|"My name is Legion, for we are many." ~ Mark 5:9|
"It's done. They're public. This ends the debate," said a spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ, as "yards of documents" were ordered released by Judge Michael Silverstein. But, in fact, the debate may be just beginning.
As discussed a lawsuit against the Legionaries in Rhode Island triggered interest in documents purported to show a pattern of fraud. A petition by the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal, and the National Catholic Reporter brought a ruling in favor transparency last month, but granted Legion lawyers time to pursue an appeal.
There's little doubt that there's something very embarrassing to the Legionaries of Christ in those documents or they would not have tried so hard to block their release. As stated, they were concerned about prejudicing a future jury, so it can't be good. But the larger question is whether it could be embarrassing to the Vatican -- even to the retiring Pope Benedict XVI.
The Legionaries have been a political hot potato for the Vatican for decades but officials, including Pope Benedict, chose repeatedly to protect Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado from consequences for a lifetime of abuse and criminality. In return, Maciel poured money into Vatican coffers. How did he get that money? Largely by charming wealthy, older women -- a pattern that clearly proliferated through the global organization. In Rhode Island, they took Gabrielle Mee for tens of millions, even going so far as to sue Fleet National Bank when they balked at the pillaging of her late husband's trust. (Timothy Mee had worked for Fleet as a director.) She left them everything upon her death. Her niece sued. The suit was dismissed but Judge Silverstein's ruling contained statements that got the attention of the press.
“The transfer of millions of dollars worth of assets — through will, trust and gifts — from a steadfastly spiritual, elderly woman to her trusted by clandestinely dubious spiritual leaders raises a red flag to this court,” the ruling read.
Time will tell what those publications are able to find in those papers and whether or not they flesh out any of the backstory on the Vatican's relationship with Maciel and his organization. The known facts are damning and I've already posted a good many of them on this blog.
Jason Berry has been covering the Maciel story for the National Catholic Reporter for some years and will have access to these documents. He posted a couple of articles on the Global Post today on the release of the documents and an overview of Maciel's relationship with the Vatican and the past two popes. I will be looking forward to his analysis on this, the latest chapter in the Maciel saga.
In reading this newest wave of coverage, I chased down some of the links and learned of a few details I'd missed. In addition to more stomach-turning descriptions of the abuses themselves, comes this gem on one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The accusers say Vatican-based Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican office to safeguard the faith and the morals of the church, quietly made the lawsuit go away and shelved it. There was no investigation and the accusers weren't asked a single question or asked for a statement.
He was appointed by the pope to investigate the entire sex abuse scandal in the church in recent days. But when approached by ABCNEWS in Rome last week with questions of allegations against Maciel, Ratzinger became visibly upset and actually slapped this reporter's hand.
"Come to me when the moment is given," Ratzinger told ABCNEWS, "not yet."
"Cardinal Ratzinger is sheltering Maciel, protecting him," said Berry, who expressed concerns that no response was being given to the allegations against the man charged with sex abuse. "These men knelt and kissed the ring of Cardinal Ratzinger when they filed the case in Rome. And a year-and-a-half later, he takes those accusations and aborts them, just stuffs them."
As discussed, then Cardinal Ratzinger had decided it wasn't "prudent" to pursue the matter at that time. He was and is a master of courtly politics. He may have even bent canon law to accommodate the Vatican's fondness for this rapist. What is outrageous is that he thinks the whole world should be beholden to the intricacies of Vatican maneuvering and endure its glacial pace -- so much so that he felt entitled to SLAP a reporter seeking details on one of the most disturbing cases to come out of this whole, hideous Catholic Church abuse scandal.
It's this kind of thing that gives the lie to assessments, like this one, of Pope Benedict as hugely successful on the issue priestly abuse. I think one has to be deep in the bubble of Vatican culture to think this cautious, incremental approach to dealing with the rape of children amounts to "great reform."
In the coming weeks, Cardinal Mahony will be in the Conclave helping to select the next pope. This is after it was revealed that he oversaw a massive cover-up, actively protecting serial abusers from prosecution. It was only revealed after he'd cost the Los Angeles Diocese millions in court costs to keep those facts from coming out. He was censured by the current archbishop of Los Angeles, and had the nerve to be petulant about it. But he will be one of eleven US cardinals going to Rome to choose the new pope. This is what accounts for "reform" in Pope Benedict's world.
As the Washington Post astutely observed in a recent editorial:
His continued prominence reflects the culture of impunity in the Catholic Church a decade after its tolerance and complicity in the abuse of children was exposed. The church has adopted policies intended to avoid fresh outrages, but it also has fought to protect supervisors who shielded criminal molesters.
Such is the "great reform" legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
Lest we forget, this is the same Pope Benedict who, when he finally got around to addressing the catastrophic mess that was the Legionaries of Christ, sent the serially abusing Marcial Maciel off to pray. That was his punishment. He spent his remaining few years in "prayer and penitence." Again, for a shark in human skin like Maciel such boredom must have been a living torment, but it was not a fitting punishment for a priest who spent his life sexually abusing children, using false identities to take mistresses and have more children to molest, abusing drugs, and bilking kindly, old women out of their fortunes. He was a criminal. He needed to go where criminals go: prison.
Maybe these papers from Rhode Island will give some tiny insight into how it was that the "great reformer" spent his Vatican career providing cover for serial abusers like Maciel and the many bishops who protected them. Maybe not. But I welcome whatever details on the shadowy Legionaries of Christ they may provide.