|Cardinal Valasio De Paolis|
Despite Pope Francis' conflicting efforts to move the Catholic Church out of the 12th century and to impose some minimal level of accountability for the global clergy sex abuse scandal, many in the Church hierarchy - the princes of the church, if you will - remain utterly oblivious to reality and the sensibilities of every day Catholics (my family has now fully left the Church largely in disgust over the sex abuse scandal plus the continuing anti-gay jihad). Another prime example of this obtuseness and separation from everyday morality has come to light in the context of efforts to settle the lawsuits against the Legion of Christ whose founder was a sexual predator of the highest order who was protected by the late and less than saintly John Paul II. In speaking to the mother of one of the sex abuse victims, Pope Benedict XVI's personal representative at the time conditioned a relatively meager settlement payment on the victim recanting his allegations - or, stated more bluntly, lying about what happened to him. Thankfully, the conversation was wiretapped and the Vatican will not be able to claim the conversation never happened as the matter goes to court shortly. Here are highlights from coverage of this incredibly foul action which was but a part of an elaborate, systematic effort to cover up abuse and crimes against children and youths:
The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martínez had expected — or could abide. Her son had been sexually abused by a priest 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: Martínez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) 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.”
The conversation between the aggrieved mother and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal envoy was wiretapped. The tape — as well as the six-page settlement proposal — are key pieces of evidence in a criminal trial opening next month in Milan. Prosecutors allege that Legion lawyers and priests tried to obstruct justice, and extort Martínez’s family by offering them money to recant testimony to prosecutors in hopes of quashing a criminal investigation into the abusive priest, Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez.
Lawyers for the five suspects declined to comment.
Benedict had entrusted De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s most respected canon lawyers, to turn the Legion around in 2010, after revelations that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had raped his seminarians, fathered three children and built a cult-like order to hide his crimes.
There had been calls for the Vatican to suppress the Legion. But Benedict decided against it, apparently determining in part that the order was too big and too rich to fail. Instead, he opted for a process of reform, giving De Paolis the broadest possible powers to rebuild the Legion from the ground up and saying it must undergo a profound process of “purification” and “renewal.”
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.
More generally, he did not come to grips with the order’s deep-seated culture of sexual abuse, cover-up and secrecy — and its long record of avoiding law enforcement and dismissing, discrediting and silencing victims. As a result, even onetime Legion supporters now openly question his reform, which was dismissed as ineffective by the Legion’s longtime critics.
Now, victims of these other Legion priests are coming forward in droves with stories of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse, and how the Legion’s culture of secrecy and cover-up has remained intact.
Martínez, a 54-year-old mother of three, chokes up when she recalls the day she received the phone call from her son’s psychologist. It was March of 2013, and her eldest son had been receiving therapy on the advice of his high school girlfriend. Martínez thought she was about to learn that she would be a grandmother; she thought her boy had gotten the girl pregnant.
Instead, Dr. Gian Piero Guidetti told Martínez and her husband that during therapy, their son had revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by Reséndiz starting in 2008, when he was a middle schooler at the Legion’s youth seminary in Gozzano, near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Guidetti, himself a priest, told them he was required by his medical profession to report the crime to prosecutors.
His complaint, and the testimony of Martínez’s son, sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Reséndiz’s 2019 conviction, which was upheld on appeal in January.
The investigation, however, netted evidence that went far beyond Reséndiz’s own wrongdoing. Documents seized by police and seen by AP in the court file showed a pattern of cover-up by the Legion and the pope’s envoy that stretched from Milan to Mexico, the Vatican to Venezuela and points in between.
Personnel files, for example, made clear Resendiz was known to the Legion as a risk even when he was a teenage seminarian in the 1990s, yet he was ordained a priest anyway in 2006 and immediately sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary.
When police finally did get wind of the case in March 2013, they uncovered elaborate efforts to keep Reséndiz’s crimes quiet. According to one email seized by Italian police — written March 16, 2011, or 10 days after the Austrian claim was first received by the order — a Legion lawyer recommended to one of the Legion’s senior behind-the-scenes bureaucrats, the Rev. Gabriel Sotres, that a Legion priest visit with the victim in Austria.
The aim of the visit, prosecutors wrote in summarizing the email exchanges, “was to speak to the (victim’s) older brother and convince him to not tell their parents and not go to police because this could cause serious problems not only for the Legion but also Father Vladimir, all the other priests involved and the victim and his family.”
The document the Legion wanted Martínez’s family to sign states that her son ruled out having been sexually abused by Reséndiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said he denied having any phone or text message contact with him, and that his ensuing problems were due to the fact that he left the seminary and was having trouble integrating socially into his new public high school.
The document set out payments for the son’s continuing education and therapy and required “absolute” secrecy. If the family were called to testify, they were to make the same declarations as contained in the settlement -- denying the abuse.
A few months later, the Legion realized it had erred in leaving the proposal with Martínez and proposed a revised settlement acknowledging the abuse occurred. Now, though, it required the family to pay back double the 15,000 euro ($16,300) settlement offer if they violated the confidentiality agreement.
The mother would have none of it. “It’s not a very nice agreement, signing a lie,” Martínez told the cardinal. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want any money, I’m not signing the letter.”
Multiply this outrage by the number of dioceses and Catholic orders around the world and one begins to get an inkling of just what a cesspool the Church hierarchy continues to be. Indeed, thoughts of a crime syndicate spring to mind when one reads through the efforts to threaten and intimidate victims and their families. Thank god I and my children are no longer Catholics and that my grandchildren will not be at risk of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.