Decades before the Vatican’s McCarrick report, there was a mother on a secret mission

By Michelle Boorstein

Decades before there was a “bombshell Vatican report” about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, before there was the 2020 fall meeting of U.S. bishops discussing whether the best reaction to the report is more prayer or more focus on sin, there was a mother with a stack of letters, trembling hands and a secret.

The report, released last week, devotes 10 full pages to the woman it calls “Mother 1.” It describes what is apparently the first time a person tried to alert church authorities about a cleric who she had come to believe, when she sent her anonymous letters in the 1980s, was a danger to multiple boys in her family. Nothing came of the letters she said she sent to every U.S. cardinal and the Vatican’s D.C. ambassador about McCarrick, who would go on to rise to become archbishop of Washington and a cardinal, despite persistent allegations of sexual misconduct that went all the way to three popes. It would take decades for the cleric who charmed presidents and celebrities to be accused of sexual mistreatment by nearly 20 boys and men, charges that would rock the church all the way to Rome.

The unprecedented, 461-page investigation that the Vatican released on Nov. 10 marked the church’s most significant attempt at transparency in the case of a high cleric. And it led this week to the U.S. bishops, at their semiannual meeting, coming “face to face with the failures of the past,” Archbishop José Gómez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, told the group Tuesday.

But Mother 1, now in her mid-80s, stranded alone in her apartment by the pandemic, doesn’t have real expectations for anyone to be held accountable for McCarrick’s rise. The report, she told The Washington Post in her only interview, came too late for her extended family. Pain spinning out from McCarrick’s treatment of multiple young males in the family, she said, has already carved out deep divisions and destruction; secrets and denials have already had their way.

“As far as my family goes it’s not important,” she said of the report. And as far as the bishops this week discussing reform? “Buzzwords like transparency, compensation, accountability, responsibility. … I don’t believe the Church will let these ‘notions’ get very far,” she emailed The Post. “The institution before the people!”

But she did pause at times during an interview to consider the faint possibility that the report’s hundreds of pages of facts and documentation could bring some measure of healing in her family. I wish, she says, “that those who have doubts about [McCarrick] will know the truth.”

With the males in her family alleging harm by McCarrick unwilling to be identified, Mother 1 spoke on the condition that she not be named. Several of the men were interviewed for this McCarrick report as well as for a previous investigation that led to McCarrick’s defrocking last year.

The family had met McCarrick in the 1970s, before he was a bishop, through their parish priest. He quickly became close to them, coming over weekly, Mother 1 testified in the report. He would sometimes celebrate Mass there and bring the children trinkets from his travels. As they grew, he’d sometimes bring over other Catholic boys, “who recounted enthusiastically the fun they had on overnight trips with him,” the report reads.

The trips became an exciting privilege for her boys from a devout, working-class family. However, Mother 1 became alarmed, she said, when she heard about the sharing of beds, and when she saw how McCarrick pressured some of the teens to go away with him. One, she said in her testimony, was in tears because he wanted to attend a dance instead. Another time, she said, she almost fainted as she watched from the kitchen as McCarrick sat on the living room couch with two of her sons, across from their father, with one hand on each boy’s inner thigh, massaging them.

Her husband, she said in an interview with The Post, refused to believe anything was wrong, and couldn’t fathom a holy priest doing anything improper. “You’ve always been a priest-basher,” she said he told her. The husband has since died.

She confronted McCarrick, she testified, and told him “he was not to intimidate” her children. He was cool to her after that but kept up just as much of a presence around her home. She felt helpless.

“Ted McCarrick is the devil in my mind — the devil personified,” she said in an interview. “It felt like there was no getting away from this man’s evil, living in our midst, injecting himself into our family and into other families. It was frightening because there was no pushing him back.”

It was a sunny day in the 1980s, Mother 1 told investigators, when she packed up special pens and paper and envelopes and got into the family car and sneaked away. Telling no one, the homemaker drove more than an hour to the library branch near the bishop’s residence in Metuchen, where McCarrick then lived. There, she handwrote anonymous warnings about the inappropriate touching of boys she saw, and then mailed them to every U.S. cardinal and to the Vatican’s ambassador in the United States.

Yet she felt unsure about what she was reporting, she testified. “She had seen things that made her uncomfortable because they appeared to her to be of a sexual nature, but Mother 1 explained that she lacked the language and understanding to be sure, even though, at the same time, [she] knew he was doing something very wrong.”

In her testimony, she recalled that she used the word “children” and that she had personally witnessed McCarrick inappropriately touching boys.

“Mother 1 stated that the letters did not use the terms ‘predator’ or ‘pedophile.’ As Mother 1 recalled, “I did not have the language to explain it. The letters I wrote used simple terms. I did not use any fancy words,” the report quotes her as saying.

In footnotes, the report quotes one of her sons confirming she told him in the 1990s that she had sent the letters. The report focuses on the hierarchy, not on specific abuse claims, but makes clear that members of the family disagree about whether McCarrick’s behavior was inappropriate or sexual abuse.

Postmarking the letters across the street from McCarrick’s residence was as close as she felt she could get, she told The Post, to directly threatening a powerful cleric who had showed up to one of her children’s confirmations in a helicopter. She wanted the man who she saw multiple times touch boys in her family to know his accuser had been nearby.

“My hands were shaking putting them in the mailbox. I was so afraid he’d open the door and come out,” she told The Post. In her testimony, she said she was driven to warn church leaders. “I wanted to alert all of them as to what was going on.” She wrote the letters, the report says, “feeling pure anger.”

Terrified her sons would pay the price if her act was discovered, the woman said, she told no one for years of her letters. And over time, her faith turned to seething doubt that the church was going to do anything to stop McCarrick, who continued his steep rise to the top of the U.S. church and sailed into retirement, before his case finally exploded into public view in 2018.

One of her sons told The Post that reading his mother’s testimony in the report felt religious. “It made me think of the Gospel. It made me think about how when Jesus was hanging on the cross getting tortured and taunted by the powerful, it was the women and children who stayed with Jesus while our saintly Apostles ran and hid,” said the man, who was interviewed for the report.

The son praised the report as it was written but agonizes over the decades that have passed since his mother’s letters.

The report says no copies of the letters, nor any reference to them, were found in the Vatican’s investigation. A different set of anonymous letters accusing McCarrick of pedophilia were sent to several top U.S. church officials in the 1990s. The letters were in church records and were discussed in the report, and McCarrick himself raised them in the early 2000s with Post reporters writing about the clergy sex abuse scandal. He said he brought the letters to church officials.

“Because I think light is what kills these things. You gotta put them in light,” he told The Post then.

If officials had looked into his mother’s letters, the son told The Post, “there’s a lot of damage that could have been prevented — a lot. A lot of suffering could have been avoided.”

Mother 1 said it was traumatizing to see the report, to see words in print she’d kept to herself for so long. Now she just hopes it might lead to McCarrick facing some kind of justice. But, she said, “I’m not expecting miracles.”

Complete Article HERE!

Popes knew of allegations against ex-Cardinal McCarrick years ago, report finds

McCarrick, one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. Catholic Church before his fall from power, was expelled from the priesthood in 2019.

In this Nov. 14, 2011, file photo, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick prays during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore. A lawyer says the key accuser in the sex abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has met with New York City prosecutors, evidence that the scandal that has convulsed the papacy is now part of the broader U.S. law enforcement investigation into sex abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.

By Claudio Lavanga, Deborah Lubov and Adela Suliman

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II were aware of sexual misconduct allegations against American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom the Vatican later defrocked after investigating the claims, but they did not halt the powerful cleric’s rise through the church, according to a report released Tuesday.

McCarrick, one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church before his fall from power, was expelled from the priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican investigation.

The 449-page Vatican report released Tuesday outlines how the two popes, as well as senior U.S. Catholic officials, were aware of the sexual misconduct allegations, including that McCarrick shared a bed with seminarians at his New Jersey beach house and an unsuccessful attempt to restrict his role in public life in the 1990s.

The report said there was “credible evidence” that McCarrick had abused minors when he was a priest in the 1970s but that the evidence did not surface until 2017. Before then, the church was only aware of consistent rumors, the report found, with McCarrick’s denials accepted for decades.

“At the time of McCarrick’s appointment and in part because of the limited nature of the Holy See’s own prior investigations, the Holy See never received a complaint directly from a victim, whether adult or minor, about McCarrick’s misconduct,” the report said.

“For this reason, McCarrick’s supporters could plausibly characterize the allegations against him as ‘gossip’ or ‘rumors.'”

John Paul II served from 1978 until his death in 2005 and was succeeded by Benedict, who retired in 2013 and is now pope emeritus. John Paul was declared a saint in 2014 and had appointed McCarrick to the prominent post of archbishop of Washington D.C., in 2000.

The allegations against McCarrick, the highest profile church figure to have been dismissed from the priesthood in modern times, date back decades.

James Grein, one of the men whose accusations of sexual abuse resulted in McCarrick’s defrocking, has said he personally told John Paul II about the abuse during a 1988 Vatican audience.

“He blessed me, he put his hands on me, then he dismissed me,” Grein said during a news conference in August 2019 in Manhattan.

He was among hundreds of child sex abuse victims who filed lawsuits in New York under the Child Victims Act, which allows individuals to sue regardless of when the alleged acts happened. The legislation was bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church and other religious groups and blocked for years by Republicans in the state Legislature.

Grein was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

McCarrick, 90, who has been living in seclusion in the U.S., has previously responded publicly only to the allegations of abuse of minors, saying he had “absolutely no recollection” of them.

Against the background of the #MeToo era, tackling sexual abuses that have battered the Catholic Church’s reputation has been a major challenge for Francis, with victims demanding a crackdown on bishops accused of concealing or mismanaging cases.

According to the report, which was commissioned in 2018 and includes interviews with over 90 witnesses and details incidents and allegations of abuse, Pope Francis was given evidence of McCarrick’s misconduct only in 2017. Francis has consistently denied knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct.

Saint Peter’s Square a day before the Vatican releases its long-awaited report into disgraced ex-U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.Remo Casilli / Reuters

The report “did not examine the issue of McCarrick’s culpability. … That question has already been adjudicated,” but the report said Vatican investigators did look at “institutional knowledge” surrounding his behavior.

A former archbishop of Washington, D.C., McCarrick was familiar to U.S. political elites.

He presided over the 2009 funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2009 and was present at the funeral Mass of President-elect Joe Biden’s son Beau in Delaware in 2015.

The four U.S. dioceses where McCarrick served — New York; Metuchen and Newark in New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. — also carried out separate investigations that fed into the Vatican report.

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It outlined how McCarrick seemingly managed to rise through the ranks of the church, despite accusations of alleged sexual misconduct with adult male seminarians and minors.

Cardinal-Designate Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington called the Vatican’s report “an important, difficult and necessary document.”

“Nonetheless, we know that if true redemptive healing is ever to commence — for those who have been harmed and for the Church Herself — this disclosure must be made,” he said in a statement in response to the report on Tuesday.

McCarrick has not commented on alleged sexual misconduct with adult men or on this report.

“We publish the report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused to the victims, their families, the Church in the United States, and the Universal Church,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said in a statement.

Parolin said that he and Pope Francis had viewed the testimonies of victims and that in publishing the report “the truth has been pursued.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope may support same-sex unions, but that doesn’t mean the Vatican does

Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one

By Colleen Walsh

The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community. 

GAZETTE:  What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?

CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation ­— speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”

GAZETTE:  Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?

CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.

GAZETTE:  I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?

CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.

GAZETTE:  Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?

CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.

Frank Clooney.
“People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him,” says Professor Francis Clooney.

GAZETTE:  Does this kind of comment potentially set the stage for another Vatican council?

CLOONEY: Well, there have certainly been calls for a coming Vatican III. I think there’s a sense that some 50 or 60 years after the last council, which opened things up, there’s a need to consolidate and catch up to where things are in the world around us now. How much has changed since 1965! Some, who still regret the way Vatican II was implemented, will also want to have a Vatican III, if not turn back the clock, rather to tighten things up under a more conservative pope. In a sense it’s like calling a constitutional convention in this country: Liberals and conservatives would see such a convention as to their advantage. But I think all this depends first of all on how long Francis is pope. He’s not said he’s going to retire, but he seems to be the kind of man who would be sensible enough to say, “If I can’t do the job, I will retire,” even if he hasn’t said that yet. So then it will also depend on who the next pope would be.

GAZETTE:  Do you have a sense of whether the church is on a more liberal trajectory in terms of selecting popes?

CLOONEY: Sometimes there’s this sense that if you’ve gone from Benedict on the more conservative side to Francis on the more liberal side, it could be that the cardinals look around and want a shift back a little the other way. And therefore, the next pope would be less likely to make any bold gestures. But again, in 1957 or 1958, nobody expected John XXIII, who was put in as an older caretaker pope, would suddenly call Vatican II. This knocked many cardinals off their seats, so to speak. It could be that such surprising things may happen fairly quickly.

All of this is analogous to how change happens in this country with Congress and the Supreme Court making decisions, sometimes behind popular opinion, sometimes against it. But remember that Francis is in a sense a pastoral incrementalist. He believes that you’ve got to change the way we Catholics, clergy, bishops, all of us think about human decency, our responsibility to members of the church, compassion, helping people in trouble. If you change people’s minds and hearts, then the church will continue to grow in new ways. Whereas if you put in something legally that is too far ahead of where people are, it could be counterproductive.

GAZETTE:  Can you talk a bit about the complexity of being the pope for a global community?

CLOONEY: It’s one thing were Pope Francis the pope only of North America and Western Europe. But everything he says will be read by Catholics in South America, which is still very Catholic in many ways, and also by Catholics in more conservative Catholic communities in Africa and Asia. So going incrementally and pastorally step by step is probably Francis’s instinct, because he knows either he would infuriate Catholics in the West by not going fast enough, or anger Catholics in other parts of the world, who would say, “This is far too fast. This is out of keeping where our culture is.” In certain African countries, homosexuality is still, I think, illegal and can be punished. So saying something about same-sex marriages will be heard in one way in certain countries in Africa, and very differently in New York or Boston or London, where the response will be quite different. I think Francis has to be looking in both directions. And his basic sense is: Change our hearts, how we think as priests and bishops, and so on, and then that will be an infusion of the whole church with a new attitude slowly arriving.

GAZETTE:  Could you see Pope Francis making other kinds of comments about women priests or priests being able to marry going forward?

CLOONEY: Many Catholics have been hoping, with each pope for the past 50 years or so, that the pope would say something to change the dynamic on married priests and women priests, but it hasn’t happened. There has been the issue of women deacons serving in ordained ministry — there’s evidence about women deacons in the early church. But Francis, thus far into his papacy, hasn’t really changed church policy even on that. But with his “who am I to judge” comments, Francis was showing that the church is like a Red Cross station on the battlefield of life, there to help people and not to sit in an ivory tower casting judgments on people. In this way he has set a tone, which is quite clear, about wanting to have an inclusive church, wanting to have a church where people are not left out because some particularities about themselves, their self-identity.

But he doesn’t seem to be the one, as more liberal Catholics would want, to say, “Let’s just ordain women deacons, period. Let’s just do it.” I think as pope, he in theory at least has the power to do that, just as Pope John Paul claimed the power for himself to stop entirely the discussion about the ordination of women, saying it’s not even to be discussed in the church anymore, period. But that didn’t work, it didn’t stop discussion. Francis could say something like that, speaking very firmly on marriage or ordination. But again, would it be wise?

You think of Supreme Court decisions in this country like Roe v. Wade, and can ask whether decisions from above are the best way to change how people think about these issues. I think Francis feels the change has to come more from leaders talking to the people, listening to the people, so that ideas and sentiments seep upward through the church, not just come down from above. So I don’t think he’s going to say anything dramatic about women in the church or married priests in the church. Remember that the bishops of the Amazon region had their annual meeting just a year ago. In their document they called for married priests, arguing that they simply didn’t have enough priests, and that people have a right to Mass and the sacraments, and that the only way to do that is to ordain married men. Francis had the prerogative of issuing the final statement, and he left out reference to that request. He didn’t condemn them and say it’s impossible, but he just didn’t follow up on it. And I don’t see evidence that he’s going to suddenly start acting more boldly at this point on issues such as marriage. A positive attitude toward civil unions may well be as far as he goes.

In terms of his recent comments, people who are in gay unions or gay marriages should therefore not be expecting that suddenly everything is going to be all right. But given Francis’ view of how things change, simply that he’s willing to say these things and air new ideas again and again is a big step forward. It’s not an authoritative pronouncement from Vatican City, per se. But it’s the slow change that moves things forward in a healthy way.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis calls for civil union laws for same-sex couples

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves after the weekly general audience, at the Vatican, on Oct. 21.

By Chico Harlan and Michelle Boorstein

Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.

In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.

Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.

Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.

The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”

“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.

“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”

According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”

Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.

In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.

The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.

The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.

Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.

Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.

This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.

Complete Article HERE!

Disgraced religious order tried to get abuse victim to lie

Cardinal Valasio De Paolis

By NICOLE WINFIELD and MARÍA VERZA

The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martínez had expected — or could abide.

Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis — the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up — to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martínez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.

Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”

The conversation between the aggrieved mother and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal envoy was wiretapped. The tape — as well as the six-page settlement proposal — are key pieces of evidence in a criminal trial opening next month in Milan. Prosecutors allege that Legion lawyers and priests tried to obstruct justice, and extort Martínez’s family by offering them money to recant testimony to prosecutors in hopes of quashing a criminal investigation into the abusive priest, Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez.

Lawyers for the five suspects declined to comment. The Legion says they have professed innocence. A spokesman said that at the time, the Legion didn’t have in place the uniform child protection policies and guidelines that are now mandatory across the order.

De Paolis is beyond earthly justice — he died in 2017 and there is no evidence he knew of, or approved, the settlement offer before it was made. But the tape and documents seized when police raided the Legion’s headquarters in 2014 show that he had turned a blind eye to superiors who protected pedophiles.

In addition, the evidence shows that when De Paolis first learned about Reséndiz’s crimes in 2011, he approved an in-house canonical investigation but didn’t report the priest to police. And when he learned two years later that other Legion priests were apparently trying to impede the criminal investigation into his crimes, the pope’s delegate didn’t report that either.

And a few hours after he spoke with Martínez, De Paolis opened the Legion’s 2014 assembly where he formally ended the mandate given to him by Benedict to reform and purify the religious order. The Legion had been “cured and cleaned,” he said.

In fact, his mission hadn’t really been accomplished.

Benedict had entrusted De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s most respected canon lawyers, to turn the Legion around in 2010, after revelations that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had raped his seminarians, fathered three children and built a cult-like order to hide his crimes.

There had been calls for the Vatican to suppress the Legion. But Benedict decided against it, apparently determining in part that the order was too big and too rich to fail. Instead, he opted for a process of reform, giving De Paolis the broadest possible powers to rebuild the Legion from the ground up and saying it must undergo a profound process of “purification” and “renewal.”

But De Paolis refused from the start to remove any of Maciel’s old guard, who remain in power today. He refused to investigate the cover-up of Maciel’s crimes. He refused to reopen old allegations of abuse by other priests, even when serial rapists remained in the Legion’s ranks, unpunished.

More generally, he did not come to grips with the order’s deep-seated culture of sexual abuse, cover-up and secrecy — and its long record of avoiding law enforcement and dismissing, discrediting and silencing victims. As a result, even onetime Legion supporters now openly question his reform, which was dismissed as ineffective by the Legion’s longtime critics.

“They always try to control victims, minimize them, defame them, accuse them of exaggerating things,” said Alberto Athié, a former Mexican priest who has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims, including victims of the Legion.

“Then, if they don’t achieve that level of control, they go to the next level, looking for their parents, trying to minimize them or buy them off, silence them. And if that doesn’t work, they go to trial and try to do what they can to win the case,” he said.

Now, victims of these other Legion priests are coming forward in droves with stories of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse, and how the Legion’s culture of secrecy and cover-up has remained intact.

“They say they’re close to the victims and help their families,” Martínez told The Associated Press at her home in Milan. “My testimony is this didn’t happen.”

Martínez, a 54-year-old mother of three, chokes up when she recalls the day she received the phone call from her son’s psychologist. It was March of 2013, and her eldest son had been receiving therapy on the advice of his high school girlfriend. Martínez thought she was about to learn that she would be a grandmother; she thought her boy had gotten the girl pregnant.

Instead, Dr. Gian Piero Guidetti told Martínez and her husband that during therapy, their son had revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by Reséndiz starting in 2008, when he was a middle schooler at the Legion’s youth seminary in Gozzano, near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Guidetti, himself a priest, told them he was required by his medical profession to report the crime to prosecutors.

His complaint, and the testimony of Martínez’s son, sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Reséndiz’s 2019 conviction, which was upheld on appeal in January. Resendiz, 43, who was convicted in absentia and is believed to be living in his native Mexico, has until the end of March to appeal the conviction and 6 1/2-year prison sentence to Italy’s highest court. His lawyer, Natalia Curro, said an appeal is being considered, and said her client denied having abused Martinez’s son, though he admitted to abusing another boy.

The investigation, however, netted evidence that went far beyond Reséndiz’s own wrongdoing. Documents seized by police and seen by AP in the court file showed a pattern of cover-up by the Legion and the pope’s envoy that stretched from Milan to Mexico, the Vatican to Venezuela and points in between.

Personnel files, for example, made clear Resendiz was known to the Legion as a risk even when he was a teenage seminarian in the 1990s, yet he was ordained a priest anyway in 2006 and immediately sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary.

“He’s a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them,” Reséndiz’s novice director, the Rev. Antonio León Santacruz, wrote in an internal assessment on Jan. 9, 1994. “Given his psychological character, he’s inclined to not respect rules without great difficulty and the psychologist thinks it will be difficult for him to undertake consecrated life given he has little respect for rules. He follows them as long as he’s being watched, but as soon as he can, he breaks them and has no remorse.”

A year later, on Reséndiz’s 19th birthday, the seminarian wrote a letter to Maciel — addressing it as all Legionaries addressed the man they regarded as a living saint: “Nuestro Padre,” “Our Father.”

“I’m having various problems in the field of purity and the truth is I’m having a hard time, because temptations are coming to me,” he wrote. “I’m praying to the Holy Virgin every day for grace and asking her for strength to not offend again; I say again because I have had the disgrace of falling, but with the help of God I will fight to form that pure, priestly heart.”

When Martínez saw such letters in the court file, her heart fell.

“My son wasn’t even born yet,” she said. “How can you put someone like that in charge of a seminary?”

A Legion spokesman, the Rev. Aaron Smith, said the Legion has overhauled its training process for seminarians since Reséndiz’s era, applying more scrutiny before ordination.

“Things are different today,” he said in emailed response to questions.

While Milan prosecutors first heard about Reséndiz’s pedophilia in March 2013 when the therapist reported it, the crimes were old news to both the Vatican and the Legion.

The Legion has admitted it received a first report of abuse by Resendiz on March 6, 2011, from another boy who had been a student at Gozzano. The Legion says that boy, an Austrian, had first told a Legion priest of Reséndiz’s abuse. That priest recommended he report it to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, which he did, Smith said.

Separately, the Legion got wind of another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been sent from Gozzano in 2008, after he abused Martínez’s son.

Italian police were never informed by the Legion or the Vatican. Neither the Vatican nor Italy requires clergy to report suspected child sex abuse.

When police finally did get wind of the case in March 2013, they uncovered elaborate efforts to keep Reséndiz’s crimes quiet. According to one email seized by Italian police — written March 16, 2011, or 10 days after the Austrian claim was first received by the order — a Legion lawyer recommended to one of the Legion’s senior behind-the-scenes bureaucrats, the Rev. Gabriel Sotres, that a Legion priest visit with the victim in Austria.

The aim of the visit, prosecutors wrote in summarizing the email exchanges, “was to speak to the (victim’s) older brother and convince him to not tell their parents and not go to police because this could cause serious problems not only for the Legion but also Father Vladimir, all the other priests involved and the victim and his family.”

Smith, the Legion spokesman, didn’t deny the prosecutors’ account but said that “encouraging a child to keep something from their parents or guardians is contrary to our code of conduct.”

Later in 2011, the Legion arranged for Reséndiz to be transferred from Venezuela to Colombia, and prepared a legal strategy to limit the possible damage if the Venezuelan case escalated. The emails were sent to several Legion leaders, including Sotres, who remain in top positions today. In fact, in the Legion’s current leadership assembly under way in Rome to choose new superiors and priorities, at least 13 of the 89 participating priests or their substitutes were involved in some way in dealing with the Reséndiz scandal, fallout and cover-up, including two priests who are defendants in the upcoming Milan trial.

According to the seized emails, the plan proposed by a Legion lawyer involved reporting only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, prosecutors said in summarizing the emails. The report would also note that he no longer lived in Venezuela.

The Legion has said Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry and from his work with young people in Venezuela within days of receiving the initial Austrian report.

But the emails seized indicate that the restrictions weren’t necessarily enforced: One from Dec. 20, 2012, suggests that Reséndiz was hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia, news that prompted the leadership to ultimately recommend he be sent for psychological counseling in Mexico and later assigned to an administrative position “where they don’t know his situation.”

Eventually, as part of the church’s in-house investigation, Reséndiz confessed — but only to the Legion and Vatican authorities, and only about other boys he abused, not Martínez’s son.

“I sincerely recognize my terrible behavior as a priest,” he wrote the Vatican official in charge of the sex crimes office in 2012, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller. “Truly I lived in hell when these sad facts occurred. I recognize the gravity of the acts that I committed and I humbly ask the church for forgiveness for these sad and painful facts. I can’t understand how it could have happened, and I recognize that I lacked the courage to admit to the problem and advise my superiors of the danger.”

The Vatican defrocked him on April 5, 2013 — just a few weeks after Italian prosecutors first heard about Martínez’s son.

By October of that year, the Legion was nearing the end of De Paolis’ mandate and clearly wanted to avoid the possibility that the Reséndiz case could explode publicly and jeopardize the plan to resume their independence from the Vatican.

Martínez and her family, for their part, were coping with the trauma of her son’s abuse.

“He would have nightmares. He wouldn’t let me touch him …,” Martínez said. “He couldn’t stand anyone being close to him.”

Once, he was even prevented from throwing himself in front of a subway train.

Martínez had been in regular touch with the Legion priest closest to the family, the Rev. Luca Gallizia, her husband’s spiritual director. He was serving as the family’s contact with the Legion, after all other priests and members of Martínez’s Regnum Christi social circle severed contact — apparently on orders from the leadership.

Gallizia traveled to Milan to meet with Martínez on Oct. 18, 2013, bringing a proposed settlement to compensate the family. They met in a room off the parish playground of the Sant’Eustorgio basilica where Martínez worked.

When Martínez read it later that night with her husband, she was shocked.

“It was a second violation, because for all intents and purposes in that letter, they asked us to deny the facts. And for us it was a stab in the back because it was brought to us by our spiritual father. … He knew everything about us, because my husband confided in him. And that made it even more painful.”

The Legion declined to comment on the proposed settlement, citing the upcoming trial.

The document the Legion wanted Martínez’s family to sign states that her son ruled out having been sexually abused by Reséndiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said he denied having any phone or text message contact with him, and that his ensuing problems were due to the fact that he left the seminary and was having trouble integrating socially into his new public high school.

The document set out payments for the son’s continuing education and therapy and required “absolute” secrecy. If the family were called to testify, they were to make the same declarations as contained in the settlement — denying the abuse.

A few months later, the Legion realized it had erred in leaving the proposal with Martínez and proposed a revised settlement acknowledging the abuse occurred. Now, though, it required the family to pay back double the 15,000 euro ($16,300) settlement offer if they violated the confidentiality agreement.

It was then that Martínez called De Paolis.

“Both my lawyer and I, our jaws dropped,” she told the Vatican cardinal.

The pope’s envoy said he was surprised as well.

“Yes, but this, this is how it’s done in Italy,” he said.

The mother would have none of it. “It’s not a very nice agreement, signing a lie,” Martínez told the cardinal. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want any money, I’m not signing the letter.”

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