Actions of Legion of Christ founder called ‘difficult for us to understand’

The story of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, continues to get weirder.

Over a decade ago, he was accused of molesting several former seminarians. The accusations got little official traction, as Maciel and his conservative order were favorites of Pope John Paul II.

Then in 2006, the Vatican said that Maciel would retire and live a life of “prayer and penance.”

He died in January 2008.

Now the Legion — an order with a strong presence in Westchester — is apparently acknowledging to supporters that Maciel fathered a child.

A spokesman for the order told the NYT : “We have learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult for us to understand. We can confirm that there are some aspects of his life that were not appropriate for a Catholic priest.”

The National Catholic Reporter is saying:

Rumors that the Legionaries had reached new damning conclusions about Maciel have built in recent days in the wake of confidential meetings the new superior of the order, Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, has been holding with members to inform them of an internal probe of Maciel’s conduct.

Legionary sources told NCR that Corcuera has stressed that Maciel’s misconduct was not a “one-time slipup,” but rather “a pattern that stretched over years.”

These sources said Corcuera and other Legionary officials began their review after Maciel stepped down as the order’s superior in January 2006, and after the Vatican’s conclusions were issued four months later.

NCR also notes that Tom Hoopes, editor of the National Catholic Register, a Catholic weekly published by the Legion, wrote the following comment on the blog of the popular Catholic blogger Amy Welborn:

All I want to say is, I’m sorry.

I want to say it here, because I defended Fr. Maciel here, and I need to be on the record regarding that defense:

I’m sorry, to the victims, who were victims twice, the second time by calumny. I’m sorry, to the Church, which has been damaged. I’m sorry, to those I’ve misled.

I did it unwittingly, but this isn’t a time for excuses.

The Church gave me great, great good in Regnum Christi.

The Church did bring justice, and did penalize this man.

Thank God for the Church.

I seek repentance and forgiveness, and I leave it at that.

The Legion owns large estates in Mount Pleasant and New Castle, but has run into all sorts of development obstacles.

NPR to air report on sex abuse allegations in the Hasidic world

I blogged a couple of months ago about growing concerns about sexual abuse in the Hasidic Jewish community — and how difficult it is for the media and outside agencies to crack that insular world.

National Public Radio has apparently found two men who say they were abused while living as Hasidic Jews and are now willing to tell their stories.

NPR will debut the report tonight, but gives a significant preview on its website. It includes this:

But more and more accusations against rabbis have begun to circulate. Last August, politician and radio talk show host Dov Hikind devoted an hourlong program to sexual abuse. He interviewed Pearl Engelman, who spoke under an alias, about her son’s case.

The calls flooded in. Hikind, who is an Orthodox Jew himself, represents this area in the New York Assembly. He says after the show, people started showing up at his office with their stories.

“Fifty, 60, 70 people,” he says, “but you got to remember for each person who comes forward, God only knows how many people are not coming forward.”

Hikind refuses to release the names of alleged perpetrators, although he is working with the district attorney’s office. He says the people who confided in him are afraid to go public, which creates a perfect situation for abusers.

“If you’re a pedophile, the best place for you to come to are some of the Jewish communities,” he says. “Why? Because you can be a pedophile and no one’s going to do anything. Even if they catch you, you’ll get away with it.”

What a damning statement from Hikind. No one will do anything about sex abuse — even if they catch you.

Brings to mind, of course, what was said about certain Catholic bishops. But those bishops were public figures who had to show their faces in public, at Mass.

The alleged abusers in NPR’s report may be far less accountable, a scary thought.

Explaining the excommunication controversy

If you have a chance, catch up with my FaithBeat column from Saturday about the ongoing controversy over the pope’s lifting of the excommunications of four “traditionalist” bishops, including a Holocaust denier.

For the column, I interviewed Father James Massa, the main point-man on ecumenical and interfaith stuff for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. He chatted with me at length about why the pope lifted the excommunications of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X. He also explained why the members of this traditionalist group will have to change their tune on a lot of things — including their views on Judaism — before they can be fully welcomed back into the Catholic world.

By the way, the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson wrote about Cardinal Sean O’Malley becoming the first high-level Catholic figure in the U.S. to publicly defend the pope’s move.

Paulson also has a timely piece about the always challenging and sometimes strained relationship between Israel and the Vatican. He interviewed scholar Raymond Cohen, an expert on the relationship, who says:

In Judaism, we have an idea of “argument for the sake of heaven.” We’re not a people that welcomes banal decorum, or harmony for its own sake. Difficult questions have to be argued about, and I think the Catholic Church also appreciates that. If you read the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t mind arguing. That’s a common tradition. And a relationship based upon a difference of opinion, however profound, I think is a very mutually beneficial relationship. You get to know yourself better, whether you’re a Jew or a Catholic, and also you change. This relationship has led to both sides changing.

Kurt Warner’s Christian faith almost became the storyline (again)

Had the Arizona Cardinals held on to their lead last night, it would be another off-season of Kurt Warner profiles. We would all be hearing about his Christian faith and what a good guy he is.

I heard that a Westchester Catholic priest talked about Warner in his homilies this weekend.

But it was not to be.

There’s no big religious angle connected to the Steelers’ amazing comeback. But I’ll note that Tim Rooney, who owns Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, is part of the family that owns the Steelers.

And Tim Rooney is a pretty active Catholic. He was honored by Cardinal Egan not long ago for his support of Catholic Charities. And he was grand marshal of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2006.

So there’s your religious connection to the Super Bowl champs.