The latest chapter in a widening scandal of Catholic Church pedophelia and cover-up that counts thousands of victims on two continents unfolded spectacularly last week, implicating the Pope directly as a key player even before he was pope in a culture of power and secrecy that flouted secular law. The escalating stories of hushed-up child abuse in Ireland, Germany and Wisconsin were augmented Saturday by the long-delayed official admission that the revered head of the powerful Legionaries of Christ Catholic order was also a pedophile and a thief.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput was the U.S. member of a five-man investigative team appointed by the Vatican last July to look into the allegations of abuse conducted by Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the deceased leader of the Legionaries. What the team found, by all accounts, isn’t good news for the Church. Chaput, who has spoken out repeatedly on the moral failings of the health care bill and members of Congress and who recently expelled the children of a lesbian couple from a Catholic school in Boulder, has remained publicly silent on the abuse scandals and the Church’s willful failure to follow criminal and civil legal codes.
Although representatives of the Legionaries have admitted the guilt of Maciel– who reportedly molested at least a dozen underlings and fathered and surreptitiously supported a number of children– the official report of the Vatican investigative team has yet to be made public.
In addition to the tragedies of the abuse and the denial of justice, many observers and victims, see in the scandals the tragedy of an unchecked Church hierarchy, which has repeatedly worked to protect the abusers instead of the victims.
To his credit, Pope Benedict, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a leading Vatican official, insisted on at last looking into the Maciel allegations, reports of which had been passing through Church offices for years. But the Rev. Thomas Berg, a former Legionaries priest, said the admission coming now only underlines the fact that Legionary superiors had been misleading officials from the beginning.
One of the Maciel victims, Juan Vaca, said he had little hope for the small investigative team that included Chaput. It’s typical of the Church, he said. “They are communicating in secrecy and they will get everything [done] in secrecy,” he told the New York Times Saturday.
The Legionaries under Maciel wooed members of the business and government elite. The order enjoyed great success in fundraising and established high status and connections.
Analysts commenting on the recent round of scandals have said the Church philosophy on sex abuse has run against the grain of modern medical research in that the Church has viewed the abusers as sinners who must seek forgiveness rather as criminal addicts in need of treatment. The Church’s theological approach did not stop the abuse. On the contrary, it seems to have aided and abetted it. Dissenting voices were quashed.
In recent years, Chaput has been one of the strongest voices on the national stage demanding Catholics and Catholic organizations bow to the will of the Church hierarchy. In a recent essay castigating Catholics and Catholic organizations who supported health care reform in defiance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Chaput suggested the pro-health reform Catholics were not Catholic at all. He placed the word “Catholic” in quotes and suggested that Catholicism was defined on some level by the willingness to submit to the will of Church leaders. In an essay published in the run up the health reform vote, he wrote bluntly that it is “Catholic bishops who speak for the believing Catholic community.”
This week is Holy Week, the heart of the Catholic calendar. Pews will be filled in churches throughout the state. The Colorado Independent called the archdiocese this morning to ask whether Chaput plans to publicly address the sex-abuse scandals and share what he learned in investigating Maciel. A representative said she would pass the message to the Archbishop’s communications secretary.