My husband and I were speculating the other night that perhaps Pope Benedict resigned because there are major scandals coming down the pike and he wants to get out of the line of fire -- not necessarily because he's directly culpable. He may just want to protect himself and his legacy from becoming collateral damage. It's a tantalizing possibility and would fit neatly into the previously discussed St. Malachy prophesy timelime.
The good folks at AmericaBlog have advanced one possible candidate for a potential scandal about to break. It involves the Legionaries of Christ and the late Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado. A rundown of Maciel's already known crimes can be found here and the details on allegations of sexual abuse by one of his illegitimate children can be found here.
Much like the recent eruption in Los Angeles, the pending issue is some documents that may be unsealed as early as this Friday. But where the abuse files that recently caused Cardinal Mahony to be barred from public ministry were embarrassing to major players in that diocese, anything to do with the Legionaries could implicate the Vatican. As discussed, Maciel was extremely close to highly-placed officials up to and including Pope John Paul II.
These documents are evidence in ongoing litigation in Rhode Island. The original case was brought by the niece of a wealthy widow who had willed her $60 million fortune to the Legionaries. Mary Lou Dauray sued, contending that the late Gabrielle Mee had been defrauded by the organization. Her case was dismissed in September of last year, due to her lack of standing, but there appear to be appeals and ongoing litigation in the works.
The judge in the case has already ruled that the documents are to be unsealed but stayed his decision pending appeal.
Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein gave the Legion until Feb. 15 to ask the state Supreme Court to intervene in the tug-of-war over the records, which are from a lawsuit filed by a woman contesting the will of a wealthy aunt who left the Legion $60 million.
The judge had ruled on Wednesday that the public had a right to access the documents despite concerns from the Legion's attorney, Joseph Avanzato, that they could taint a future jury. Avanzato, in asking the judge to stay his ruling, said Friday that it would be wrong to release the documents before the Legion had an opportunity to appeal the decision that unsealed them.
In other words, whatever is in those documents makes the Legionaries of Christ look bad. The bigger question, though, is does it make the Vatican look bad? And could it further tarnish the retiring Pope Benedict XVI? His hands are already dirty where Maciel and his Legions are concerned. As cardinal he halted his own investigation into some of the abuse allegations because it wasn't "prudent" to proceed.
As pope he did take action against Maciel but he did not have him defrocked which would have seemed like a no-brainer given the man's litany of crimes. Instead, he put him into retirement, consigning him for the last few years of his life to contemplation and prayer. I've noted before that while that would hardly be punishment for the average priest, for an adrenaline junky and probable psychopath like Maciel, it would have been a living hell. Psychopaths suffer mostly from boredom and need constant stimulation -- stimulation that usually costs other people greatly and on many levels.
In 2010 Pope Benedict put the Legionaries of Christ directly under Vatican control, in an attempt to salvage a deeply corrupt institution. Just how corrupt? We may only now be learning how deep the rabbit hole goes and the litigation in Rhode Island may be an important piece.
Read the coverage on AmericaBlog and listen to the embedded broadcast by WNHN's Arnie Arnesen. It's really juicy. Arnesen knows the plaintiff in the case so she has a good bit of the backstory. She provides some details on the Legionaries that I was previously unfamiliar with. For instance, Maciel groomed his legion of priests to be like cell-scrapings of himself -- a little cultish army with their dark-hair all parted to the left and sporting smart, double-breasted suits. Think Heaven's Gate but with fashion sense.
As previously discussed, one of his replicants, Father Thomas Williams, also followed in his footsteps by leading a double-life and keeping a secret wife and child. On the scale of high crimes and misdemeanors, he was no Marcial Maciel Degollado, but, ironically, his offense -- fathering a child -- seemed to be far more disturbing to the Vatican than raping children. They really do have a strange set of priorities.
So, perhaps, come Friday we'll have some insight into the pontiff's abrupt departure from the world stage. Either way, I just hope the documents come out. Sunlight is still the best disinfectant.