Friday, June 22, 2012

More End-of-Week News: Maciel and John Paul II, Bayard Rustin, and Crisis of Democracy

I apologize that I'm a bit pressed for blogging time today, as I prepare for a day trip to chase down some information for the book on which I've been working--specifically, to see if some distant cousins who grew up with close connections to the book's subject, the 19th-century Arkansas country doctor-cum-philosopher Wilson R. Bachelor, can help identify some old family pictures.  Since I'm preparing to be on the run, I thought I'd post briefly about several articles that interested me when I read them yesterday.

First, Jason Berry reports at National Catholic Reporter on how some of the Vatileaks documents are expanding what we know of the backstory of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and his Vatican connections.  Berry focuses on Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi's new book Sua Santità: Le Carte Segrete di Benedetto XVI ("His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI").

As Berry notes, one of the leaked documents discussed in Nuzzi's book is a note by Pope Benedict's secretary Msgr. Georg Gänswein dated 19 October 2011, which provides details of a meeting he held with Fr. Rafael Moreno of the Legion.  Moreno was Maciel's valet and all-purpose assistant, who traveled for years with the Legionary founder.  As a former Legionary priest Patricio Cerda tells Berry in an email exchange, 

[H]e [i.e., Moreno] handled the practical things, from tending his bed to making sure that his clothes were in order, and everything else.  Surely, he knew for many years of Maciel's double life, of the false identities in accompanying him on trips all over the world.

And here's what's critically important about Moreno's testimony: Nuzzi's book also indicates that Moreno sought a meeting with John Paul II, who protected Maciel and gave him staunch support, to tell the pope what was up with Maciel--and John Paul refused to listen.  He showed Moreno the door.  This information appears in another leaked document from Gänswein, a 2003 note.

In a paragraph I find chilling when I remember Maciel's serial abuse of seminarians for many years, his drug addiction, his fathering of children by several women whom he secretly supported through Legionary funds, Berry suggests why Vatican officials including John Paul II refused to listen to anyone trying to blow the whistle on Maciel:

From 1998, when a group of ex-Legionaries filed a canonical process with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's tribunal, seeking Maciel's ouster for abusing them in seminary, until 2006, when Ratzinger-as-Benedict dismissed him from ministry, Maciel was a gilded force, raising millions of dollars, thanks to the support of John Paul and the video images of the pope and Maciel that the Legion gave to donors. By 2004 the Legion had a $650 million budget, and fewer than 650 priests.

A "gilded force": a fine phrase, this seems to me, one that says quite a bit about why Maciel was untouchable for so long, why he was allowed to continue posturing as a model of exemplary Catholic holiness with papal blessing for so many years.  Gilded forces appear to count for quite a bit with top Catholic officials.

And this speaks volumes about what's wrong with the Catholic church and why it demands top-down reform today of the kind we saw during the Reformation period.

I agree with those NCR readers who have written in to comment on Berry's article and to ask why the movement to canonize John Paul II has been so precipitous--and whether he should be canonized at all.  As I have stated before, I dissent from this movement.  In my view, John Paul II should not be canonized.  I state that case here.

In an entirely different vein, I'd also like to recommend today Stephen W. Angell and Leigh Eason's Religion Dispatches overview of the life and witness of gay black Quaker activist Bayard Rustin.  Rustin is the source of the quotation that I use to frame the themes of this blog: "We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers."  As Angell and Eason note, he was deeply influential in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and played a key role along with Martin Luther King in bringing tactics of Gandhian nonviolence to that movement.

And yet his influence has been significantly underplayed by many conservative African-American commentators on the history of the civil rights movement, including King's niece Alveda King, who recently stretched the truth beyond the breaking point when she claimed that Rustin resigned from King's group of advisors after King informed him that the struggle for civil rights does not include gay folks.  (This did not happen.)

As Alvin McEwen has exhaustively shown (and here and here), Alveda King is distorting the truth here and trying to obliterate an historical record which includes the flat assertion of Dr. King's wife Coretta Scott King that 

I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people . . . . But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

Coretta Scott King also famously stated,

For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people. . . . Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement.  Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.

And, as Angell and Eason argue, this is historical testimony that absolutely must be retrieved--along with the true history of Bayard Rustin's important role in the civil rights movement--as some conservative evangelical voices in the African-American community continue to try to deny that the struggle for the rights of LGBT people is an authentic civil rights struggle.  As the new African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention wishes to do . . . . 

For readers interested in more on Rustin, who has long inspired me and about whom I've written in the past, please click the tag with his name at the bottom of this posting.

And finally, there's this pithy observation by Andrew Sullivan yesterday in his posting entitled "One Party Is Unhinged":

We are reaching a democratic crisis of some sorts. One major political party refuses to accept empirical truths. It has become a hall of ideological mirrors.

If Andrew Sullivan, who is a conservative and who previously enjoyed very close ties to Republican leaders in the U.S., can reach this conclusion, then I think our ears need to perk up.  We are reaching a democratic crisis of some sorts.

And, I'd like to add, the leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. are marching us gleefully right into that crisis, with the active complicity of the morally comatose centrist Catholic media-academy commentariat.  And I continue to ask these folks: Are you prepared to bear your heavy responsibility for placing the world in serious crisis if you succeed with your current political strategy of throwing the 2012 elections with the bogus "religious liberty" war?

P.S. Because of my impending trip, I have fallen behind in responding to comments here.  Please know I appreciate them and hope to find time this weekend to catch up.  Meanwhile, as several readers have noted, I updated the Disqus comments system this week.  I appreciate the feedback some readers have provided, which seems to indicate that some who had previously had trouble logging in to comment are now not having trouble, but others who had no problems in the past now find some problems!  I'm sorry about the latter and will report it to Disqus.  I welcome your feedback.

The graphic is English artist Mackenzie Thorpe's "A Crossroads." 

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