3 Dec 2010

Vatican finally decides to reform Legionaries years after founder exposed as immoral religious fake

BBC News - May 1, 2010

Catholic order to be overhauled after founder's abuse

Father Maciel founded the order in 1941

Pope Benedict XVI is to appoint an envoy to overhaul a conservative Roman Catholic order whose Mexican founder abused young children over many years.

Marcial Maciel's actions were "immoral" and the Legionaries of Christ order had to be "purified", the Vatican said.

Maciel, who died in 2008, fathered a daughter with a mistress as well as sexually abusing many boys and young men over a period of 30 years.

He had enjoyed the support of the previous pope, John Paul II.

In 2006, Father Maciel was banned from exercising his ministry in public and told to retire to a life of prayer and penitence.

The priest - who founded the conservative order in 1941 - had always denied any wrongdoing. He died in January 2008 at the age of 87.


The Vatican statement came after the Pope met five bishops who investigated the order.

It said Fr Maciel had led a double life "devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment".

"By pushing away and casting doubt upon all those who questioned his behaviour, and the false belief that he wasn't doing harm to the good of the Legion, he created around him a defence mechanism that made him unassailable for a long period, making it difficult to know his true life," the Vatican statement said.

The Catholic Church has been hit by a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia, sometimes just moving them to new parishes where more children were put at risk.

The Pope himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy, and of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active pope yet in confronting abuse.

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Conservative Catholic order admits 5 years after investigation that founder, who fathered 3 children, was abusive pedophile

Vatican investigates sexual abuses by founder of conservative Catholic cult, Legionaries of Christ

Catholic Legionaries founder praised by Pope John Paul II sexually abused seminarians and raped his own children

On Sex Abuse: The Pope, the Bishop and the Mexican Priest

Founder of influential, conservative Catholic order fathered a child and molested seminarians

Corrupt Legionaries exposed


New York Times - May 1, 2010

Pope Reins In Catholic Order Tied to Abuse


ROME — Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday took control of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful and wealthy Roman Catholic religious order whose founder, a friend of Pope John Paul II, was found to have molested seminarians and fathered several children.

The move constituted the most direct action on sexual abuse since the most recent scandals have engulfed the church and prompted criticisms of the pope’s own handling of such cases as an archbishop in Munich and as a cardinal who led the office reviewing many sexual abuse charges.

In a statement on Saturday, the Vatican said that Benedict would appoint a special delegate to govern the Legionaries, an influential worldwide order that has been an important source of new priests in a church that has struggled with a shrinking priesthood in much of the developed world. It was founded in 1941 by a Mexican priest, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Benedict also said he would appoint a special commission to examine the Legionaries’ constitution and open an investigation into its lay affiliate, Regnum Christi.

The measures mean that the order would be governed directly from the Vatican. But the pope decided against dissolving the order or forcing out much of its leadership — at least for now — steps urged by many critics and victims’ advocates, who say they believe that the leaders must have known, or should have known, of the abuses.

The fate of the Legionaries is the most closely watched case in the Catholic Church as it grapples with a sexual abuse crisis that has increased pressure on Benedict to demonstrate his commitment to confronting the issue.

Some praised the Vatican decision, but others, including former Legionaries, said that appointing a delegate did not address the fundamental problems in the current leadership, which was put in place by Father Maciel. The Vatican statement was ambiguous about the role of the current leaders in Father Maciel’s deception, and also about their fate.

“The question is whether everything is still on the table in terms of the future, or is the underlying assumption that the present Legion of Christ can be repaired?” said George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul who had defended the Legionaries before learning of Father Maciel’s crimes. “I don’t see how the good work that the Legion and Regnum Christi do can continue without a definitive and unambiguous break with the past.”

Jose Barba Martin, the leader of a group of former Legionaries who complained to the Vatican in 1998 that they had been sexually abused as boys, said the appointment of an outsider to administer the order would do little good unless the church also replaced many officials in the upper echelon and rewrote the teachings of the group that stress obedience to superiors and silence about internal problems.

“What’s needed is a psychological restructuring,” said Mr. Barba, a history professor in Mexico City. “If the same directors remain, it’s going to be very difficult.”

The Rev. Alberto Athié, a Mexican priest who in 1998 tried to bring allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maciel to the attention of Benedict, back when he was a cardinal, said the Holy See had been aware of the order’s strict code of silence and obedience and had done nothing about it.

“In this sense I think the Holy See cannot get to the bottom of this matter,” Father Athié said. “It would have to criticize itself as an authority.”

Others praised Benedict’s decision and said the Vatican statement left open the possibility of new leadership for the order.

“Many of us are deeply satisfied with the depth and scope of what is laid out in the Vatican response,” said the Rev. Thomas V. Berg, a prominent former Legion priest. “I think it bodes well for the well being of the Legionaries who remain.”

He added that “the wording of the statement certainly leaves open the possibility of removing the current leadership, and many of us await that and expect that to happen.”

Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican reporter who has written extensively on the Legionaries, said he was struck by the “tough” tone of the statement. “It’s a sign that they want to act decisively,” he said. “This statement is also very hard on the current leaders of the legionaries.”

The Maciel case has become a touchstone for how Benedict has confronted sexual abuse. Benedict’s defenders cite it as an example that he took sexual abuse more seriously than others in the Vatican hierarchy did. But victims’ advocates say that he waited far too long to address it and that penalties were insufficient.

In 1998, eight Legionaries seminarians filed a complaint with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The pope, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the head of the body, quashed an investigation in 1999, according to accounts from a Mexican bishop who tried to press the case with him. In 2004, a few months before John Paul died, the future pope reopened the investigation. It eventually found that Father Maciel had abused seminarians, fathered several children and misappropriated funds.

In 2006, Benedict removed him from priestly duties and restricted him to a life of prayer and penance — a punishment that his victims say was not commensurate to his crimes. He died two years later, still a priest.

The measures the pope announced Saturday came after an exhaustive investigation of the order and Father Maciel’s crimes by five bishops who formed what is called an Apostolic Visitation and who submitted their report on March 15. The Vatican has said it wants to be transparent in sexual abuse cases, but the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the report’s findings would not be made public.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for the Legionaries in North America, said: “We thank the Holy Father and embrace the provisions with faith and obedience. We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the apostolic visitators, and we’re grateful for the prayers of so many people who have supported us at this time.”

The Vatican statement said that Father Maciel had kept his double life hidden from most Legionaries by creating a system of power that allowed him to silence his critics. The Vatican also assailed “the most serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible witnesses, which amount to true crimes and show a life deprived of scruples and authentic religious feeling.”

The announcement came a day after Benedict made a brief appearance at a meeting at the Vatican with the five bishops who investigated the case; the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; and members of other Vatican departments.

Critics have said the order’s current leaders must have known about Father Maciel’s misdeeds. But the Rev. Luis Garza Medina, the order’s No. 2, or vicar general, said in an interview last week with the newspaper La Repubblica that he was not aware of the abuse until after Father Maciel was punished in 2006. “It was difficult to understand that there might be such immoral and aberrant actions on his part,” he said.

In the statement released Saturday, the Vatican said, “The Holy Father intends to reassure all the Legionaries and the members of the Regnum Christi movement that they will not be left alone: that the church has the firm commitment to accompany them and help them in the path toward purification that awaits them.”

That, Juan Vaca said, is little comfort for him and Father Maciel’s other victims.

“They don’t say anything about all the harm, about how they treated us like liars,” said Mr. Vaca, a professor of sociology and psychology at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. “I have my dreams completely shattered.”

(James C. McKinley Jr. contributed reporting from Houston, and Laurie Goodstein and Daniel J. Wakin from New York.)

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 1, 2010

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a group of experts. It is the Apostolic Visitation, not Delegation. It also misstated a word in the Vatican statement, which referred to the "charism," not charisma of the Legionaries.

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New York Times - May 2, 2010

Abuse Case Offers a View of the Vatican’s Politics


The two former Mexican seminarians had gone to the Vatican in 1998 to personally deliver a case recounting decades of sexual abuse by one of the most powerful priests in the Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

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, word emerged that Cardinal Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — halted the inquiry. “It isn’t prudent,” he had 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, by office, 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 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 — at the time — 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.

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 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.

And in late 2004, 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.”

(Daniel J. Wakin reported from New York, and James C. McKinley Jr. from Mexico City. Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.)

This article was found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/world/europe/03maciel.html

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