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May 16, 2011

During a canon law class in 1965 I noticed that the professor’s notes listed publications that were either “forbidden” or which we should approach with caution. On the list was The Nation. Somewhere I had also read that America had been founded over 100 years ago to offset the secular influence of The Nation.

I told my professor after class that I had been reading The Nation for years, that my father had always brought it home from his office  office at The Trenton Times, along with Commonweal and America. I remembered that in the 1950s they had published Paul Blanchard’s unrelenting attacks on the Catholic church; but that times had changed. My canon law professor admitted his notes were out of date.

Founded in the last days of the Civil War, The Nation, particularly in the last few years, has been the conscience of liberals in the United States, not afraid to criticize Israeli policies, and fair-minded on most religious issues. The latest issue  features a long book review essay by Jackson Lears on the three books by Sam Harris. The “Same Old New Atheism,” an analysis of the contemporary positivism that imagines that science has the answers for literally everything, is one of the best essays I have read in years.

But the focus of this essay is Jason Berry’s response to the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Jason, whom I have known since he graduated from Georgetown, is the journalist most responsible for the exposure of the sex abuse scandal in the church, beginning with a series in the National Catholic Reporter in 1984, culminating in his book Lead Us Not Into Temptation in 1992, and continued through his Vows of Silence, an expose of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the archconservative Mexico- based religious order known as the Legion of Christ. The Legion was based on papal loyalty, says Berry, and John Paul returned their devotion by giving it strong support during his papacy, since they shared his agenda—militant anticommunism, resistance to liberation theology. I remember watching a TV broadcast of a papal Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the announcer pointing out that the young acolytes in surplices sharing the altar with the Pope were Legion seminarians.

The trouble is that Maciel was a fraud. In the 1990s Berry and another journalist Gerald Renner published the results of their investigation in the Hartford Courant based on interviews with two Spaniards and seven Mexicans whom Maciel had sexually abused when they were seminarians in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout John Paul’s papacy the victims besieged the Vatican with their evidence, and the pope ignored their pleas, partly, according to Berry, because Maciel was a great fund raiser and had showered Vatican officials with cash. After his recent death it was revealed that he also had several “wives” and conceived a number of children on the side. The whole Legion was put on hold.

Berry is too good a journalist to make the article a one-note bashing of the late pope. John Paul, he says, was one of history’s great popes. He visited 129 countries, more than all previous popes combined. He emphasized human rights as a political value. In the 1990s he made a famous series of apologies for the church’s anti-Semitism, racism, Galileo, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and its treatment of Indians. But, says, Berry, when he condemned the sexual abuse scandal, he blamed the press and bad advise from clinical experts.

Faced with this embarrassment, his proponents for beatification redefined the qualifications to not include his impact on history but rather the “way he lived the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.”

Berry does not say this, but it seems to me that there should be a correspondence between a leader’s personal prayer life of hope and love and how these virtues are manifested in his public responsibilities.

Berry does not quarrel with the reports that prayers to John Paul II effected the healing of a French nun with a neurological illness. “This is sure to draw derision from some corners,” he says, “but miracles are embedded in church history, and if the spirit of John Paul has healing power, we are the better for it. The agony of Catholicism, however, calls for another healing—that of truth brought to bear on ecclesial powers, robed in shame, dripping with hypocrisy.”

That last word, if applied uniquely to John Paul II, may be severe, especially considering his declining health over the last several years; but applied to a certain mind-set in the bureaucracy it might well fit.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.


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Thomas Piatak
11 years 8 months ago

Fr. Schroth's comments praising the Nation make the history of that magazine relevant.  And that history shows why the Nation would disdain John Paul II. 
david power
11 years 8 months ago
It is  a sad article to read.Jason Berry is a remarkable man.He has lived for over 25 years as a voice in the wilderness as has Tom Doyle.
I am proud to know that there are men like this in the communion too. There is a humility about Berry that is very attractive.He knows his chronology and knows that the whole "ignorance" factor is a non-runner.
Peggy Noonan is still plugging it.Poland is a very interesting question.There is a warehouse full of cans of worms awaiting you there if you go.
The Church that stood  up to Marcion could not standup to Maciel.Maciel and all those who took his thirty pieces of silver and then went to Rome and smiled and spoke of sanctity.Pope Paul said that the "smoke of satan has entered the sanctuary",and now we can guess at what he meant.
I advise all those who read the article above to go the essay of Jason Berry even if it does contain words from Richard O Brien.

Thanks Fr Schroth   
11 years 8 months ago
It is an interesting article and definitely lays the case that John Paul II should not be moved forward for canonization at this time despite all the good he has done.  It also has a secondary objective, to get Benedict if it is possible.
Jerry Slevin
11 years 8 months ago
CURIA , LEGIONAIRRES AND JESUITS-ANY DIFFERENCE? Thank you, Ray. I wondered what had happened to you on the issue of clerical sex abuse since your Star Ledger article last year warning the Vatican to act on abuse. As you know, it even served as the basis of my article in April 2010 in the Washington Post blog, see http://www.newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/04/pope_should_endorse_independent_investigation.html  I wondered why you never returned my e-mails. Perhaps, it might have helped prevent the escalation of the abuse debacle since then. But then I read (not in America Magazine) about the Jesuits own abuse problems, involving Jesuits at St. Joseph's in Philly, Marquette, Chicago, Seattle and, of course, the $166 million settlement of the Oregon Province. I have't seen any mea culpas yet, and wonder if Georgetown grad, Jason Berry, will ever get around to putting together the Jesuit abuse story. So far no Jesuit has found time to do so, and Maciel presented a more interesting story anyway. So Ray, I hope you or James Martin or Tom Reese will soon get around to a thorough investigation of your own house. The gall of Patrick Conroy, a lawyer and pastor at an Oregon Indian reservation parish in the '80's, thinking that the American taxpayer should honor him as House chaplain and pay him and the Oregon Province $167 thousand a year, indicates the Jesuits are not as different from the Legionairres as they purport to be. I look forward to Berry's future book on the American Jesuits.
11 years 8 months ago
I wonder if we might make any accomodation for JP II's time and circumstace.  As others have noted. he was a product of a culture & country where to be a priest was literally to take one's life in one's hands; it was not only a profoundly spiritual act, but a political and patriotic act as well.  It is possible that JP II, the idea that a "priest" (such as Maciel) could be so thoroughly and fundamentally dis-ordered was simply a completely unacceptable notion.  We are limited by our cultural and socio-economic biases; this is true of the saints as much as the sinners, it seems to me.  Just my 2 cents.
Thomas Piatak
11 years 8 months ago
Ah, yes, the Nation, the magazine that seems never to have met a Communist it didn't like, from its defense of Alger Hiss to its praise for Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega.  It is certainly a magazine with no love for the Pope who was instrumental in bringing down the evil system it defended for so long.   In 1982, after the Communists had imposed martial law in Poland, the Nation urged its readers to "spend Your Vacation with The Nation and Cruise Up the Volga," in a cruise sponsored by such Communist-front organizations as the "National Council of American-Soviet Friendship" and the "Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom."
Anne Chapman
11 years 8 months ago

What you say about the Nation is totally irrelevant. The facts about John Paul II and Maciel are what they are and your dislike of this particular journal does not change that.  Jason Berry's articles have been published in many journals and newspapers - this is just one of them.
Bill Mazzella
11 years 8 months ago

If you will relate to the facts rather than criticize the nation you might make sense. What can you say about the facts of the article. You can disagree about the quality of the Nation as a magazine. But the article is about the way John Paul II handled the pedophilia crisis.
Thomas Piatak
11 years 8 months ago

There is nothing in this article that Berry hasn't written before.  But it omits a major reason why many reasonable people did not believe the accusations against Maciel:  at the time Maciel was abusing the seminarians, there was an apostolic visitation going on that was conducting an investigation of Maciel.  None of the seminarians reported the abuse to the apostolic visitors, a fact which certainly lessened their credibility even though they were, in fact, telling the truth.
In addition, I would point out that Berry does not know what information John Paul II was given about the accusations against Maciel, what conclusions John Paul drew from that information, and why he drew those conclusions.  What we do know is that the person in perhaps the best position to know those facts is Joseph Ratzinger who, as Pope Benedict XVI, made the decision to beatify John Paul II.  I trust his judgment.
11 years 8 months ago
I think the more interesting part of Fr. Schroth's opinion is his comment about Sam Harris.  Sam Harris is a virulent atheist but the review of his books is not about Harris' atheism so much as it is about Harris' lack of allignment with current far left thinking.  That someone could say that Jackson Lears' review was one of the best essays he has read in years is the frightening part of the article.
Sharon Conser
11 years 8 months ago
Part of being Catholic is being informed about the genuine social teaching of the Catholic Church; and understanding the Pope's moral turpitude while walking the tightrope balancing two huge swirling water-filled balloons named ''accountability'' and ''transformation.''  The most humble and potent prayers are: ''What would Jesus do? Lord, help me to do Your will; and, Jesus show us the way.''  Then, praise God for His scales balancing ''healing perfect justice and unfathomable loving mercy.'' 

I have tremendous compassion for both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  Thankfully Jesus is strong when we are weak and hasn't called us to sit in the Chair of Peter. 
Vince Killoran
11 years 8 months ago
I disagree with Tom's characterization of THE NATION but instead of being drawn into his McCarthyite distraction I endorse Bill's challenge that Tom actually address the points made in the article.

His response, i.e.,  that only JP II & Benedict know the "real" facts, is a misreading of the information that circulated then & now.  

As for "I trust his [Benedict's] judgment": why? 
11 years 8 months ago
But how was John Paul Ii supposed to know maciel was a monster? How were the Legionaries themselves supposed to know? Because he was "conservative"? What glaring red flags pointed to by Barry's earlier reports "proved" anything close to what was later revealed about Maciel? Aren't we engaging in 20/20 hindsight here?

Barry's early critiques involved conservative values, weird formation quibbles, claims of men being held against their will (not proven) and other just 'odd' circumstances. Certainly by then there was little love between the Legionaries and a host of "liberal" orders especially in Mexico and especially involving liberation theology etc. so it made a lot of sense to a lot of neutral observers that complaints were largely inside baseball church in-fighting, turf wars.

Later in the 2000's Barry did bring up the accusers - but again, without any proof other than their word for it. Now by 2004 that was enough to instantly remove any priest from ministry but again, taking the Pope's position, now in his dying days, and given what he saw (good young seminarians in Rome) vs. what he was being told (by largely anti-Papal liberal journalists and religious orders who dislike anything and anyone who claims to be 'conservative'....what's he supposed to do?

It's pretty clear that John Paul II accepted the public face of Maciel and the Legion - they had a presence in Mexico and Rome after all - and didn't have solid reasons to doubt that what he saw was the reality.

Even the Legionaries who were close to their founder are devastated about the double life of Maciel. If they who lived closest to him didn't suspect monstrous behavior, why would the Pope who would only occasionally meet him?

We may all dislike someone for ideological or theological reasons and so assume the worse about them. Happens all the time in politics. If someone is on the 'other side' don't we assume the worse to be true? Didn't conservatives claim Clinton was behind Vince Foster's death? Didn't a lot of Democrats assume Bush 43 to be both stupid and an evil genius? Many believed he "knew" about the 9/11 attacks in detail before they happened and "let them happen".... the truther movement. 

But what proof did they ever have? They were on different ideological sides so disliked the other guy....and then there was circumstantial 'evidences' and that is enough for many people looking to score points. Similarly, there was plenty to dislike about the legionaries and Maciel, but no smoking gun, no clear sign of such monstrous hidden abuse.

So now suddenly this is all supposed to have been so clear that John Paul should have known it, accepted the rumor and acted on heresay by doing what? 

And now that we do know double lives are possible to even as public a person as Maciel was..... what does this mean for all of us going forward? Trust no one? Drop anyone and any group from our favor the instant a negative word is said about them from ANY quarter including and especially from quarters or viewpoints at odds with them? 
david power
11 years 8 months ago
I tried to post earlier but was blocked by a technicality.To John  Lyons and Jeff Landry

I do not wish to be an adversary but simply state that what you write is wishful thinking.
Maciel was by no means the start of the pedophilia problem in the Church.I will give you three names. Mahony,Law ,Brady. Now I will give you three more names Geoghan ,O Grady,Smythe. Go to wikipedia and you will see what was in the air of rome in the mid 80's. 
The Irish bishops and the American bishops knew of this problem by 85 and most American cardinals knew of it by 90.When Smythe was convicted in 94 for the rape of over 200 kids and Geoghan for about the same amount do you think that this was not news ?? When Groer was stopped in 95 for the sexual abuse of 200 and had to step down what do you think this meant to the Pope?
The Pope knew about the international scale of the problem by 90 and perhaps  had dealt with many cases in Poland before becoming Pope.Are the Poles more chaste than the rest?Is Poland the only Church where Poland pedophilia was not prevalent?
I knew of Maciels guilt in 2003 in Mexico while working as a subsitute teacher .The Pope did not know?Are there no papers in the Vatican?He knew  that Smythe  was convicted of  the rape of 200 kids.
There may be in you a desire to imagine that the Pope was shielded from all of this and that the dogs in the Irish streets knew what was going on but the Pope did not.May your innocence be rewarded some day.             
Vince Killoran
11 years 8 months ago
No John, we are not engaging in 20/20 hindsight.

As Berry notes, several canon law cases were lodged against Maciel in the 1990s. But Dave's point is important as well-there were all sorts of other complaints to (and weak responses by) Pope John Paul II.
ed gleason
11 years 8 months ago
I met Legionary seminarians going from one gated walled  estate to another 'doing Catholic census work' I had never heard of Legionaries and thought this was a peculiar ministry..  so I asked a nationally known priest what were they really  doing. He said they were trying to 'land' on wealthy families, widows and get to their money.and he said it was sick.This is why they only recruited the 'good looking men'... this was in the early  90s. Legionaries of Christ are now  being sued by these fleeced families. Sick is easy to see ...sickness to go on needs protection.  Money buys temporary protection and the 'sick' know this too.. Managers, Popes, bishops in high places need to have a sense how to vet  or get out of the business.
11 years 8 months ago
Ah, so you "knew" Maciel was guilty so the Pope ought to have known too. It's probably just a coincidence that you happen to dislike the LC for their politics and different take on social justice issues, too, I suppose? My point is.... let's say there's a rumor about someone. What proof do you have? What proof can anyone have if common knowledge, common sense is to be doubted and the word of people who dislike others for ideological or theological reasons is to be taken at face value? Ed Gleason has a perfect example of this bias....people didn't like the Legion for many reasons that have nothing at all to do with sexual abuse....but those reasons, those unique traits that are different from their favored religious groups....are not proof of sexual abuse. Just "proof" if anything of diversity and we're supposed to love diversity right?

Again, how - based on Barry or others news stories which went long on innuendo and heresay and short on anything like 'evidence' that would stand up in court - should the Pope have acted in the 1990s on Maciel? Let's stipulate that the LCs were weird and unlikeable guys. fine. But even they were thunderstruck by Maciel's double life. If the guys who lived with him were fooled, how is the Pope supposed to know for sure that he was guilty as sin which no one, not Barry, not Renner, not Mexican or Spanish media outlets proved...until the very end when blood relations were produced that PROVED his guilt?

Once those girls came out the LC imploded immediately - once they say the smoking gun it was over. Sure a lot of people felt vindicated because they always disliked them, always distrusted them for other reasons (valid and invalid, real and petty), but disliking or distrusting someone or somegroup is not the same thing as having proof of evil doing.

Going forward, how is any Pope or any of us supposed to behave in this world....we're tribal enough with our Left, Right, and center parties. We're tribal enough in our own Church that's polarized by social issues vs. social justice. Do we just assume everyone has skeletons and refuse to trust...do we automatically cut lose friends and family or pastors or religious on the barest whif of bad news or rumor? If some conservative neo-con makes an accusation against Barry of some evil-doing are you willing to automatically jettison him from your friendship and hold him as a pariah because "it might be true"?
11 years 8 months ago
I also take issue with "of course the Pope knows...." assumptions. It's assumed that the Pope reads the Irish times, the Mexican newspapers, the Hartford Courant, etc. or the New York times (because, you know, being Pope is a piece of cake and he has lots of spare time).

It's also assumed that any small local crisis or scandal that makes our headlines MUST be making the Curial watercooler talk too because...uh, well just because.

Not true. Only so much time in the day or month or year.

So people will filter what they hear against what they believe, know, or trust. This is bias to be sure, but it's a bias that affects everyone, the Pope included.

Not knowing is far more likely than knowing of sexual predators and doing nothing. But if you're disposed to dislike John Paul II for ideological and theological reasons....of course you'll assume the worse about him. I'd love to see someone who's on record as his fan advance a well reasoned critique of him for not doing enough.... instead we get folk who dislike him assuming he must have known fully, so if he didn't do anything it must be for the worst reasons (cowardice or worse) and not any other motive or reason.

Again, if that's how you read the world then how are we to judge you and how are we do judge any leader, of any type against the cacophany of complaints, accusations, critiques, anonymous charges, etc.? Had Barry dug up a smoking gun that'd be one thing. Had those canonical proceedings had a smoking gun that too would be one thing. No one produced anything like evidence against Maciel until the end. But once that happened, things did move fast for both the Vatican and the LC.

Not as fast as we may like, but proof has a funny way of lighting fires where proof-less accusations don't.

Vince Killoran
11 years 8 months ago
How do we know that JPII knew about predator priests?  Because he told us he knew about them! He just didn't do very much about it.

As for Maciel, nine ex-Legion members filed charges against the group in the Vatican Court of Canon Law in 1998. The only way one could argue that JPII didn't know would be to acknowledge that the pope didn't read the papers, didn't have any knowledge of his own Vatican, and his aides around him conspired to keep the reports streaming in about Maciel from him for years. C'mon-is that how you wish to portray JPII, i.e., as a dottering fool?
david power
11 years 8 months ago

I have no problem with any teaching of the Church and take them more seriously than Maciel ever did.
Trying to say that because the truth is the truth and I am for it makes me an idealogue is not really the way to go.Of course the Pope was a busy man and that is why we have things like the CDF to handle work of that nature.
So it was Cardinal Ratzingers job to investigate such matters.He often did and dug up all sorts on misbehaving priests.
So why not in this case?Why was it stalled from 1997 until 2005?Of course,these things take time.
Just as the investigation into Groer was blocked so was that of Maciel.Nobody denies it.You seem to be new to the argument and so don't realize that there was a coverup and you cannot edit the ex-pope out of this photo.
The fast moving happened only because Pope Wojtyla died.


This is where Maciel's son tells us this very clearly.

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