Exodus as pope’s Legion reform lags

When Pope Benedict XVI took over the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order last year, expectations were high that heads would roll over one of the greatest scandals of the 20th century Roman Catholic Church.

One year later, none of the Legion’s superiors has been held to account for facilitating the crimes of late founder Rev. Marciel Maciel, a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians, fathered three children and created a cult-like movement within the church that damaged some of its members spiritually and emotionally.

An Associated Press tally shows that disillusioned members are leaving the movement in droves as they lose faith that the Vatican will push through the changes needed. The collapse of the order, once one of the most influential in the church, has broader implications for Catholicism, which is shedding members in some places because the hierarchy covered up widespread sexual abuse by priests.

In an exclusive interview, the man tapped by Benedict to turn the Legion around insisted that the pope tasked him only with guiding the Legion and helping rewrite its norms – not “decapitating” its leadership or avenging wrongdoing.

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis ruled out any further investigation into the crimes of Maciel, who as a favorite of Pope John Paul II had been held up as a living saint despite well-founded allegations – later proven – that he was a pedophile.

“I don’t see what good would be served” by further inquiry into a coverup, the Italian cardinal said. “Rather, we would run the risk of finding ourselves in an intrigue with no end. Because these are things that are too private for me to go investigating.”

The Holy See knew of the pedophile accusations, yet for years ignored his victims – as well as complaints about his cult-like sect – because he attracted men and money to the priesthood. As it is, John Paul’s legacy was marred by his close association with Maciel; Benedict’s legacy, already tarnished by the sex abuse scandal, may well rest in part on how he cleans up Maciel’s mess.

Critics, including some Vatican officials, contend De Paolis has an obligation to uncover the truth and take more radical action, given that the Vatican itself found Maciel created a twisted, abusive order to cater to his double life.

The Vatican also determined that for the Legion to survive it must be “purified” of the influence of Maciel, who died in 2008, since its very structure and culture had been so contaminated by his obsession with obedience and secrecy. Members were forbidden from criticizing their superiors, were isolated from their families, and told how to do everything from praying to eating an orange.

In the absence of radical change, the movement has seen a dramatic decline in membership since the scandal was revealed in 2009.

An estimated 70 of the 890 Legion priests and upwards of a third of the movement’s 900 consecrated women have left or are taking time away to ponder their future. Seminarians have fled – 232 last year alone, an unusually high 16 percent dropout rate for one year. New recruits are expected to number fewer than 100 this year, half what they averaged before the scandal.

The AP compiled the figures based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former members, who outlined inconsistencies in partial statistics provided by the Legion.

In August, about 20 current and former Legion priests met secretly for a week in Cordoba, Spain, to discuss forming an association to support Legion priests who leave the order, participants told the AP. The move could well encourage more to leave.

And earlier this month, the six editors of the Legion-affiliated Catholic news agency Zenit quit en masse, following the resignation of Zenit’s founder. He had cited differences in editorial vision and a loss of trust with the Legion’s superiors over the way they covered up Maciel’s crimes.

The Rev. Richard Gill, a prominent U.S. Legion priest until he left the congregation in 2010 after 29 years, has openly criticized De Paolis’ efforts, particularly his refusal to remove compromised superiors, saying “dismissals will be needed to restore some measure of confidence in the Legion.”

He called for an investigation into the origins of the scandal and noted that for most of the 70-odd priests who have left, “loss of trust in the leadership has been the primary reason.”

Claudia Madero left the movement in August after living like a nun for 35 years, citing the refusal of her Mexican superiors and De Paolis to embrace change.

“It’s true there have been some changes, but these are incidental, not essential,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Benedict, however, gave De Paolis an unofficial vote of confidence last month when he kept him on as his Legion envoy while letting the 76-year-old Italian retire as head of the Vatican’s economics office.

Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to say if the pope thought De Paolis’ mandate should be changed given the exodus, saying the cardinal speaks for himself.

Legion spokesman the Rev. Andreas Schoeggl, meanwhile, gave De Paolis a thumbs up, saying his work had been “great,” with all Legion priests helping rewrite the order’s constitutions – a shift from the past when decisions were made only at the top.

Yet if the current membership trends continue, the Legion may simply wither away as fewer people join a scandal-tainted congregation that the Vatican itself said has no clearly defined “charism” – a church term for the essential spirit that inspires a religious order and makes it unique.

After all, what would happen to the Franciscans if St. Francis were discredited? The Missionaries of Charity if Mother Teresa were found to be a fraud?

De Paolis paused when asked to define the Legion’s charism. “Bella domanda,” he said – “good question.” Noting that it was a work in progress, De Paolis cited the Legion’s evangelical zeal and insisted that even without a clearly defined charism, the vast majority of Legion members are happy, doing good work and serving the church.

But three current members of the movement say the reality is more complex: Some are thinking of leaving but haven’t taken the leap, some are in denial of the extent of the scandals, while others are actively working toward reform.

Members have coined the terms “awake” and “asleep” to describe where colleagues are in discovering the abuses of the Legion system, a process that is complicated by the Legion’s restrictions on use of the Internet and email.

And despite some changes, abuses continue: “Dissidents” are transferred away from their communities and subject to emotional harassment to test their resolve, three current members said on condition of anonymity because of fear of punishment.

De Paolis defended his commitment and approach to the reform, saying said he had “inserted” himself into the Legion’s administration, expanded the Legion’s governing council and shuffled some superiors around. He said he hasn’t dismissed any superiors outright because he needs them to learn the complex details of the order’s structure, culture and finances.

“How can I, someone who doesn’t know the Legion, who knows only a bit of Spanish, enter saying I’m in charge?” he asked. “If they (the superiors) wanted to sabotage me, it would have been so easy. If I had made myself the superior, they wouldn’t give me information, they would have hidden it from me.” He said his priority was to persuade the Legion’s leaders to sow change from within.

Maciel founded the Legion in Mexico in 1941 and it became one of the fastest-growing religious orders in the world, praised by Vatican officials who routinely celebrated Masses for the Legion and in Maciel’s honor.

Victims began to go public in the mid-1990s with allegations that Maciel had sexually abused them as seminarians, but the Vatican shut down a church trial, only to resurrect it years later. Maciel was sentenced in 2006 to a lifetime of penance and prayer – an inglorious end for a man who had enjoyed unparalleled access to the pope.

In his interview with the AP, De Paolis revealed for the first time that the Legion had reached financial settlements with “four or five” people who said they were sexually abused by Maciel, paying a relatively modest $21,000 to $28,000 (euro15,000-euro20,000) apiece. Negotiations, however, stalled with one victim who demanded millions, he said.

No one has publicly accused top Legion superiors of sexual abuse. But few believe Maciel’s closest aides were ignorant of his double life, given that he would disappear for weeks on end with thousands of dollars to visit his family and, by the end of his life, was openly living with his girlfriend.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican’s evangelization office, said last year that the Vatican would be wise to look at who covered up for Maciel inside the Legion – “those who took his appointments, those who kept his agenda, those who drove him around.”

Yet some suggest De Paolis’ reluctance to investigate the coverup is based on fears the revelations could point to complicity by Vatican officials, who defended Maciel even after the sex abuse allegations were established.

“With the Legion I believe there were some who knew, but very few,” De Paolis said of Holy See officials. “The others saw that this group was blossoming, that it brought fruits, it offered a service to the church.”

De Paolis says he wants to save the fruits, the good that remains in the Legion. But those who have been harmed insist the Vatican must assign blame where it’s due and fix the wrongs, or lose all credibility.

“We’re angry at the church for allowing this,” said Peter Kingsland, a Catholic from Surrey, British Columbia, whose daughter was consecrated in 1992. “They could have claimed ignorance before, but they’re no longer ignorant – and now they’re a party to it.”

Complete Article HERE!

Legion of Christ investigation: The cover-up continues

The Associated Press has another disturbing story about the ongoing investigation into the Legion of Christ, once the darling of the Vatican establishment and a special favorite of Pope John Paul II, whose founder, Marciel Maciel, turned out to be a drug addict and pedophile, who also fathered children with at least two women and whose financial machinations included bribery and financial misconduct.

Now, as Legionaires leave the order in droves, the Italian cardinal charged with cleaning up the mess has taken a pass on digging up the truth and removing from leadership those that abetted Maciel’s crimes, including those against his own seminarians. From the AP story:

“I don’t see what good would be served” by further inquiry into a coverup, the Italian cardinal [Velasio De Paolis] said. “Rather, we would run the risk of finding ourselves in an intrigue with no end. Because these are things that are too private for me to go investigating.”

Too private? It’s that kind of “privacy” that abets those who abuse their power, especially in sexual ways. Another word for it is secrecy.

If the church ever needed a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission,

the Legion situation is it. Journalists such as Jason Berry have uncovered the financial means by which Maciel exerted influence in the Vatican (see his book Render unto Rome), including outright bribes to influential Vatican officials. The perversity of Maciel’s sexual behavior is magnified by the perversity of the Legion’s formation, which forbid criticism of the founder and required loyalty oaths and secrecy, all contrary to the gospel.

De Paolis as much as admitted that he could discern no overriding “charism” in the Legion–the mission or driving force behind its mission–which is reason enough to disband it. (“Bella domanda”–“good question”–he answered in the AP story.) Indeed, the Legion was created out of Maciel’s profound sinfulness, through which he manipulated the good intentions of the many people who came to join him. It is the duty of the church to help them heal, and if they are able, to find other ways to serve God’s people.

The Legion itself must go–but only after what is still hidden in darkness is brought to light.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican sexual abuse inquiry into Ealing Abbey given short shrift

Alleged victims of sexual abuse have reacted coolly to the news of a Vatican investigation into a London abbey, and have called for inquiries into other Roman Catholic institutions where children are claimed to have been mistreated.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has ordered an “apostolic visitation” to uncover the scale of abuse at Ealing abbey, where monks and lay teachers have been accused of mistreating children at a neighbouring school, St Benedict’s, over decades.

It is the first inquiry of its kind into sexual abuse in Britain. Father David Pearce, a priest at Ealing abbey, was jailed in 2009.

Groups supporting alleged victims have questioned the effectiveness and integrity of an internal inquiry, especially given that its findings will remain secret.

The abuse is alleged to have dated from the 1960s to 2009.

Pete Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said it was a public relations exercise and akin to “putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.

Anne Lawrence of Ministry and Clerical Sexual Abuse Survivors, said although the Ealing inquiry showed the Catholic hierarchy was beginning to understand the concept of institutional responsibility, there were other schools and other places that warranted investigation. There were, she alleged, “more than 20 schools where there was systematic abuse and we would like to see inquiries into all of them”.

Relations between the church and survivor groups are already under strain. Earlier this month the Guardian revealed that victim support groups had pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS).

They described them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope’s deadline for a progress report expires.

The talks were intended to come up with a care package for survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and says he was abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said: “We were prepared to talk to [the institution] that had harmed us, even though it was uncomfortable … [But] we can’t trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing.”

The Catholic church in England and Wales has not suffered the same fate as those in Ireland and the US, which have been left reeling by abuse allegations.

It has defended its child protection procedures, describing them as robust, and has apologised for past behaviour. But there is evidence to suggest that for all its commitment to healing and contrition, old attitudes prevail.

Two civil cases show the church continuing to engage in a war of attrition with victims who were abused as children.

It has denied responsibility for the alleged sexual abuse of a Portsmouth woman by one of its priests, saying the cleric was not an employee. Should the church win, it will avoid having to pay compensation to victims in the future.

In another case, involving more than 150 former pupils suing for an estimated £8m for sexual and physical abuse they claim to have suffered at St William’s boys home in Market Weighton, Yorkshire, the diocese of Middlesbrough is contesting a court ruling that it is jointly liable with the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic order of lay teachers, for the alleged abuse. St William’s was owned by the diocese but many of the staff were members of the Brotherhood.

Claims were first launched in 2004 when the home’s former principal, Brother James Carragher, was jailed for 14 years for abusing boys. The appeal will be heard next July in the supreme court.

Complete Article HERE!

U.S. Catholics charting own path, poll says

American Roman Catholics are a curious mix of rebelliousness and loyalty, according to a new study.

When it comes to moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality and sex outside marriage, American Catholics are more likely to listen to their own consciences than to the pope, bishops and other church leaders.

Fewer than one-third attend Mass weekly, but 88 percent think parish priests do good work.

Only half of Catholics know that the church teaches that the bread and wine of Holy Communion actually transform into the physical body and blood of Christ, but of those who know, the vast majority believe it.

They say that Jesus’ Resurrection, helping the poor and the Virgin Mary are the most-important aspects of their faith; Vatican authority and a celibate, all-male clergy rank at the bottom.

Most American Catholics have what researcher William D’Antonio called “medium-level” commitment.

D’Antonio, a sociologist at Catholic University of America in Washington, wrote the report with other academics. It was published yesterday by the National Catholic Reporter newspaper.

“They like being Catholic, but they do it on their own terms,” he said.

D’Antonio has seen this trend grow since he started polling Catholics in 1987.

In that year, for example, 34 percent of respondents said church leaders should have the final say on the morality of sex outside marriage, 42 percent said it should be up to individuals and 21 percent said “both.” The rest didn’t answer.

Today, 16 percent of Catholics say that church leaders are the final authority on nonmarital sex. Fifty-three percent said it is up to the individual, and 30 percent said that both sources should be consulted.

The 2011 survey polled 1,442 adult Catholics nationwide.

“Many Catholics have figured out that one of the most-important teachings of Vatican II is that you should ultimately look to your own conscience,” D’Antonio said.

The sex-abuse scandal didn’t help the bishops’ authority, said Tom Roberts, editor-at-large of the National Catholic Reporter.

Many Catholics “see the sex-abuse crisis as having a corrosive effect on the bishops’ ability to speak with moral authority in the wider culture,” he said. More than 8 of 10 respondents said the crisis hurt church leaders’ credibility.

Still, people tend to like their own bishop, Roberts said.

Deacon Tom Berg Jr., vice chancellor for the Diocese of Columbus and spokesman for Bishop Frederick F. Campbell, declined to comment because he had not seen the study. Campbell’s predecessor, Bishop James A. Griffin, also declined comment.

The disillusionment with the institutional church might be because people have seen the church as more of a business than a spiritual institution, said the Rev. Jeff Coning, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in New Philadelphia. They can become disheartened when a church goes bankrupt or pays a sex-abuse settlement, he said.

He said the lack of deference to bishops is “alarming, because the bishops represent the apostles, who represent Jesus.”

Sister Barbara Kolesar, of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Clintonville, said some people ignore what’s right to do what’s easy.

“I think we call those people ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ ” she said. “They pick and choose what they want as it suits them.”

D’Antonio said one of the most telling findings about the attitude of American Catholics can be seen when they are asked about politics.

The survey found that 57 percent leaned Democratic and 40 percent Republican. But 85 percent of both groups said you can disagree with church teachings and still be a loyal Catholic.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican investigating sexual abuse allegations at Benedictine abbey in England

The Vatican has ordered an inquiry into decades of sexual abuse by clerics at a Benedictine abbey in London, whose former head monk has disappeared while facing allegations of sexual assault.

Ealing Abbey runs St. Benedict’s School, a private Catholic institution whose former pupils have made allegations of abuse dating back to the 1960s.

A former headmaster, Father David Pearce, was jailed in 2009 for abusing boys at the school over a 35-year period. He was dubbed the “devil in a dog collar” by one of his victims.

Father Laurence Soper, who was abbot of Ealing between 1991 and 2000, was arrested last year on suspicion of sexual assault. He is the subject of an international manhunt after jumping bail in March.

The Vatican confirmed Tuesday it had launched an investigation, known as an apostolic visitation.

Bishop John Arnold and the Right Rev. Richard Yeo, president of the English Benedictine Congregation, visited Ealing Abbey last month as part of the Vatican inquiry, according to Eddie Tulasiewicz, spokesman for the Catholic diocese of Westminster.

St. Benedict’s School is holding its own inquiry into the scandal, led by lawyer Lord Carlile, and his report is due to be published soon.

London’s Metropolitan Police said police are trying to trace Soper, the former abbot arrested and bailed last year on suspicion of “historic sexual assault.”

Ealing’s current abbot, Martin Shipperlee, said earlier this month that in March, Soper “left the monastery in Rome where he had been living to travel to London for an appointment with the police.”

“Unfortunately he failed to keep that appointment and we have heard nothing from him since and all efforts to contact him have been without success,” Shipperlee said in a statement.

The wide-ranging clergy abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic church, from the Vatican to parishes around the world. Thousands of victims have spoken out about priests who molested children, bishops who covered up for them and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the problem for decades.

Britain, where Catholics make up about 10 percent of the population, has been less traumatized than neighboring Ireland, a once-devoutly Catholic nation whose faith has been profoundly shaken by the scale of the abuse. There, judge-led investigations have revealed how tens of thousands of children suffered repeated abuses in workhouse-style residential schools.

Complete Article HERE!