Like a president, potentate or prime minister, how a pope spends his time, and with whom he chooses to spend it, is significant. At a minimum it sends a signal — who is in or out of favor, whose ideas have proved triumphant, who, bottom line, has the man’s ear.
Style over substance? Perhaps. But still important.
Which brings us to with whom Pope John Paul II chose to spend time Nov. 30: Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. As readers of this publication are aware, Maciel is a papal favorite. The Legionaries, with 500 priests and 2,000 seminarians, shares John Paul II’s theological outlook. At the closing celebration of events marking the 60th anniversary of Maciel’s ordination, the pope heaped praise on the Mexican priest and honored the work of the Legionaries and their lay affiliate, Regnum Christi.
Maciel, however, is also an accused child molester. Eight former Legionary seminarians say he abused them. As this paper previously reported: “The men say Maciel first abused them when they were young boys or teenagers between the ages of 10 and 16, sometimes telling them he had permission from Pope Pius XII to engage in sexual acts with them in order to gain relief from pain related to an unspecified stomach ailment.”
Maciel vigorously denies the allegations. The Vatican, by all indications, has whitewashed its investigation into the charges.
But, and here’s a key point, his accusers exude credibility. They include an engineer, a schoolteacher, a lawyer, a rancher, a Harvard-educated scholar, a professor at the U.S. Defense Languages School, a psychology professor and a retired priest. A distinguished group, united only, they say, in an effort to expose the truth about the man who sexually abused them.
If Maciel were a U.S. priest, under procedures approved by the American bishops and recognized by the Vatican in 2002, he would be removed from active ministry, declared unfit to wear a Roman collar. Instead, he is honored by the Holy Father (see story).
Meanwhile, despite numerous requests, Pope John Paul II has yet to meet with victims of clergy sex abuse.
There’s a tendency, an understandable one in some respects, to make excuses for the way the pope has dealt with the worldwide clergy sex abuse crisis: He is ill, it is said, or he must keep the big picture in mind, or these are issues that local bishops must resolve.
But John Paul II has made a choice. He praised Maciel, but refuses to meet with victims of those who, in the churchÂ¹s name, hold themselves out as the image of Christ on Earth. The pope’s priorities are, to say the least, askew.
On Dec. 1, the day after honoring Maciel, the pope told a public audience that leaders need to be “honest and just, promote peace and take care of the weak and needy.” Leaders who carry out their roles in this fashion, he said, “will enjoy the respect of [their] people.”
The pope is sending a confusing mix of messages.
National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004
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