The Next Church Scandal

The last few months have seen wave after wave of fresh news reports about the Pope’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal in addition to the emerging scandal in Europe. Yet, one might argue the worst is yet to come. Sometime near the end of April, Pope Benedict XVI will receive a report summarizing the findings from a 7 month long investigation into the life and scandal of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder and head of the Legion of Christ. The investigation will undoubtedly note that Maciel fathered at least two children and abused scores of Legion seminarians. However, according to journalist Jason Berry, the new scandal will involve money and influence peddling in the Vatican. Berry, who has done extensive reporting and research on the Legion and Maciel himself, has spoken to numerous Vatican insiders and former Legion members. What he discovered is astounding. Berry discovered the following:
Maciel was a morphine addict who abused Legion seminarians from the 1940’s until at least the 1960’s. He was a prodigious fundraiser who distributed his wealth to various high ranking Vatican officials in order to curry favor and protect him and the Legion against the inevitable rumors of his sexual activities. According to Berry, Maciel traveled frequently to Rome in order to dole out large sums of cash to Vatican officials such as Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul’s Secretary of State and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as Pope John Paul’s private secretary. Maciel directed his financial gifts to those inside the Vatican who could benefit the Legion and Maciel himself. For example, Maciel paid for the renovation of a cardinal’s residence in Rome. The cardinal happened to be Eduardo Francisco Pironio, the prefect for religious from 1976 until 1983. Pironio was the one who had ultimate authority to approve the Legion of Christ’s Constitution which included “Private Vows”. The private vows included a solemn promise to never speak ill of Maciel and to report anyone suspected of uttering criticism of Maciel or any other Legion superior. Initially, Pironio balked at signing off on the Constitution. So Maciel appealed to Pope John Paul himself. Two weeks later, Pironio gave his approval for the new Legion constitution.
Maciel recognized that Dziwisz was the former Pope’s gatekeeper. According to former Legion members whom Berry interviewed, money flowed generously to Dziwisz in order to maintain Legion influence within the papal household. One former Legion member reported that Dziwisz was given $50,000 by a Mexican family after attending a private papal mass.
Maciel’s fundraising prowess and his ability to spread the wealth to high-ranking Vatican officials allowed him to continue to lead a lavish lifestyle, support a drug habit, and continue his sexually deviant behavior around the world. There was no accountability for Maciel because he had bought the silence of high ranking church officials. It wasn’t until 2006, that Maciel was stopped. By that time, he was frail and advanced in age. All this in spite of the fact that Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre, N.Y., sent a letter by a former Legion priest with detailed allegations to the Vatican in 1976, 1978 and 1989 through official channels. Nothing happened to Maciel for three decades.