An important article was published this week in The National Catholic Reporter by journalist and author Jason Berry. This article sheds new light on possible motives for the Vatican to encourage Bishops to conceal sexual abuse by priests, as they did for many years in the U.S. and, as we are now learning, in other countries.
Berry has been covering the story of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests since the scandal first broke in New Orleans in the early 1980s. Berry is the author of the book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II and director of a documentary based on the book.
Berry’s April 6 article in The National Catholic Reporter is the first of two parts dealing with the secretive “Legionaries of Christ” and its late founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. This organization is said to be even more influential and mysterious than Opus Dei.
Berry Describes Maciel as a “great fundraiser” who was successful in attracting young men to the priesthood, as well as “a notorious pedophile” who also had affairs with a number of women who bore him “several children.”
The charismatic Mexican, who founded the Legion of Christ in 1941, sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end, according to many sources interviewed by NCR: Maciel was buying support for his group and defense for himself, should his astounding secret life become known.
This much is well established from previous reporting: Maciel was a morphine addict who sexually abused at least 20 Legion seminarians from the 1940s to the ’60s. Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre, N.Y., sent a letter by a former Legion priest with detailed allegations to the Vatican in 1976, 1978 and 1989 through official channels. Nothing happened. Maciel began fathering children in the early 1980s — three of them by two Mexican women, with reports of a third family with three children in Switzerland, according to El Mundo in Madrid, Spain. Concealing his web of relations, Maciel raised a fortune from wealthy backers, and ingratiated himself with church officials in Rome.
Berry reports that Maciel arranged through generous gifts (paying for massive renovations on the Cardinal’s house) to get a powerful Cardinal named Eduardo Francisco Pironio, now deceased, to sign off on the Legion of Christ’s constitution, which included:
…the highly controversial Private Vows, by which each Legionary swore never to speak ill of Maciel, or the superiors, and to report to them anyone who uttered criticism. The vows basically rewarded spying as an expression of faith, and cemented the Legionaries’ lockstep obedience to the founder. The vows were Maciel’s way of deflecting scrutiny as a pedophile.
Pope Benedict XVI, who has been sharply criticized for aiding in the cover-up of the pedophilia scandal, opened an investigation into Maciel’s activities in 2004, and despite the favor in which Pope John Paul II held Maciel, Benedict was successful in having him replaced as head of the Legion of Christ and disciplined for his sexual activities with seminarians.
How did this man get away with his debauchery for so long? Berry explains that Maciel gave money–a lot of it, and in cash–to Cardinals.
In an NCR investigation that began last July, encompassing dozens of interviews in Rome, Mexico City and several U.S. cities, what emerges is the saga of a man who ingratiated himself with Vatican officials, including some of those in charge of offices that should have investigated him, as he dispensed thousands of dollars in cash and largesse.
Maciel built his base by cultivating wealthy patrons, particularly widows, starting in his native Mexico in the 1940s. Even as he was trailed by pedophilia accusations, Maciel attracted large numbers of seminarians in an era of dwindling vocations. In 1994 Pope John Paul II heralded him as “an efficacious guide to youth.” John Paul continued praising Maciel after a 1997 Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and this writer exposed Maciel’s drug habits and abuse of seminarians. In 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute him in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal. For the next six years, Maciel had the staunch support of three pivotal figures: Sodano; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul. During those years, Sodano pressured Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel, as NCR previously reported. Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that the Maciel case was a “delicate” matter and questioned whether it would be “prudent” to prosecute at that time.
In 2004, John Paul — ignoring the canon law charges against Maciel — honored him in a Vatican ceremony in which he entrusted the Legion with the administration of Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, an education and conference facility. The following week, Ratzinger took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.
According to Berry, in 1997, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, firmly refused a cash gift offered by a Legionary after Ratzinger spoke at one of their meetings. That certainly speaks well of Ratzinger, judging by the amount of money the Legion was spreading around. Here is a little more from Berry’s piece:
Maciel traveled incessantly, drawing funds from Legion centers in Mexico, Rome and the United States. Certain ex-Legionaries with knowledge of the order’s finances believe that Maciel constantly drew from Legion coffers to subsidize his families.
For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican.
Yet Berry could find no evidence that the Legion’s “donations” have been reported or recorded in any systematic way. There does not even seem to be a method by which this could be done. So the Church has a situation in which a powerful organization run by a pedophile has used money to spread its influence far and wide during “five decades” of “Maciel’s strategy of buying influence.”
Based on Berry’s descriptions, the Legion of Christ is still extremely influential in the Vatican, in the Church as a whole, and in the secular world as well. Maciel’s followers are everywhere, even among the wealthy and powerful in the U.S. Some of Maciel’s famous followers/admirers who are mentioned in Berry’s article are actor Mel Gibson, Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, singer Placido Domingo, politicians Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, and frequent cable commenters William Donohue and William Bennett.
Meanwhile, seminarians are still being taught that Maciel was a saint:
Two Legion priests told NCR in July that seminarians in Rome were still being taught about Maciel’s virtuous life. “They are being brainwashed, as if nothing happened,” said a Legionary, sitting on a bench near Rome’s Tiber River.
How do you go about cleaning up corruption that is this long-term and pervasive?
Filed under: General | Tagged: Catholic Church, corruption, Jeb Bush, Legion of Christ, Mel Gibson, pedophile priests, pedophilia, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, Rick Santorum, sexual abuse, William Bennett, William Donahue | 78 Comments »