Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pope John Paul and this sorry chapter

What a trough of excrement to be tramping through! We read that a lawyer, whose child was molested in a Legionary school in Mexico City, is representing three of Father Maciel’s at least six children in a claim on his estate. Children have been paid vast amounts of money in exchange for their silence. A Vatican Secretary of State is reportedly implicated in the payoffs (though it doesn't seem to me the right one was named). Mothers were underage, one a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi. After statutory rape of the mother, Father Maciel in turn molested one of his own daughters.

I empathize with visitator Bilbao Bishop Blázquez Pérez, who cheerfully resents the ruination of his summer vacation by having to think about the horrible Legionaries of Christ.

The new revelations are good if the revulsion they occasion makes the abolition of the Legionaries that much more likely. There is no theological problem in recognizing that the Church’s official approval of the Legion was an error of judgment, farcical Legionary spokesman Jim Fair to the contrary, who trusts “we will be able to close this sorry chapter in the life of our Congregation, renew our service to the Church, and continue forward in our mission.”

The children’s lawyer, Jose Bonilla, said, “One must remember that the Legion surrounded and was at the disposal of the founder; practically speaking, everything was his.” Yes, that’s the point: sexual predators create an environment for themselves in which to operate and this is what the Legion most authentically was. Those who approved the Legion and fostered it up to now lacked the awareness to understand this. We trust the visitators and those who will dispose of the Legion do not.

The circus nevertheless threatens to distract from the issue more important than Father Maciel’s personal depravity, which, if not fully, we knew about already: accounting for the damage the Legionaries have done to the Church. What interests me is how the scandal now threatens to derail the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

Reportedly, John Paul gave Maciel’s daughter Norma Hilda Rivas her first Holy Communion at the Vatican. Bonilla claims that John Paul knew about the existence of Father Maciel’s children.

I will not believe that before I see evidence. Circumstantially I find it harder to believe that John Paul knew about Father Maciel’s children than that he was taken in by a randy trickster who would not have wished to destroy the illusion of his posture as a holy man. Father Maciel was endlessly introducing Regnum Christi members and others to John Paul.

The journalism of Jason Berry, from the ground-shaking 1997 Hartford Courant article (with Gerald Renner) through “Vows of Silence” in 2004 to his recent pieces in the GlobalPost, has been a crucial service that anyone interested in truth must thank him for. At the same time, he has used the scandal as a stick to beat John Paul over the head with.

What the Legionaries used to say in their vile and dishonest attempt to discredit Berry’s triumphantly vindicated journalism, that he is an enemy of the pope, was distortedly true insofar as Berry has expressed unsympathy for orthodox Catholic understanding in some matters. To have decoupled truth from Gospel witness in its members is one aspect of the disaster the Legionaries have inflicted on the Church. The National Catholic Register used the same voice both to proclaim pro-life and their loyalty to John Paul and to lie in defense of a serial child rapist.

Those of us who revere the writings of John Paul as prophetic for the new millennium must be willing to recognize his personal shortcomings as well as his holiness. We must appropriate, and not ignore and suppress, all negative Berry-esque material about the Legionaries and John Paul. We must live radically in the truth and nevermore cover anything up. It is simply a fact of history that John Paul the Great recommended to the Church a monstrous child abuser as “an efficacious guide to youth.” Shout it out and theologize it rather than let Jason Berry torment us with it.

John Paul himself acknowledged and apologized to many victims of injustice in the history of the Church. The Church may now acknowledge and apologize to the victims of John Paul’s credulity of Father Maciel and the Legionaries.

Let’s see these photographs that Jose Bonilla claims to have and know completely their circumstances, account for what John Paul was told and who said what to him and what he knew.

Let the cause for John Paul’s canonization get to the bottom of all of it before plans move forward for his beatification on the fifth anniversary of his death next April 2.

The Legion is not the only new religious movement that John Paul promoted. Let’s not shrink from the implications of discovering that John Paul’s approval of a movement did not of itself protect its members from becoming uncritical zombie followers of a narcissist.

Father Maciel is now clearly recognized for the monster he was. The discovery of any more children, victims, or imposture will change little. The Legion can be abolished and its priests dispersed to some more beneficial work. What is now at stake is the prophetic legacy of Pope John Paul, who in mistaken friendship gave his support to such a monster.

Is John Paul's temporal administration of the Church, which included his championing of the Legionaries, immune from a John Pauline purification of memory? It would be unworthy of John Paul's courageous legacy to say so.

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