Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is a Papal apology appropriate when Benedict XVI visits Mexico next month?


As Pope Benedict's visit to Mexico (March 23 - 26) approaches, a drug gang unfurled banners in the Mexican city of Leon Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit next month, telling rival traffickers to keep out and keep the peace during the papal visit.
Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon urged members of organized crime and drug trafficking to repent and work for peace in the country. 
Meanwhile, Bernardo Barranco V., a writer, specialist in Religion and Vicepresident at the "Centro de Estudios de las Religiones" in México (CEREM) comments on the apparent absence from the Pope's schedule of a meeting with the victims of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
The article, which I've paraphrased, translated, and abbreviated below, appears on Mr. Barranco's blog and in "La Jornada" a publication of Mexico's National University (UNAM).

"Benedict XVI in his recent trips has included space and time to comfort and meet with victims of sexual abuse. He did on his trip to the United States and Australia (2008), Portugal and Malta (2010), UK and Germany (2011). Worldwide images show the Pope shocked, embarrassed and close to the victims of clerical pedophilia. In Malta he cried even before the victims related their testimonies and stories of abuse by priests. There the Pope himself condemned the unspeakable crimes. How Benedict XVI in his recent trips have included space and time has been given to comfort and meet with victims of sexual abuse. This he did on his trip to the United States and Australia (2008), Portugal and Malta (2010), UK and Germany (2011). Images that have been around the world we have the Pope shocked, embarrassed and close humanely with victims of clerical pedophilia. In Malta he is seen crying even before the testimonies and stories of victims of abuse by priests. There the Pope himself condemned the unspeakable crimes. However, the agenda for the Papal trip to Mexico shows the absence of such a gesture to the victims of Marcial Maciel. We do not know if the theme will be included in his messages, but the omission is striking, especially since Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ are of Mexican origin. We do not know if the former Legionaries themselves would be willing to meet with the Pope because by now these acts have been used more as a show of symbolic contrition rather than effective measures against abuse. But, at the end of the day, they have been gestures of reconciliation and forgiveness. It is remarkable and somewhat worrisome not to see such an “obvious” encounter on the Papal agenda. Is it a sign or an inexcusable omission? It is another offense added to the decades long contempt with which the former Legionary accusers were treated by the Church bureaucracy and the complicity of powerful Mexican businessmen, politicians as well as many in the media? It is true that on his last trip to Germany in 2011, the Pope's approach showed its limits. The Network of Victims of Sexual Violence in Germany branded the meeting that the pope had with two women and three men, all alumni of Catholic educational institutions, as hypocritical.......

.....If the Pope has come into contact with victims of clerical abuse in many other countries, why not in Mexico? There is another hypothesis that is oriented to the serious internal crisis faced by the Legion of Christ. Do not forget that the restructuring of the religious order is in the hands of the pontiff himself, has been questioned by his warmth and slowly, because they persist, according to internal critics, practices lies and manipulation. The performance of Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, Pontifical Delegate for the Legion of Christ, has been questioned and put under suspicion the exasperating tone has led to a gradual abandonment of those constant Legionnaires who expect a more vigorous and profound renewal. De Paolis seems installed in a comfort zone that has led him to confront those sectors most aperturistas legionaries and renovators. In the last two years of 59 mint official priests have left the legion, although there is talk of more than 100. Similarly, the consecrated women of Regnum Christi, 156 have low caudate and have even formed a new congregation called Totus Tuus female, under the protectorate of the Chilean episcopate.
However, no hypothesis is sufficient to explain the Pope’s lack of attention to the noble and remarkable struggle of the victims of Marcial Maciel."

The Maciel scandal lies dormant below the reality of Catholic life in Mexico. Certainly the Legionaries of Christ and the members of the lay organization Regnum Christi, would prefer to move on, dedicated to their process of renewal. The deviations of the founder are a source of great pain and sensitivity. In general, it seems to me that the faithful who are aware of the scandal are quite content to separate the sins of the founder and his personal life from the good works realized by the Legionaries and Regnum Christi. At a time when the Catholic world has been convulsed with clerical scandals "moving on" seems to be a reasonable and pragmatic solution.
However, it's a fine line between "moving on" and giving the impression that the Congregation, and hence the Church, has no compassion towards the victims of this particular scandal. Most objective commentators would agree, I think, that the Legion's response has not been proportionate to the magnitude of the scandal. It's almost as if they don't quite understand the profound upheaval caused to the lives to so many hundreds if not thousands of people affected by the founder. This may not correspond to reality - but it is most certainly the perception conveyed by the Congregation's minimalist response.
Personally, I'm not sure that a public meeting between the Pope and Maciel's victims (which ones exactly?) would achieve the desired objective granted the media circus which no doubt it would occasion. Perhaps such an encounter would do more harm than good within the Mexican environment. A meeting with a group of victims (not only those of Maciel) might be helpful and even necessary. Either way, Mr. Barranco raises a good question. The Vatican - and the Legion - could use the occasion of the Pope's visit and the tremendous welcome he will be afforded by the Mexican people to bring some sense of closure to the awful saga initiated by the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Then, everyone could get back to the business of moving on.

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