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.