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The Rotten Legion

The late Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, sex criminal and founder of the Legion of Christ, is embraced by Pope John Paul II in a ceremony January 3, 1991 marking the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Christ order. Maciel, who died in 2008, has been accused as a serial pederast. (Maria Dipaola/www.cuartoscuro.com/MCT)

Benedict XVI’s failure to suppress the corrupt Legion of Christ religious order was a big mistake, as this new report from Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press makes clear. Excerpts:

The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martinez expected – or could abide.

Her son had been sexually abused by one of the priests of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis – the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion, and to clean it up – to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martinez’s family would receive 15,000 euros from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.

Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”

But prosecutors were recording them, and got the whole conversation on tape. More:

De Paolis is beyond earthly justice – he died in 2017 and there is no evidence he knew of, or approved, the settlement offer before it was made. But the tape and documents seized when police raided the Legion’s headquarters in 2014 show that he had turned a blind eye to superiors who protected pedophiles.

In addition, the evidence shows that when De Paolis first learned about Resendiz’s crimes in 2011, he approved an in-house canonical investigation but didn’t report the priest to police. And when he learned two years later that other Legion priests were apparently trying to impede the criminal investigation into his crimes, the pope’s delegate didn’t report that either.

And a few hours after he spoke with Martinez, De Paolis opened the Legion’s 2014 assembly where he formally ended the mandate given to him by Benedict to reform and purify the religious order. The Legion had been “cured and cleaned,” he said.

In fact, his mission hadn’t really been accomplished.


But De Paolis refused from the start to remove any of Maciel’s old guard, who remain in power today. He refused to investigate the cover-up of Maciel’s crimes. He refused to reopen old allegations of abuse by other priests, even when serial rapists remained in the Legion’s ranks, unpunished.

Read it all. 

They lie. They lie, and they lie, and they lie, these men in power. How can anyone believe them?

In this spectacular folly, you see how it happened, the Reformation. And you see how the Russian Revolution happened too. The leadership class — in Russia’s case, of the state and the church, which were tied closely together — refused to open its eyes to what was happening around it, refused to admit and to repent of its own corruption and exploitation of the weak. They really did think what they had would last forever. That they were invulnerable. That they could talk their way out of it.

De Paolis, chuckling: “Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.” What a disgusting lie that is! It’s a lie not because it says something false, but it’s uttering a truth for the sake of misleading someone into abandoning a just cause. I’ve said this story here before, and I’ll say it again. The very first story I wrote about priest sex abuse was in the summer of 2001, as a New York Post columnist. The adolescent son of an immigrant from Nicaragua was acting up. His father had not yet arrived in the US, and his mother needed help. She went to the local Carmelite priests in the Bronx. They turned the boy into their sex toy.

When the father arrived from Nicaragua, he and the mother went to the Archdiocese of New York’s vicar for Hispanic affairs. That bishop pulled out a checkbook and a written agreement that would transfer their power of attorney to the archdiocese’s lawyers. The father might have been a mere worker, new in this country and faced with a bishop, but he knew when he was being conned. He and the mother stood up, left, and went out to get a good Jewish lawyer and sue the bastards.

People who think that all these cases are about nothing more than scammers looking for a payday from the Church ought to reflect on the experiences of those immigrants, and people like Yolanda Martinez. Their children were defiled by the clergy. They wanted justice. They went to bishops, and got manipulation. This is, by now, and old story, but the past, apparently, isn’t even past.

UPDATE: I’ve edited the text to correct two mistakes: the authorship of the news story, and the fact that the mother did not record the meeting, but rather state prosecutors were tapping phones.

Note as well: “He would have to lie.” This happened again and again and again with bishops regarding the scandal. They regard lying as no big deal. I recently spoke to a recently ordained priest, who told me that his own bishop had looked the seminarians in the eye and told them that he had been perfectly honest in denying that he had any knowledge of a big scandal in their diocese. Soon there emerged irrefutable evidence that the bishop was lying. The young priest told me that was quite a blow, to realize that your ordinary will lie to protect himself like that.

UPDATE.2: A couple of Jewish readers have written to say my “got a good Jewish lawyer” line is anti-Semitic. Really? I apologize, then — my point was to say that the immigrant laborer had the sense to get outside of the Church network to find a lawyer to represent him against those mitred and collared sharks.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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