A personal apology to Maciel’s victims

Loyal reader Anon out of RC said something in her following comment that really disturbed my conscience:

I was a leader in RC and for years I said the same story that I was told, especially after 2006 – the sexual abuse victims and any of those associated with their cause were “enemies of the church” and wanted to bring down the LC, Maciel, Pope JPII and the Church. I did it innocently, although after 2006 I was so proud of my charity to Maciel and obedience to my superiors by not reading anything except what the LC told me – that he was innocent and suffering like Jesus on the cross. That was pride on my part (and also a learned feeling of guilt for checking out other sources) and not good discernment but the Lord allowed it.
After Feb 2009, I read, prayed and made my own discernments instead of just what I was told by LC. I have since apologized online at American Papist and in my heart and soul to Maciel’s original sexual abuse victims for my part in spreading the lie that they were not telling the truth and they were “enemies of the church”. It was freeing.

It finally came together after Mass today. Our pastor had touched upon the need to apologize for one’s sins – both of commission and of omission – during the homily. For the past year I have been urging LC and RC to come clean and apologize to Maciel’s victims. Yet I have never apologized for my own sins toward them.
It’s time to correct this injustice. Maciel’s victims truly remind me of how Christ suffered during His passion. Their reputations were murdered. They were accused of spreading falsehood and being enemies of God when what they had spoken was truth. Their persecution was initiated by the religious authorities of the day, to preserve a system already in place, and the persecution spread to the masses. And the victims’ suffering was multiplied by the religious persecutors turning to civil authorities to enlist the sword of the state in the silencing of truth.
Yet where Maciel’s victims most remind me of Christ is in their treatment shown to former persecutors who have apologized sincerely for helping to spread the lie, and who have asked for forgiveness from the victims. Not one of Maciel’s victims has refused forgiveness in situations that I am aware of. All have treated their former persecutors with mercy and tenderness, reassuring their former persecutors that they too were once on the inside. So they too understand.
But back to my own sin toward the victims. Unlike Anon out of RC and so many others reading this blog, I cannot claim to have acted in good faith. Mine are sins of omission. Mine are the sins of the Apostles who fled when the angry mob came for Christ, despite knowing that the victims were innocent.
From the moment I first heard of the allegations against Maciel, I knew they were true. A close relative is a civil attorney who in the Canadian legal system is considered an expert in cases alleging clerical sexual misconduct. While studying canon law I had been taught by one of the Church’s most respected canonical experts on this topic – a former consultor to the Holy See. The Church’s sexual misconduct crisis was all over the North American media, and I had represented accused priests. With the canon law community I had also voiced strong support for Fr. Tom Doyle (not a popular figure at the time) and strong criticism for the failure of Churchmen to put children first. So I had the professional knowledge and experience to know better.
Yet there is one circumstance that aggravates my sin even more than any of the above. It is that I first heard the allegations FROM SOME OF THE VICTIMS THEMSELVES. Personally, not through Jason Berry or Tom Doyle. In person, not over the phone or by email. At a hotel in Atlanta, shortly after delivering the following paper (scroll down a page) to an international conference on cults, on the topic (ironically!) of what the Church considers signs of cultic behavior in new religious movements. Over supper with Giselle who introduced me to the victims. I sat with Aaron, Jose Barba or Juan Vaca (I cannot recall who) [UPDATE: Giselle has confirmed both were present at the meal.] and some of the other victims. They looked me in the eye and described the sexual abuse they had suffered. Their faces were the faces of every other legitimate victim of clergy sexual misconduct I had met in person. The modus operandi they described was that of many priestly abusers whose cases I had worked on. I knew these victims spoke truth.
And if I had any doubts about their veracity – I didn’t – several of my colleagues in the canon law world confirmed the horror I experienced, sharing experiences with former LC that corroborated my own, but warning me as a young canonist to tread carefully since the LC and Maciel were at the height of their power within the Church. “Everything you heard is true,” said one respected canonist familiar with the situation through previous work in Rome. “But I’m convinced that nothing can be done about it until the next Pope.” And that is what pains me still about the situation, given the love and admiration I feel for Pope John Paul II.
So I fled. I refused to take a public stand on the issue, or communicate directly with the victims (Giselle knew how to get hold of me – discretely – if they needed canonical advice), or put my name to anything that could be traced back to ReGAIN or Maciel’s victims. I guarded my words carefully and spoke in ambiguities when a high-profile North American representative of the Legion confronted me afterward about my meeting with Maciel’s victims. I resorted to the same verbal gymnastics when approached by people I knew to be LC, RC, friends or family of members, or movement supporters.
I continued to critique LC/RC quietly on other issues of concern to canonists, using the general consensus in my profession as cover, but I avoided mention of the victims. I kept quiet about the allegations, and hurriedly changed the topic whenever they came up.
It took me until 2006 to steel my courage and speak up publicly in support of the victims. Only when the Holy See released its 2006 communique “inviting” Maciel to retire to a life of prayer and penance. But by then I knew the gig was up. It might take LC/RC years or even decades to come around to the truth about Maciel. Some likely will never come around. But as Msgr. Scicluna noted in his recent interview, for any semi-competent canonist there was no sugar-coating what the Holy See meant by its ‘invitation’. Speaking out at this point required little moral courage.
In light of all this, I wish to apologize:
– To Maciel’s victims and other victims of alleged abuse within the movement for not speaking up sooner in your defence, despite knowing that you were speaking the truth.
– For the not returning your phone calls or emails, for insisting that I be contacted anonymously and quietly through Giselle.
– To Giselle for making you take time away from your family, and for the inconvenience I caused by putting you in the role of mediator.
– For not defending you when your reputation was sullied in public by supporters of Maciel and his movement, despite knowing that you were innocent of the accusations against you and that the persecution was unjust.
– For contributing to the delay of justice in your case, which also means that justice was denied to you.
– For putting my professional career as a canonist and Catholic journalist before your pain and the correction of injustices against you.
– For re-victimizing you through my silences and other sins of omission.
And to members of LC, RC, friends and family of people on the inside, fellow parents and other Catholics, I apologize:
– For my use of ambiguous language whenever you approached me with concerns, whether you shared them or had simply heard rumors.
– For allowing you to continue believing in good conscience that Maciel was innocent and his victims were liars.
– For not speaking up sooner and warning you, when I knew the truth, that Maciel was an abuser and that his accusers were victims.
– For any harm to you, your family or your friends that may have come through my silence, use of ambiguous language, or other sins of omission.
Please forgive me. Please pray for me. Please join me in apologizing to victims of Maciel and the movement whose reputations were unjustly tarnished for coming forward with the truth.
And please note that there are no hard feelings toward you from my end. As noted by Anon out of RC, there is nothing more freeing than the truth of an apology.

Vatican Radio: Schönborn apologizes

The German-language service of Vatican Radio has an article on Cardinal Schönborn’s private audience with the Holy Father last Friday, and the letter he faxed to Bishop Perić the same day.
My translation:

Schönborn: Apology for Uproar about Medjugorje Visit


After his controversial pilgrimage to Medjugorje Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has apologized to the local bishop of the place, Ratko Perić. In a letter published in excerpts on the official home page of the Mostar diocese, the Vienna cardinal emphasizes that he had no intention of “harming peace.” Schönborn had visited the village of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of the old year and argued for “an integration of the Medjugorje phenomenon into normal pastoral practice“. He had declared his visit to the ecclesiastically unrecognized site of Marian pilgrimages a private trip. However, he provided for considerable visibility to it in media publicity. The letter of apology is dated January 15, the day on which Schönborn was in Rome for a private audience with Pope Benedict. With his letter, Schönborn answered a letter from Perić, who had sharply criticized the visit of the cardinal to Medjugorje and emphasized that the visit implied no recognition of the “apparitions”. Furthermore he recalled that the so-called seers of Medjugorje had repeatedly manipulated the alleged Marian apparitions. With Schönborn’s letter the discussions are now considered closed, said a spokesman for the Mostar-Duvno diocese this Tuesday. — Since 1981, Marian apparitions are said to be taking place in Medjugorje. They are not recognized either by the local diocese or by the Vatican.

Every Legion critic is Hans Kung for 15 minutes

I think it was my Tyranny of Nice co-author Kathy Shaidle who once quipped, after being denounced as a Nazi for expressing conservative during an on-line debate, that “In the future everyone will spend 15 minutes as Adolph Hitler.” I was never much into Andy Warhol; but could appreciate the reference.
It’s not just the left that’s given to such hyperbole governed by Godwin’s Law (Whoever cries Nazi first, forfeits the debate). In sifting through push-back from Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi supporters this long weekend, I’m seeing a resurgence of the only enemies of Catholic orthodoxy/ the pope/ John Paul II attack the Legion meme. I’m convinced that every Legion critic will now endure 15 minutes as Hans Kung.
For example, over on the America magazine blog, reader John Stangle savages Austen Ivereigh for commenting on the letter sent out by American RC directors:

Has any “proof” been offered or seen that Fr. Maciel actually fathered one or more children? Or, as you state above, “sexually abused” anyone? A letter by a Mexican attorney to sue is nothing.

Confirmation that Fr. Maciel fathered a child is contained in the letter published by Fathers Scott Reilly and Julio Martí on the Regnum Christi website. As far as I know, neither of these Legion priests is a Mexican attorney.

I’ve been quite taken aback by the seeming vengence and even gleeful reporting over the accusations towards Fr. Maciel -and over his “purging” on this America blog at various times. What dastardly deeds did the Legionaries do? Surely that the Legionaries had support of John Paul II can’t be in itself a reason – or can it?

I haven’t conducted any scientific surveys or consulted any expert in media psychology, but I believe the controversy has more to do with the Legion sheltering a pedophile for decades while presenting him to the world as a living saint. That and not apologizing to victims once the founder’s sexual proclivities became known.
Over on the No Apology, No Charism thread, Mouse reports coming across a similar appeal to JPII phenomena:

My RC friends are all claiming that there MUST be a charism in their some place, because the pope approved it… but to me this seems more like a case of a marriage where one of the spouses lied about who they were, their intentions, and their ability to be married in the Church….

I agree. That being said, I cannot comment on what your RC friends are saying, but I have a number of devoutly Catholic friends from Poland, who fled the communist persecution. All of them are furious with Maciel and the Legion for dragging their beloved pope into this mess. Having lived behind the Iron Curtain, they can understand how Pope John Paul II was sucked in Maciel. They are devout Catholics who suffered for their faith, and without exception they tell me that part of the persecution included communists destroying the reputations of good priest by spreading false rumors of pedophilia. Nevertheless, they also assure me Pope John Paul II never would have tolerated a known fraud or pedophile. I believe them. They’re orthodox Catholics and they resent how the Legion continues to cite Pope John Paul II in its defense, sacrificing his reputation to defend the acts of a pedophile.
And on the ‘I wasted the best years of my life on a fraud’ thread, reader Enda Mc chimes in with her testimony insinuating that critics of the LC/RC are enemies of Catholic orthodoxy. Here’s some excerpts:

I am a Catholic who was well trained in debate and the techniques of argument and who has benefited from the great example of devout and loving parents…

Then please address the arguments put forward by your movement’s critics, rather than spread suspicion about the motives of those making the critique.

I looked deeper into the question deciding to judge by the fruits. One one side there were some who felt slighted and personally hurt along with a few bodies who had their own agenda. Some examples of this were a campaign to allow priest to marry and for the promotion of contraception among catholics (incidently lead by an Irishman).

The Legion’s critics now include Archbishop O’Brien and Cardinal George Pell. I don’t believe either senior churchman has called for the ordination of married men or promoted contraception.

On the other side I met a group of people who were as close to Christ as I have ever seen or met. There were a few who displayed what seemed to be an unhealthy worship of the founder. I decided (due to this analysis, to prayer and to what I recognized as God’s hand in my life), to become a member.

If a movement is incapable of apologizing sincerely to victims of the founder’s violations of the Sixth Commandment, or for having attacked the good name of these victims when they came forward with the truth about the founder, then I believe it is more than simply a few who demonstrate an unhealthy worship of the founder.

Do not forget the first Pope lied about Christ, denied Christ and abandoned Christ. Do all those who wish to crush the whole of Regnum Christi want to do the same to the one Holy Catholic and apostolic Church next because of the failings of men?

So we’re back to our 15 minutes as Hans Kung. How soon we forget that the Legion is not the Church, does not possess Christ’s promise of indefectability given to St. Peter and the Church, and that we have a clear record from Holy Scripture of St Peter repenting – at the moment he received His commission from Christ.
And while we’re at it, I might as well address the Medieval-popes-were-more-corrupt-than-Maciel canard. Yes, it’s true that popes in the Middle Ages were held to a different moral standard by their peers, and they didn’t have to contend with angry bloggers or Jason Berry. However, if we’re gonna wax Medieval, peasants also had several means to deal with corrupt churchmen that would not go over in contemporary society. They usually involved bonfires and pitchforks. In short, there would be no debate over the Legion’s charism had Maciel been a child of the Middle Ages. Every one of his priests (with the exception of Fr. Berg) would either be suffering the passion of Jan Hus right now or hiding in a Benedictine monastery. This is how peasants in the Middle Ages dealt with sorcerers, which they considered clergy who misused their office to seduce young men and women.
But back to 2009. So long as the movement pretends that its critics are Hans Kung for 15 minutes rather than admit the founder was a fraud, I don’t see the Legion surviving.

On contacting victims – Is this how a family treats its children?

When news of Maciel’s daughter first went public back in February, many LC/RC defenders likened the situation to a family discovering their father had kept a second family on the side. I can both understand and appreciate this analogy. In fact, it was the first thing that came to mind as I read the following email from a reader (rewritten slightly to disguise the correspondent’s writing style):

I asked my RC director if the General Director had contacted the original eight victims. She said she didn’t know, but asked me why I assumed Fr. Alvaro was speaking about the original eight accusers. She said there are victims still in the LC who are coming forward, and that Fr. Alvaro, because he is General Director, will take care of victims within the LC family first and those on the outside later. This is just like a father would take care of those kids in his family first if there was an issue, my director said. This did not sit well with me. What are your thoughts on this?

Let’s suppose you’re the mother in the analogy used by the Legion back in February. Let’s suppose you just discovered that your deceased husband had abused your children and made your family do without while supporting a mistress in the next town, that he had lied to you when some of your children approached you to complain about the abuse, and that he had deceived you into disowning them and turning them away from your doorsteps.
Would you only look after the children who remained in your household? Or would you, as a mother, seek out your estranged children – those who ran away or who you threw out of the house – because they had tried to make you aware of the abuse and you didn’t want to believe them? And would you threaten any child in your household who sought out his or her estranged brothers and sisters, in order to apologize and repair the fraternal relationship?
One’s children remain one’s children, even when they find themselves estranged from their family.

An encouraging admission by the Legion – REPORT

Two breaking news stories today have interrupted my week catching up on other projects. The first concerns the release of a decision in a major case before Canada’s “Human Rights” Tribunal that, to everyone’s surprise, came down on the side of freedom or speech and religion. For the past decade anti-Christian activists have been using the tribunals to persecute Christian organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Fr. de Valk (Canada’s equivalent to Fr. Frank Pavone) and Christian Horizons for promoting traditional Christian morality. For more information, check out my book with Kathy Shaidle (featuring an introduction by Mark Steyn): The Tyranny of Nice.
In writing this book, I noticed several similarities between the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Legion of Christ in how they try always to promote “the appearance of nice”, treat those who dissent and express legitimate criticism of their methods, and how they create hierarchies of power and contribute to a culture where the average person is reluctant to speak the truth.
The second story is the following letter reportedly sent to Regnum Christi members in Atlanta and New York by Fr Scott Reilly and Fr Julio Marti. Giselle has posted it here. Assuming this letter is legit (I haven’t confirmed with Legion sources [UPDATE – a Regnum Christi source confirms receiving the letter]) my overall impression is that this is both encouraging and substantial. It may not be perfect – and here I agree with Giselle’s criticisms, and have a few questions of my own (like “How can we be sure Fr. Alvaro and other high-ranking Legion superiors didn’t know while Maciel was still alive?”) – but these questions can be resolved later. For now, I believe this is a significant step in the right direction, and we as Catholics need to encourage the Legion and Regnum Christi to keep walking along this path.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now for an in-depth analysis. But here is a summary of why I believe this reported letter is significant, substantial and important step in the right direction. These points are listed in no particular order of importance, and some of the quotations are out of order from which they appear in the letter:
– “We also hope to remedy some of our shortcomings in communication – for which we are sorry-, so that together we can continue walking what will surely be a long path of healing and reconciliation with those who have been hurt by the misdeeds of Father Maciel.” This is both an admission and an apology for the Legion’s questionable communication strategy thus far.
– “As priests, our hearts go out to all those who have been harmed or scandalized by [Fr. Maciel’s] actions. To all we extend a special apology on behalf of the Legion and our General Director…” This is admission that Fr. Maciel’s actions have both harmed and scandalized the Church, and a clear apology for the harm and scandal.
– “We also regret that our inability to detect, and thus accept and remedy, Father Maciel’s failings has caused even more suffering.” This is an admission and an apology on several levels – for not accepting the truth about Fr. Maciel sooner, for not fixing the problems sooner, and for additional suffering caused to Fr. Maciel’s victims because of inaction on the Legion’s part.
– “In the recent past, after Father Marcial Maciel had retired, we came to know that he had had a relationship with a woman and fathered a child. Even more recently, there have been allegations of other relationships and other children.” and “All this leads us to value even more the wisdom and pastoral approach of the Holy See concerning the allegations of past sexual abuse against Father Maciel that had surfaced.” The expressions “fathered a child” and “allegations of past sexual abuse” is clear language, unlike vague euphemisms like “the founder’s double life.” I also believe it’s the right (and most charitable) language for the Legion to use in these circumstances. It spares us the sordid details, which the vast majority of us don’t need to know, but is specific enough to inform us what Fr. Maciel allegedly did.
– “Given the partial nature of the information available and the impossibility to evaluate immediately and in a definitive manner these complex allegations, the Legion of Christ cannot, at this time, make a statement regarding them.” The Legion is telling us what they don’t know, rather than try to avoid their potential to be true or continue to attack the alleged victims.
– “As it was stated in the communiqué published on May 19, 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith investigated these issues and invited him to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry.” Given the context in which this statement appears, the Legion is de facto admitting that the 2006 invitation from the Holy See was not a reward for Fr. Maciel’s exhaustion after a “lifetime of building God’s Kingdom,” nor are they maintaining Fr. Maciel’s innocence like Christ suffering on the cross.
– “As an institution, as a family and as individuals, this unexpected turn of events has been traumatic. Being weak humans, even if reacting with Christian virtue, many of us have gone through experiences of shock, anger, disbelief, denial and fear, both humanly and spiritually. These emotions, the vast tangle of information, supposition, speculation and opinion, the different cultural sensitivities, and the Christian duty not to publicize the sins of others, have made it difficult to publish the sort of direct statement that many expected of us.” The Legion is admitting to a wide-range of human emotions, that such emotions are normal, instead of resorting to Legion “happy talk” about “serenity” and other Stepford impulses.
– The Legion also states the problems are beyond its capacity to handle internally, and what steps it is taking – involving outsiders – to recognize, address and correct problems within its internal culture.
– There are several statements in which the Legion tries to identify – I believe sincerely – with those victimized by Fr. Maciel.
– The Legion appears to repudiate the “lost vocation, sure damnation” mentality of the past, saying it’s okay to leave the Legion, take a break from the Legion, seek confessors and spiritual direction outside the Legion, and one is not any less Catholic or acting contrary to God’s will in doing so.
– Instead of passing the blame to the Church, the Legion is taking responsibility for its actions, showing where the Church is acting to correct the Legion’s problems, and attempting to restore trust in the Church.
Again, it might not be 180 degree turn, but given the Legion’s past handling of this crisis, 160 degrees is both substantial and encouraging. It shows the Legion is taking the scandal seriously, is taking responsibility for the problems leading up to it, and that the internal culture that led to this scandal is starting to change.
My advice to the Legion? Words need to be followed up by action. Now that the Legion is turning in the right direction, they need to begin walking forward. My advice to current LC/RC members is as follows: The one point from this letter where you are open to fair criticism concerns the claim that the Legion has tried to contact Fr. Maciel’s potential victims.
We know the Legion has contacted the RC membership, that it was in touch with Maciel’s mistress Norma and her daughter who is also named Norma. We know that Fr. Anton spoke with at least one alleged victim who had been a seminarian with the Legion. But what about those former priests and seminarians who initially brought forward the allegations in public?
Up until now they deny having been contacted by the Legion. Their allegations were public, so to a certain degree they have forfeited their right to privacy in these matters. Was there an effort to contact them? If so, when, where and how?
If not, does the Legion intend to contact them? If the answer is yes, when, where and how?
This is a point I think current RC members need to press the Legion on. How the LC answers this question will impact how everyone else continue to view the order.
My advice to the Legion’s critics? Of course this will require baby-steps at first, until the Legion is sure of its footing. So while it’s important that we keep pushing them forward, we must be careful not to push them down. As my former spiritual director use to tell me: “God doesn’t expect perfection from us overnight. But he expects improvement.” So let us continue to encourage the Legion to improve, by encouraging the Legion where it is making significant improvement.