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National Catholic Reporter
December 10, 2004


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 abuse.

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.

National Catholic Reporter
Issue 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 values.

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 order.

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 has accomplished.

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