Fr MacielLast Saturday the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict had taken control of the Legionaries of Christ, an order of priests whose founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, was dismissed from priestly duties in 2006 and ordered to live a life of prayer and penance as a result of sexual abuse and other offences.

The Pope, who last week received a report on the Legionaries from five bishops who conducted an apostolic visitation of the order, will appoint a special delegate to govern the Legionaries, a commission to examine the Legionaries’ constitution, and an apostolic visitor to guide Regnum Christi, the lay movement associated with the Legion of Christ.

The Vatican said:

The serious and objectively immoral behavior of Fr. Maciel, supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling. The large majority of Legionaries were unaware of that life, particularly because of the system of relations created by Fr. Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up an alibi, to gain the trust, confidence and surrounding silence and strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Once again the New York Times has taken pains to implicate Benedict in the scandal, referring to “delays and bureaucratic caution that have emerged in [this and] the handling of other sexual abuse matters crossing Benedict’s desk, whether as an archbishop in Munich or a cardinal in Rome.”

Despite throwing in a few comments supportive of his efforts while in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and since then, the Times’ narrative portrays him as bowing to Vatican “politics” and implies that he may have acted in the end out of self-interest:

And in late 2004, it was clear that Cardinal Ratzinger would be playing an important role in a future conclave to elect the next pope. And with the pope’s health and power waning, Cardinal Ratzinger may have felt a freer hand in acting against a figure protected by others in the Vatican — possibly to clear the decks for the next pope, possibly to remove a stain on John Paul’s record or his own, should he be considered for the papacy.

But it is former Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano — “now dean of the college of cardinals and an outspoken defender of Benedict” — who is shown in the worst light. (Subtext: With friends like this, who needs enemies?) He is portrayed as a close friend and defender of Fr Maciel and the one, above all, who blocked action against him. The finger pointing here comes mainly from Jason Berry, on the staff of the dissident Catholic paper the National Catholic Reporter, and from a Mexican priest — ex-priest, according to this webpage — Alberto Athie Gallo, who took up the case of one of Fr Maciel’s victims.

Update: The Times has done the papal-guilt-by-association trick again in this narrative about Cardinal William Levada, designed to show that he handled the sex abuse issue poorly much of the time. The story mentions early that, “by the time the questions [about his actions as bishop in San Francisco and Portland dioceses] were being asked, the cardinal had assumed an exalted position at the Vatican just vacated by his old friend Pope Benedict XVI, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” And it ends by repeating, “Less than two years later, Pope Benedict XVI brought his old friend to Rome.” The Times’ goal appears to be to situate Benedict at the centre of a dishonest or at least incompetent church administration.


Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet