Begin by investigating Rome Itself Fr. Séan McDonagh, SSC


On September 30th 2010, it was announced that the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, would be travelling to Rome to meet with officials of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies Apostolic Life and the members of the Visitation team which Pope Benedict XVI promised to send in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland earlier this year.

I believe that both the Irish archbishops and the team of visitors to the Irish Church should begin by scrutinising Rome’s own handling of sex-abuse allegations.  The challenging words of Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel are very pertinent. Jesus says, “how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 74-5).

Yvonne Murphy, the judge who led The Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation is scathing in her criticism of how the Church and State handled accusations of abuse. In  1.15 she writes, “The Dublin Archdioceses pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.” However she does not accuse any of the Church leaders of covering up the scandals because they received gifts from sex abusers.  In Rome, on the other hand, there are credible claims that accusations against perpetrators were not followed up because money changed hands.


The most high profile case involves Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the highly influential Legionaries of Christ. He is accused of abusing boys and girls over a period of four or five decades. Fr. Juan Vaca was abused by Maciel as a seminarian.  When he finally left the Legion in 1976 and joined the Diocese of Rocville Center. With the support of   Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre, N.Y., he sent a letter to the Vatican with detailed allegations of abuse. He continued to petition Rome to discipline Maciel until 1989. Nothing happened.

Maciel raised a fortune from wealthy sponsors, and ingratiated himself with church officials in Rome.[1] In 1998, ex-Legion victims of Maciel filed a canonical case in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Many people believe that nothing happened to Maciel because of pressure from Cardinal Sodano. Jason Berry writing in The Irish Catholic claims, that “Sodano, as Secretary of State – essentially the Vatican’s prime minister – pressured Ratzinger, as the congregation’s prefect, to halt the proceeding.”[2] Maciel and Cardinal Sodano became friends when the latter was nuncio to Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.  Maciel hired Andrea Sodano, the cardinal’s nephew as a construction consultant while building the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. When other Legionaries complained that Sodano’s  work was faulty, Maciel insisted that he be paid. Maciel cultivated the relationship with Sodano. Berry claims that when he was made a cardinal the Legion put on a party for 200 members of the Sodano family and friends.  The same happened when he became Secretary of State. When Cardinal Sodano gave talks at the Legion’s University he received $10,000. [3] Even Joseph Bottum, the editor of the conservative publication First Things, wrote recently that, “a figure such as Cardinal Sodano has to be removed from his current position and told to serve the Church in prayer. Everyone inside the Church needs to be taught that there are consequences for scandalous mistakes.”[4]

It was only in 2004, with Pope John Paul’s health deteriorating rapidly that Cardinal Ratzinger broke with Cardinal Sodano and ordered Msgr Charles Scicluna  to investigate Maciel.  Surely this is one of the greatest failures in terms of accountability any where in the Church for decades. In addressing the Irish Bishops, Pope Benedict called for “complete honesty and transparency.” If Rome is now insisting on accountability in Ireland and other churches, surely it must lead by good example and investigate those who protected Maciel. Otherwise, the visitation of the Irish Church will lack credibility and thoughtful Catholics will refuse to engage with the visitors.


[2] Jason Berry, “Cash paved way at Vatican”, The Irish Catholic, May 13, 2010, page 25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joseph Bottum, “The Cost of Father Maciel, May 12, 2010. (downloaded on September 26, 2010.


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