To its credit, Benedict XVI's Vatican has done what John Paul's dared not: publicly disciplined a highly-placed figure accused of abusing young men under his religious care. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, has been "invited" to refrain from any public exercise of his priestly office, and turn to a life of "prayer and penitence." (Read the Vatican's press release).
The Times article gives details, but the bottom line is that at least nine former seminarians claim Maciel molested them. He denies the claims, as do his supporters -- well, of course he does. It seems John Paul was believed those denials. And Benedict, as a cardinal, had personally ended a 1999 proceeding against Maciel.
But as the monstrous reality of Rome's coverup culture has become more apparent, Cardinal Ratzinger re-opened the Maciel case, and talked about getting rid of "filth" in the Church. The Vatican statement expressly stated that, due to his age and ill-health, Maciel would be spared a trial -- but the implication is clearly that a trial might otherwise be forthcoming.
To be sure, some people don't think Benedict has gone far enough. "They have negotiated with a criminal," says one former priest. Well, yes. But district attorneys do that every time they offer a plea bargain -- and the guilty still get punished.
Here's the part that kills us, though. Maciel has a number of prominent defenders in the Catholic neo-con camp: think George Weigel, Bill Bennett, Mary Anne Glendon. (Where is Michael "Warmonger" Novak, we wonder?) One of these is Richard John Neuhaus, who seems to be getting a little weirder in his old age. Here are the money quotes:
On Friday, Father Neuhaus . . . said he still believed that the charges against Father Maciel were unfounded. "There is nothing in the Vatican statement that suggests that the word penance is meant as a punitive measure," he said.
Asked why the Vatican would take any action, he said, "It wouldn't be the first time that an innocent and indeed holy person was unfairly treated by church authority."
A little disingenuous, don't you think?
First, let's remember what penance is: turning to God and asking forgiveness. For what? For sins. The Vatican doesn't specify which sins -- nor would we ask it to -- but the invitation to penance is clearly offered as the result of an investigation and the alternative to a trial. So yes, there is something in the statement which suggests a punitive measure, even if it doesn't make such a claim expressly.
And second, if we are going to extend charity toward our neighbors, should we not begin by assuming that nine men are less likely to lie than a single one, and to assume that the Pope knows something about his own affairs?