Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Maciel Story and Its Aftermath: Rome Punts, Evades Responsibility (and Money Still Talks)

 I’m assuming that most readers of this blog will know that the Vatican has just released its game plan in response to the investigation of the religious community founded by Spanish priest Marcial Maciel, the Legionaries of Christ.  If you haven’t read that news, a valuable summary of the story appeared at Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s Enlightened Catholicism site on the weekend. 

And on the inside-Vatican politics that make it so difficult for church authorities at the highest levels to address Maciel and his legacy, see Daniel Wakin and James McKinley’s analysis in the New York Times on Sunday.  As they note, Rev. Alberto Athié Gallo, who has tried to obtain Vatican action in this matter since 1998, maintains that the Vatican cannot get to the bottom of the problems with the Legionaries of Christ, because to do so, Vatican officials (including the pope) would have to out themselves—as willing to tolerate Maciel’s abuse for years despite what they knew of Maciel’s activities.

Two valuable pieces of commentary on the Maciel story and Rome’s current faint (and certainly ineffectual) attempt to address Maciel’s legacy and the problems of the Legionaries: Andrew Sullivan at his Daily Dish site, and David Clohessy speaking for SNAP.

Andrew Sullivan tells us to follow our noses when we read the Maciel story and its current dénouement in Rome—follow our noses, because there’s the stench of rottenness everywhere in this story, and Rome’s claim to be addressing the rot effectively will not be persuasive as long as the stench continues to invade our nostrils:

What you see here is something in front of our noses: the Pope decided not to act against a morphine-addicted, polygamous rapist of minors and his own children because the rapist was close to John Paul II. And instead of closing down a cult penetrated by this corruption to its core, he has just decided merely to give it a new head and leave much of its pre-existing leadership in place.

Why? Because the cult still manages to bring in new priests and is worth some $35 billion. When measured against rape and incest, the money and vocations are more important to Pope Benedict XVI. So too is the fact that the Legion backs the theology and orthodoxy of the Franco-Pinochet Catholic far right.

Whenever this Pope's defenders claim he finally acted against Maciel, remember these things. And remember who else supported him almost to the very end - George Weigel (still routinely quoted in the NYT as if he is a disinterested party); Richard John Neuhaus; Mary Ann Glendon; Bill Bennett; and almost the entire theocon establishment.

There’s rot all through the Maciel story and its current aftermath, because this is, at its very heart, a story about dirty rotten money.  And how that money talks in Rome.  And how leading neocon Catholic spokespersons in the U.S. are caught in its net, and willing to use it to continue buying time for their thoroughly rotten pet religious community that, to their minds, represents the future of authentic restorationist Catholici$m.  A community that has made deep inroads throughout the American Catholic church due to its powerful and highly placed backers, its financial clout, and the cover provided to its stealth operations by secrecy.

The Vatican is not about to touch the Legionaries and Maciel’s legacy at anywhere near the transparent level the rot demands, because money talks and money walks in the halls of power.  And if the Legionaries are about anything, they’re about money and power and the collusion of highly placed Catholics with power in its most corrupting manifestations.

Speaking for SNAP, which has followed the Maciel story for years, David Clohessy echoes the conclusion of Fr. Athié Gallo: the Vatican is hardly likely to deal with the problem of Maciel’s legacy because of its own ongoing complicity—for years—with the cover-up of Maciel’s well-known record of abusing seminarians, fathering children by multiple mothers and using Legionary funds to support these families, drug abuse, and lavish pay-offs of church officials. 

To deal with Maciel’s legacy and the Legionaries at anywhere near an effective level, the Vatican—including the current pope—would have to confess involvement in this cover-up and take action appropriate for those who make sincere confessions and do penance.  Clohessy states,

But the church hierarchy is again pretending that somehow it too was duped by Maciel, when in fact, it helped hide Maciel’s child sex abuse for years. In fact, almost 20 years ago, a number of his victims – very devout and accomplished men – reported Maciel’s child sex abuse to several high ranking church officials, through the ‘proper’ church channels. One of those who knew of their credible allegations was then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

What Benedict has chosen to do in the case of Maciel indicates that reformation is not on the horizon for the Catholic church.  Unless that reformation takes place from the bottom up, that is.  And unless those at the bottom are successful at demanding authentic confession and penance from those at the top of the church’s power pyramid—including the resignation of leaders who have egregiously betrayed their pastoral trust.