A Priest's Story
How McGann Tried to Help One Victim
By Carol Eisenberg
Newsday [Long Island NY]
May 4, 2004
The bishop's question still haunts Juan Vaca almost 30 years after their conversation.
"Didn't anybody blow the whistle?" John Raymond McGann, the late bishop of the diocese of Rockville Centre, had wanted to know.
The melancholy, Mexican-born priest had just told McGann things he had never before revealed to anyone: How he had been molested from the time he was 12 by the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the legendary founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative, Rome-based religious order. How he knew 20 other former seminarians abused by Maciel - including another priest now working in Rockville Centre. How all of them had taken vows never to criticize Maciel - and to report anyone who did.
That April 1976 conversation between bishop and priest begins "Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II," an ambitious new book by veteran reporters and lifelong Catholics Jason Berry and Gerald Renner.
The book sheds new light on McGann, who is shown here in a sympathetic, if not a heroic, light, pursuing an investigation of a powerful Vatican player accused of sexual abuse - an image at odds with the one that emerged from a 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report, which described how the diocese engaged in a systematic cover- up of priest sex abuse under his leadership.
In this case, McGann helped Vaca seek justice, according to Berry and Renner. He reported Maciel to the Vatican, forwarding letters to Rome via diplomatic pouch from Vaca and another former Legion priest on Long Island, the Rev. Felix Alarcon, who confirmed he had been molested by Maciel, too. He also sent along the names and addresses of 19 other men whom Vaca had identified as victims.
"I think McGann responded as a bishop should," Berry said. "He notified Rome. Was there a double standard [because Vaca was a priest]? Absolutely. There's no getting around that. How Vaca was treated by McGann stands out in relief against how many lay people who were abused by priests were treated, not just by Rockville Centre, but by dioceses across the ... country."
Yet the effort bore no fruit - not in 1976, when the papers were first sent to Rome; not in 1978, when they were sent again; not 13 years later, when the diocese forwarded a letter from Vaca asking for dispensation from his priestly vows to marry. In that letter, written directly to the pope, Vaca said he had "poorly trained" for the priesthood "because of the serious traumas I suffered for years for being sexually and psychologically abused by the Superior General and Founder, Marcial Maciel ... in the same way I soon realized he was doing to other seminarians."
Vaca received the dispensation four years later, but never heard anything back about Maciel.
"I don't know why it was not acted on. ... It's a substantive allegation that should have been acted on," the book quotes McGann's former canonist, Msgr. John Alesandro, as saying in a 1997 interview. (Alesandro, now pastor of St. Dominic in Oyster Bay, did not return calls seeking comment.)
Vaca, who is now 66, married and teaching psychology at Mercy College, said he still dreams of vindication. "When finally someone in the Vatican calls me to say, 'Juan, I want to hear your side of the story,' then I will feel relief."
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