Rod Dreher

The NYT reports further on the Vatican politicking around Marcial Maciel. It strikes me that the Maciel scandal, and perhaps even the wider abuse situation, is now a story that can best be told not by a journalist, but by a great novelist. Consider this passage from the Times piece today:

The Rev. Alberto Athié Gallo, a Mexican priest who in 1998 tried to bring allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maciel to the attention of Cardinal Ratzinger, said the Vatican allowed Father Maciel, who died in 2008, to lead a double life for decades.
“This was tolerated by the Holy See for years,” Father Athié said. “In this sense I think the Holy See cannot get to the bottom of this matter. It would have to criticize itself as an authority.”
Former Legion seminarians have said that Father Maciel abused them from the early 1940s to the early ’60s, when they were 10 to 16 years old.
For years, Father Maciel had cultivated powerful allies among the cardinals, through gifts and cash donations, according to reporting by Jason Berry in the National Catholic Reporter. Mr. Berry is co-author of a book about the order and helped break the story of the priest’s abuses.
Chief among these allies was the former Vatican secretary of state and, by office, the most powerful man next to Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, now the dean of the College of Cardinals and an outspoken defender of Benedict.
“Until Pope Benedict confronts Sodano’s role in the cover-up of Maciel, I don’t see how he can move beyond the crisis that has engulfed his papacy,” Mr. Berry said. Mr. Berry reported that Cardinal Ratzinger refused an offer of money from the Legionaries.
Cardinal Sodano did not respond to written requests for an interview.

If you’ve been following this story closely, Card. Sodano is emerging as a true villain in all this. He was the No. 2 under John Paul — the prime minister to the monarch, in effect — and someone who is starting to look like a sleazy power broker. Remember, Sodano received donations from Maciel (Card. Ratzinger, on the other hand, refused them). The Times story also reports claims that Card. Ratzinger wanted to move earlier against Maciel, but was thwarted. Again, from the Times:

At around the same time as the case was accepted [A canonical complant filed in Rome against Maciel by men who claimed Maciel had molested them in the 1950s — RD], Father Athié, who had become interested in the matter and was helping Father Maciel’s victims, wrote a letter outlining another abuse charge and gave it to Bishop Carlos Talavera of Mexico, who told him that he had delivered it to Cardinal Ratzinger. In it, Father Athié described the detailed deathbed confession in 1995 of Father Juan Manuel Fernández Amenábar, who had told Father Athié about years of abuse by Father Maciel.
In an interview, Father Athié said Bishop Talavera — who has since died — told him that the cardinal had read the letter and decided not to proceed with the case. “Ratzinger said it could not be opened because he was a person very beloved by the pope,” referring to Father Maciel, “and had done a lot of good for the church. He said as well, ‘I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent,’ ” Father Athié said.
Saúl Barrales, a schoolteacher who once worked as Father Maciel’s secretary and is a cousin of Bishop Talavera, said he had heard the same account of the conversation from the bishop.

Here is a stunner of a line. N.B., Jose Barba is one of Maciel’s victims, and Martha Wegan was the victims’ canon lawyer:

Mr. Barba said that in a later phone conversation with Ms. Wegan, she told him it was better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith.

Emphasis mine. That line — it is better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith — is very nearly the essence of the scandal right there. It’s why bishops and cardinals who had nothing personally to lose by doing the right thing did not; it’s why even bishops and cardinals and popes who were good men turned a blind eye to the suffering of the children and their families. They became, in a way, Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. From the master’s tale, the Inquisitor rebukes Jesus:

They [mankind] are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

In other words, the keepers of the keys hide the truth from the people for the sake of protecting the people’s faith. Their suffering is to have to live with the awful truth, supposedly to protect the integrity of the religious system that makes people secure and happy.
Imagine that you are Cardinal Ratzinger, and you know, or at least strongly believe, that Maciel is a fraud and a criminal. But you know he has a powerful protector in Card. Sodano, the second most powerful man in the Vatican. And he has an even more powerful protector in John Paul II, the pope, who may or may not know about the lies upon which the Legionaries are based (or knew about them, but thought it was more important to put out a noble lie for public consumption — see after the jump for why I think JP2 might have made that conscious decision). Anyway, you are Card. Ratzinger, and you know, or at least have reason to suspect, the magnitude of the evil in the Maciel cult. But you also know that with the Holy Father and his prime minister both immoveable on the topic, you are stymied, at least for the time being.
Do you resign in protest? Would it even be thinkable for a top curial cardinal to offer his resignation and say why? To do so would cause a global scandal: Cardinal Ratzinger quits his job because Pope and Card. Sodano covering up for a child molester. Unthinkable. But if you resigned quietly, perhaps the man who followed you into the CDF would be a Sodano stooge, leaving Maciel in place and perhaps even covering up evidence against the crooked Maciel, leading to his beatification.
Or do you bide your time, and wait for the right moment to strike? This appears to be the choice Card. Ratzinger made, given that he moved against Maciel when John Paul entered his final year or so, desperately ill. That Ratzinger didn’t wait for the Holy Father to die suggests that he was eagerly looking for an opening — for Sodano to be preoccupied or distracted, and to not be able to count on the ear of Pope Wojtyla (for all Ratzinger knew, the next pope would be committed to protecting Maciel). It is possible, then, to imagine that Card. Ratzinger took the path open to him that stood a chance of ousting Maciel and exorcising his influence from the Church. I think the only way you can fault him is if you think that he should have resigned from the Curia and called a press conference to denounce the Pope for covering up for Maciel.
Anyway, the moral and spiritual drama of the Maciel case inside the mind and heart of Joseph Ratzinger as he negotiated the Vatican’s politics is something that awaits a first-rate novelist or dramatist to explore with justice. And I agree with Jason Berry: we will not have the final act of this drama until we find out what, if anything, Benedict does with or to Cardinal Sodano, who may be a Grand Inquisitor figure, or who may be simply a corrupt and worldly Italian cardinal, whose type the Church has seen many, many times before.

From a blog I posted on The Corner eight years ago, about John Paul’s willingness to allow lies to be told in the Vatican’s name to save face:

What convinced me of this was a passage I ran across today from “Man of the Century,” Jonathan Kwitny’s appreciative 1997 biography of John Paul. On pages 460-463, Kwitny discusses the role of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus in the Vatican Bank scandal, which broke early in JP’s papacy. Marcinkus, who worked in the Vatican, was pushed by Paul VI to get the Vatican Bank involved profit-making. Marcinkus engaged in some extremely dark financial doings, which became public under John Paul, and was an international scandal. Kwitny reports that John Paul stonewalled Italian investigators, refusing to hand over Marcinkus for criminal indictment, and signing off on patently false public explanations of what had really taken place in the dirty affair. Behind the scenes, JP forced the Vatican Bank out of the kind of schemes that got it into such trouble — but, writes Kwitny, “Even more important to him, though, was that the public never find out what wrongs had already occurred. He said he wanted ‘the entire truth … brought to light’ and would ‘cooperate’ with authorities. Yet he publicly endorsed a new statement the Vatican issued that week, merely repeating the lies of the previous statement. A report [Vatican Secretary of State Agostino Cardinal] Casaroli had requested from several prominent Catholic banking experts was hushed up. That so unhypocritical a man as John Paul could utter such blatant deceits proves that for him, the image of the Church took extraordinary precedence.”

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