A Cloud of Impunity

By Pedro Miguel

From La Jornada, Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Perhaps the spirit of Marcial Maciel Degollado can now be found seated at the table of the Lord, forgiving those who slandered him. Or maybe he is roasting in hell, condemned to eternal damnation for his crimes. The only thing certain is that his body is decaying under a headstone in a cemetery in Cotija, Michoacán [Mexico] and that his final status does not matter to anyone, not even to himself, since he has ceased to exist. Some lament his death because they think he was a good person. Others deplore the fact that he has left this world without him or anyone else having had the opportunity to clear up his victims’ serious and credible accusations, which should have merited a full investigation, and either an exoneration, or a legally binding punishment.

Shamefully, secular and religious authorities prevented any sort of investigation for decades. There was no official moved to investigate the accusations presented, or the charges, which indicated that the priest was a routine sexual predator of minors. The leaders of his church rejected as out of hand and in a sustained manner the most remote possibility that these charges might be true.

The protection offered to Maciel by officials in high political, judicial, business and clerical positions reinforced rather than dissipated suspicions. If the man was as innocent as his protectors knew him to be, it was hard to understand their enthusiastic determination to save him from a either a civil or ecclesiastical trial. This not only denied the opportunity for his alleged victims to see justice done, but it also condemned Maciel to live a life marked by permanent doubt. His sentence was to be that of a man perpetually linked to the term pedophile. The image of the Legionaries of Christ — the organization he founded and which, according to the recently deceased priest’s accusers, saw sexual attacks against minors increase under his leadership — was irreparably undermined.

What is certain is that between 2002 and 2005 church officials in the diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Columbus, Ohio, Richmond, Virginia and Los Angeles, California restricted the order’s activities because it refused to comply with local guidelines regarding the protection of children and minors and because it was trying to recruit young people secretly without informing even local religious authorities. Why such furtive methods? Could it be for the same reason that powerful people do not want to shed light on Maciel’s adventures? Perhaps it is because some devout parents might now think that putting their children in the care of a legionary is tantamount to turning them over to Jean Succar Kuri and his pals. [Translator’s note: Jean Succar Kuri is a Lebanese-born Mexican businessman accused of child pornography, child sexual abuse and statutory rape, and of being involved in a sexual exploitation ring.]

In 1996 six former members of the organization founded by Maciel testified to the abuses he committed against them, and became the objects of a moral lynching campaign in which [Mexico City archbishop] Norberto Rivera Carrera, of course, participated. Twelve years passed from that time until the death of the priest from Cotija — a period in which no civil authority deigned to take note of the matter. John Paul II’s arm was twisted to open an investigation, but he still allowed Maciel to continue kissing his ring. For his own part, Joseph Ratzinger hid the results of his inquiry.

After becoming pontiff, the now Pope Benedict XVI — with exemplary hypocrisy and ambiguity — ostracized the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and ordered him to retire from public life, though without imposing any formal sanction on him. In other words, Mexican government officials and church leaders in both Mexico and Rome had more than a decade to establish the veracity or falsehood of the charges, and threw it all away. From the Vatican to Los Pinos [the Mexican White House] two popes and three presidents, along with their respective subordinates, gave Maciel protection. They granted him de facto immunity as a consequence of this position, which in itself is an insult to decency, and condemned him to die under a cloud of impunity.

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