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  Number 354 | Enero 2011
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Mexico

Vatican vs. Maciel: The Legionaries Won

The case of pederast priest Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, revealed an impenetrable web of complicity with sexual crimes and financial corruption that reached to the Vatican’s highest levels. It first seemed Benedict XVI would be hard on the Legion. But it wasn’t to be; the pope backed off. While acknowledging that Maciel had been shielded, he didn’t name or punish those responsible for the cover-up. Worse yet, he announced that John Paul II, one of those who protected Maciel, will be beatified on May 1.

Jorge Alonso

After poring through newspapers from March 2010 to early January 2011, consulting the official Vatican and Legion web pages, following up the writings of numerous Mexican researchers and reading several books, particularly journalist Carmen Aristegui’s Marcial Maciel. A Criminal’s Story (Grijalbo 2010), I share this essay in the hope that the truth will set us free and at some point in this case justice will be done.

They finally admitted it

When Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy appeared to be institutionalizing its hegemony at the head of Mexican society, the crisis of Maciel and his Legionaries of Christ suddenly broke, revealing the complicity between economic, ecclesiastical, political and media elites, as Maciel acted as a bond in those interactions. The crisis marked the start of this group’s loss of prestige, which wasn’t limited to Mexico, because the case has become paradigmatic of the devastating tempest lashing the Vatican with the numerous cases of clerical pederasts discovered in North America and Europe.

After not only having covered up for Maciel but even wanting to raise him to the altar, the Legionaries finally had to accept that their founder led a despicable life. The Vatican appointed a team of investigators who would examine what was going on in that religious congregation. In late March 2010 the Legion’s general director, its council and territorial directors released a rather lukewarm statement if one takes the facts into account, but one very hard on the members of that religious institution given the cult they established and used to lavish on Maciel. At last they publicly admitted that their founder had sexually abused children, teenagers and young adults; had maintained a prolonged stable relationship with a woman with whom he had a daughter; and possibly had more children. Without specifying exactly what, they spoke of other instances of Maciel’s “serious conduct.” They referred to the visit of the Vatican mission and insisted that God had chosen Maciel to found the Legion. They asked for a general pardon and offered Maciel’s victims prayers, but no justice.

A financial empire

Elio Masferrer, president of the Latin American Association for Religious Studies, calculated that the Legionaries have contributed millions of dollars annually to Vatican finances. He maintains the Church knew what Maciel was and has lost respectability by protecting him. In April 2010, Masferrer could see no other solution equal to the dimensions of this crisis than to disband the Legion.

The network of survivors of abuse by priests asked the Vatican to dissolve the Legion, warning that it couldn’t be renovated by the same upper circle of directors because it would be naive to believe they hadn’t been party to Maciel’s sexual and financial misdeeds. That same month the press learned about the powerful network of relationships Maciel had fabricated in the Vatican and with numerous businessmen.

An article in the National Catholic Reporter demonstrated how Maciel, abetted internally by his organization, bought influence, handing envelopes stuffed with money to key Vatican figures. The Mexican magazine Milenio confirmed it, showing how this corruption had opened the Vatican’s doors to Maciel. Writer Jason Berry also provided lots of information showing that Maciel bought support for his congregation and protection for himself. In an interview with Berry published by Carmen Aristegui in her book, he defines the Legion as an ecclesiastical-entrepreneurial holding able to bribe and entrap many people, including powerful Vatican political figures. He argues that the Legion’s upper echelons knew what Maciel was doing , as various directors even lent their names to the bribes. Maciel also doled out presents and favors among the Vatican clergy. He and the Legion built a financial empire and indoctrinated those who entered its ranks, both in the reading of Maciel’s letters and in ways to raise funds. It’s been estimated that the Legion’s assets reached 25 billion euros.

The Vatican and the Legion
wrangle over the loot

As writer Vicente Leñero puts it, a chorus of voices In Carmen Aristegui’s book is still demanding justice. Leñero points out that the ecclesiastical hierarchy’s high command, from John Paul II to Benedict XVI, was and has remained complicit in a social crime never admitted at the time. He clarifies that these deeds do not touch the church of the gospel belonging to so many believers.

In the same book another highly respected prize-winning Mexican writer, Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa, says we’re witnessing the Catholic Church’s greatest crisis in contemporary times. He reminds us that Maciel was put forward by Pope John Paul II as a role model for young Catholics, even though he was a pederast dictator who imposed his perversions on those forced
to keep quiet and to commit sins he then absolved. Despite this, he was never punished when he was alive with the severity merited by his immoral conduct. He is revealed in this book as a greedy criminal. Also revealed, as Granados Chapa says, is “the money-making machine, whose capital worth represents a sort of booty fought over by the Vatican and the not yet frustrated heirs” of Maciel’s institution.

A devil and a father

Lawyer Jeff R. Anderson argues that the Vatican, the Legion’s highest authorities and Maciel’s inner circle all knew he lacked scruples and knew what a danger he represented to minors, yet opted to let him retain his institutional authority. Another specialist in the investigation into the Catholic Church, Roberto Blancarte, views preserving the Legion after Maciel as comparable to not dissolving the Nazi party after Hitler’s death.

Aristegui also interviewed former legionary Miguel Angel Díaz Rivera, who put his signature to a letter implicating Maciel but later withdrew it at the request of the Legion’s founder. From that moment on, Díaz Rivera became a defender of the Legion. He accepts that Maciel could be a devil but says he was like a father to him. He says his memories are of a man he describes as exceptional, a confession that shows what’s currently happening to many of Maciel’s followers: even with procen accusations before them it’s impossible for them to free themselves of their bond with Maciel.

The religion of power

In an interview with Aristegui, Flora Garza, daughter of one of Maciel’s greatest benefactors, is obviously amazed at the fact that there are still people in Monterrey City who keep up the cult to Maciel in 2010 and pray to him as if he were a saint, in open disregard of Rome’s official disapproval. She says some of the businessmen who supported Maciel were duped but others were openly in league with him.

Aristegui also interviewed the daughter of impresario Lorenzo Servitje, who in the nineties tried to stop the program on which some of Maciel’s victims would recount their stories. Lucía Servitje, a theologian, denounced the “religion of power” the Legion represents. She points out that Maciel was emblematic of a Church that sought proximity to power and money and that this is perverting the faith. She argues the need for an in-depth look at what causes this in order to understand why Maciel’s rotten seed took root with such force. She explains that the Legion would seek out basically unsound families, where the patriarchal system was applied with a heavy hand; the Legion favored a highly consumer-orientated family model with very little consideration of women.

With regard to education, it proposes an individualistic, competitive model in which the triumph of some is only possible at the expense of others’ failure. In Maciel, Servitje sees a man with little culture, who favored an ethic based on appearances and artifice. Because of this he created a network of accomplices who feel no guilt. She believes the Legionaries shouldn’t work in the educational field because they’ve shown themselves incapable of preventing such serious incidents as those that occurred. Maciel knew how to instill silence and people who received the bulk of their education under this conviction can’t possibly be good teachers.

In her opinion, the Legion displays a twisted morality when it describes Maciel as a pervert but also a genius and continues blessing God for having founded it. This is an example of the double standard that justifies evil actions because they supposedly generate goodness.

Fernando González, an academic who has written several well documented books on the Legion, criticized the Vatican’s and Legion’s mechanism of converting Maciel into a “solipsistic pederast,” because of the existence of hard data that prove he acted with the help of a group of accomplices. González describes the Legion as a sect consisting of a sort of despotic leadership that lent the ecclesiastical element an entrepreneurial aspect. Some of Aristegui’s other interviewees described Maciel as a narcissistic, amoral, malign and criminal impostor, and the Legion as an organization marked by complicity and manipulation.

“Incredibly serious
and immoral crimes”

In April 2010 José Barba, a university professor and one of Maciel’s victims, admitted that he didn’t expect much from the Vatican’s resolution on the Legion and predicted that whoever was assigned to lead the Vatican investigation wouldn’t get to the bottom of the case, citing how hard it was to deconstruct the psychology of Maciel’s followers.

On May 1, 2010, the Holy See released a statement on the result of its visit to the Legion. It confirmed that Maciel’s conduct had caused serious consequences in the life and structure of the congregation he had founded. The papal statement describes his behavior patterns as highly “serious and objectively immoral.” It states that these patterns were confirmed by “incontrovertible evidence” that represent “real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling.” While it emphatically pointed out the existence of a system of relationships created by Maciel that allowed him to live the life he led, the statement also tried to save the Legion by claiming a large part of it was unaware of its founder’s life. In contrast, the governing National Action Party’s coordinator in the House of Representatives called Maciel a criminal with a life of corruption made possible only because of the complicity of many.

The Legion resists

The visiting investigators perceived the need to redefine the congregation’s charisma and appraise the exercise of authority within the Legion, arguing that the congregation expected a “path of purification” from it. There was an offer of “dialogue” with those who might have been victims of abuse, both inside and outside the Legion.

In mid-May 2010 the newspaper El Sol de México gave space to a religious researcher’s hypothesis: faced with the threat of the Legion’s upper echelons leaving the Church, the Pope opted for an intermediate position that would save Maciel’s congregation. Roberto O’Farrill, spokesman for a Catholic television program, reported on the Legion’s fierce resistance, noting how close it was to rejecting the Pope’s authority. Threats are a tool the congregation’s management knows very well how to use.

Ratzinger: Judge and jury

There were many reactions to the Vatican’s statement. Mexico’s Cardinal Sandoval called Maciel “psychopathic, criminal, crafty and duplicitous” and wondered why someone like him had emerged from the Mexican people. He accepted that the cases of pederasty in the Church led it to an extraordinary crisis with no close comparison, although he tried to exonerate the Legionaries. A former legionary and abuse victim called the cardinal complacent, recalling that he did nothing when he took his story to him.

As to the Legion’s “charisma,” Roberto Blancarte analyzed that it was nothing more than getting rich at the expense of the wealthy. The ex-priest Alberto Athié, who has attempted unsuccessfully to get justice for one of Maciel’s victims, denied the Legion might possess something that could be referred to as “charisma.” He complained that the papal statement said nothing about investigating Maciel’s accomplices and suggested that some international organization should be formed to prosecute the Vatican, because in this instance the Pope was acting as both judge and jury.

Silence the scandal
or resolve the problem?

Félix Alarcón, who left the Legion to become a parish priest, noted the statement’s absence of compassionate words to the victims. Professor Barba argued that Maciel’s case went beyond pederasty since he had committed criminal acts of various kinds. He considered it a step in the right direction that the Vatican admitted the existence of an unscrupulous network created by Maciel, but criticized the Legion’s lack of reaction. And while praising the victims’ perseverance, the Vatican was not self critical. Because of this, Barba proposed organizing international jurisprudence that would oblige the Vatican to answer to society and do an independent study that would lay everything bare, not just what the visitors wanted to reveal.

The Ecclesial Observatory of Mexico declared that is was an important step for the Pope to have acknowledged that those in Maciel’s Legion who had covered up for him had also committed crimes. Now justice must be brought to bear on those collaborators who abetted the vile behavior.

Journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva commented that evidence of Maciel’s sexual crimes was overwhelming, that the Legion had been an accomplice and it shouldn’t be forgotten that lying had been indoctrinated as a habit within the Legion. Another journalist, Antonio Navalón, believed the Vatican was only concerned with the responsibility of the now deceased Maciel, but that legal action against those who accompanied him was also necessary. Roberto Blancarte emphasized that the Holy See was more concerned about silencing the scandal than getting to the bottom of the problem.

Another researcher into religious affairs, Bernardo Barranco, stressed that the Maciel affair darkened not only the Legion but also Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy. The systematic cover-up, institutional silence, double standards, complicity and hypocrisy were undermining the Mexican Church’s credibility.

A criminal suit against
his accomplices

Rosario Robles, who was head of the Federal District government at the time, wrote that it isn’t enough for the top Vatican hierarchy to ask forgiveness. The damage must be repaired. He made it clear the Mexican bishops who had protected Maciel, notably the archbishop, primate of Mexico and the Ecatepec prelate, were remaining silent, showing no repentance or engaging in self-criticism.

Spokespeople for Evangelical believers demanded the Government Secretariat investigate the Legion so that those who were guilty could be punished. It was inconceivable to them that the Mexican federal authorities didn’t intervene even after the facts had been revealed.

A Democratic Revolutionary Party federal legislator filed suit with the Republic’s Prosecutor General (PGR) to punish Maciel’s accomplices and abettors, insisting that he hadn’t acted alone but had had a network of accomplices who helped orchestrate the abuse. She demanded these acts be classified as “organized crime” given there was a boss and operators, warned that if those who were keeping quiet weren’t prosecuted, it would constitute complicity, insisting that these crimes be punished. The suit issued against the Legion was for the crimes of pederasty, rape, corruption of minors, money laundering, tax evasion and organized crime. Among those being sued were the Legion’s director and the rector of the University of Anáhuac. The Archbishop of Mexico was sued as well, in his case for negligence.

Former Legionaries said the PGR should investigate the whole congregation, arguing that the archdiocese of Mexico didn’t want to recognize existing evidence and that its leader had covered up for Maciel. Their lawyer, who believes Maciel created a school within the Legion, demanded the whole truth.

Also crimes of slavery and swindling

In May, an article by Jairo Calixto, a journalist whose sources were women formerly consecrated to the Legion, revealed the existence of a structure close to slavery within the organization. The article showed that Maciel had consecrated 900 women in order to exploit them economically. He had built a women’s army, bound by ironclad statutes, similar to terms of slavery, in order to get his hands on their families’ millions. Two civil society organizations sent another demand to the PGR accusing the Legion of committing crimes of slavery and fraud against these women.

What was stopping the Vatican?

Although public opinion in Mexico and abroad was convinced the papal statement meant the Legion would be re-founded, its directors refused, excusing themselves of any responsibility. For journalist Carmen Aristegui, the statement acknowledged
the existence of powerful and influential networks that had kept accusations against Maciel from prospering. She was also convinced that condemnation of Maciel would never have come about had it not occurred within the international crisis of priests’ sexual abuse. Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa wondered why the Vatican, despite its certainty over Maciel’s guilt, was inconsistent and didn’t disband the Legion, considering that it wasn’t licit to give an honest appearance to the fruits of the founder’s criminal hands.

Although an examination of the statement made it clear that part of the Legion was aware of Maciel’s conduct, the Vatican didn’t accept the consequences of this complicity and cover-up. Something held it back from taking this step. Carlos Martínez García explained it like this: the legionaries were past masters at the art of prestidigitation. They now accepted what they had always refuted: Maciel’s pederasty and his administration of his institution’s financial and human resources for his own ends. Nonetheless, they tried to argue that everything came down to his personality and avoided casting light on the problem of the institution that had protected him for decades. This analyst wondered how the Vatican statement managed to say nothing about how it was possible for the chief legionary to have been a child sex abuser for six decades while being presented as a role model by successive Vatican authorities.

There was no indication of any real desire by the Vatican for a thorough re-founding of the Legion, given the generous financial resources it had been given. Bernardo Barranco commented that forgiveness is no substitute for justice, recalling that Maciel’s cult had been promoted by the Legion’s upper echelons, and that the Church was risking its pastoral legitimacy in this affair.

The director of the Association of Victims of the Legion believes that there could be as many as 200 victims of Maciel’s abuse and pointed out that the priests in his inner circle, who had themselves been abused by their founder, used to abuse others, thus turning the Legion into a chain of sexual abuse.

They acknowledge all of it
and aren’t changing anything

A Catalan newspaper leaked a recording of a meeting chaired by the Legion’s vicar general. A legionary was protesting about Legion officers who still kept photos of the founder in their offices and the fact that many legionaries continued to read Maciel’s letters and treatises. Others complained that there was no spirit of truth and they were still being deceived.

In the recording, the vicar accepted that Maciel had performed homosexual acts, sexually abused minors, had a stable marital relationship with a woman, a sexual relationship with another woman and various children. He even recognized the Legion didn’t have a distinct charisma and that trying to attain it would be very difficult. He recalled that what they referred to as “the congregation’s spirituality” was Maciel’s letters. He told them that until 2006 the congregation didn’t have a consolidated accounting system for their resources, that Maciel administered a discretional monthly fund of US$20,000 and for some expenses requested cashier’s checks in the name of some high-up member of the congregation. He would cash the check using a false signature and had instructed a top member of the organization to buy his lover an expensive house. The vicar also revealed to the meeting that the Legion’s directors had managed to conceal or only partially release information on the founder’s situation and that Maciel had not repented on his death bed. Nevertheless, the vicar stated resolutely that the Legion could not accept that the citizenry wanted to correct them.

Complacency and complicity

Another recording was released of a Legion meeting with the Spanish territorial director. This recording shows that rank-and-file legionaries do believe that hiding Maciel’s sexual abuse was unacceptable. The territorial director believed that re-founding would be a highly complicated path to take and reflected that that the Legion had allowed Maciel to get hold of enough money to live in the sort of ostentatious luxury that not even the very wealthy could attain. When commenting on the vicar general’s revelations, Bernardo Barranco highlighted them as proof of the fact that Maciel had not acted alone, but rather with the systematic complacency and complicity of his religious organization, which brought to light the systematic lying of the Legion’s upper echelons. Both recordings showed that prominent Legion members knew about their founder’s sexual and economic abuses, unmasking the discourse that helped blur the actions of the Legion’s upper echelons.

In May, former legionary Alejandro Espinosa, another victim of Maciel’s sexual abuse, declared that the Legion was tearing itself apart in an internal conflict. He recalled that Álvaro Corcuera—who replaced Maciel in the Legion’s directorate—had not been elected by a general branch vote, but was imposed by Maciel. Vatican watcher Sandro Magister explained that both Corcuera and the vicar general since 1992 were drawn from a bloc loyal to Maciel and were surrounded by groups of staunch supporters, so that the whole of the Legion’s upper echelons were faithful to Maciel.

Protected by a
financial labyrinth

In July 2010, Monsignor Velasio de Paolis was named the Legion’s papal delegate, and the legionaries had to act according to his directions. Ratifying the members of Maciel’s inner circle in their posts, one of the delegate’s fundamental tasks was to review the Legion’s regulations. The pope’s delegate would depend on four counselors who would assist him in his work.

Commentators noted that one of the delegate’s most important tasks would be to ascertain the origin, destination and application of the congregation’s resources and that achieving this would be extremely hard because it would prove impossible to find a lot of money in the organization’s accounts. Elio Masferrer showed that a large part of the Legion’s funds was held in tax havens, in shares and in association with big business groups. Also in the power of the Legion were the inheritances of many of its members. Auditing the Legion’s finances would be a labyrinthine task.

Jenaro Villamil, a media specialist, called attention to the fact that the Legion was still an extremely powerful transnational whose profits hadn’t apparently shrunk, despite it falling into general disrepute. The Legion’s business aspects were so dispersed that it proved extremely difficult to investigate them. And the Vatican foot-dragging in appointing a delegate had given the Legion time to make enough financial movements to protect themselves.

Bernardo Barranco declared that the Legion operated in consortium mode and wondered if a business model that offered salvation to the rich and powerful without questioning how they had accumulated their wealth or the ethical values with which they gained power was evangelical. In his opinion the official statements of the Legion’s upper echelons reeked of “calculated hypocrisy.”

The Mexican government:
Another accomplice

Barranco also commented on the Mexican President’s insensitivity in appointing Bruno Ferrari as his secretary of the economy in July. Ferrari had been the operational liaison between Maciel and Mexican business circles. According to reports from the Treasury Secretariat, the Legion received the solid amount of 673 million pesos from public funds in 2009. Furthermore, it had been receiving donations of land from local governments, which basically amounts to taxpayers’ money.

In a country with so many needs it’s monstrous that highly opaque governments squander public funds by giving them to
a multi-millionaire private organization. The ombudsman in the Federal District complained that the government lacked the will to act against the Legion despite the criminal charges that had been filed. This could only be explained by the central government being in league with it.

The only solution
is to disband it

In August news got out that Corcuera had approached one of the victims to propose an economic settlement. Journalist Sanjuana Martínez reports that he even got down on his knees to the former legionary, who told him to stop the theatrics. After thanking him for seeking forgiveness, the victim told him in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t the answer because they had to compensate the victims for the damage and wounds caused by such long suffering of indifference and disdain. When Corcuera asked him how much money he wanted, the former legionary told him that moral damage can’t be repaid with money. Alberto Athié again argued that the best solution for the Church was to disband the Legion.

Maciel’s cult continues

At the end of September, on the same day the press learned the Vatican bank was investigated for money laundering, the pope specifically greeted a group of legionaries in St. Peter’s square calling them “friends.” And Legion sources reported that the papal delegate had left unchanged the vocational promotion for capturing new legionaries.

The time during which the Pope’s delegate took no action discouraged some legionaries who complained that nothing had changed in the Legion. After a high-up leader in the Legion stated that legionaries couldn’t be prevented from possessing photos of Maciel, legionary Peter Byrne sent a letter to Corcuera asking him about the abysmal message being given to victims by keeping photos of him. He asked that the founder’s body, which lay on the central altar in the Legion’s temple in his city of birth, be removed to a peripheral crypt. Byrne also lamented some of the practices imposed by Maciel that lived on, such as the continuing existence of Legion tutors’ “vile” lists that classified people and families by social rank and economic prospects.

Maciel’s personal secretary between 1982 and 1987 asked for Marciel’s cult to be thoroughly reviewed. He said the Legion’s main concern always had been and still was to ingratiate itself with those with money.

No serious measures

All these the facts make it evident that apart from its discourse, the Vatican had taken no serious measures and the Legion’s corruption continued to entangle more accomplices. This is corroborated by the Vatican’s decision to offer 93 bishops a course examining what they should do against clerical pederasty in one of the Legion’s own universities. One can’t help but be cynical about the choice of location.

While the Pope occasionally spoke out severely against the abuse, passivity reigned when faced with established facts and nothing was done in Rome to make the guilty pay.

A survey In Mexico conducted by Parametría showed that the Catholic Church’s credibility during the first decade of the 21st century had fallen 13 points precisely because of the cases of sexual abuse. In early November an article in the Mexican newspaper Crónica reported that many pederasts were continuing to operate in the Legion.

Benedict XVI:
“The Legion retains vitality”

On the last day of September the Vatican appointed four counselors to assist the pontiff’s delegate to the Legion. It also designated an apostolic visitor for the Legion’s lay movement of 70,000 people, present in 30 countries.

On October 19 the papal delegate sent a letter to the Legion and its lay movement clarifying that the Legion had not been subordinated to a “superintendent” but rather would be accompanied by him. It also stated that the Vatican had recognized, ratified and confirmed the superiors who dated from Maciel’s time, and instructed them to speak to him. He let them know that the task of the pontiff’s delegate was to accompany the Legion on its path to renewal so that a new constitutional document could be drawn up in some future extraordinary moment—in two or three years, or even more.

He told them that the Pope renewed his confidence in the Legion in this new phase and announced that one commission would be named to study the economic problems, another to attend to people, including Maciel’s sexual abuse victims with complaints against the religious organization, and another to see to the new legislation.

In his letter, the delegate informed them that some of the Legion’s priests had made suggestions and expressed confusion, doubts and difficulties to him, especially regarding the statutes and internal praxis, the exercise of authority and the appointment of superiors. Some had asked for a period of reflection away from the Legion’s houses or had expressed their intention of leaving the congregation. Some stated they found it impossible to believe their superiors hadn’t known what Maciel was doing.

The delegate hoped for a positive path toward renewal, accepting that the shock provoked by Maciel’s actions had caused a “terrible” impact, capable of destroying the congregation, but he insisted that it not only would survive but that “its vitality” was intact. He called on them to avoid divisions and was glad that a commitment to discipline and loyalty persisted in the Legion.

The Vatican won’t
do a thorough job

In fact at that point various legionaries had already left, going to work in different dioceses, and the vocational promotion had decreased, as had the previously abundant economic support.

Public opinion reacted angrily to the papal delegate’s letter because it gave carte blanche to impunity and the organization remained intact in its corruption. Alberto Athié saw the document as an attempt to exonerate John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger himself, now the pope, of their part in protecting Maciel and yet another sign that there was no inclination to seek justice for the sexual abuse victims.

The Vatican wanted to make it look like Maciel was a criminal working on his own rather than acknowledge the organization’s responsibility. Athié strongly argued that the commission set up for the victims was only designed for those who sought some type of economic compensation, a superficial solution since they would receive money, but wouldn’t see justice done. At this point it was already obvious that the Vatican didn’t want to do a thorough job and would not touch the profoundly anti-evangelical structure erected by Maciel, sustained by power and economic accumulation.

José Barba believed the delegate’s letter wasn’t impartial and appeared to be written by someone loyal to the Legion. There was no real will to completely restructure the congregation. It revealed a desire to separate the founder’s excesses from the leaders who surrounded him, despite the abundant evidence indicating complicity during the 64 years Maciel was in charge of the institution. It was impossible that his conduct hadn’t permeated his organization and unacceptable that responsibility wasn’t shared.

Attempting to excuse the Legion’s entire upper circle, as the papal delegate indicated, was a maneuver without substance, yet another insult. Vatican watcher Sandro Magister compared the letter’s conciliatory tone with the Vatican’s statement on May 1, pointing at the existence of a system of relationships with Maciel at its center, which it was now apparently excusing.

Removing the
pope’s responsibility

Back in May the Legion had announced the creation of a study centre on the life and work of John Paul II, to push for the beatification of the pope who had protected them to such an extent. Reactivation of John Paul II’s canonization process indicated that for the Vatican the Maciel episode apparently hadn’t happened.

Another Vatican watcher, Andrea Tornelli, reported serious tension and that to avoid it the papal delegate was planning to reduce his own authority, despite the July decree conferring full powers on him. It was impossible for Macial to have moved without the structural complicity of his first circle of power and there was evidence of structural pathologies, with Maciel’s cover-up reaching the highest circles in Rome, including Pope Ratzinger.

Justo Mullor, the papal nuncio in Mexico, said Maciel had deceived John Paul II, but Athié refuted that excuse and José Barba said that, knowing Maciel’s case well, Mullor had whitewashed the situation in his interview with the journalist Alazraki in an attempt to remove responsibility from Pope John Paul II.

In a dialogue, Barba, Athié and Fernando González presented the abundance of hard facts that proved the complicity of both John Paul II and Ratzinger with Maciel. Letters exist that show John Paul II knew about Maciel’s crimes and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, also aware of them, didn’t dare act for fear of the pope’s reaction.

Beatify John Paul II?

Investigator Bernardo Barranco argued that this evidence gave rise to real doubts about John Paul II’s beatification. The Maciel affair and the filth that covered the Legion spattered the Pope.

Journalist Valentina Alazraki wrote a book, La luz eterna de Juan Pablo II (The Eternal Light of John Paul II) last year to try to convince her readers that Maciel, the Legion and its collaborators deceived the Pope. Nonetheless the corruption in the Vatican that even she acknowledged implied papal responsibility. The numerous interviews and documents in Carmen Aristegui’s books implicate John Paul II conclusively and categorically in protecting Maciel and his Legion because of the money he contributed to the Vatican and its political causes.

Benedict XVI:
“The Legion is healthy”

In the middle of this storm, Pope Benedict XVI permitted journalist Peter Seewald a series of interviews that were published in the form of a book (Light of the World) last year. The Pope told Seewald that the sexual abuse cases hadn’t come as a surprise but the size of the scandal had indeed constituted a huge shock. He called the Legion’s founder an “adventurer,” “a squanderer,” “fallen by the wayside” and “false prophet.” He accepted there had been serious slowness and delay in dealing with the case but defended the Legion as a “healthy” community. Zenit, the press agency linked to the Legion, publicized the book’s release, but said nothing about Benedict XVI’s opinions of Maciel.

Athié commented that Benedict XVI was obliged to reveal the interests he had covered up in the nineties when he didn’t want to initiate a sexual abuse case against Maciel. Bernardo Barranco said he knew Maciel was “very well protected” but didn’t want to specify by whom, much less refer to his own responsibility. It’s astonishing that he would want to make people believe a person riddled with perversity could leave a healthy religious work. The book lacks self-criticism by the pope.

Legionary Santiago Oriol’s gesture

The papal delegate’s letter caused strong repercussions in the Legion. Its leaders jumped for joy, but others felt betrayed.
An important person in the Spanish Legion, Santiago Oriol, left the congregation saying that others would follow in his footsteps. In answer, the Legion’s secretary general cynically recommended that the legionaries listen and sing along with Julio Iglesias’ song “Life goes on as usual.”

Oriol’s exit was interpreted by theologist and sociologist José Manuel Vidal as a way to turn the Legion’s leaders into co-respondents of Maciel’s abuses and show that a number of legionaries didn’t believe “the story” that their leaders hadn’t covered up their superior’s misdeeds.

Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa wrote that Oriol’s gesture unequivocally undermined the Pope, who had gone from robust condemnation to conformism, disappointing those who were expecting actions consistent with the severity of the crimes. There were clearly many interests within and surrounding the Legion and its leaders would not only end up unaccountable for their complicity but would also continue to be invested with the authority that had let their founder consolidate his empire. This is what Oriol, known as the main Spanish legionary, rebelled against.

Everything carries on
just as Maciel left it

In early December of last year, Milenio reported that a letter was being circulated in the Legion accusing its old guard of having employed Maciel’s techniques in assimilating the papal delegate. It gave an example: 60 priests, more than 100 devotees and a similar number of seminarians had left the Legion. The text stated that once the directors had been ratified, they had put into operation a tight watch over the others, just like the old days. Those who were unhappy with this accused the directors of lying and running the internal forum with impunity. Vatican watcher Sandro Magister was pleased to note that the criticism of the circle that had formed around Maciel showed that the silence and fear of the congregation had been broken.

On December 8 the Legion’s leaders announced the formation of the commission that would be in charge of reviewing its statues. Elio Masferrer warned that if the Legion’s culture indoctrinated by Maciel over many years wasn’t changed and the pattern of inertia wasn’t overturned, little good would result from reviewing the Legion’s Constitution. Although announcing a legal revision was a way to make it seem they were taking measures, the Legion’s essence remained intact: both Maciel’s cult and the authoritarian institutional culture continued as before.

A scandalous document

On December 13 the director general released a decree he’d signed a week earlier ordering an end to public references to the founder and the withdrawal of all photographs of Maciel in which he appeared alone or in the company of John Paul II. At this point, his writings were no longer on sale but the mausoleum where he’d been laid to rest would be conserved and legionaries were at liberty to keep photographs of him, read his writings and listen to his interviews, while his writings could be used in public sermons, homilies and reflections.

Athié reflected that the Legion had Maciel engraved on its soul. The cult of Maciel was permitted in private and once again the papal delegate’s great weakness was obvious. The decree was scandalous; it showed the Legion lacked the will to separate from its founder. Carlos Martínez called it an act of prestidigitation that only fooled its creators since most other people could “see through the trick.” Highly revealing is the phrase in which the director general says he hopes the decree will help the Legion and its lay movement center more in Christ’s person. Did they feel off center? After all the words and whitewash, it was obvious from the facts that Maciel was still their centre.

Extreme expression of
impunity and arrogance

A book on Maciel and his Legion was presented by photomontage artist Jabaz at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in November–December 2010. Researcher and psychoanalyst Fernando González wrote the prologue, in which he said: “If Maciel was able to commit his fraud with such elegance for more than sixty years, it wasn’t due to his astuteness alone but because he could depend all this time on the conscientious collaboration of scores of people, at times working in coordination, from the dominated legionaries, priests, businessmen, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, popes—via religious realpolitik—[to] rich married women and generous widows, women seeking marriage, gullible in all good faith, useful and useless dummies, the media, etc.”

The prologue’s author tried to interpret the credulity of so many people and highlighted Cardinal Ratzinger’s lengthy complicity. Now pope, Ratzinger accepted the Legion’s responsibility but without daring to implicate Vatican bodies. Then he retreated and the Vatican opted to present Maciel as a lone criminal.

Academic Sergio Aguayo maintained that Maciel was the most grotesque and extreme expression of the Church’s impunity and arrogance: “This successful bisexual pederast and drug addict who procreated children with those he also raped, created a network of accomplices in the Vatican and erected a religious empire so powerful that during his lifetime he was a candidate for the altar.” Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa referred to important Mexican bishops who threw a cloak of complicity over Maciel and his Legion, ecclesiastical authorities that haven’t been at all self-critical or repaired the damage for which they were jointly responsible.

Monsignor Raúl Vera
was an exception

Just as in any collective body, there are exceptions. This is true of Bishop Raúl Vera, who said the Church had minimized the problem of pederasty within its rank-and-file and dealt with it superficially. He accepted that hierarchies had impeded the investigation’s progress in Maciel’s case. He urged priests to abandon their alliances with power and stop creating scandals by acting as accomplices. He called for a Church that would answer the victims and defend the rights of the aggrieved.

Rome lost its opportunity

Bernardo Barranco described 2010 as an unfortunate year for the Catholic Church because it experienced its greatest crisis
in living memory. Charges of pederasty undermined ecclesiastical authority, not just because of the child abuse but also because of the systematic protection of the criminals, the cover-ups and pretense. Maciel’s case brought to light a network of complicity, favors, cover-ups and corruption at the Vatican’s highest levels in which financial corruption in the Rome bureaucracy must be added to the pederasty scandals.

The world expected firm measures that would eradicate the pederast cancer in the Church, which had had a great opportunity to show decisive will in the Legion’s case, but it was not to be because the pope retreated from naming or punishing those who protected Maciel. Despite announcing the Legion’s review, he let Maciel followers continue a private cult to their depraved founder.

Carmen Aristegui speaks out

Journalist Carmen Aristegui’s book, presented at the 2010 International Book Fair in Guadalajara, demonstrates Maciel’s reiterated criminal conduct, constantly permitted by the Legion’s directors, even though it deserves to be sanctioned. She highlights the fact that the archbishop of Mexico, an effective element in Maciel’s institutional protection and cover-up, recently received a high Vatican appointment as a reward.

Aristegui declared that it seemed the Church would take a Copernican turn in Maciel’s case, but it all ended in a fiasco. The pope lacked the strength to call to account the powerful protective structure created both inside and outside the Legion. “It was protected by a huge mantle of impunity for which no one wanted to take responsibility.” The papal delegate not only did not restructure the leadership left by Maciel but in fact strengthened it.

The Vatican decided to maintain the machinery from whence many children, teenagers and adults had been abused and victimized throughout the decades. While Benedict XVI had acknowledged the existence of pederasty in the Church and said the “persecution” suffered came from within its ranks, he has closed the door to justice in Maciel’s case. Before and now, that case puts him in a compromising position. Aristegui asked whether anyone would relinquish a structure that generates such wealth.

Gambling on being forgotten

On January 3 of this year, the Legion celebrated its seventieth anniversary without Maciel in the world, but defended and sustained within.

Milenio Columnist Carlos Marín speculated that something very serious must be happening within the Vatican for the pope to allow the Legion to remain as alive as when “the monster who founded it was in charge.” He recalled that for the Church to accept a religious congregation, it had to recognize in it “a divine inspiration and God’s experience in its founder,” but the Legion turned out to be as criminal and vulgar as Maciel’s crimes. “As it lacks ‘divine’ substance the only thing fitting for it is its disappearance,” the journalist concluded.

Also in January, Mexican historian Humberto Monteón argued that the more Maciel and his deeds fade with time, the more clearly the monster and his atrocities stand out. Nevertheless there are powers that like “feudal Pharisees lacking in self-critical capacity” unashamedly bet on forgetfulness.

Pope Benedict XVI made an acceptable analysis in May but, entangled in Vatican complicity, has been unable to deal either with the Legion’s cancer or its metastasis. In a soccer metaphor, it started the game 1-0 up and is now losing 1-3 despite a series of own goals. Sandro Magister predicts that there will be replacements in the Legion’s leadership by Easter week.

Even if this comes to pass, they have been able to strengthen a solid defensive structure during the whole period the Vatican was ratifying Maciel’s accomplices. On January 14, the Vatican II officially set John Paul’s beatification for May 1.

Heading for the abyss

In joining together the most important pieces, the chronological narration presented here allows one to appreciate in all its rawness the image of a highly damaged institution that facilitates the propagation of ecclesiastical corruption and impunity in order to continue existing. Initially there was an apparently serious attempt by the Pope, but he backed off before the threats of an organization that pulled the strings of its traditional network of criminal accomplices.

The worst danger is that this money-focused organization will contaminate and cheapen the Catholic Church even more and drag it along with it toward the abyss. The canonization of John Paul II who, faced with the proliferation of pederasts would end up being their patron saint, will be one more step towards that abyss. To date, everything points to changes being made so that everything will remain the same.

In the fork of the road signified by the explosion of the Maciel affair, the religious courageously heading off down the path of truth and justice, opted for the path where deceit, cover-up, complicity and impunity would sully them even more. It preferred to heighten the scandal by sending its faithful the message that an unscrupulous organization, complicit in horrendous crimes and focused on amassing a huge fortune, doesn’t contradict the Gospel.

The ecclesiastical hierarchy still has a chance to learn how to use the Greek’s parrhesía, the practice of telling the whole truth about oneself, hiding nothing. Foucault, who calls it not free speech but fearless speech, notes that it has to do with examining one’s conscience, with “knowing thyself,” having the courage to tell the truth without dissimulation, reserve, stylish clauses, or rhetorical ornamentation that might codify or mask it from running all the risks of truth. In this case the risk of the truth means an ineludible commitment to justice.

Jorge Alonso is a researcher at CIESAS West and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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