Speculation is growing about the future of former Vatican Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, in the wake of revelations about the financial dealings of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder and spiritual guru of the Legionaries of Christ – a Roman Catholic religious order. An exposé of Maciel’s activities by the leftist Catholic paper National Catholic Reporter (NCR), claims that much of the support and protection he received from the Vatican stemmed from his astonishing talent as a fundraiser and dispenser of massive “largesse” to key members of the Vatican curia.
Some are speculating that the revelations may force the long-retired Sodano to resign as the Dean of the College of Cardinals, a post that is officially mostly ceremonial, but still carries significant influence.
The immense and disturbing two-part investigative report by NCR’s Jason Berry points damning fingers not only at Maciel, but at the high-level Vatican officials, especially Sodano, who allegedly protected and supported him, long after credible allegations of misconduct had begun to surface.
Maciel, described recently by Ross Douthat in an op-ed in the New York Times as a “sexually voracious sociopath,” has been revealed to have been a drug addict and the father of several children by different women, and to have been guilty of long-denied homosexual molestation of seminarians.
Berry writes that since the end of World War II, Maciel had “sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end,” which, according to “many sources interviewed by NCR” was that of “buying support for his group and defense for himself, should his astounding secret life become known.”
Maciel’s efforts to use money to direct the flow of power from Rome began as early as 1946, when he was granted an audience by Pope Pius XII. At that time, with Rome and the rest of Italy needing re-building after the war, Maciel’s talents as a fundraiser and gift-giver secured his position with Clemente Micara, the cardinal who was then Vicar of Rome.
More recently, Maciel developed a close relationship with Angelo Sodano, who served as Pope John Paul’s Secretary of State, effectively the Vatican’s Prime Minister, from 1990 to 2006. The NCR report says that Sodano and Maciel began their friendship while the former was nuncio of Chile in the 1980s. Later, as he was preparing to take on the role of Secretary of State, Sodano studied English at the Legion’s centre in Dublin and took holidays at the Legion’s villa in southern Italy. The Legion hired Sodano’s nephew as consultant when they built their flagship institution, Regina Apostolorum University in Rome.
Berry reports that much later, efforts to reveal Maciel’s machinations and sexual improprieties were actively blocked by “pressure from Maciel’s chief supporter, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.” Berry reports that after nine former members of the Legion who claimed to have been sexually abused by Maciel filed a canonical case against the founder with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998, Sodano “pressured” Cardinal Ratzinger to halt the proceedings.
There can be no doubt that Maciel had the financial wherewithal to buy the best protection available. The Italian daily L’Espresso estimated the Legion’s assets at 25 billion Euros, and the Wall Street Journal estimated its annual budget at U.S. $650 million.
By the time accusations of sexual abuse of seminarians had begun to surface against him, NCR says that Maciel had, at least in part through the use of extensive gifts, already secured the support of three key Vatican figures: Sodano; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, long-time secretary to Pope John Paul and now archbishop of Kraków.
Glenn Favreau, a Legionary serving in Rome from 1990 to 1997, and today an attorney in Washington, D.C., told NCR of the lavish parties given by the Legion for Sodano and as many as 200 members of his family on occasions such as his receiving the cardinal’s red hat. Favreau said, “And we fed them all. When he became secretary of state there was another celebration. He’d come over for special events, like the groundbreaking with a golden shovel for the House of Higher Studies. And a dinner after that.”
Berry quotes another ex-Legionary saying, “Cardinal Sodano was the cheerleader for the Legion. He’d come give a talk at Christmas and they’d give him $10,000.” Another priest recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano. Berry states that such donations were typically given for “pious causes” or works of charity, although it is unclear whether the money was reported to the vicar-general of the Vatican, and where it ultimately ended up. Cardinals contacted by NCR about donations from the Legion did not respond to interview requests.
Writing in America magazine, author Austen Ivereigh speculates whether the revelations will mean that Sodano, who is officially retired from active ministry, will be forced to resign his position as Dean of the College of Cardinals. Ivereigh wrote that in the whole story, there is “an obvious cardinal whose head should roll: Sodano’s. His resignation would be the best way of repudiating the sordid manner in which Maciel was protected in Rome for so many years.”
Ross Douthat pointed out in his op-ed in the NYTimes, that in the period in which Maciel was buying Vatican influence and protection, “Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger.” Berry reports an incident in which Ratzinger firmly refused the proffered “gratuity,” an envelope of cash, after lecturing for Legionaries in Rome. “He was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said of Ratzinger, according to Berry.
It was one of Benedict XIV’s first acts as pope to banish Maciel to “a life of prayer and repentance,” and to instigate a massive investigation into his life and into the affairs of the Legionaries he founded.
In recent weeks, while the media has labored unsuccessfully to find a “smoking gun” implicating Pope Benedict in wrongdoing in cases of sexual abuse by priests, the subject of Maciel has gotten almost no airtime. But Douthat points to the actions of Ratzinger, and later as Benedict, as indication that if there is anyone who is not guilty of mismanagement in the sex abuse cases, including that of Maciel, it is him.
Douthat writes that Ratzinger’s efforts to combat sexual abuse by priests, including that of Maciel, dates to well before 2001, when he persuaded Pope John Paul to place the issue under the sole supervision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Douthat writes, “It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.”
The Vatican investigation into the Legionaries is expected to issue a report later this month.