A reader writes:
One Maciel reference this week? Eh, fine. But another? I fully understand the comments: put simply, there was a case against Maciel that the CDF was handling, and then it was shelved on Ratzinger’s orders. Simplistically, this is atrocious. Let’s take a broader view, though, shall we?
Maciel was HUGELY popular in the Vatican during these years. There were stories of Pope John Paul II just handing him cash – not transferring money to the Legion of Christ, or even to Maciel’s bank account, but literally handing him legal tender. In some of these episodes, the transferred object is the more cartoonish sack of cash. So, clearly, Maciel had Vatican support and favor not just vocally but totally.
Fast forward. John Paul II has been ill and Ratzinger has been his steward. John Paul II takes a turn for the worse and will indeed end up dying within a few months. Four months before John Paul II dies, Ratzinger privately forces Maciel to step down as its head. Less than a week before John Paul II dies, Ratzinger has reopened the case against the Legions. Upon assuming office, Pope Benedict XVI makes a reference to a need to “clean the filth” from the church. Within a year, Maciel is suspended from all ministry.
There is a very easy case to be made that Benedict XVI did not do enough. There is an even easier case to be made that he acted cowardly and not in the full interests of the victims. I see an institution that cared more for itself that it did its victims, particularly under a Pope that apparently is on the fast track to canonization, somehow. In Benedict XVI I see a conflicted, conservative coward head of the CDF who nonetheless viscerally hated Maciel. He did not risk conflict with the Pope over his favorite celebrity and was cowed by the overwhelming support for Maciel at the Vatican, either implicitly or explicitly. But the minute he had the full opportunity he moved against Maciel in the face of residual clerical support for the man.
These scandals are disgusting to any human being. Being a Catholic, they are disgusting and hurtful on top of it. The victims of course know far worse. Ratzinger was nowhere near brave enough in his actions regarding Maciel. But your welding of the Maciel scandal to Ratzinger is, frankly, a joke. The man who bears ultimate responsibility for this monster left to roam is the one with the ongoing canonization process that I nary hear a peep about. And I don’t think it is a difficult argument to make that out of the whole batch of high-ranking Vatican officials, Ratzinger is the only one who ever did a damn thing about Maciel.
And it was far too little and far too late, and required him to knowingly allow more seminarians and children to be raped and abused. Delay meant enabling more abuse. Maybe your usual secular bureaucrat could look past this, and say he had no real power to change anything once JP2 was in control. So why did Benedict then put the chief defender of Maciel on the fastest track to sainthood ever?
And are our standards with respect to priests as Christians the same as those of clerks in authoritarian dictatorships? This is the church founded by Jesus finding reasons to ignore child rape on a massive scale because it wanted to avoid embarrassment and keep the money coming in. And Ratzinger was the sole individual who knew all of it. And for so, so long, did nothing because of church politics. It tells you all you need to know about his moral convictions and what happened when they came into conflict with power. Power won.
And I’m sorry, but, as with torture, I cannot, will not, ever let go of this. Because there are some crimes – the torture of a fellow human being, the rape of a child – that stand out for their absolute abuse of absolute power. These crimes must be brought to justice. They still haunt and cripple countless victims in every continent in the profoundest way.
Evil remains at the heart of the Vatican. And I am not going to pretty it up. I’m going to get in its face. And stay there. I do not know what else to do. What else is there to do?
Previous Dish on Maciel here.