April 24, 2005

A sign of hope for sex abuse victims

International Herald Tribune

Jason Berry The New York Times

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2005

Historians will debate why the politically visionary Pope John Paul II, who was well briefed by many bishops on the sex abuse scandals that erupted in 1993, stood passive, offering minimal leadership as criminal and civil actions mounted around the world. And they may yet be surprised by Pope Benedict XVI: If he stays true to his moral absolutism, the Vatican could take a stronger stance against priests who have molested children.

The notorious case of the Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado, a powerful Mexican priest who founded his own order and lives in its seminary in Rome, suggests that the pope's approach to this issue may be evolving. While the case is yet to be decided and all legal proceedings are secret, it may offer some hope to victims of abuse looking for a change in Vatican policy under Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In 1998, when Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a legal tribunal of the congregation accepted a case by nine seminarians who accused Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, of sexual assault. The allegations, which stretch back to the 1960s, have been presented to the Vatican on several occasions. The response has always been silence. Initially, Ratzinger as well failed to respond; in 1999 he shelved the case, later telling a Mexican bishop that it was not "prudent" to proceed against a man who had helped the church by attracting young men to the priesthood.

Late last year, however, even as John Paul praised Maciel, Ratzinger quietly reopened the case, dispatching Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a canon lawyer on his staff, to investigate the charges. Scicluna is not allowed to speak publicly about his work. The men who charged Maciel, who have spoken to reporters in the past, also agreed not to speak about his investigation.

How long will the world have to wait for a verdict in the Maciel case? In the meantime, it may be useful to ask another question: Why did Ratzinger reopen the case?

Posted by kshaw at April 24, 2005 08:56 AM