Legionaires of Christ admit their founder abused

Via the NY Times:

A powerful Roman Catholic religious order acknowledged in a statement on Friday that its founder, a close ally of the late Pope John Paul II, molested seminarians and fathered several children, and it expressed “sorrow and grief” to anyone “damaged by our founder’s actions.”

The statement was the first official admission by the Legionaries of Christ that its charismatic Mexican founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, was responsible for many “grave acts.” Around two dozen people had claimed that Father Maciel’s molesting of boys continued for decades.

The statement was viewed as an important development because Father Maciel was a beloved friend of Pope John Paul, and the accusations of abuse against him were vetted personally by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The order’s account of the scandal surrounding its founder comes ahead of the recommendations of a recently completed apostolic visitation, a high-level Vatican inquiry, which is expected to render a harsh verdict about Father Maciel, experts said.

For years, the Vatican ignored complaints against Father Maciel, who enjoyed a strong cult of personality. But in 2004 Cardinal Ratzinger reopened a stalled investigation into the order when he was the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, sending a Vatican official to interview Legionaries and accusers of Father Maciel worldwide.

The Legionaries’ statement offered no concrete changes to the management or traditions of the order, but in a rare case of a religious order disavowing its founder, it said, “We accept and regret that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life.”

The statement continued, “We had thought and hoped that the accusations brought against our founder were false and unfounded, since they conflicted with our experience of him personally and his work.”

Observers said the statement seemed to pave the way for the Vatican to take strong action to discipline the Legionaries. Last week, a team of Vatican investigators presented the results of its yearlong inquiry to the communities, seminaries and schools of the group and its lay order, Regnum Christi.

The results remain secret. Father Maciel was never defrocked, but he was ordered by the Vatican in 2006 to live in seclusion.

The Rev. Thomas Berg, a former Legionaries priest who has begun the process of joining the Archdiocese of New York, said the statement left a number of questions unaddressed.

“What about the irresponsibility of current superiors in misleading members and Regnum Christi for several years when these things were known?” Father Berg asked.

This ultimately means that the Legionnaires have been more honest about abuse than Ratzinger (who infamously slapped a reporter who pushed questions about Maciel while the story of his transgressions was breaking).

Andrew Sullivan comments:

[Maciel] was never subjected to any criminal sanctions, was protected by Woytila and Ratzinger for years, even as they knew full well what was going on, and the euphemized statement just released is what the Catholic hierarchy believes is contrition. In 2006, the Vatican decided not even to subject him to canonical hearing because of his advanced age. So if you live long enough, and bring enough cash into the church, you can be allowed to molest countless children and your only punishment is an invitation to spend the rest of your life, supported by the church, in “prayer and penance, renouncing to any public ministry”.

The person who approved of this non-punishment is now the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the American Cardinal Levada. Punishing Maciel for decades of child-rape with a paid retirement and invitation to prayer was also approved directly by Pope Benedict XVI.

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