A Catholic organisation tainted by a child abuse scandal owns a site now found to be Mary Magdalene’s home town. It has become the latest stop for Christian pilgrimage
The Legion of Christ was founded in Mexico in 1941 by the Vatican’s favourite fundraiser, Father Marcial Maciel. A friend of Pope John Paul II, in his time he made millions of dollars for the Roman Catholic church and recruited thousands of young men into the priesthood. He was feted by wealthy Mexican widows and the neocon right. But that was before he was outed as a serial abuser of children and young men and discovered to have fathered at least three children with two women, whom he kept in luxury apartments in different countries. He embezzled funds. He was a drug addict. He was even accused of abusing his own children. As he was considered too old for a trial, the Vatican quietly retired him to Florida in 2006. He died two years later. But the order he founded struggled on, under new leadership.
The year after Maciel died, a digger on a construction site in the Galilee region hit something solid in the ground. The Legion of Christ had bought the site for $16m in order to build a hotel and retreat centre on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee – a freshwater paradise of fish and fruit blighted by occasional earthquakes and a long history of terrible politics. Jesus was born and died in the Jerusalem area. But the location for most of his adult ministry was Capernaum in Galilee, just up the road from the construction site. For Christian pilgrims, this tiny area has long been the perfect location for a “Jesus experience”.