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
"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:
One of the ex-Legionaries in Rome told NCR that a Mexican
family in 1997 gave Dziwisz $50,000 upon attending Mass. "We arranged
things like that," he said of his role as go-between. Did John Paul know
about the funds?
Only Dziwisz would know. Given the pope's ascetic
lifestyle and accounts of his charitable giving, the funds could have
gone to a deserving cause. Dziwisz's book says nothing of donations and
contains no mention of Maciel or the Legion. The priest who arranged for
the Mexican family to attend Mass worried, in hindsight, about the
frequency with which Legionaries facilitated funds to Dziwisz.
"This happened all the time with Dziwisz," said a second
ex-Legionary, who was informed of the transactions.
Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, who would succeed Maciel as director general in
2004, and one or two other Legionaries "would go up to see Dziwisz on
the third floor. They were welcomed. They were known within the
Struggling to give context to the donations, this cleric continued:
"You're saying these laypeople are good and fervent, it's good for them
to meet the pope. The expression is opera carita -- 'We're
making an offering for your works of charity.' That's the way it's done.
In fact you don't know where the money's going." He paused. "It's an
elegant way of giving a bribe." ...
When Martínez Somalo, a Spaniard, became head of the congregation
overseeing religious in 1994, Maciel dispatched a priest to Martínez
Somalo's home. The young priest carried an envelope thick with cash. "I
didn't bat an eye," he recalled. "I went up to his apartment, handed him
the envelope, said goodbye. ... It was a way of making friends,
insuring certain help if it were needed, oiling the cogs."
Another critical figure who was the recipient of vast amounts of Legion money was Cardinal Sodano. Sodano was critical to fending off investigation of Maciel once formal charges were brought in 1998:
"Cardinal Sodano was the cheerleader for the Legion," said one of the
ex-Legionaries. "He'd come give a talk at Christmas and they'd give him
$10,000." Another priest recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano.
Sodano was also the key Vatican figure who this Easter derided the latest stories of abuse as "petty gossip" and declared the church united in defending the Pope. He has refused to answer Berry's questions about the Legion's cash gifts to him over the years.