It must be the grimmest morning ever on the Orange Connecticut campus of the hyper-conservative Legionaries for Christ, as they are forced to reflect on, for eternity, the Vatican’s decision to sanction their founder and leader, Father Marcial Maciel. Maciel had allegedly (and by allegedly I mean damningly clear to anyone willing to look) molested a number of teen and pre-teen seminarians at his control in Mexico during the Legionaries’ salad days. Later, those molested had waged highly visible campaigns for justice, and their stories were documented by Jason Berry, Gerald Renner in the book Vows of Silence. Berry and Renner also told of the Vatican’s refusal to take action, led notably by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, served as a final appeals board for all molestation complaints brought through canonical channels. Faced with overwhelming evidence, the CDF punted the case on more than one occasion, but never entirely cleared Maciel, leaving him hanging. It’s not clear what happened in the intervening years to cause now-Pope Benedict’s sanctioning of Maciel, but at least something finally came of it. It’s also not clear what any of this really means. In typical Vatican fashion, the sanctioning of Maciel is vaguely worded and hard to term punishment.
The Vatican did not say specifically whether it found the abuse allegations against Maciel to be true. And it said that because of Maciel’s age and ill health — he is 86 — it decided against a full-fledged church trial, or ”canonical process.”
Instead, it said the congregation had ”invited the priest to a reserved life of prayer and repentance, renouncing every public ministry.”
The lesson being that if you molest children, you may at some point (probably right before your death) be forced to sit in the corner and contemplate your actions. Grueling stuff.
UPDATE: NCR reporter John Allen appears to have broken the story yesterday, and and provides some deep background. And the Times updates the story to quote an influential Catholic writer John Wilkins: “But this is the founder of the Legionaries,” he said. “This is a pretty devastating judgment for the Legionaries. For a new movement like that, the reputation and position of the founder is critical.“