Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"How Much Filth There Is in the Church": Jason Berry on Maciel, Angelo Sodano, and the Flow of Corrupt Money in the Vatican

Jason Berry has just published another installment of his exposé of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the serial rapist and priest-father of several unacknowledged children, Fr. Marcial Maciel.  As Berry publishes this sequel to his previous NCR piece about Maciel, he’s predictably being attacked by Benedict’s gallant lads, who find his work “thinly sourced.” 

Such scholars they’ve become, these lads, with their Latin dictionaries and Dicastery flow charts.  For valuable commentary on the defamatory claims of Berry’s current detractors, see Colleen Kochivar-Baker at Enlightened Catholicism.

I won’t summarize or analyze Berry’s latest article, since it speaks for itself with its careful reporting from a courageous journalist who has tenaciously followed the Maciel story for years, at a time when the power of the institutional church and its defenders to spin the Maciel story was much stronger than it is now. 

What I do want to draw attention to in Berry’s account is the considerable evidence he has amassed for the direct involvement of the powerful Vatican cardinal Angelo Sodano, currently the Dean of the College of Cardinals and formerly the Vatican Secretary of State, in the cover-up of Maciel’s slimy trail.  For years.

Slimy not only because of Maciel’s gross sexual improprieties, but because of the money that changed hands constantly behind the scenes right within the Vatican itself to help cover Maciel’s trail.  The sensational business connections that Berry tracks between Maciel and Sodano’s nephew Andrea Sodano, who was indicted in New York in 2008 for fraud and money-laundering, are deeply troubling. 

Read for yourself and draw your own conclusions.  For me, the obvious conclusion to be drawn from Berry’s story is that Maciel bought the silence of high Vatican officials close to John Paul II by greasing their palms.  In other words, the cover-up of sexual abuse at the highest levels of the Catholic church is intrinsically connected to the flow of dirty money into the coffers of at least some church officials. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Catholic church is now rotten at its very core.  Reform has to begin with recognition of how strongly the filth in the church has made inroads right to the top—and that filth is financial every bit as much as it is sexual. 

What we now know about Sodano makes the movement to canonize John Paul II grotesque.  These revelations compromise the legacy of both John Paul II and Benedict, whom John Paul appointed, after all, to be his right-hand man—and who, Berry shows us, knew full well what Maciel was doing. 

To Ratzinger’s credit, he apparently refused to benefit from the palm-greasing.  To his discredit, when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and long after he had appropriated the handling of each and every clerical abuse case to that office—to himself, in other words, as head of CDF—Ratzinger did nothing at all about Maciel.  Just as he did nothing for a number of years in the case of Fr. Kiesle in Oakland, even when Kiesle himself and his bishop begged for his release from the priesthood, citing his history of abusing minors.

I don’t buy the current attempt of Benedict’s loyal lads to play John Paul and Benedict against each other, as they throw John Paul the Great—whom they’ve loyally defended up to now—to the wolves in a desperate attempt to remove some of the filth that is rightly sticking to Benedict’s reputation as John Paul’s right-hand man and his successor as pope. 

For Andrew Sullivan’s similar conclusions, see Sullivan’s reflections on the Maciel story as the Vatican’s Watergate.

And there’s more: knowing full well who Sodano is and what he has done, the current regime allowed him to interrupt this year’s Vatican Easter liturgy with a fulsome tribute to Benedict, in which he repeated Benedict’s deeply insensitive—if not downright cruel—dismissal of the latest revelations about how high the abuse cover-up goes as “petty gossip.”

Sodano is, in a word, corrupt.  And the decision of key players in the Vatican’s spin machine to select him to cheerlead for Benedict at this year’s Easter liturgy only further complicates and imperils, rather than refurbishes, the image of the current pope. 

Perhaps the Latin scholars defending the pope ought to remember the venerable Latin proverb, Pares cum paribus facillime congregantur.  Keeping corrupt people around you and giving them honorific titles and stages on which to display themselves only leads to the conclusion that you yourself are corrupt.

Or as my mother might have said, “Lie down with dogs and you can expect to get up with fleas.”  If this papal regime wants to rehabilitate its badly tarnished image now, it might be well advised to listen to mothers’ salty folk wisdom about the imperative need to choose good company, if we expect to be good ourselves and regarded as good.

The graphic is Pope John Paul II with his secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 2005.