It’s Sunset Boulevard for the Cardinal Secretary of State

ROMA, March 2, 2006 For the Vatican curia, the upcoming consistory from March 23-25 will be very Lenten, and really hardly festive at all.

Only three of the curia heads waiting for the cardinal’s purple will receive it. Of those left standing at the gate, the most famous, archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, not only was not promoted as a cardinal, but was demoted as a nuncio in Egypt.

Step by step, with a few well-aimed decisions, Benedict XVI has already expunged two of the bastions in the curia that were opposed to him: the Congregation for the Liturgy, with the appointment as secretary of an archbishop of Sri Lanka in his trust, Albert M. Ranjith Patabendige Don, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with Fitzgerald’s dismissal as president.

And now everyone in the curia is waiting ‘or fearing’ for the next blow to fall against the secretariat of state, with the retirement on account of age of its senior office holder, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

* * *

Sodano, 78 years old, from Isola da Asti in Piedmont, seems to have no intention of leaving. On the contrary; in recent weeks he has sought instead to put out of commission another cardinal whom he has always considered his archrival, the pope’s vicar and the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, CEI, Camillo Ruini.

The trouble is that Ruini is incomparably more highly favored by Benedict XVI than Sodano is. And as a result the latter’s maneuver has turned back against himself. In the current secretary of state, Pope Joseph Ratzinger now sees more of an obstacle than a help.

There is a backdrop to Sodano’s maneuver: the audience Benedict XVI held with Ruini on January 2 of this year.

At that audience, Ruini handed over to the pope the letter of resignation that every bishop is required to write when he turns 75 years old, a resignation that the pope can choose to accept or not accept. Ruini turned 75 on February 19, and the following March 6 his third five-year term as president of the Italian bishops’ conference will also come to an end. But Benedict wants him to remain in office, both as vicar and as president. The pope sees that he is already too isolated, both in the curia and outside of it, to separate himself from a cardinal like Ruini, who agrees to an extraordinary extent with his vision and his program.

But nothing of this twofold confirmation was said publicly. The practice in regard to the office of vicar is for the office holder to remain at his post until the pope tells him he has accepted his resignation. As for the presidency of the CEI, there is time until March 6. And even here the decision belongs to the pope as the bishop of Rome and primate of Italy, unlike other nations in which the president of the conference is elected by the bishops.

In 1991, 1996, and 2001, John Paul II, each time before he made Ruini head of the CEI, asked for the advice of the presidents of the sixteen regions into which the Italian episcopacy is subdivided.

But this time ‘and this was at the end of January’ rather than the pope, the secretariat of state extended the consultation to all of the 226 bishops in office. To each one, the nuncio in Italy Paolo Romeo sent a letter under the seal of pontifical secrecy, asking the recipient to ‘indicate coram Domino’ and with gracious solicitude the prelate that you would like to suggest.

But there’s more in the letter. It begins by stating in no uncertain terms that ‘next March 6 the mandate of the Most Eminent Cardinal Camillo Ruini as president of the CEI will come to a conclusion’? And it continues by asserting that ‘the Holy Father thinks that a change in the office of the presidency is in order.’

The letter bears the date of January 26, and the only one to whom it was not sent was Ruini. But he was immediately made aware of it. And Benedict XVI was also informed, and discovered that it said the opposite of what he was planning to do.

On February 6, the nuncio who signed the letter, Romeo, was called by Benedict XVI for an audience. The pope asked him how and why this initiative came about. Romeo left the audience in shambles, but Sodano was the one who was really trembling.

On February 9, Benedict XVI received Ruini together with his right hand man, the secretary general of the CEI, bishop Giuseppe Betori. They both received the pope’s reassurances. News of the letter had not yet leaked to the outside.

But a few days later, the news agencies and newspapers were writing about it, attributing the idea for the letter to the pope and to his desire to decide ‘more collegially’ on a replacement for Ruini. And in fact, on the morning of February 14, as soon as he saw the complete text of the letter published in two newspapers, a very irritated Benedict XVI picked up the telephone and ordered that his confirmation of Ruini as president of the CEI be made public immediately. The pope’s order was so peremptory that the Vatican press office released the news before any of the other communications of the day.

By confirming Ruini, the pope invalidated the letter of Romeo, a.k.a Sodano, which had pegged Ruini as a has-been.

* * *

There’s something else that makes Sodano’s remaining in office questionable. Among the new cardinals chosen by the pope, there are personalities who constitute a living contradiction of the ecclesiastical geopolitics dear to the secretary of state.

For example, Sodano has always pursued a very submissive policy with China, in agreement with the most pro-Chinese of the cardinals in the curia, Roger Etchegaray of France, the author of a book on this subject that is almost utterly silent on the oppression of which Christians are the victims in that country.

Sodano once said that, in order to establish diplomatic relations with China, he was ready to move the Vatican nunciature from Taipei to Beijing ‘not tomorrow, but this very evening’. This statement provoked great irritation among the persecuted Chinese Catholics, and in particular with the combative bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, according to whom religious liberty should come before any sort of diplomatic accommodation.
It is bishop Zen who is the most closely watched of the new cardinals chosen by Benedict XVI. He will be the one to suggest the how and the when for a new policy on China for the Church.

Apart from Zen, pope Ratzinger wanted to create two other cardinals in Asia, a continent that Sodano has overlooked but which the present pope sees as crucial.

One of these is the archbishop of Seoul, and the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who is impatient to enter as a missionary into North Korea and is a staunch defender of life and of the family in a country that is a theatre of reckless experimentation in biotechnology.

Another is the archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio B. Rosales. The Philippines is the most Catholic country in Asia, with millions of emigrants all over the world, many of whom are persecuted on account of their faith in the Muslim countries where they work.

Benedict XVI has also brought about a correction of the previous Vatican line in regard to Islam. In removing Archbishop Fitzgerald from the curia, the pope has said the last word on the symposia that he loved to organize with Muslim leaders like sheikh Yussef-Al-Qaradwi or the heads of Al-Azhar, who signed ceremonious appeals for peace with the Vatican and then, the next day, inflamed the crowds by exalting holy war and the suicide terrorists.

The change of course desired by Benedict XVI also draws the Church closer to Israel. Sodano was a great admirer of Yasser Arafat, and is a supporter of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who is ardently pro-Palestinian. But Pope Ratzinger immediately flanked Sabbah with a more moderate auxiliary who will succeed him in two years, Fouad Twal of Jordan, previously the archbishop of Tunis. And is planning to appoint as the bishop of the Hebrew Christians who live in the state of Israel the present custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is viewed very favorably by the Israeli authorities.

Who will be the next secretary of state and when he will be nominated is a secret that Benedict XVI is guarding carefully. But it is certain that Sodano is on his way out.

With him gone, also gone will be a barrier to a decision on the fate of the powerful founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, with whom Sodano is very close. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has completed a thoroughly detailed preliminary investigation of the accusations against Maciel’s sexual abuse of his seminarians and violation of the sacrament of confession.

Last Good Friday, shortly before he was elected pope, Ratzinger indicated this sort of filth as one of the evils that must be eliminated from the Church.

The complete text of the letter sent to the Italian bishops without the pope’s knowledge:

Most Reverend Excellency,

As you know, next March 6 the mandate of the Most Eminent Cardinal Camillo Ruini as president of the CEI will come to a conclusion.

The Holy Father, who has always appreciated very much the service rendered by the Most Eminent Cardinal to the Italian Church, thinks nonetheless that, in part because of his upcoming seventy-fifth birthday, a change in the office of the presidency is in order.

To this end it is my duty and privilege to address Your Excellency, asking you to indicate to me, coram Domino and with courteous solicitude, the Prelate that you intend to suggest for the aforementioned office.

This consultation, in consideration of its importance and delicacy, is subject to the pontifical seal of secrecy, which requires the utmost caution with all persons.

Finally, I would ask you to return this letter together with your response, without keeping copies of anything.

Until then, I warmly thank you for the help that you, through the agency of this Apostolic Nunciature, shall desire to give the Successor of Peter in such an important and delicate matter.

Paolo Romeo, Apostolic Nuncio
Rome, January 26, 2006

The Vatican press release from February 14, 2006, invalidating the letter:
The Holy Father has confirmed Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar general for the diocese of Rome, as president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, donec aliter provideatur.

The Latin formula donec aliter provideatur means until further notice.
In other words: Ruini has been confirmed for an undetermined length of time.

Controversial order opens new boarding school, Ultraconservative founder draws criticism and praise.



South Bend Tribune
September 12, 2005
Picture caption:
Kevin McKenzie, left, and Gregory Heslip, Legionaries of Christ seminarians, speak about the order’s new “minor seminary” at Rolling Prairie for grades 7 through 12. Both men, now 23 and 24, say they first entered such schools at age 12 and 14.


ROLLING PRAIRIE — An ultraconservative and controversial Catholic group has opened a new boarding school for boys interested in the priesthood at the former Le Mans Academy.

The Legionaries of Christ is calling this “minor seminary” school, its third in the United States, Sacred Heart Apostolic School. It ultimately is to contain grades 7 through 12, but has begun this school year with a group of 18 boys in seventh and eighth grades. The school plans to add a grade level each year with an ultimate goal of 100 to 120 students, spokesman Jay Dunlap said.

The orthodox religious order, which claims 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries, has been embraced by conservative Catholics such as the late Pope John Paul II and actor/director Mel Gibson, whose movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” enraged many Jewish people over how they were portrayed.

But critics say the Legionaries of Christ recruits boys at too young an age for the priesthood, isolates them from their families and “brainwashes” them to follow its conservative doctrine, forbids members from criticizing their leaders, is ruthless in its fundraising, and, among other things, violates the confidentiality of confession by forcing seminarians to confess their sins to priests who also act as their superiors.

On top of those concerns are sexual abuse allegations from at least eight men — some of whom went on to become priests — against the congregation’s powerful founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel.The men, most of whom are Mexican, say Maciel molested them in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s while they were seminarians.

The Legion’s sharpest critic is a group called the Religious Groups Awareness International Network which formed in 2003 as a communications outlet for men and women who have had bad experiences with the Legion or its lay movement, Regnum Christi. The network could contain up to 800 members, ReGAIN board member Glenn Favreau said.

Is there an investigation?

Favreau, 41, entered a Legion seminary at age 20 and by 33 was just a few months away from ordination as a priest when he quit. He is now a law student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Favreau said he left partly because he came to realize that Maciel leads an opulent life, despite the vows of poverty Legionaries are supposed to take.

“I began to see less and less of Jesus Christ and more of power plays of individuals,” Favreau said.

As a seminarian, Favreau said he was not allowed much contact with his parents. Those who want to leave find it difficult, sometimes because they are convinced that if they leave they will go to hell, and sometimes because they have no money or resources, Favreau and other former Legion seminarians have said.

“They control people to the nth degree … they brainwash,” he said. “They really put a clamp on your conscience and everything in your conscience is managed and reported to a very small number of superiors.”

Dunlap, the Legion spokesman, categorically refuted ReGAIN’s accusations, and called the group a “vocal minority.”

“They’re people who were Legionaries for some time but they weren’t happy, and now they’ve chosen to be negative about it, which is sad,” Dunlap said.

“Time and time again we’ve had families send more than one son to our schools because they see they’re getting an excellent education and spiritual formation,” Dunlap said. “The vast majority of families that have had an experience with our schools speak very highly of them.”

Dunlap said the Legion has investigated ReGAIN’s complaints and found no evidence of their validity. And he said the Vatican conducted a thorough investigation in the late 1950s into the sexual abuse allegations against Maciel, and found they were unsubstantiated.

Dunlap referred to a statement issued in May by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, reportedly a longtime friend of Maciel’s, which said there was no longer an investigation and none was foreseen. The statement was picked up widely by news outlets worldwide.

However, the National Catholic Reporter published a story a few days later noting that it is the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly headed by the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI, that has authority over such cases.

John Allen, who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter, told The Tribune that his sources, whom he does not name, say the investigation remains ongoing.

“The office that handles these cases has said nothing, but I and others have reported that they’re continuing their preliminary investigation,” Allen said.

More alleged victims came forward in 1994, after being angered when Pope John Paul II called Maciel an “efficacious guide to youth,” according to a National Catholic Reporter story.

Father Richard McBrien, a nationally known theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, believes the sexual abuse allegations are credible, based largely on his reading of a book detailing them, “Vows of Silence — The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II,” by Catholic writers Jason Berry and Gerald Renner.

In a review on the book’s cover, McBrien calls the Legion “cultlike.”

“If he were a United States priest living here under the new guidelines adopted by the Conference of Bishops, he would be removed from ministry,” McBrien said of Maciel, 84, who founded the order in Mexico City in 1941 and stepped down as its leader last year. “It reflects on the whole congregation, of course it does. What kind of organization do we have here?”

Dunlap said McBrien is more likely to believe the allegations because he is a liberal who disagrees with the Legion’s conservative dogma.

McBrien also has a problem with recruiting boys for the priesthood at such a young age.

“I think it’s pretty bad,” he said. “If I were a parent, I wouldn’t let them do it.”

But Kevin McKenzie, a 23-year-old Legion seminarian who works on recruiting, said he knew at age 7 that he wanted to be a priest.

“I said, ‘Hey, I can do this and maybe this is what God wants me to be,'” he said. “It’s not like everyone who goes there becomes a priest, it’s just an environment where you can focus on whether you want to be a priest.”

Not welcome everywhere

Bishops in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus, Ohio, have banned the Legion from operating in their areas, while another diocese, Baton Rouge, La., has expressed concerns.

In a November letter to his pastors and parish life administrators, St. Paul/Minneapolis Bishop Harry Flynn said neither the Legion nor its lay group, Regnum Christi, were to be active in any way in the archdiocese. Flynn wrote that pastors “continue to sense that a ‘parallel church’ is being encouraged, one that separates persons from the local parish and archdiocese, and creates competing structures. That is simply unacceptable.”

Fort Wayne/South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy declined to comment on the Legion.

Gary Diocese Bishop Dale Melczek, in whose diocese Rolling Prairie lies, gave the Legion his permission to open the school, but not to operate programs, raise money or recruit future seminarians in diocese parishes, said his spokesman, Father Brian Chadwick.

McBrien urged Melczek to make sure the Legion confines itself to running the school.

“My advice to him is to be careful,” McBrien said. “Keep a watch over them because these types of groups try to push the envelope and expand their influence in the diocese.”

While the Legion of Christ has drawn opposition from some bishops at the diocesan level, it has benefited from some strong support in the Vatican.

In November, Pope John Paul II granted the congregation authority to operate the Pontifical Institute, “Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center,” in Jerusalem. The complex, which includes a church, restaurants, a conference center and a hotel, acts as a welcome center for visiting clergy and Catholic individuals and families from around the world.

Also, the Congregation for Bishops has entrusted the Regina Apostolorum, the Legionaries of Christ university in Rome, with annual training sessions for newly appointed bishops from around the world, and Maciel was in the front row for the pope’s 2001 visit to Mexico, Allen said.

Dunlap noted that the Legion plays an active role in many dioceses, such as Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis.

“Places where the Legion is known and its institutions are set, we’re just part of the landscape,” Dunlap said.

Favreau, with ReGAIN, claims the Legion is losing so many seminarians that it needs to bolster recruiting by opening new minor seminaries, in addition to its ones in Center Harbor, N.H., and Colfax, Calif.

But Dunlap said the opposite is true.

“We wouldn’t be starting a school here if we were shrinking,” he said. “We’ve started a school here because our school in New Hampshire is bursting at the seams.”

The First Sentence from Prefect Levada Makes the Legion Tremble

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has handed down a stiff sentence against Fr. Gino Burresi. The transgressions? The same ones charged against Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the powerful Legionaries of Christ

by Sandro Magister
ROMA, July 28, 2005 – On July 19, the Catholic newspaper “Avvenire” published the following note from the general secretariat of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI):

“Following the decree handed down on May 27, 2005, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, notice is hereby given that the following canonical provisions will be applied to Fr. Luigi (Gino) Burresi, of the congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

“1 – revocation of the faculty to hear the confessions of any member of the faithful in any place, as provided in canons 966 and 969 of the code of canon law;

“2 – definitive prohibition against carrying out the ministry of spiritual direction for any of the faithful, whether a layperson, a clergyman, or a consecrated religious;

“3 – revocation of the faculty of preaching, as in canons 764 and 765;

“4 – prohibition against celebrating the sacraments and sacramentals in public;

“5 – prohibition against granting interviews, writing in newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals, or on the internet, or participating in radio or television broadcasts on any matter involving Catholic doctrine, morality, or supernatural or mystical phenomena.

“This is made known for the understanding and profit of the faithful.”

Practically speaking, the CEI has made it known that Fr. Gino Burresi, founder the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, must leave the ministry and retire to private life.

Among the reasons for the action taken, the decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cites abuses in confession and spiritual direction. But Vatican sources have confirmed that to these reasons must be added the accusations of sexual abuse made against Fr. Burresi by some men who were his followers and seminarians during the 1970’s and ’80’s.

The Vatican decree has not been made public. But the American weekly “National Catholic Reporter” obtained a copy of it, and their correspondent John L. Allen gave a report of it in his newsletter “The Word from Rome” on July 22.

The decree against Fr. Burresi is the first to have been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. And it is the first to bear the signature of its new prefect, former San Francisco archbishop William J. Levada (see photo). It was personally approved by the pope on May 27, when he received in an audience the secretary of the dicastery, archbishop Angelo Amato. The pope’s approval “in forma specifica” does not admit appeal.

As a decree issued against the founder of a religious order on the basis of accusations going back decades for sexual abuse carried out against his followers, the decree against Fr. Burresi recalls an analogous case, but one of much greater significance. It, too, is being examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

And it is not out of the question that the severity adopted against Fr. Burresi is the prelude to similarly rigorous actions against Fr. Maciel.

* * *

Fr. Burresi, who is now 73 years old, was until 1992 a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, an order founded in 1816 by Italian priest Bruno Lanteri. A man with a great devotion to the revelations of Fatima, Burresi became a priest at a relatively advanced age, in 1983, but even before this he had gained great fame as a mystic and spiritual director, as well as for the stigmata and visions.

In a small way, his popularity resembled that of Fr. Pio of Pietrelcina. And not really in too small a way: hundreds of persons from Italy and beyond came to him every day seeking comfort, including high-ranking prelates, politicians, and ambassadors. From the faraway Philippines, then-president Corazon Aquino sent one of her messengers to have a rosary blessed by this man in the odor of sanctity.

His headquarters were in the countryside below Tivoli, just outside of Rome, in the area of San Vittorino, where there stands today a Marian shrine in the form of a cone made of glass and cement. It was built with the contributions from devotees. “Brother Gino,” as everyone called him, initially received his visitors in a small structure made of wood and sheetmetal, but the congregation of the Oblates replaced this with an international seminary. Because Fr. Burresi was also a great magnet for vocations to the religious life.

This was until May of 1988, when first two and then five more of his young followers put an end to the enchantment. They told the superiors of the congregation that on a number of occasions the priest had lured them to his room and abused them sexually. When they were set down in writing, their accounts were a mixture of fascination and self-blame. For example:

“Fr. Gino was kissing me, and at the same time he was saying wonderful, holy things: ‘Let yourself be touched by God. Loving is not a sin.’ I was confused and paralyzed. I knew that he was a stigmatist, someone who had direct contact with the Virgin Mary. So I felt that I was wrong, that he could not be like I thought he was, because if he had been that way God would not have chosen him as his minister on earth. I said to myself: Look at how evil and rotten I am, I see malice even in the affectionate embraces of a saint.”

After they assessed the accusations, the superiors of the Oblates took immediate action. On June 6, 1988, they put Fr. Burresi on a flight to Vienna, and transferred him to the monastery of Loretto in Austria. The next day the superior general of the order, Julio Cura of Argentina, sent the dossier of the accusation to the prefect of the Vatican congregation for religious, who at the time was cardinal Jérôme Hamer.

But the secretary of that congregation at the time was Vincenzo Fagiolo, a future cardinal, who sympathized with the accused. “He came to me often for confession,” Fr. Burresi quickly revealed. He, in the meantime, had already left behind the borders of Austria and had come back into Italy, to Montignoso di Gambassi Terme, in the diocese of Volterra in the region of Tuscany. He resides there to this day.

The fact is that the Vatican put under investigation both Fr. Burresi and the superiors of the Oblates, appointing as inspector Marcel Gendrot, a member of the Company of Mary. After an investigation lasting two months, Gendrot concluded in favor of Fr. Burresi’s return to San Vittorino, and wrote a note reprimanding the superiors of the order.

The superiors then appealed to pope John Paul II. Their appeal, dated November 22, 1988, fills three pages. It lists the accusations: consummated homosexual acts with numerous young men, kidnapping for sexual purposes, violation of the seal of the sacrament of confession. It rebukes the inspector, Gendrot, for covering up the investigation. It asks the pope to take the responsibility for the case away from Hamer and Fagiolo, and to give it instead to the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at that time, Joseph Ratzinger, or to a special commission.

The reply came on the following January 3: appeal denied. And not just that. Fr. Cura and the other superiors of the Oblates were dismissed from their positions of authority. Gendrot was promoted from inspector to commissioner for the order. The case remained in the hands of Hamer and Fagiolo. The only concession made was a supplementary investigation entrusted to three cardinals who have since died: Giuseppe Caprio, Opilio Rossi, and Luigi Dadaglio. They listened to only one of the seven initial accusing witnesses (in the end there were eleven of these). One year later, in February of 1990, they concluded by permitting Fr. Burresi to stay where he was, in Montignoso, and to continue his work there, with the sole stipulation that he could no longer work with young men pursuing vocations.

But Fr. Burresi took initiative on his own. In 1992 he left the Oblates and founded a new congregation, the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with branches for both men and women. Today the order counts 150 members.

Five years later, however, in 1997, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith opened another investigation on him. The case was concluded on May 10, 2002, with a decree signed by Ratzinger and by the secretary of the dicastery at the time, Tarcisio Bertone, who today is the cardinal archbishop of Genoa.

The sentence takes into consideration the fact that the accusations were made past the statute of limitations, so it neither condemns nor punishes Fr. Burresi. But the 20-page report accompanying the decree – which is also in the possession of the “National Catholic Reporter” – contains passages worth citing. It was signed by the four prelates charged with carrying out the investigation, headed by Velasio De Paolis, who today is a bishop and the secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura.

The report lists the accusations against the priest: violation of the seal of the confession, the illegitimate use against the penitent of confidential information revealed during confession, defamation, violation of the right to privacy, incitement to disobedience against superiors, false mysticism, and claims of apparitions, visions, and supernatural messages.

It admits that the statute of limitations has passed on the matters contained in the accusations. But it nonetheless asks the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to provide for administrative sanctions against Fr. Burresi. For this reason:

“It should not be forgotten that during this process some [of Fr. Burresi’s followers] said that the accused ‘would come out of it triumphant, more esteemed than ever, and thus without any shadow, indeed more glorious than before’. [They said] ‘that the secretariat of state defends Fr. Gino, thus victory is assured.’ If no new limitation is applied to his ministerial liberty simply due to the fact that the proven offenses have been prescribed [by the statute of limitations], probably the sentence of this court will be used as an instrument of propaganda in favor of the accused. He will be able to continue to do harm to those psychologically weak persons who place themselves under his spiritual direction.”

* * *

The stated support of the secretariat of state for Fr. Burresi – which is referred to in the report – is another of the elements that link his case to that of Fr. Maciel.

In effect, two of the prelates who work in the secretariat of state belong to these orders. Angelo Tognoni is a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded by Fr. Burresi, and Donal Corry belongs to the Legionaries of Christ, founded by Fr. Maciel.

That’s not all. The Legionaries of Christ have for many years had the support of the secretary of state himself, cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Confirmation of the support of the secretariat of state for the Legionaries’ cause came last May 20, shortly after the release on http://www.chiesa of an article dedicated to the investigation on the Maciel case opened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Thanks to a fax sent to them without a signature but bearing the stamp of the secretariat of state, the Legionaries of Christ issued a communication that day which stated:

“At this time there is no canonical process underway regarding our founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, LC, nor will one be initiated”.

In reality, the fax from the secretary of state was less conclusive about the future. In Italian, it literally read:

“Non vi è nessun procedimento canonico in corso né è previsto per il futuro nei confronti di p. Maciel”.

The formula “non è previsto per il futuro” is commonly used in the Vatican to indicate actions that are in the realm of possibility but about which no formal decision has yet been made.

What is certain is that the preliminary investigation in the Maciel case has moved forward since the pseudo-denial of May 20, with the accumulation of more testimonies and documents. And it is on the basis of this investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – not the secretariat of state – will make its decision on the canonical process against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The Burresi case teaches a lesson. It seemed to have been definitively filed away after the favorable sentence handed down on May 10, 2002. But it was reopened, and a much more severe conclusion was reached – with the presiding judge being Ratzinger, who has since become pope.

The article on http://www.chiesa on the case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ:

> The Legionaries of Christ: Fr. Maciel’s Trial Draws Nearer (20.5.2005)

The newsletter by John L. Allen, Rome correspondent of the “National Catholic Reporter,” with the news on the Burresi case:

> The Word from Rome, July 22, 2005

English translation by Matthew Sherry: >

Go to the English home page of >, to access the latest articles and links to other resources.

Sandro Magister’s e-mail address is

The Legionaries of Christ: Fr. Maciel’s Trial Draws Nearer

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has begun a preliminary investigation and has interviewed dozens of new witnesses – who have filled pages with new accusations

by Sandro Magister
ROMA, May 20, 2005 – Last April 2, just as John Paul II was dying in Rome, in New York the promoter of justice for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Charles J. Scicluna, from Malta, was interviewing Paul Lennon, the former headmaster of a “School of Faith” run by the Legionaries of Christ. Mr. Lennon, who is Irish, is now a psychotherapist in Alexandria, Virginia, and a witness against one of the most revered and powerful men of the Catholic Church worldwide: Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, 85, from Mexico, the founder of the Legionaries and the apple of pope Karol Wojtyla’s eye.

With 650 priests, 2,500 students of theology, 1,000 consecrated laypeople, 30,000 active members in twenty nations, and dozens of high-level schools and universities – two of which are in Rome; one of pontifical right, inaugurated in 2002, the Regina Apostolorum; and another which has just been recognized by the Italian government, the European University of Rome – the Legionaries of Christ are a staggering success story.

Last November 30 (see photo), John Paul II publicly embraced their founder, Maciel, and congratulated him on his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination, in the jubilant atmosphere of a Vatican audience hall filled to bursting with thousands of Legionaries and militants of Regnum Christi, the order’s parallel lay association.

Four days earlier, on the 26th, pope Wojtyla had given over to the “care and management” of the Legionaries nothing less than the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem, a substantial meeting place and center of hospitality owned by the Holy See and located just a few steps away from the Holy Sepulchre.

But meanwhile, in another Vatican building, that of the former Holy Office, the then cardinal prefect Joseph Ratzinger had just told Scicluna, his promoter of justice, to pull from the congregation’s shelves all of the trials still on the waiting list and in danger of never being processed. The order was: “Every case must take its proper course.”

Among the folders was one six years old and marked, in Latin: “Absolutionis complicis. Arturo Jurado et alii – Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.” The first phrase describes the charge, the second gives the name of the first of the accusers, and the third is the name of the accused. The alleged crime, the absolution of an accomplice in confession, is one of the most terrible for the Church, so much so that it has no statute of limitations.

A few days later, on December 2, Martha Wegan, an Austrian living in Rome and working as a lawyer for the Holy See in the canonical forum, sent a letter asking Arturo Jurado, José Barba Martin, and Juan Vaca, three of Fr. Maciel’s eight accusers, if they intended to confirm their request for a canonical investigation. They had submitted the request to the Vatican on October 17, 1998, delivering it by hand to the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time, Gianfranco Girotti.

The three responded in the affirmative. Wegan communicated their reply to the promoter of justice, Scicluna. He opened the preliminary investigation on the denunciations in his possession: years and years of sexual abuse committed by Fr. Maciel against his accusers, all of them former Legionaries, when they were young and under his guidance at the seminary in Rome. The charge was made heavier by the accusation that he had then absolved them in confession.

* * *

The denunciations of the eight men appeared for the first time on February 23, 1997, in the Connecticut newspaper “The Hartford Courant,” in an article by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner. At the time, the firestorm of reports in the United States of sexual abuse committed by priests on children and young people had still not broken out. But this was the forewarning.

What was striking, apart from the gravity of the accusations, was the personalities of the accusers: professionals, lawyers, accomplished university professors. Some of them had held high offices in Fr. Maciel’s organization. One of them, Félix Alarcón, had opened the Legionaries’ first outpost in the United States. Another, Vaca, had been president of the Legionaries in the U.S. from 1971 to 1976. In 1978 and again in 1989, he had sent two private declarations to John Paul II, accusing Maciel of having abused him when he was a teenager. In both cases, he received no reply. Partly for this reason, he and the other seven finally decided to make all of it public, and to submit their denunciation to the Vatican in 1998.

As a target of these defaming accusations, Fr. Maciel has always defended himself by denying them outright. But he has also counterattacked.

Against his accusers, he brings up the fact that at the beginning there was a ninth accuser together with the other eight, Miguel Diaz Rivera, a former Legionary who is now a professor in Oaxaca. He later retracted his accusation and stated that the others had induced him to make false charges.

Three other former Legionaries – Armando Arias Sanchez, Valente Velázquez, and Jorge Luis González Limón – are said to be ready to testify that they underwent pressure to maintain untrue accusations.

But the main argument that Fr. Maciel enlists is the result of a previous Vatican investigation against him, from which he emerged unscathed.

It was 1956, and eighteen accusations had been lodged against Maciel, including that of drug addiction. The Holy Office dismissed him from all of his duties, sent him away from Rome, and interviewed his followers one by one.

Among these were also the men who 42 years later would accuse Maciel of sexual abuse committed against them during that same period of the 1950’s. But they said nothing of it then.

The investigation lasted until February of 1959, and ended with the absolution of the accused and his restoration to his duties. The Legionaries of Christ now exhibit two letters of full support for Fr. Maciel written by one of the inspectors at the time, Chilean bishop Cirilo Polidoro van Vlierberghe, now 96 years old.

* * *

In reality, not all the leaders of the Legion have always agreed about how to face the new trial that has been looming over Maciel since 1998. Some of them say that its failure to request the immediate processing of the trial has harmed the Legion rather than helped it. In the face of verbal accusations dealing with events that took place long ago, with no objective confirmation, and issued by a group of former members who are in their turn accused of “attacking Fr. Maciel in order to attack the Church and the pope,” a verdict of absolution would have been certain.

But today this certainty is not as solid as it once was. Last January 23, at the chapter that meets every twelve years to nominate the director general of the Legionaries of Christ, the election did not go to Fr. Maciel, as it always had before, but to a much younger man, Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Rio, 47, from Mexico. The general staff of the Legionaries denies that this event was connected with the trial. But the fact remains that since the trial was put into motion through Ratzinger’s initiative, Maciel has no longer held any official post in the Legion he founded.

And the sequence of recent events seems to have turned against him. On March 25, Good Friday, in the meditations for the Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum, Ratzinger lamented “how much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]” and offered a glimpse of an energetic re-purification. During those same days, his promoter of justice, Scicluna, was leaving for America to investigate the accusations against Maciel. He arrived in New York on April 2, and interviewed not only Vaca, one of the eight who issued the canonical denunciation, but also another important former Legionary, Lennon, who confirmed the accusations of the former with his own testimony relating to more recent years. On the 4th Scicluna arrived in Mexico City, where he continued his interviews until April 10. He spent a total of twelve hours listening to the two formal issuers of the canonical denunciation, Jurado and Barba Martin. He also interviewed the rest of the eight, except for Fernando Pérez Olvera, who sent him a written account. But above all, he interviewed many new witnesses from Mexico, the United States, Ireland, and Spain, some of whom had been Legionaries until just a few years ago. They all added new accusations to the investigation, not only against Maciel, but also against younger leaders in the Legion, always for the same “filth.”

With Scicluna was a priest taking dictation. He kept a written transcript of each testimony, and at the end had this checked and approved by the witness. When the two returned to the Vatican in mid-April, they had on their agenda the names of twenty former Legionaries in Spain and Ireland who had asked to be interviewed. Scicluna might soon visit these two countries. In any case, he will as promoter of justice prepare a report with his concluding proposals at the end of his preliminary investigation. The Vatican authorities will decide on the basis of this whether or not to begin a real and proper canonical trial.

If it were up to cardinal secretary of state Angelo Sodano, a great protector of Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, this trial would never take place. But Ratzinger has been elected pope, and he will have the last word.

Benedict XVI has elected as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the archbishop of San Francisco, William J. Levada, one of the four bishops in the United States responsible for the effort against sexual abuse committed by priests.

Two days before the conclave, on April 16, Ratzinger met Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, a great proponent of his election and an even more decisive supporter of a rigorous approach to purifying the Church of this scourge. Ratzinger assured him of his support.

As George was kissing the newly elected pope’s ring, Benedict XVI told him he would keep that promise.

POSTSCRIPT, May 25, 2005
A few hours after the publication of this article on http://www.chiesa, on Friday, May 20, the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ released a statement that begins as follows:

“The Holy See has recently informed the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ that at this time there is no canonical process underway regarding our Founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, LC, nor will one be initiated.”

That same day Catholic News Service, the agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, published a dispatch that starts out by saying:

“The Vatican has confirmed that it plans no canonical process against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.”

It went on to say that “the confirmation was issued by Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, after Catholic News Service asked him about the Legionaries’ statement.”

On Sunday, May 22, in an article in “The New York Times,” Ian Fisher wrote that he had also spoken with Benedettini by telephone on the previous day, and that he had been assured that “there is no investigation now, and it is not foreseeable in the future.”

On Monday, May 23, the website of ReGAIN, a support group for former Legionaries, released a statement containing new declarations on the part of Benedettini, with whom staff members of ReGAIN spoke by telephone the morning of that same day.

This is Benedettini’s comment in regard to the May 20 statement from the Legionaries of Christ, as reported by ReGAIN:

“That communiqué does not belong to the Holy See; it is a communiqué from the Legionaries of Christ. They called me, the same as you are calling me, and they asked me if there is any communiqué about the investigation, or about a possible investigation, into Fr. Maciel. I told them that the Press Office [of the Holy See] had not received any communiqué about whether there is, was or will be any such investigation; that this issue does not concern the Press Office but directly concerns Monsignor Scicluna [the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s Promoter of Justice].”

Finally, on May 25, the Rome correspondent for the “National Catholic Reporter,” John L. Allen, verified that the origin of the preceding declarations of Benedettini and the Legionaries was a fax sent on May 20, unsigned but bearing the stamp of the secretariat of state, which read in Italian:

“Non vi è nessun procedimento canonico in corso né è previsto per il futuro nei confronti di p. Maciel”.

Literally, in English:

“There is no canonical procedure in course nor is one foreseen for the future with regard to Fr. Maciel”.

The formula “is not foreseen” is commonly used at the Vatican to indicate actions that are in the realm of possibility, but on which no decision has been made.

No statement has been issued during this period from the Vatican office responsible for deciding in the Maciel case: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

So essentially, this flurry of statements and silences reveals that matters stand as reported in the article on http://www.chiesa. There is a preliminary investigation underway. And it is on the basis of this investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will decide whether or not to open a canonical process against Fr. Maciel.

The May 20 statement from the Legionaries in its entirety:

> The Holy See has recently informed…

The dispatch from Catholic News Service:

> Vatican says no Church action planned…

The May 23 statement from ReGAIN:

> This morning, at exactly 9am…

The May 25 article by John L. Allen:

> Statement on Maciel not issued by agency responsible for sex abuse cases

The official website of the Legionaries of Christ, in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French:


The accusations in the Maciel case are most accurately reported in this book published in the United States:

Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, “Vows of Silence. The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II., Free Press, New York, 2004, pp. 356.

A defense can be found on this ad hoc website of the Legionaries of Christ, in English and Spanish:


There is an autobiographical interview of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, which is also available in Spanish:

Marcial Maciel interviewed by Jesús Colina, “Christ Is My Life”, Sophia Institute Press, 2003, pp.304.

The most detailed book on the history of the Legionaries of Christ written by members of the movement is this one:

Angeles Conde, David J.P. Murray, “The Legion of Christ: a History”, Circle Press, North Haven, CT, 2004.

But the most impartial book written by non-members is the following, published in Spain. Its author is the editor-in-chief of the news agency EFE and president of the Association of Religious Information Journalists:

José Martínez de Velasco, “Los Legionarios de Cristo”, La Esfera, Madrid, 2002, pp. 432.

You can find links to previous articles from http://www.chiesa on Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ on this page:


English translation by Matthew Sherry: >

Go to the English home page of >, to access the latest articles and links to other resources.

Sandro Magister’s e-mail address is

Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Issue Date:  November 21, 2003

Maciel case belies church promises to combat abuse

Perhaps in some arcane Vatican understanding of things lies the explanation for how Fr. Marcial Maciel cannot only remain a priest in good standing but be heralded by one of the highest authorities in the church for the “great work that you do.”

Maciel is founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order with U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. He received the praise and several embraces from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state ( see story), during a ceremony marking the opening of the academic year at Regina Apostolorum, the university operated by the Legionaries in Rome.

Maciel may be a papal favorite — he has traveled with the pope in the past and has shown up more recently at papal events in Rome — but he is also the target of accusations of sexual abuse by nine former members of the Legionaries of Christ.

We have argued on this page against the zero tolerance policy initially adopted by the bishops last year, and we believe that priests deserve due process and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, the law requires that accusations of sexual abuse be turned over to police, and it is certainly wise to remove from ministry priests who have been credibly accused.

In Maciel’s case, the nature of the allegations and the credibility of the alleged victims would make it an easy call almost anywhere except the Vatican. No U.S. priest superior facing detailed and public accusations by nine former members of an order would last 10 minutes in active ministry.

How bizarre, then, that a head of an international order remains in place even though he would immediately be removed from ministry and turned over to legal authorities if he were living under church norms effective in the United States.

The alleged victims, who first went public with their accusations in 1997, included a retired priest in good standing in Madrid; a psychology professor in New York; a professor at the U.S. Defense Languages School in Monterey, Calif.; and in Mexico, a Harvard-trained scholar of Latin American studies; a lawyer; a rancher; an engineer; a schoolteacher; and another former priest who was a university president and who left a statement of alleged abuse and gave accounts to several witnesses before his death in 1995.

They have repeatedly said they are not seeking money, but justice and the prevention of further abuse.

Their case has been championed by respected theologians and conservative Catholics, who took it to Rome, where it was received by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but never adjudicated.

In simplest terms, the accusers never got a hearing at the highest levels.

In the Maciel case, the church is sending disturbing mixed signals. What are officials saying, first of all, to victims everywhere who are pressing their own cases? What does it say to other priests who have been sidelined or dismissed from active ministry altogether for accusations far less severe than those made against Maciel? (Details of the accusations can be found in previous stories now available in our archives at ‘keyword Maciel’). And what message is it sending the wider culture, which is deeply skeptical of the ability of church leaders, who remain above accountability, to correct their course?

Vatican officials ought to understand, at the very least, that their promises about combating sexual abuse by priests remain empty until Maciel’s accusers receive a thorough and objective hearing.

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