Friday, May 25, 2012

"Vatileaks" include the Legionaries of Christ. Vatican threatens legal action


Thursday of this week, the Vatican announced the sudden removal of the president of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), otherwise referred to as "The Vatican Bank."

Apparently the Board voted unanimously of “no confidence” in Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. Anticipating the decision, he resigned. Gotti Tedeschi, whose primary job is head of Spain's Banco Santander's Italian unit in Milan, is also being investigated for leaking IOR confidential documents to investors. The Holy See is heading into a July meeting of Moneyval, a Council of Europe committee that will determine whether it has complied with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing. Moneyval investigators have been looking at the transparency of IOR’s finances. Gotti Tedeschi is faulted for not keeping the board of superintendents apprised of the work of the bank, among other failings.

Although he was appointed to the position just over two years ago, rumor had it that Mr. Gotti was a pawn in the strategic moves of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State.  Pope Benedict wanted Gotti to clean up the bank which has been the sources of controversy in terms of the transparency of its financial dealings.

Meanwhile, the Vatican Gendarmerie, headed by General Domenico Giani, claims to have identified the person who allegedly is the source of the leak of about one hundred of Pope Benedict’s personal documents to the Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who used them to publish a book called “His Holiness,” released in Italy last Saturday.

The controversial book seeks to give credence to rumors swirling in and around the Vatican. Some see the book as a direct attack on the Pope. The book seems to suggest that Pope Benedict was wrong in his choice of Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State and that he was wrong not to force his resignation.

Many are troubled that someone would have leaked documents which were supposedly reserved to the Holy Father and related to particularly sensitive matters. Most of the documents relate to Italian affairs although documents related to the alleged cover-up of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, are mentioned. Vatican finances, the Pope’s personal account number at the Vatican Bank, some of Cardinal Bertone’s dealings, the group known as “Communion and Liberation,” the Jesuits, scandals at the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, Italian politics, and the traditionalist Society of Pope Pius X, founded by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, also feature.

The pope's butler Paolo Gabriele, was arrested in Vatican City on Friday, suspected of leaking the documents. It is said he had been under surveillance for weeks and was caught red-handed with documents he should not have had. Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed to Italian news service Ansa that Gabriele had been found "in illegal possession of confidential documents."

Gabriele is in the custody of the Vatican's secretive judicial system, which is separate from the Italian judicial system. His arrest took place just hours after Gotti Tedeschi was ousted for allegedly "failing to fulfill the primary functions of his office."

One of the abiding memories I have of my time in Rome and my (albeit limited) contacts with two Vatican Cardinals is the amount of gossip generated in such a relatively small operation as is the Vatican state. It strikes me as interesting that the two people involved in this week’s news are laymen. I find it strange that the Pope’s “butler,” apparently well liked and trusted in the Vatican household, would have been in a position to choose and leak specific selected documents which, in their totality, seem to make a strong case against the judgment of the Pope and which would seem to serve to fuel whatever rivalry exists between former Secretary of State and current Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano and the current Secretary of State, Cardianl Bertone. The Vatican says that Nuzzi's book is criminal  and has warned that it intends to take legal action.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh, what a tangled web! The Legion's latest scandal.


After ordination, a Legionary priest enjoys a sense of accomplishment. He has survived trials and tribulations including Postulancy, Novitiate, Juniorate, he has earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and has studied sacred theology for at least four years. He probably spent up to three years in the field, practicing his future work, as a Legionary “intern.” He has prayed for at least three and a half hours out of every day. He examined his conscience twice a day and reflected in total silence on his having been called by God “from all eternity” during his annual week of spiritual exercises. He has gone to confession at least weekly, he has sought spiritual direction at least once a month, and he has devised countless plans and programs to “reform his life” under the guidance of his superiors.

Now he has a sense of “mission accomplished.” He is ready to take on the world with a new sense of acceptance, and mission. He is intimately convinced that he has one of the most important vocations known to man: he is a Legionary priest, faithful to the Pope, highly trained, multi-lingual. He can say Mass, administer the sacraments, and forgive sins. As an ordained priest he has a little more freedom than he did as a seminarian. He is a “big boy” now and he probably feels that his superiors trust him and respect him. Perhaps, soon he will become a superior himself. When he joins a new community he will get to know some of his peers better and enjoy a sense of camaraderie. His busy life,  the belief that he is saving souls, the increased contact with others outside the Legion that it affords, help to keep him from feeling lonely. He knows that his love for Jesus is enough. He even persuades himself that he is “in love” He is happy and fulfilled. And all of this works, for a while.

Depending on his age and whether or not he was fast-tracked to ordination, the repressed instincts of his adolescent years start to re-assert themselves. He may eventually realize that the land he is now working in is not his own. He misses the connection with his family, and he has lost contact with friends he had before becoming a Legionary. He knows that the foreign language he speaks so well is “foreign” to him. Maybe he is no longer sure what culture he belongs to. Is he Irish, Spanish, Mexican, Italian or is he “a citizen of the world?” He resents the fact that people place him on a pedestal. They assume that he is holy, wise, perfect, and beyond temptation. He enjoys the innocent and light-hearted way that women flirt with him because they trust his chastity and celibacy. He intuits that because he is “not available” he is more attractive.

Now that he is less obsessed with his own formation and vocational discernment he begins to reflect on what he now knows to be true about the founder of his Congregation.  He never saw anything to cause concern – but he knows he was not looking. He was trained never to criticize a Superior. He begins to become aware that he is not big on critical thinking skills. People share with him their concerns about clergy abuse, the impact the Fr. Maciel scandal has on their faith, their sincere criticisms of his Legionary formation. Depending on his maturity and self-confidence, he notices that some things don’t seem quite right. He talks about “trust” but he doesn’t really understand the concept because he has never learned to trust his brother Legionaries in the deepest sense of the term. Now that he is older and more experienced, he sees that several of his superiors have been manipulative of him and others. He wonders who knew what, when, and who should have been more forthright with him about the private life of Fr. Maciel. How many of his companions were abused, whether physically or emotionally, and never said anything. Why did so many of the founding Legionaries deny the accusations about the founder? He believed them and not the gossip from the outside world. He begins to feel betrayed and certainly less sure of the internal story he has been telling himself for so long.

Thank God he was trained to handle this situation! He knows this is the devil seeking to destroy his vocation. He may mention this in spiritual direction and he finds it relatively easy to live in denial. Above all he knows that if he remains very busy, he won’t have time to think negative thoughts. There are so many souls to be saved! Speaking of saving souls, he admires his peers who work on the missions, mostly in south east Mexico. He thinks of them as hard-working, dedicated, fervent priests totally involved in hands-on pastoral work. He secretly envies their more “laid-back” style although he thinks they should be more “integrated” with their Legionary vocation. Much as he admires them, he knows they are not cut out for the important work he does with the “elites.” He is saving their souls too and besides, he gives them the opportunity to help save the world with their example, their leadership, and their money. When the doubts come back, he prays, stays very busy, and falls back on that old denial workhorse.

Eventually, some Legionaries begin to yearn for the intimacy that their mandatory celibacy has denied them.  As priests they are exposed to the joy they see in happy couples being married. They experience the happiness of other people’s family celebrations. They see how parents are nourished by the love of their children. They see couples who trust each other despite their failings. They became aware, again, of something missing in their lives. Returning to the loneliness of a small community doesn’t make it go away. They wonder if they will miss the friends they have made when inevitably they will be moved on to another assignment precisely because they are not really supposed to have “friends” in the normal sense of the term. Whether or not they like the new assignment is not supposed to matter. But it does, because not all individuals fit well in a certain community or social environment. Our hypothetical Legionary’s view of life which was stark black and white begins shifting to shades of gray.

Meanwhile, all the criticism of Father Maciel, and of the Legionary superiors, including Cardinal De Paolis the apostolic delegate in charge of reforming the Congregation has caused friends of the Legion to be more circumspect in what they talk about with their Legionary priests. It has become common to hear some of the most faithful Regnum Christi people complain of being used and “sucked dry” by the Legionaries who they consider to be excessively relentless in their pursuit of new recruits and funds. The pedophile scandals have caused lay people in general to be more cautious in the invitations that they extend to a priest. Breaking with a long tradition, Father is no longer automatically placed on a pedestal. He wonders what people think when they see him dressed, nearly always, in his clerical garb. He figures this is a great way to witness to this commitment to the Lord. But he can read the mistrust in people's glances, the way mother's instinctively grasp their child's hand a tad more firmly when he is near. Inside he is beginning to feel profoundly lonely, a loneliness he finds difficult to describe and even more difficult to talk about. He misses his ties with his extended family and would like to be closer to his brothers and sisters but, more often than not, they don’t live nearby. He knows they resent his being so “absent” from their lives although they feel honored to have a Legionary son. He wonders why they sometimes seem to be so “anti-Legion” and he senses they have a better understanding of the situation than he has. He hates how Fr. Maciel let him down and he wonders if the Legion can ever be the congregation he thought he had joined.

By now, our priest longs to be appreciated for who he is beyond his priestly and his Legionary role. People don’t seem to understand that he is a human being with feelings who needs to connect intimately with others by sharing his joys, sorrows, and tears. Sure, he loves his band of Legionary brothers but he has come to be aware that he longs for authenticity with another human being. It must be great to be able to express ones innermost thoughts, share a genuinely warm hug, and have a shoulder to cry on. But the unwritten rules of the priestly lifestyle, the vast amount of Legionary rules and norms designed to perfect him and protect him from temptation,  and his over-arching role as a priest to protect the power of the Catholic Church have forced him to keep himself aloof from women.

I suspect most priests experience much of what I’ve outlined above. At some point, some of them meet a woman who sees their essence and humanness, whose very presence and understanding invites him to share his true feelings about life in general. At first she may be a shoulder to cry on or she has a cause he will fight for. He realizes how totally emotionally immature he is and how he is clueless when it comes to intimacy. He remembers coming across publications suggesting that in order to be celibate priests need to have genuine, healthy relationships with women. That’s something that has always been frowned upon and prevented by his Legionary lifestyle. He fears that he has become aware of truly important realities late in life. Typically, he will deny to himself that his feelings for this special woman could affect his priestly vocation. He is already well used to managing denial. Furthermore, this is not easy stuff to bring up in spiritual direction with a fellow Legionary because he knows his superior will be made aware of his “crisis” and he will probably moved to distant destination post haste. So he keeps quiet, stays busy and begins to question everything. He wonders if celibacy and priesthood are not separate vocations. What would happen if he were to act on his newfound feelings? Initially he may not be able to name it but if he thinks its love he will most likely deny this to himself.

Inevitably, for some, there occurs a sudden breakthrough into intimacy, regardless of how expressed. I'm not talking about "normal" temptations with regard to chastity. Those he can handle. The "intimacy" issue is much bigger, much more difficult. A Legionary knows that if he were to fall in love, his options are extremely limited, although he tends to think that no matter how far he might stray "emotionally" he will be able to manage. He will want to recommit to his priesthood and the strict Legionary lifestyle he lived in the houses of formation. That will probably be his first instinct. Besides, he feels too "old" and perhaps too useless to leave and find a new job. What would his parents and friends think? For the past twenty years or so he has been trained to believe that women are the root cause of most of his temptations and that to abandon his vocation sets him on the road to hell. Our Legionary priest is having quite a decent mid-life crisis!

The widely reported cases of clergy abuse are gnawing at his own sense of identity. The betrayal of his founder has grievously damaged his belief in the Legion. How much more can he take? Will the Legion ever be "reformed?"  Can he and his companions ever get over the scandal? Does the Vatican Delegate know what steps to take? Have his superiors truly got his best interests at heart? Fidelity to a priestly vocation is never easy, even in the best of circumstances. Now people are telling him he belongs to a cult, founded by a pederast. He doesn't feel the support he used to feel from other Catholics and his beloved congregation is openly and harshly criticized. He is tired having to recruit, recruit, recruit, and he's less convinced that he is recruiting for the right cause. No wonder he might need a shoulder to cry on, a loving hug, and someone to "really" talk to. Someone who understands and appreciates him.

This is quite a dilemma for a fairly young Legionary priest. If he has been subtly coerced into following an uncertain “vocation” and knows in his heart that he has never truly been permitted to entertain doubts though a coercive regime of spiritual direction, and manipulative pressure from various superiors, spiritual directors and perhaps even the founder himself, he may discern that God is calling him elsewhere. This process of discernment will be the most difficult he will ever undertake in his life. If he has “fallen” and has engendered a child, the die is cast. All things being equal, his loyalty must now be to the child and to the mother. This decision may be easier to make but no less difficult. A priest in this situation will be rejected by the hierarchy and by most of his peers. In both cases, the priest will feel shunned by his fellow Legionaries. They may profess support and understanding, but in reality he will be expelled from the system and from the collective memory. The priest’s dilemma is compounded by his dependency on the Church and his congregation for everything from his food and lodging to the fraternity of his peers, and his very identity. If he comes from a fairly traditional Catholic family, this dependency is woven into his genes.

Most Legionaries who face the intimacy debacle may seek to recommit to their priesthood. Some few may manage to suppress their feelings and manage a clandestine relationship that is inherently unfair to themselves and their partner. The former need serious professional counseling in order to address the intimacy issues.  The latter have my understanding but not my respect. They set themselves up to cause great scandal and damage to many souls. And they usually need a co-dependent relationship with their superiors.

I imagine that much of the above applies to the sad case of Fr. Thomas Williams. Beyond the personal tragedy (Fr. Williams is also being treated for cancer) and the inevitable suffering of the protagonists, I am troubled by the apparent lack of action by his religious superiors. It is clear that they have been well aware of his situation for some time. Why was he allowed to continue teaching and preaching for so long after conceiving a child? Did they not think that this situation would eventually come to light? How could they have been so out of touch with reality to miss the obvious connections that have to be made with the reprehensible conduct of the founder? Did they not realize how their mishandling of this case would further undermine their already limited credibility? Fr. Williams is not beyond reproach; he has accepted responsibility for his actions. What about his superiors? Do they not deserve even more blame?

It's clear that current Legionary leadership for whatever reasons dictated by their consciences  -and probably Church authorities, - sought to cover up Fr. Maciel's abuse, relationships and child(ren). Perhaps they sought to avoid scandal to Legionaries, seminarians, their families, benefactors, and thousands upon thousands of faithful Christians.  It's also not clear that they fully understood the extent and gravity of the founder's conduct. Nor has there been enough unambiguous expression of compassion for the victims of Fr. Maciel's abuse. Since the revelations about Fr. Maciel were made public, at least seven Legionary priests, accused of serious abuse which has been reported to the Vatican, seem to have been able to continue unscathed and unidentified within the Legion. These men deserve due process, although the Legion itself has made it clear that their "delicta graviora" are serious and credible. As if all this were not enough, now we have learned that Fr. Thomas Williams, one of the most notable of the American Legionaries, a "public figure" (unlike the other seven) fathered a child and was allowed to continue in his ministry for a number of years apparently with the full knowledge and consent of the major superiors. No doubt there may be compelling pastoral reasons to explain this lack of decisive action, although I can't think of any. However, in management terms, I think the "three strikes and you're out" rule is applicable now. Unless there is some extraordinarily compelling rationale offered for this lamentable and apparently self-serving behavior major leadership changes need to happen now.

Eight hundred Legionary priests and twenty six hundred Legionary seminarians - together with their families and benefactors - must have a tremendous sense of anxiety. When will the next Legionary scandal hit the headlines and who will it involve? How can these good men be expected to trust the decisions of their superiors and the Vatican itself? The fact that so many of them do continue to trust the Vatican and its management of the Legion of Christ, despite recent events, begins to suggest a worrying lack of critical thinking and a totally dysfunctional understanding of obedience. Yet, there is only so much a professed religious can do in the face of major institutional reluctance to change. The harsh reality is that most men caught in this twisted web don't have too many options. No doubt they will soldier on, doing their best "to save souls" while remaining faithful to their perceived vocation. It is past time for the Vatican and its delegate to show some leadership that is less "other worldly."  When and if they remedy the leadership situation (the easy part) they need to examine the whole issue of "intimacy" in the formation of a celibate clergy. The Church needs more priestly vocations. It's not like seminaries around the world are bursting at the seams. Legionary priests and seminarians deserve a chance. Times have changed and it's time to get our sainted heads out of the sand.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let the one without sin cast the first stone


The Legion of Christ religious order was hit today by another scandal after one of its best known priests, the Rev. Thomas Williams, an American moral theologian, prominent author, lecturer, and television personality admitted he had fathered a child.

Fr. Williams said  in a statement he was "deeply sorry for this grave transgression" against his vows of celibacy and that he would be taking a year off to reflect on what he had done and his commitment to the priesthood.

The Legion has been beset by scandal following revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, fathered three children and sexually abused his seminarians. Maciel died in 2008 and in 2009 the Legion admitted to his crimes.

Williams, the author of "Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience," taught theology, promoted his books and lectured.
His personal website, which lists his numerous books, speaking engagements, articles and appearances as a CBS commentator, has been taken down. Fr. Williams, who is currently undergoing medical treatment for a form of cancer, said he’s likely to spend his year with his parents in Michigan.

In an email sent to all Legion priests that accompanied Williams' announcement, Fr. Luis Garza, who heads the Legion in the U.S., said he was relaying the news with great sadness given the Legion's recent turmoil. He said, “I hope that you will join me in praying for all those who have been affected by his actions, and for Father Williams during his time of prayer, penance and renewal of his priestly ministry.’ Fr. Oscar Nader, the territorial director for Italy, (Williams resides in Rome), sent a similar message.

I don’t have much to add except to say:

I wish the Legionary superiors would have been as immediate and forthright in their communications about the scandal caused by their founder, Fr. Maciel. 

A priest, especially one who is as well known as Fr. Williams, who has gravely sinned in his ministry is a difficult challenge.  Trust has been broken. Spiritual lives may have been destroyed.  The hierarchy, Legionary superiors, and his fellow priests now have to live with and help their "fallen" brother.  In marriage both parties are married "for better or for worse."  A priest is part of his community for better or for worse.  So, just as spouses have to try to love each other even despite grave failings, so must the Church, through the Bishops, superiors, and the rank and file faithful love their "fallen" priests back from sin.

Fr. Williams has contracted serious responsibilities with his child and the child’s mother. As a parent he must do what is right for the child. It will be no less a challenge to work for reconciliation with the Church family as well.  No easy task.

Hence, I note that I appreciate Fr. Garza asking others to join him in prayer for Fr. Williams and for those affected by his actions. We have heard much from the Catholic Church hierarchy regarding the need for healing and reconciliation for the victims of priests and for their accusers. We rarely hear of prayer requests for brother priests who have fallen yet we glibly profess in our Creed that “we believe in the forgiveness of sin.” 

More than one priest has been heard to exclaim “God always forgives; man sometimes forgives; the Church never forgives.” That cannot make us proud.

Some of those who comment on the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi have already unleashed predictable mudslinging and are engaging in judgmental analysis of Fr. Williams, a case that provides more grist for their mill. I’d like to suggest that we are dealing with a tragedy: a mother, a child, and a priest-father who no doubt have been going through a living hell for the past three years.  In “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” I wrote, “In the Gospel of John, in the New Testament, we read the story of a woman caught in adultery. This story, beloved for its revelation of God's mercy, is found only in John. It was almost certainly not part of his original Gospel. The law condemned the woman’s sin, and therefore people condemned her. However, Jesus didn’t condone her sinful act - instead, he called for the one without sin to cast the first stone. In this, Jesus invites us to reflect on ourselves, before we dare to judge others. It reminds me of Saint Augustine’s comment, pointing out we’re in danger from both hope and despair - we can have a misguided optimism that tells us, "God is merciful, do as you please," or a despair that says, "there’s no forgiveness for the sin you have committed." John’s story shows we should keep these two tendencies in balance. Jesus doesn’t explicitly forgive the woman, but by not condemning her, and telling her not to sin again, forgiveness is implicit.” 

With regard to our criticism of individuals involved with the Legionaries of Christ, I say let’s sober up and stop dethroning God from the judgment seat. Let’s reflect on our own human frailty before we so arrogantly choose to dare to judge others.

Frankly, I think it’s despicable to use Fr. Williams in order to engage in more puritanical muckraking and self-righteous criticism of a religious congregation that Benedict XVI explicitly wants to save. Do the Legionaries have serious problems? You bet! Was Fr. Maciel a criminal?  No doubt! Has Fr. Williams messed up big time? Obviously! Is the Legion undergoing a process of deep reform? Apparently so. Does all of this give a bunch of whining “Holy Joes” free license to vent their anger, frustration, and personal problems in the name of “healing” and “recovery?” No way.

As I recall, Jesus advised that “the one without sin cast the first stone.” It is indeed a challenge to advocate forgiveness and reconciliation in this Church of ours. It is said that “Priests carry a treasure in vessels of clay.” Sometimes those vessels get broken. They need healing too.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Accusations of offenses committed by Legionaries reviewed by the Vatican


In a statement to the AP news agency, the Legionaries of Christ said seven cases of Legionary priests accused of sexually abusing minors had been referred to the Vatican's department that deals with sex crimes. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

The founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, sexually abused many boys and young men over a period of 30 years. He was disciplined by the Vatican in 2006 over the abuse.

The Legion issued the statement to the AP after the news organization approached it with the allegations; the Legion simultaneously sent the statement out to all priests in the order.

In addition to referring the cases to the Vatican as required by church law, the Legion said it had referred cases to police where civil reporting laws require it. It's not known, if any law enforcement action was taken given the statute of limitations may have expired for such old cases and the alleged abusers may long since have left the jurisdictions.

According to the Legionaries website:

“Over the past few years, in several countries, the major superiors of the Legion of Christ have received some allegations of gravely immoral acts and more serious offenses committed by some Legionaries….
…Of the accusations received by major superiors in the years since cases referring to the abuse of minors by priests were assigned to the competency of the CDF, internal preliminary investigations concluded that seven had a semblance of truth; the Legion forwarded these cases to the CDF. Only one case of abuse of minors by a priest refers to recent events; the others are from decades ago….
…Two other formal allegations not classified as delicta graviora have also been presented to the CDF….
…Furthermore, there have been some accusations of delicta graviora allegedly committed by Legionaries who, after the requisite investigation (canonical or civil), have been declared innocent….
…During investigations carried out by civil authorities (where this is the case), or during canonical investigations, and while the case is under study by the CDF, the territorial director and the general director have applied precautionary measures, restricting the priestly ministry of the accused, since the protection of children and of communities is of the utmost importance for the Legion. This, however, is never a statement about the guilt or innocence of the accused.. …
…The Legion of Christ reaffirms its commitment to respond quickly to accusations of gravely immoral acts, of delicta graviora, and of violations of religious discipline, using the correct procedure in each case, in conformity to civil laws, rigorously observing canonical procedures, and applying the appropriate penalties and sanctions established in the Code of Canon Law….
…It also reaffirms its commitment to continue to foster safe environments for children and young people, especially through the observance of Codes of Conduct for Legionaries, consecrated persons, and lay people who come into contact with children and young people in our institutions. Furthermore, there has been and is contact with outside institutions to improve our procedures and policies for the prevention of abuse. We also comply with civil law and Church norms in each country for the protection of youth….”

How does the percentage of alleged abuse in the Legion compare to the incidence of sexual abuse in the Church?

The Legionary web site claims that the congregation numbers 800 priests. Currently, seven are being investigated. That is 0.875% of the congregation’s priest-members. How does this percentage compare to the incidence of sexual abuse in the Church?  What percentage of Roman Catholic priests abuse older teens and occasionally young children?

According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT), nobody really knows.

OCRT provides the following information. Their website gives a reference for each citation:

"Philip Jenkins, is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, and has written a book on the topic. He estimates that 2% of priests sexually abuse youths and children.

Richard Sipe is a psychotherapist and former priest, who has studied celibacy and sexuality in the priesthood for four decades. He has authored three books on the topic. By extrapolating from his 25 years of interviews of 1,500 priests and others, he estimates that 6% of priests abuse. 4% of priests abuse teens, aged 13 to 17; 2% abuse pre-pubertal children.

Sylvia M. Demarest, a lawyer from Texas has been tracking accusations against priests since the mid-1990s. By 1996, she had identified 1,100 priests who had been accused of molesting children. She predicts that when she updates the list, the total will exceed 1,500 names. This represents about 2.5% of the approximately 60,000 men who have been active priests in the U.S. since 1984. It is important to realize that these are accused priests; the allegations have not been evaluated in a trial. Also, there is no way to judge what proportion of actual abusive priests are included on her list. It may include 40% or fewer; she may have found 90% or more.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter claimed, without citing references, that there are only 55 "exposed abusers" in a population of 45,000 priests. This is an abuse rate of 0.12%.

Various news services reported that 200 Roman Catholic priests in the Philippines have been investigated for "sexual misconduct and abuses" over the past two decades. That would represent almost 3% of the total population of about 7,000 priests. However, it appears that misconduct includes many offenses, from child abuse to rape to keeping adult mistresses."

A survey of child and youth sexual abuse within the church issued in 2004-FEB estimates that 4% of the 110,000 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 were abusive.

The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males, according to a 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology Review that examined 65 studies from 22 countries.

Sexual abuse by priests pales in comparison with abuse encountered in US public schools

A U.S. Department of Education report  issued in 2004 examined a number of American studies into the prevalence of sexual misconduct by school staff. They found that between 3.5% and 50.3% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career. They found that teachers, coaches, substitute teachers were the most common offenders. If this report is accurate, then sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic church, and by other clergy, appears to pale in comparison with the abuse being experienced by children and youths in the public schools.

Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

According to the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute (CMRPI) , a national, science-based, 501(c)3, nonprofit organization with offices in Atlanta, GA and Alameda, CA., to be diagnosed with pedophilia, a person must:

  • Be sexually aroused by, have intense, recurring sexual fantasies of, or be involved in sexual behavior with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years or younger);
  • Be aroused by, have sexual fantasies of, or be involved with a child for at least six months.;
  • Be at least 16 years old, and
  • Be at least five years older than the child or children he or she is attracted to.

Donald Cozzens, former vicar of priests at the Diocese of Cleveland, OH, wrote in the year 2000 about his experience in the Midwest:

"As a group, [child sexual] abusers tend to be married men who prey on girls, although many pedophiles abuse both girls and boys. Our respective diocesan experience revealed that roughly 90 percent of priest abusers targeted teenage boys [ephebophilia] as their victims. ... Relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon by church authorities. Perhaps it is feared that it will call attention to the disproportionate number of gay priests. While homosexually oriented people are no more likely to be drawn to misconduct with minors than straight people, our own experience was clear and, I believe, significant. Most priest offenders, we vicars agreed, acted out against teenage boys." More recently, in 2002, he quoted other estimates that "90 percent to 95 percent, and some estimates say as high as 98 percent of the victims of clergy acting out [are] teenage boys." 

It seems that between 90-98 percent of cases that have come to light in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, are not technically pedophilia because they are cases of homosexual abuse of teenage boys aged 13-17.

Ephebophilia is the sexual preference of adults for mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19.

The OCRT notes:

 "that if the age of consent for homosexual activity were lowered to the age of 16, as it is in many jurisdictions, then many -- if not most -- of the criminal acts by abusive priests would disappear. Most charges by the police against abusive priests would never materialize. Cases of ephebophilia would still represent an ethical quagmire, however. They would be a gross violation of the priest's ordination vows and would be an extremely harmful experience to most of the teens."

The on-going reform of the Legionaries of Christ

In my estimation, the fact that the Vatican is following up on the claims of sexual abuse by Legionary priests, other than the founder, Fr. Maciel, is a sign that the mandated reform is progressing albeit slowly. It would seem that the Legion is cooperating with the investigation. Several of the first young seminarians who were abused by Maciel claimed that they knew of other young seminarians who were abused. They named names. Many of these men continued in the Legion and became superiors. One of my enduring problems with the Legion is that these men, many of whom I knew well, never admitted to having been abused and, as far as I recall, adamantly denied the reports of Fr. Maciel's misconduct (not related to sexual abuse at the time) during the 1950s. If they were indeed abused, and subsequently, as superiors, covered up for Fr. Maciel, they are a major part of the Legion's problem.

The media has always been quick to blame current Legionary major superiors for the alleged "cover up". I suspect that what the current leadership may have known probably pales in comparison to the former group. Either way, it would seem that the Legion has been slow to move on the seven alleged abusers - although we don't know this for a fact. The investigations may have been underway for longer than has been revealed. The Legionaries report that investigations cleared some other of the accused priests.

"Harden not your hearts": when will we hear a heartfelt apology to the victims?

The Legionary communique reads:

'As the Holy Father wrote to the priests and religious of Ireland, “All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse.” We invite everyone to pray for these brothers of ours and especially for the victims.' 

What irks most people about the Legionary response to the abuse perpetrated by the founder and the alleged abuse of the reported seven priests, is the absence of apparent, public compassion for the victims and a clear intent to try and make amends. Until the Legionaries make some significant moves in this respect their protestations of concern and prayerful remembrance of the victims sound hollow to the general public and to me.

Why The Legionaries of Christ as an institution seem to consistently avoid expressions of sorrow, regret, and apology for the demonstrated grievous harm perpetrated by some members of the congregation is beyond me. This deafening silence rests credibility from the notion that the Legionaries, as a congregation, are on the road to genuine reform. Individual apologies and regret expressed by some Legionaries is not enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"For Greater Glory" ("Cristiada" in Spanish) is must-see movie!


On a recent trip to Mexico I managed to see the new movie “Cristiada.” This movie is about the Cristeros War (1926-1929), a people’s revolt against the Mexican government of atheist President Plutarco Elias Calles and his efforts to secularize the country. Directed by Dean Wright (Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Narnia) the English original titled “For Greater Glory” (official trailer in English at this link) is scheduled for release in the US on June 1, 2012.

In my estimation this movie is a must see for anyone interested in Mexico, Catholicism and, especially, the historical context in which the Legionaries of Christ were founded. The battle cry of the Cristeros was "Viva Christ the King!" No wonder Fr. Maciel came to name his new congregation "Legionaries" whose mission was to further the "Kingdom of Christ."

I first heard about this Cristero rebellion in 1965 when I went to Cotija, Michocan as one of the two first Irish Legionaries of Christ to land in Mexico. The other Irishman was Fr. John Walsh, LC. We went there with Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legion, and we stayed with his mother, Maurita, who treated us with the warm hospitality so typical of Mexico.

Over the years, I heard Fr. Maciel personally tell stories related to the Cristero rebellion and how it impacted his experience of living the faith as a young man in a rural town. The story of the events that took place all over Mexico was ignored in Mexican history books. Despite the fact that some 90,000 people lost their lives in the rebellion, most Mexicans know very little about the causes, events, and outcomes of the rebellion.

The now disgraced Fr. Marcial Maciel was the youngest founder of a religious congregation in the history of the Catholic Church. Born on March 10, 1920, in Cotija de la Paz - a town of about 5,500 inhabitants located in the state of Michoacán - his childhood took place through the social and religious upheavals that afflicted Mexico during the Cristero Revolution.  Cotija was near to the epicenter of the fighting. When he was little, he and his mother went to daily Mass at the shrine of San Juan del Barrio, a chapel on the outskirts of town. As a child he saw Cristeros hanged from the  trees. On his mother’s side, he had four uncles who were Bishops. Mama Maurita, as his mother was known, had a brother, José de Jesús Degollado Guízar, who was a General in the Cristero revolt in charge of operations in the western region of Mexico including the states of Michocan, Jalisco and Nayarit. Unlike other Generals he managed to avoid assassination by living in hiding after the war was over. He died in 1957.

The movie does an excellent job of recounting the largely unknown story of the Cristero war. My Mexican friends who have seen it have been moved by the drama and find it hard to believe how the story has remained untold for so long. As in most movies the director takes liberties with the facts. However, by and large, the drama is true. It tells the story about a time when the Mexican Government tried to shut down the practice of the Catholic faith, how the Catholics took up arms to defend the freedom of religion, and how civil war ensued. There are disturbing scenes in which the the “Federales” attack Catholic churches during Mass and kill priests in the sanctuary.

Personally, I was impressed at how closely the narrative follows the stories I, and so many other LCs, heard from Fr. Maciel. This is an important movie to be seen by anyone who would seek to understand the circumstances during which Maciel developed his ideas for a new religious congregation. It was a time during which priests were outlawed, Mexican seminaries were based outside of the country, Catholics distrusted the Government, and the position of the Vatican with regard to the rebellion was ambiguous. The United States played an important role motivated mostly by its interests in petroleum and regional stability. Ultimately, the Cristeros were let down by the Mexican Bishops. An early hallmark of Legionary behavior was to ignore Bishops who were not sympathetic to the new congregation couple with intense loyalty to the Holy Father. The Cristero story, I suggest, provides some historical context for Maciel's legacy.

It is a fairly well known fact now that Fr. Maciel had no great ecclesiastical training. Yet again, the movie provides historical context as how this was entirely possible. The infamous "penal times" in Ireland no doubt produced similar effects. One of the main characters in the movie is a priest, a combination of two historical characters, who takes up arms, is totally ruthless and who (in real life) played fast and loose with his celibacy and tequila.

The Mexican government did not abide by the terms of the truce negotiated in 1929 to end the war. In violation of its terms, Government forces shot some 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros.  Particularly offensive to Catholics after the supposed truce was President Calles's insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all forms of Catholic education and introducing secular education in its place.  Calles's military persecution of Catholics was eventually officially condemned by President Lázaro Cárdenas and the Mexican Congress as late as 1935.  Between 1935 and 1936, Cardenas had Calles and many of his close associates arrested and he forced them into exile soon afterwards. Freedom of worship was no longer suppressed, although some states still refused to repeal Calles' policies although relations with the church improved under Cardenas.

The Mexican Government’s disregard for the church, did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a practicing Catholic, took office. At that time, Fr. Maciel was just 20 years old.  Church buildings in the country still belonged to the Mexican government and the nation's policies regarding the church still fell into federal jurisdiction. In exchange for the Church's efforts to maintain peace, most of the anticlerical provisions were not enforced, an exception being Article 130, Section 9, which deprived the Church of the right of political speech, the right to vote, and the right of free political association. The Church legally had no corporate existence, no real estate, no schools, no monasteries or convents, no foreign priests, no right to defend itself publicly or in the courts, and no hope that its legal and actual situations would improve. The clergy were forbidden to wear clerical garb, to vote, to celebrate public religious ceremonies, and to engage in politics. Again, these restrictions were not always enforced.

The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed.  There were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion, but by 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million Mexicans. The rest had been eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination. By 1935, 17 states had no priest at all.

In 1992 after more than 130 years the Mexican Government and the Holy See reestablished formal diplomatic relations and restored civil rights to the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.

The movie sheds a lot of background light on he foundation of the Legion by providing an excellent account of the Cristero War. In 1935, Fr. Maciel attended a minor seminary in Mexico City directed by one of his uncles, the bishop of Veracruz. Because of the religious persecution in that state, the Bishop located his seminary in the capital city. The seminary was clandestine, hidden in the basement of a house in the Atzcapozalco district and the young seminarians resided there in difficult conditions. The house was old with adobe walls and they used some of the larger rooms as dormitories. The first seminarians were crammed in like anchovies in a tin.

Undoubtedly, myth and folklore have crept in to distort the truth of those early years of the foundation. Those of us, who directly heard Fr. Maciel relay stories of his early years, retold them to new generations of Legionaries. As such, a motivational narrative of his life and times quickly developed. No doubt the ensuing narrative eventually played fast and loose with the facts.

The film is shot on location in the state of Durango is cinematically beautiful. There are some disturbing scenes depicting the brutality of the Mexican government as well as amazingly uplifting and moving scenes depicting the faith of those fighting for their faith and for liberty. Andy Garcia is a very credible, real life, atheistic General Gorostieta. The remainder of the excellent cast (including Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Ruben Blades, Bruce Greenwood, Eduardo Verastegui and newcomer Mauricio Kuri) provide cameo-style supporting roles. As far as I know, the movie's producer, Pablo Jose Barroso, is a supporter of the Legionaries of Christ. Legionary priests served as chaplins on the set.

On May 21, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized a group of 25 saints and martyrs arising from the Mexican Cristero War. The vast majority are Roman Catholic priests who were executed for carrying out their ministry. Priests who took up arms, however, were excluded from the process. The group of saints share the feast day of May 21.