Pope resignation update: RI judge releases “Legion of Christ” docs

This is an update to our earlier post about Pope Benedict (former Cardinal Ratzinger) and his possible reasons for resigning from the papacy. For the details, click here; the short version is that as cardinal, Ratzinger oversaw the response of the Church to many sex scandals.

Among the worst of the scandals were those involving the highly charismatic, sexually prolific, and Vatican-favored Fr. Marcial Maciel and his powerful organization the “Legion of Christ.” Pope John Paul II was a huge Maciel fan, Maciel was a money machine for the Pope (more on that below) and sent lots of his takings to the Pope, and Ratzinger at the time was John Paul’s “enforcer” with regard to sex scandals.

A tricky combo. Ratzinger and his Vatican organization the CDF (formerly know as “the Inquisition” — seriously) oversaw the response to all of the child-sex scandals, including the ones involving Pope John Paul’s golden goose, Fr. Maciel and the Legion of Christ. Ratzinger, John Paul, and Maciel are knee-deep in each other’s history.

We know what the Vatican response to decades of scandal looked like from the outside — an obvious and massive worldwide cover-up of global criminal activity. To read one example of how the Church responded to just one set of criminal revelations, try this: “Catholic Church enslaved 30,000 Irish women as forced unpaid labor in Magdalene Laundries until 1996” — horrible stuff; truly the devil at work. Or consider the cushy retirement of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, or former New York Cardinal Edward Egan’s retracted apology for the child-sex scandal (Egan now says the church didn’t do anything wrong.)

Vatican-City_640px-St_Peter's_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007Now thanks to a woman in Rhode Island, we may get a look at the Papal cover-up process from the inside. She has a lawsuit against Maciel’s Legion of Christ for defrauding her now-dead aunt out of $60 million, by influencing her to rewrite her will. This suit has been going on for years. A Rhode Island judge has just ordered all documents in that suit be made public.

That’s all documents; according to the lawyer for the plaintiff, there are “yards” of them — all depositions, all discovery, everything will be made public. If anything involving the Legion of Christ’s relationship with the Vatican — and in particular John Paul and Ratzinger — is in those documents, they will be public as well.

No one knows (yet) what’s in them except the lawyers, but we’re about to find out. For fans of fixing the Church, this is good news indeed. Again, click to see just how closely tied Maciel, John Paul, and Ratzinger were; it’s an interesting story all on its own.

News first, then some public speculation, then a glimpse of the scale of the alleged fraud itself.

First the news, from David Klepper at the AP, who’s been following this closely (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

RI ruling means release of Legion of Christ docs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Documents related to a disgraced Roman Catholic organization called the Legion of Christ could soon be unsealed and available to the public following a decision Thursday by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The state’s high court issued an order declining to delay the release of the sealed documents, which are related to a lawsuit contesting the will of a woman who left $60 million to the Legion. … The documents could be available as early as Friday [February 15]].

The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter had asked a Superior Court judge to unseal the documents, saying there was no justification to withhold documents that could shed light on the Legion’s operations. … Depending on how the documents are stored, some could be available Friday, according to Joseph Cavanagh, the attorney for the media organizations.

From another AP story on the release of documents:

[Plaintiff Mary Lou] Dauray’s lawyer, Bernard Jackvony, said Friday that the documents being released show an orchestrated effort by higher-ups at the Legion to get Mee’s money and cover up Maciel’s misdeeds. … Among the documents being released are depositions given by top-ranking leadership of the Legion, including the Rev. Anthony Bannon, who was once Maciel’s deputy, and the Rev. Luis Garza, current head of the Legion’s North American operations.

Keep in mind that the charismatic Maciel frequently abused (or seduced) the seminarians in the Legion itself.

■ For more on what this means, we have this is from the Global Post:

The release of the voluminous court records by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein came within days of the stunning resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who ordered an investigation into allegations against Legion founder Fr. Marcial Maciel when Benedict played a powerful prosecutorial role in the Vatican as a cardinal and again in the early years of his papacy.

These documents are expected to shed new light on a scandal Benedict inherited from John Paul II, whose unwavering support of Maciel, even after allegations against him were filed in the Vatican in 1998, bolstered Legion fundraising campaigns. Pope Benedict’s trip to Mexico last year ignited a blaze of negative media coverage due to his failure to meet with sexual victims of the late Father Maciel, who symbolized the global scandal that has cast a shadow on Benedict and his papacy.

■ Even before he was made pope, Ratzinger was oddly touchy about his role in the Maciel scandal:

Then, four years ago, some of the men tried a last ditch effort, taking the unusual step of filing a lawsuit in the Vatican’s secretive court, seeking Macial’s excommunication.

Once again they laid out their evidence, but it was another futile effort — an effort the men say was blocked by one of the most powerful cardinals in the Vatican.

The accusers say Vatican-based Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican office to safeguard the faith and the morals of the church, quietly made the lawsuit go away and shelved it. There was no investigation and the accusers weren’t asked a single question or asked for a statement.

He was appointed by the pope to investigate the entire sex abuse scandal in the church in recent days. But when approached by ABCNEWS in Rome last week with questions of allegations against Maciel, Ratzinger became visibly upset and actually slapped this reporter’s hand.

And for details of the alleged fraud itself, the Global Post article also points this out:

Fleet Bank, which later merged with Bank of America, facilitated the Legion’s access to the flow of money from Mee and the charitable trust of her late husband, Timothy. According to Jackvony, the bank should have maintained a wall between its duty to administer a trust and the Legion’s aggressive action to gain control of the funds.

“The Legion’s business relationship as a customer of the bank facilitated a sharing of information on the Mee trust that should have been kept in confidence,” Jackvony said. With access to the trust and Mee’s donations, the Legion bought a $35 million corporate campus from IBM in Thornwood, N.Y. in the 1990s.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs stated that the Legion used Mrs. Mee “like a piggy bank. They saw her as an economic engine and used her for $30 million in donations for 16 years. The defrauding of Mrs. Mee looms over this entire case.” Something needs to break the Vatican wide open. Let’s hope these documents will do it.

Side note: I agree with this commenter that we need to stop calling this behavior “sexual abuse” and start calling it by its real names — rape and torture. “Abuse” minimizes the horror that many victims went through. You can practice this as you speak about it. It’s not a “sex abuse” scandal; it’s a “child rape” scandal. In the case of the Magdelene Laundry children, it’s a “child slavery” scandal. Words count, which is why the other side distorts them so often.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

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

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