Letter from Rome

By Robert Mickens
The Tablet
October 30, 2010

THE victims are coming! That alarm was sounded this week in the Vatican as survivors of clerical sexual abuse by Catholic priests were expected to ascend on to St Peter’s Square tomorrow evening for what they are calling “Reformation Day”. Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid – the American co-founders of Survivor’s Voice – are the main organisers of the event. They are hoping that hundreds of abuse survivors and supporters from more than a dozen countries will come to participate. They say it is a “gathering of people from around the globe standing together with survivors of childhood sexual abuse in one united voice to say, ‘Enough!’”

But it seems the Vatican doesn’t want to hear anything of it. Survivor’s Voice said this week they have been “denied permits for victims of clergy sex abuse to gather as a group on Vatican property”. In a press release sent to journalists on Tuesday they added that the undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Angelo Scelzo, had also told members of the media “that they will not be allowed to cover the Reformation Day event or film from the grounds of the Vatican”. But this has not deterred the organisers. They intend to go on with the gathering all the same – just down the street from St Peter’s at Castel Sant’Angelo.

An advocate for abuse victims in the United States told me the Vatican’s attitude towards these people was a shameful refusal to even acknowledge their presence. “Imagine the possibilities if Pope Benedict actually welcomed them?” she said. “Survivors are basically being told, ‘Get lost, we’ve already apologised’, as they try to approach the centre of Catholicism.” Of course, the Pope could surprise everyone and actually acknowledge the group at the noon Angelus.

VATICAN officials are doing everything humanly possible to save the Legion of Christ from collapsing. That looked pretty obvious from the letter Cardinal-designate Velasio De Paolis CS recently sent to members of the order. “The shock caused by the actions of the Founder (Marcial Maciel) had tremendous impact, on a scale capable of destroying the Congregation itself, as many in fact predicted. Yet it not only survives, but is almost intact in its vitality,” the papal delegate wrote. Former Legionaries, many of whom believe the Legion has long operated on cult-like devotion to Maciel, were incensed. “The affirming tone of the letter was surprising to many and raises questions about what the Vatican intends to do or to not do in the reform process,” said ReGAIN, a group of former Legionaries that tries to unite and support those touched or adversely affected by the order. “It would seem that the Church is enabling and encouraging the Legion and [the lay arm] Regnum Christi to continue business as usual. The recruiting, ordinations and consecrations are still happening,” ReGAIN said in a statement on its website.

Ironically, it is probably the case that too many people in Rome believe the Legion of Christ is too big to fail. Certainly, over the years it has made not a few people in the Roman Curia beneficiaries of its success. Just look at all the vocations. Every time there’s a papal Mass it seems a Legionary of Christ is one of the deacons, and Legionaries served prominently at the main liturgies for the African Synod last year even though the order does not even have a single foundation in Africa.

CARDINAL-designate Velasio De Paolis recently ordained several deacons in the Tridentine Rite. But they were not Legionaries. They were members of the recently founded Franciscans of the Immaculate. When showed a photo of Archbishop De Paolis dressed in the Tridentine vestments and episcopal gloves a Vatican official exclaimed: “That’s all we needed … Where are we going to end up?” The surprised official is not some “loony leftie”, but a well regarded theologian and member of what is perhaps the most highly favoured religious order in the current pontificate. Evidently, he didn’t think the cardinal-designate was given to celebrating the Old Mass. Others who will get the red hat next month are more famous for that, such as Raymond Burke and Malcolm Ranjith. Of course, since Pope Benedict’s motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” went into effect on 14 September 2007, there are practically no restrictions on use of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.

But that doesn’t mean that all bishops agree with it. The question is whether or not they will tell that to the Pope. “I invite you, dear brothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences three years after the motu proprio has taken effect,” Pope Benedict told them. “If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.” No one has mentioned whether any bishops have sent in reports yet. But it probably won’t matter anyway. It seems Rome does whatever Rome wants. The latest example is the new English translation of the Missal. After years of blood, sweat and tears, the bishops finished the translation and received the Vatican’s recognitio. But now, according to Fr Alan Griffiths (see Letters, page 18), officials in Rome are making innumerable changes to the text.





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