[First of all, thanks for all the kind inquiries about the site. It was down because of a server-wide glitch of some sort, which has now been taken care of. Happy Easter to all of you!]
This week, the spotlight will be on Rome because of the canonisations taking place there: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Unfortunately, what should be a tremendous celebration will be overshadowed by the sex abuse scandal that touched each of their terms as head of the Universal Church. While so much has finally been done to curb abuse and put in place policies to flag and punish abusers, the one fly in the ointment remains: Maciel's Legion of Christ:
Pope Francis has inherited John Paul's most notorious failure on the sex abuse front - the Legion of Christ order, which John Paul and his top advisers held up as a model. Francis, who will canonize John Paul on Sunday, must decide whether to sign off on the Vatican's three-year reform project, imposed after the Legion admitted that its late founder sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children.
Yet the Legion's 2009 admission about the Rev. Marcial Maciel's double life was by no means news to the Vatican. Documents from the archives of the Vatican's then-Sacred Congregation for Religious show how asuccession of papacies - including that of John XXIII, also to be canonized Sunday - simply turned a blind eye to credible reports that Maciel was a con artist, drug addict, pedophile and religious fraud.
By 1948, seven years after Maciel founded the order, the Holy See had documents from Vatican-appointedenvoys and bishops in Mexico and Spain questioning the legitimacy of Maciel's ordination (by his uncle, after Maciel was expelled by a series of seminaries), noting the questionable legal foundation of his order and flagging his "totalitarian" behavior and spiritual violations of his young seminarians.
The documents show the Holy See was well aware of Maciel's drug abuse, sexual abuse and financial improprieties as early as 1956, when it ordered an initial investigation and suspended him for two years to kick a morphine habit.
Yet for decades, Rome looked the other way, thanks to Maciel's ability to keep his own priests quiet, his foresight to place trusted Legion priests in key Vatican offices and his careful cultivation of Vatican cardinals, Mexican bishops and wealthy, powerful lay Catholics. Vatican officials were impressed instead by the orthodoxy of his priests and Maciel's ability to attract new vocations and donations.
John Paul, who in 1994 praised Maciel as an "efficacious guide to youth," wasn't alone in being duped. His top advisers were some of Maciel's fiercest supporters, convinced that the accusations against him were the typical "calumnies" hurled at the greatest of saints. They were swayed instead by numerous testimonies from bishops and others of his greatness - documentation which also features in the Vatican archives, which were leaked and put online in 2012 by some of his Mexican victims.
The problem wouldn't be so distracting if the faithful didn't have such little confidence in the reform of the Legion. Besides the fact that previous superiors were not investigatd or held accountable for the misdeeds, which had to have been aided on some level (the misdirected cash, the procuration and administration of drugs, the covering for MM when he was unwell/unfit for priestly duties, the accomodations for the founder in non-apostolic settings, the support of women and children, etc.) there is also the question of who in the Curia allowed the irregularities to go uncensured. Neither of these problems have been addressed; indeed the Papal Delegate insisted that they were outside the scope of the reform.
Maciel's fraud, one of the greatest scandals of the 20th-century Catholic Church, raises uncomfortable questions for today's Vatican about how so many people could have been duped for so long. It also brings into question how the church's own structure, values and priorities enabled a cult-like order to grow from within and how far accountability for all the harm done should go.
Finally, it begs the question of whether the order has really been purged of the abuses that allowed generations of priests to subject themselves to blind obedience to a false prophet.
And thus we face an unprecedented ceremony, which should be a shining moment for the Church, and yet every news story will have the dreaded footnote: John Paul II missed the signals on this group, and the Church has yet to address the heart of this problem that will remain with us for the forseeable future.