there wasn’t a whole lot Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo could do about a priest who was doing the kinds of things “good shepherds” should be doing… assisting his parishioners in negotiating the bureaucracy, pushing for better social services for the neighborhood, working with social workers to lower the high suicide rate among Mayan youths. Not exactly “liberation theology” (which the Legion was meant to counter), but the “church of the poor” was not exactly what the Legion was all about either. In other words, Padre Pablo went rogue from the rogues.
That in itself made Padre Pérez a pain in the ecclesiastic wazoo, but it was when Pérez started spilling the inside dope on Maciel, and on the workings of the Legion that the Bishop acted. In September 2010 (Maciel had died in disgrace in January 2008), while the Legion was still fighting off forced reorganization, but had released priests from the vows to Maciel, Pérez wrote the new head of the order, detailing not only what he knew about Maciel’s corruption and pedophilia, but that of other priests in the order. Worse yet, he stated telling whoever would listen about the ties between local clerical and political corruption, especially when he saw collusion between local officials and the clergy that worked against the interests of his own parishioners. By 2014, when Padre Pérez was laying out his accusations in the national press, the Bishop finally had to “do something”.
With the Legion having been in under forced reorganization … and rather like a bankrupt business under a special master, its management being overseen by an outsider… and with even its wealthy backers loathe to be connected to it… and a new Pope who seems to favor the “church of the poor”, the best Bishop Elizondo could come up with was to claim Pérez was challenging “ecclesiastical unity” (in other words, out of step with the status quo). As Pérez put it, “The bishop was very upset because I’m outside the ecclesiastical chain of command. And if that were not enough, some parents in Playa del Carmen complained to Bishop Elizondo that I was teaching Liberation Theology, to which I replied I’m not, but simply being close to the people.”
To undermine Pérez, the most the Bishop suspended Baptisms for children whose parents received pre-baptismal counseling from Pérez. And ordered Pérez not to perform Baptisms. It was obviously meant to undermine his “spiritual authority” but mostly has meant that Padre Pérez is spending less time with expectant parents and new babies, and more time hounding the municipal authorities for better pre-natal care and assistance for the Mayans… and building political ties with opposition politicians and other working priests.
Just after Christmas, the Bishop gave up, restoring the rights of Padre Pérez to baptize children and counsel their parents. Sometimes the right side wins.