The Vatican's Watergate: Follow The Money


One of the critical legacies of Pope John Paul II was his unwavering support for the biggest institutional force in the greater conspiracy to commit and hide sex abuse in the Catholic Church. I'm referring to the Legion of Christ, a creepy, vast, enormously wealthy church within a church, run by pederast, pedophile, bigamist and con artist, Marcial Maciel. Maciel, who was addicted to morphine, abused (at least) twenty seminarians and had (at least) two wives, and several children. The Legion at its peak had resources of $33 billion. His chief enablers and supporters were, of course, the theocons, who got a thrill up the leg observing this strictly orthodox leadership cult, combining the political and social attitudes of the 1950s with the oomph of modern day evangelical growth and money.

Richard John Neuhaus was a staunch supporter and dismissed all the charges against Maciel with "moral certainty." Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum spoke at Legion conferences. Bill Bennett spoke at Legion events and said, "I am fortunate enough to know and trust the priests of the Legionaries of Christ. ... The flourishing of the Legionaries is a cause for hope in a time of much darkness." Bill Donohue supported Maciel against now-substantiated charges of abuse. But in some ways, Maciel's most disturbing enabler was Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law Professor and former ambassador to the Vatican:

[Glendon] taught at Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum, the Legion's university in Rome, and advised in the planning that led to the order's first university in America, University of Sacramento, Calif. In a 2002 letter for the Legion Web site she scoffed at the allegations against Maciel and praised his "radiant holiness" and "the success of Regnum Christi [the order's lay wing] and the Legionaries of Christ in advancing the New Evangelization."

Maciel - whom John Paul II called an "efficacious guide to youth" - ran what can only be called a corrupt cult, designed in part to protect his own long life of sexual abuse and misconduct, where members were ruthlessly pressured to raise and give money to the organization.

How did Maciel get away with this for so long? 

Jason Berry, a journalistic icon in the coverage of the sex abuse scandal, has added a critical and disturbing aspect of this story. Yes, it's about money, the one thing that has not emerged yet in the church's current crisis. Yes, vast amounts of money that Maciel retained and funneled - in cash - to critical Vatican officials, who subsequently turned a blind eye to Maciel's crimes (Ratzinger was one of the very few Vatican officials who refused to accept the money, an indication both of his integrity but also of his awareness of what Maciel was up to). This flow of cash to important and influential figures was a massive operation and Berry has even found former members of the Legion who were recruited to hand over the cash to critical cardinals and officials in plain sealed envelopes:

"When Fr. Maciel would leave Rome it was my duty to supply him with $10,000 in cash -- $5,000 in American dollars, and the other half in the currency of the country to which he was traveling," explained Fichter. "I would be informed by one of his assistants that he was leaving and I would have to prepare the funds for him. I never questioned that he was not using it for good and noble purposes. It was a routine part of my job. He was so totally above reproach that I felt honored to have that role. He did not submit any receipts and I would have not dared to ask him for a receipt."

Among those who were recipients of large gifts were the head of the Congregation for Religious, the organization that actually had the authority to investigate Maciel. That gift - in true mafioso style - was a lavish and generous renovation of his residence.

Maciel then wanted to institute a personal vow for members of the Legion - as a way to bind cult-members to silence about any and all of Maciel's crimes. Even the head of the Congregation for Religious, in his newly fabulous apartment, balked at this. So Maciel went directly to John Paul II's key aide and personal confidant, Polish Msgr Dziwisz. And by going directly, I mean funneling huge amounts of cash. One way Maciel did this was by selecting key wealthy Legion members for attendance at the Pope's private mass. These Legionnaires subsequently donated vast amounts to Dziwisz as a gift to the church - a bit like getting campaign contributions by having private access to politicians. Money quote:

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