Misplaced Papal Praise
Like a president, potentate or
prime minister, how a pope spends his time, and with whom he chooses to
spend it, is significant. At a minimum it sends a signal -- who is in
or out of favor, whose ideas have proved triumphant, who, bottom line,
has the man’s ear.
Style over substance? Perhaps.
But still important.
Which brings us to with whom
Pope John Paul II chose to spend time Nov. 30: Fr. Marcial Maciel
Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. As readers of this
publication are aware, Maciel is a papal favorite. The Legionaries,
with 500 priests and 2,000 seminarians, shares John Paul II’s
theological outlook. At the closing celebration of events marking the
60th anniversary of Maciel’s ordination, the pope heaped praise on the
Mexican priest and honored the work of the Legionaries and their lay
affiliate, Regnum Christi.
Maciel, however, is also an
accused child molester. Eight former Legionary seminarians say he
abused them. As this paper previously reported: “The men say Maciel
first abused them when they were young boys or teenagers between the
ages of 10 and 16, sometimes telling them he had permission from Pope
Pius XII to engage in sexual acts with them in order to gain relief
from pain related to an unspecified stomach ailment.”
Maciel vigorously denies the
allegations. The Vatican, by all indications, has whitewashed its
investigation into the charges.
But, and here’s a key point,
his accusers exude credibility. They include an engineer, a
schoolteacher, a lawyer, a rancher, a Harvard-educated scholar, a
professor at the U.S. Defense Languages School, a psychology professor
and a retired priest. A distinguished group, united only, they say, in
an effort to expose the truth about the man who sexually abused them.
If Maciel were a U.S. priest,
under procedures approved by the American bishops and recognized by the
Vatican in 2002, he would be removed from active ministry, declared
unfit to wear a Roman collar. Instead, he is honored by the Holy Father
(see story below).see
Meanwhile, despite numerous
requests, Pope John Paul II has yet to meet with victims of clergy sex
There’s a tendency, an
understandable one in some respects, to make excuses for the way the
pope has dealt with the worldwide clergy sex abuse crisis: He is ill,
it is said, or he must keep the big picture in mind, or these are
issues that local bishops must resolve.
But John Paul II has made a
choice. He praised Maciel, but refuses to meet with victims of those
who, in the church’s name, hold themselves out as the image of Christ
on Earth. The pope’s priorities are, to say the least, askew.
On Dec. 1, the day after
honoring Maciel, the pope told a public audience that leaders need to
be “honest and just, promote peace and take care of the weak and
needy.” Leaders who carry out their roles in this fashion, he said,
“will enjoy the respect of [their] people.”
The pope is sending a
confusing mix of messages.
Date: December 10, 2004
Vatican heaps praise on
Legionaries of Christ VATICAN CITY -- In a week of liturgies, meetings
and official documents, Pope John Paul II and Vatican offices have
spotlighted the growing influence of the Legionaries of Christ and the
associated movement, Regnum Christi.
The events coincided with
celebrations in Rome of the 60th anniversary of the priestly ordination
of the Legionaries’ founder and head, Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel
Degollado. The pope lauded Maciel’s missionary and spiritual efforts,
in particular an international network of schools, university centers,
charitable institutions and institutes that promote family and human
Maciel, 84, founded the
Legionaries in 1941, and it has grown to include about 500 priests and
2,500 seminarians, who work in more than 20 countries. The Regnum
Christi movement has tens of thousands of members around the world,
most of them lay men and women.
Maciel has remained in papal
favor despite numerous and sustained allegations that he sexually
abused several former Legionaries when they were teenage seminarians in
the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s (NCR, March 7, 1997).
Maciel and the Legionaries
have categorically and strenuously denied the allegations since they
emerged in 1997. The repetition of the allegations against Maciel by
former members of the order has prompted the Legionaries to post a
special page of rebuttal documentation on the order’s Web site. A
Vatican investigation produced no public findings.
Among other things, the pope
entrusted to the Legionaries the administration of an important church
institution in the Holy Land, Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center. He also
approved the statutes and charism of the Regnum Christi movement.
A top Vatican official
ordained 59 Legionaries of Christ priests from 10 countries and said
the new vocations underline the international nature of the religious
Closing the celebrations at
the Vatican Nov. 30, the pope presided over an enthusiastic encounter
with some 4,000 Legionaries of Christ priests and seminarians and
Regnum Christi members.
After warmly greeting Maciel,
the pope said in a speech that the priest’s ministry had been “full of
the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”The pope said he wanted to join in the
“canticle of praise and thanksgiving” for the great things the priest