“It wouldn’t be prudent”

That’s what Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said of pursuing an investigation against Fr. Marcel Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ who bought the sympathy of the Vatican investigator of his pedophilic, polygamous, financial, and narcotic misdeeds. Though Ratzinger eventually would initiate an investigation of Maciel (later shut down by other Vatican officials) and hand the priest the nonpunishment of a monastic retirement, he appears to have been initially reluctant to pursue the case–and not because he objected to any evidence against Maciel, but because the Legionnaire was a favorite of  Wojtyla.

“The New York Times scoops the testimony of Rev. Alberto Athié Gallo, a Mexican priest who in 1998 tried to bring allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maciel to Ratzinger’s attention:

By February 1999, the Congregation had officially accepted the case…Father Maciel could not be tried for sexual abuse, because — at the time — the crimes were beyond the statute of limitations. But the Congregation, which policed doctrinal matters, accepted the case on the grounds that he had granted absolution to an accomplice in crime — in this case, meaning his sexual abuse victims — which had no statute of limitations. If found guilty, he could have been excommunicated.

(Two years later, Cardinal Ratzinger decreed that that crime would also have a statute of limitations, removing the legal basis for an accomplice absolution charge, the complainants pointed out. It remains unknown why Cardinal Ratzinger did so or whether his decision had to do with Father Maciel’s case.)

At around the same time as the case was accepted, Father Athié, who had become interested in the matter and was helping Father Maciel’s victims, wrote a letter outlining another abuse charge and gave it to Bishop Carlos Talavera of Mexico, who told him that he had delivered it to Cardinal Ratzinger. In it, Father Athié described the detailed deathbed confession in 1995 of Father Juan Manuel Fernández Amenábar, who had told Father Athié about years of abuse by Father Maciel.

In an interview, Father Athié said Bishop Talavera — who has since died — told him that the cardinal had read the letter and decided not to proceed with the case. “Ratzinger said it could not be opened because he was a person very beloved by the pope,” referring to Father Maciel, “and had done a lot of good for the church. He said as well, ‘I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent,’ ” Father Athié said.

Saúl Barrales, a schoolteacher who once worked as Father Maciel’s secretary and is a cousin of Bishop Talavera, said he had heard the same account of the conversation from the bishop.

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