Did the Pope resign to avoid facing a major about-to-break scandal?

Why did the Pope resign?  Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk on-air with progressive talk show host Arnie Arnesen of WNHN, and after the show we began discussing the resignation of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. The resignation was sudden and almost unprecedented (the last voluntary resignation was in high medieval times).

There has since been lots of speculation about the cause (example here; another sample here). Benedict’s stated reason is his waning strength, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors. As Cardinal, Ratzinger was Pope John Paul II’s enforcement officer — he rode herd on the many sex scandals and their “containment.” Was he involved in crimes of concealment? Almost certainly, but there’s little direct public evidence. Is there new explosive documentation that could lay the dead cat of scandal at his personal door? Nothing has been revealed so far that’s worse than what we’ve seen (search for “Munich”), and Ratzinger has weathered those storms.

Still, why so sudden? Is there something about the timing?

Fr. Marcial Maciel and the Rhode Island courts

At that point in our discussion Arnie pointed me to a couple of links I hadn’t seen involving a Rhode Island court case against the so-called “Legion of Christ,” a Catholic group with very close ties both to John Paul II and Ratzinger, and its notorious (and sexually prolific) founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. I bring up Arnie Arnesen because she personally knows one of the principals in the lawsuit and has additional information. I’ll add her contribution below the news pieces.


Pope via Shutterstock

So what’s the news regarding Maciel? This isn’t complicated, but it has a couple of pieces. Those are:

■ Who is Marcial Maciel and why is he notorious?

■ What are his ties to John Paul II and to Ratzinger (both before and after his election as Benedict XVI)?

■ What is alleged in the lawsuit against Maciel?

■ What’s going to happen on February 15? (Yep, a deadline, and just around the corner.)

I’ll deal with each piece in order so you can put them together easily. As I say, it’s not complicated, I promise.

Who and what was Fr. Marcial Maciel?

Marcial Maciel was one of the most prolific abusers of boys (and father of children by several women) in the modern history of the Church. John Aravosis wrote about Maciel in April 2005, when Ratzinger was first made pope. From John’s post about Maciel:

From ABC News:

“[Father Marcial Maciel] pushed my hand onto his penis. And I didn’t know anything about masturbation,” Juan Vaca, who was first abused when he was 11 years old, told ABCNEWS. “And he says, ‘You don’t know how to do it. Let me show you.’ And he gets my penis himself and starts to masturbate me. I was in shock.”

Shocking stuff, but we’ll leave it there. Needless to say, there’s an iceberg beneath that tip. More here. Maciel died, by the way, in 2008 and was active as a priest as late as 2005, when he was put out to pasture.

Maciel and his group of priests and seminarians (which Maciel treated almost like a harem) were also close to Pope John Paul II, and thus to Cardinal Ratzinger, John Paul’s “enforcer” as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Ratzinger’s nickname there was “God’s rottweiler“.

A taste of Marciel’s relationship with Pope John Paul and the Vatican (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Called to accompany Pope John Paul II on his visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993, Maciel was also appointed by the Pope to the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day (1990).  …  The golden anniversary of his priestly ordination was celebrated on 26 November 1994, with 57 Legionary priests ordained on the anniversary’s eve. … Maciel collaborated extensively with the pope [John Paul II], either in person or through members of his organization, the Legion of Christ. …

He received many donations from Mexico’s richest. Maciel and the Legion gave the Vatican money, and some claim that this kept for years the Church from acting over allegations of sex abuse by Maciel.

Investigative journalist Jason Berry wrote in an April 2010 article in The National Catholic Reporter, “the charismatic” founder of the Legion of Christ “sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end … Maciel was buying support for his group and defence for himself, should his astounding secret life become known.”

Note the word “charismatic” above. That aspect of Maciel’s persona figures heavily in his success as a seducer, his success with the Vatican, his ability to acquire great amounts of money, and ultimately the lawsuit. In 2001, the Ratzinger-headed CDF was given a mandate to deal with the growing sex scandals in the Church, which means Ratzinger was in charge of all investigations of Maciel.

Bottom line on Maciel and the Vatican — Maciel was a prolific sexual abuser, incredibly charismatic, who led the “Legion of Christ,” a highly-favored organization of acolytes (priests and seminarians), many of whom were his victims. His group had a knack for getting the rich to give them money, much of which Maciel passed to the Vatican. John Paul was a big fan of Maciel (no, there’s zero indication of anything sexual). Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of “dealing” with the Maciel scandals, along with all the others.

What about that lawsuit?

Keep in mind Maciel’s charisma and his ability to talk the wealthy out of their wealth. Here’s what’s happening in Rhode Island:

RI judge delays unsealing of Legion of Christ docs

A judge agreed on Friday to delay the release of documents related to a disgraced Roman Catholic organization called the Legion of Christ to give it time to appeal his earlier ruling unsealing them.

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein gave the Legion until Feb. 15 to ask the state Supreme Court to intervene in the tug-of-war over the records, which are from a lawsuit filed by a woman contesting the will of a wealthy aunt who left the Legion $60 million.

And about that contest will:

The wealthy aunt whose will is the focus of the current case, Gabrielle Mee, a widow, died in 2008. Mee’s niece Mary Lou Dauray had sought to challenge her will, saying Mee had been defrauded by the Legion into leaving it her fortune. … Dauray’s attorney, Bernard Jackvony, also had sought the documents’ release. He said the documents, compiled in the course of the lawsuit and sealed by a probate court judge in 2009, contain information about the Legion that isn’t known by the public.

All you need to know? A widow left $60 million to the Legion of Christ, and her niece sues for fraud. The suit has been making its way through the Rhode Island courts for years.

Unless the defense gets the RI Supreme Court to issue a stay by February 15 — the article is dated January 25 — the information in the lawsuit will be made public. It’s not the result of the suit that matters (though it matters to the niece). It’s getting at the info filed with the lawsuit, including discovery and all depositions to date.

Yep, someone did mention February 15. Just around the corner.

Radio host Arnie Arnsen knows some of the litigants

Now we come to Arnie Arnsen’s contribution. This is from one of her most recent shows. I’m embedding the audio so you can hear it for yourself. It’s speculative and she acknowledges that. But she’s no stranger to the family involved in the lawsuit.

As you can guess, her question is this — Is Ratzinger’s sudden abdication related to the release of these documents? She doesn’t answer the question, but the rumination is interesting. I’m embedding the first hour of Feb 11 show. The station had a power outage that took out their phone system, so you’ll hear some discussion of the phones. The Fr. Maciel discussion is fascinating, and Arnie provides a fair amount of documentation. The segment starts at 6:30. Listen:

“Bag man for the Vatican” — that’s how Maciel was described to her. A fascinating discussion, well worth your time.

Your bottom line

Keep an eye on this Rhode Island court case. If there’s a bombshell there, it will drop in just a few days, unless it’s further delayed. If there’s a motive other than “vitality” for Ratzinger’s sudden departure this could be it. If the information in this audio clip is documented in the papers that may be released on February 15, and if Ratzinger could be shown to know it, the consequences for Ratzinger and the Church could be explosive.

Or maybe something else is about to break regarding the butler’s leaked documents. With a past like Ratzinger’s there are many possibilities.

In any case, Ratzinger is making sure he’s no longer in the spotlight starting February 28 when his resignation is official. He gave himself just two week’s notice. Stay tuned.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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