>> Sunday, May 02, 2010
...an institution that had been ingrained in me from the time I was a very little, to trust in, believe in, to revere, and keep holy.
The Catholic Church.
Thankfully, my spirituality, belief, and my own personal and very private relationship with a Higher God, is still intact.
Abuse offers a View of The Vatican's Politics
As they left, they ran into the man who would hold Father Maciel’s fate in his hands, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and kissed his ring. The encounter was no accident. Cardinal Ratzinger wanted to meet them, witnesses later said, and their case was soon accepted.
But in little more than a year, Cardinal Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — halted the inquiry. “It isn’t prudent,” he told a Mexican bishop, according to two people who later talked to the bishop.
For five years, the case remained stalled, possibly a hostage to Father Maciel’s powerful protectors in the Curia, the Vatican’s governing apparatus, and his own deep influence at the Holy See.
In any case, it took Cardinal Ratzinger — by then Pope Benedict — until 2006, eight years after the case went before him, to address Father Maciel’s abuses by removing him from priestly duties and banishing him to a life of prayer and penitence, though without publicly acknowledging his wrongs or the suffering of his victims.
And on Saturday, four years after that, the Vatican announced that Benedict would appoint a special delegate to run the powerful worldwide order that Father Maciel founded, the Legionaries of Christ, and establish a commission to examine its constitution.
A close look at the record shows that the case was marked by the same delays and bureaucratic caution that have emerged in the handling of other sexual abuse matters crossing Benedict’s desk, whether as an archbishop in Munich or a cardinal in Rome. Benedict’s supporters believe he was trying to take action on the Maciel case but was thwarted by other powerful church officials.
But advocates for Father Maciel’s victims say that the Vatican’s eventual investigation and reckoning in the case were too little, too late.
The Rev. Alberto Athié Gallo, a Mexican priest who in 1998 tried to bring allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maciel to the attention of Cardinal Ratzinger, said the Vatican allowed Father Maciel, who died in 2008, to lead a double life for decades.
“This was tolerated by the Holy See for years,” Father Athié said. “In this sense I think the Holy See cannot get to the bottom of this matter. It would have to criticize itself as an authority.”
Former Legion seminarians have said that Father Maciel abused them from the early 1940s to the early ’60s, when they were 10 to 16 years old.
For years, Father Maciel had cultivated powerful allies among the cardinals, through gifts and cash donations, according to reporting by Jason Berry in the National Catholic Reporter. Mr. Berry is co-author of a book about the order and helped break the story of the priest’s abuses.
Chief among these allies was the former Vatican secretary of state and the most powerful man next to Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, now the dean of the College of Cardinals and an outspoken defender of Benedict.
“Until Pope Benedict confronts Sodano’s role in the cover-up of Maciel, I don’t see how he can move beyond the crisis that has engulfed his papacy,” Mr. Berry said. Mr. Berry reported that Cardinal Ratzinger refused an offer of money from the Legionaries.
Cardinal Sodano did not respond to written requests for an interview.
Approaching the truth of what happened with Father Maciel is complicated by the Vatican’s secrecy about its own politics and internal decision making. It is also difficult because of the reverence for John Paul, who, facing a diminishing supply of priests, welcomed the Legion’s orthodoxy and its ability to attract young men to the priesthood.
Father Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in Mexico in 1941. It grew to be a powerhouse and now operates in 22 countries, claiming to have 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians. It runs schools, universities, charities and media outlets. The order acquired the air of a personality cult, with Father Maciel’s pictures dominating the order’s buildings and his writings becoming required reading.
Its assets amount to $35 billion, according to Sandro Magister, an Italian journalist who has closely followed the case. The order’s current vicar general, or No. 2 leader, the Rev. Luis Garza Medina, scoffed at such amounts, saying in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last week that the Legion works to cover expenses, and generated $40 million last year.
Father Maciel’s troubles with the Vatican dated to 1956, when his personal secretary accused him of drug abuse and financial mismanagement; he was suspended for two years during an investigation, after which he was cleared and reinstated in 1959.
“From that moment on, he was completely protected by all the high offices of the Vatican,” said Fernando M. González, a sociologist who wrote a book about the Maciel case, based on more than 200 previously undisclosed documents from church archives, that was published in 2006.
Reports of problems in the order persisted, including sexual abuse allegations forwarded to the Vatican starting in the late 1970s. In 1997, nine former Legion seminarians — a number of them prominent priests and professionals — detailed their abuse at the hands of Father Maciel in a series of articles in The Hartford Courant by Mr. Berry and Gerald Renner.
That same year, La Jornada in Mexico City published a similar exposé. The following year, eight of the men brought a formal complaint to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Cardinal Ratzinger then led. José Barba Martín, a historian at the prestigious ITAM university in Mexico, was one of them.
He said he and another victim, Arturo Jurado, a language teacher, met with the Rev. Gianfranco Girotti, one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s secretaries, on Oct. 17, 1998. They were represented during the meeting by their canon lawyer, Martha Wegan, and a Mexican canon lawyer, the Rev. Antonio Roqueñi.
Mr. Barba said Ms. Wegan and Father Roqueñi outlined the case and hand-delivered a two-page complaint to Father Girotti about the sexual abuses the eight men had suffered, many of them in the 1950s. As they left the building, Mr. Barba said, the group met Cardinal Ratzinger and kissed his ring. They did not discuss the case. Later, Ms. Wegan said the cardinal had wanted to meet them, according to Mr. Barba.
By February 1999, the Congregation had officially accepted the case, according to a letter from Ms. Wegan. Father Maciel could not be tried for sexual abuse, because the crimes were beyond the statute of limitations. But the Congregation, which policed doctrinal matters, accepted the case on the grounds that he had granted absolution to an accomplice in crime — in this case, meaning his sexual abuse victims — which had no statute of limitations. If found guilty, he could have been excommunicated.
(Two years later, Cardinal Ratzinger decreed that that crime would also have a statute of limitations, removing the legal basis for an accomplice absolution charge, the complainants pointed out. It remains unknown why Cardinal Ratzinger did so or whether his decision had to do with Father Maciel’s case.)
At around the same time as the case was accepted, Father Athié, who had become interested in the matter and was helping Father Maciel’s victims, wrote a letter outlining another abuse charge and gave it to Bishop Carlos Talavera of Mexico, who told him that he had delivered it to Cardinal Ratzinger. In it, Father Athié described the detailed deathbed confession in 1995 of Father Juan Manuel Fernández Amenábar, who had told Father Athié about years of abuse by Father Maciel.
In an interview, Father Athié said Bishop Talavera — who has since died — told him that the cardinal had read the letter and decided not to proceed with the case. “Ratzinger said it could not be opened because he was a person very beloved by the pope,” referring to Father Maciel, “and had done a lot of good for the church. He said as well, ‘I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent,’ ” Father Athié said.
Saúl Barrales, a schoolteacher who once worked as Father Maciel’s secretary and is a cousin of Bishop Talavera, said he had heard the same account of the conversation from the bishop.
Just before Christmas 1999, Ms. Wegan, the lawyer, wrote to Mr. Barba and Mr. Jurado to say she had “sad news.” She said that she had spoken twice to Father Girotti and that he had told her they had done some research into the matter, but had decided to close the inquiry “for now.”
Mr. Barba said that in a later phone conversation with Ms. Wegan, she told him it was better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith. In October 2002, Mr. Barba said he had dinner with Ms. Wegan at a restaurant near her apartment in Rome. She told him, he said, that Cardinal Sodano had pressed Cardinal Ratzinger, who was thought to favor proceeding with a case, to drop the investigation. Ms. Wegan declined several requests to be interviewed.
Several former Legionaries have also said that Cardinal Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, was close to Father Maciel and may have played a role in either keeping information about him from John Paul or working to stymie an investigation.
“It was very clear that Angelo Sodano was going to do everything in his power to protect both Maciel and the Legion of Christ,” said Glenn Favreau, an advocate for ex-Legionaries who was ordained a deacon in the order and worked at its offices in Rome. Mr. Favreau recalls lavish meals at Legion buildings there for Cardinal Sodano and his extended family. “We fed them the finest of food,” he said.
The Rev. Álvaro Corcuera, now the leader of the order and a previous rector of the Legion’s seminary in Rome, was a friend of Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, then John Paul’s longtime personal secretary and a major gatekeeper of information to the pope, Mr. Favreau said. Father Dziwisz would often send postcards to Father Corcuera when John Paul was on one of his trips abroad, he said. Monsignor Dziwisz is now archbishop of Krakow.
Other factors delayed a reckoning. Some questioned the accounts of abuse; one of the original nine complainants recanted, and the Legion spread word that several of them were questioned but said nothing during the 1950s investigation.
Others suspected jealousy of Father Maciel’s success. “The accusations truly were seen as unfounded and a vendetta against him,” Mr. Magister, the journalist, said.
But something changed. In December 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger opened a canonical investigation and sent Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, a Maltese canon lawyer who in 2002 was appointed promoter of justice at the Congregation, to Mexico to question the plaintiffs.
On Dec. 8, Cardinal Ratzinger was the guest of honor at a party for German-speaking laity and priests in the Vatican and told Ms. Wegan that he had decided to “get to the bottom” of the allegations, according to her clients.
In 2001, all clerical sex abuse cases had been ordered sent to Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation. Mr. Magister said he believed that as the cardinal became increasingly aware of the problem’s magnitude, he ordered that old cases — including the Maciel matter — be re-examined.
At the same time, it was clear that Cardinal Ratzinger would be playing an important role in a future conclave to elect the next pope. And with the pope’s health and power waning, Cardinal Ratzinger may have felt a freer hand in acting against a figure protected by others in the Vatican — possibly to clear the decks for the next pope, possibly to remove a stain on John Paul’s record or his own, should he be considered for the papacy.
Even so, Father Athié said Monsignor Scicluna told him during his inquiry in Mexico that there would be no formal trial. Upset, Father Athié said he asked, “What is the point of the investigation then?” He said Monsignor Scicluna responded: “ ‘Father, Father Maciel is already an old man. In what way can one punish a priest who is already so old?’ ”
Father Maciel’s supporters kept up the fight. Within five months of Cardinal Ratzinger’s reopening of the investigation, the Legionaries of Christ in Rome announced that the inquiry was over — based on a fax from Cardinal Sodano’s office.
Nevertheless, Father Maciel’s dismissal was announced on May 19, 2006. But it was not until Saturday that the Vatican officially spelled out why: Father Maciel’s “objectively immoral behavior” included criminal acts “and showed a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious feeling.”
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