Will Vatican’s Legion ‘takeover’ affect local properties?

So the Vatican is essentially taking over the Legionaries of Christ — the long controversial religious order that has fallen into disarray since a series of bizarre revelations about its famous founder.

The pope will name a “personal delegate” and a commission to run things and rethink the Legion’s mission and its place in the Catholic orbit.

Some people must be wondering today how this news will affect the Legion’s property holdings in Westchester.

I doubt that anyone knows.

The Legion owns two big, side-by-side tracts of land in Mount Pleasant and another nice piece of real estate in New Castle. I don’t have the patience right now to recount all the different Legion proposals for their Westchester property — or all the opposition from local governments and neighbors.

It will have to suffice to say that the Legion has had a rough time of it here in the Burbs, where people don’t like most big development proposals, especially those that take chunks of land off the tax rolls.

Once the Legion is remade — whatever that means, however the order will look — you have to figure that development plans will change. But we’ll see.

In case you don’t know, the Legion’s late founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who was treated as something like a living saint by his order, has been…discredited (that’s him with JPII). He molested seminarians, fathered children with several women and who knows what else.

The Vatican’s statement includes this:

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The apostolic visit has been able to ascertain that the behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had serious consequences for the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of in-depth revision.

The very serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, as incontrovertible evidence has confirmed, sometimes resulted in actual crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious sentiment. The great majority of Legionaries were unaware of this life, above all because of the system of relationships built by Father Maciel, who had skillfully managed to build up alibis, to gain the trust, the confidence and the silence of those around him, and to strengthen his role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently, the lamentable discrediting and dismissal of whoever doubted his behavior was upright, as well as the misguided conviction of those who did not want to harm the good that the Legion was doing, created around him a defense mechanism that made him untouchable for a long time, making it very difficult to know his real life.

(AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)

UPDATE: The Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese calls out Pope JPII for his unquestioning support of Maciel after the Legion’s founder was facing numerous accusations:

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John Paul trusted those who cheered him and tried to crush those who questioned his ideas or actions. This led him to trust Maciel and distrust questioning Jesuits.

Having grown up in a persecuted church where unity was a mater of survival, John Paul could not accept open debate and discussion in the church. Loyalty was more important than intelligence or pastoral skill. As a result, the quality of bishops appointed under him declined, as did the competence of people working in the Vatican.

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Of JPII, Reese writes: “But the sad truth is that while he was good for the world, he was bad for the church.”

Strong words.

About the whole Legionaries scandal, Reese writes:

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But the Vatican response needs to focus not only on the Legionaries but also on itself. Why did it take 13 years for the Vatican to intervene? Why did the Congregation for Religious not investigate the numerous accusations against Maciel? Why did it approve such a defective constitution in the first place? Is it true, as Jason Berry alleges in the National Catholic Reporter, that Maciel used Legionaries’ money to buy influence with cardinals in the Vatican?

If the pope wants to deal with the core issue, he should hire an outside management consulting firm to answer these questions and to make recommendations on improving the Vatican curia. The sexual abuse crisis was not only caused by bad priest, it was compounded by bad management at the diocesan and Vatican level.

Religion story of the decade, anyone?

I mentioned recently that the Religion Newswriters Association had voted for the top religion stories of 2009 (featuring Obama in Cairo).

But I haven’t seen anyone weigh in on the top religion story of the decade.

Until now.

Religion scholar Mark Silk is professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Hartford. And he’s editor of “Religion in the News,” an excellent thrice-yearly journal about media coverage of religion.

img07On his blog, SpiritualPolitics, Silk (that’s him) names what is clearly — to my mind, at least — the religion story of this unnamed decade:

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What was the biggest religion story of the decade? Unquestionably, the story of how American Catholic bishops, aided and abetted by civil authorities and mental health professionals, had systematically covered up the abuse of children by priests. This was big news locally in every Catholic diocese in the country. It became, because the USCCB was forced to confront it, a major national story. And it sparked rolling international coverage that, as this year’s revelations in Ireland attest, continues to play out. Given the breadth and depth of the coverage, I’m prepared to make the case that there has never been as big a religion story in the history of modern journalism–and that given the parlous state of journalism today, we may never see anything on its scale again.

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A simple, powerful case.

To my mind, the sex-abuse scandal was one of the most most talked-about stories of the last decade, behind only 9/11, the ongoing war on terror, and the recession.

In 2002 and 2003, people wanted to talk about it wherever I went.

To this day, it comes up in conversation all the time.

Why? Because people can’t believe that it happened, that bishops allowed it to happen.

Silk makes the case that the scandal has been largely forgotten and that the church is anxious to put the whole nasty matter behind it:

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But somehow, the entire thing has faded from national consciousness. There was not a peep about it in the NYT’s year-by-year wrap-up of the decade in the Week in Review last Sunday: Nor did Phillip Niemeyer’s Op-Chart, “Picturing the Past 10 Years,” so much as allude to the scandal. When Pope Benedict met with victims of abuse during his visit in 2007, there was appreciation yes, but also a sense that the county was so over that story. A lot more attention was paid to what the pope was wearing–Prada or no Prada? Pedophile priests? Been there, done that.

That’s certainly the vibe coming from the Catholic bishops, who recovered their mojo in the health care debate this year. With the help of a forgetful public, reminders of the late unpleasantness are brushed aside as so much finished business.

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Even Silk doesn’t mention the surest proof that the scandal has faded from public consciousness: the lack of media coverage given the demise of the Legionaries of Christ.

tjndc5-5scjixfmdmsrdd37exx_layoutIn a small nutshell: Pope John Paul II was enamored with the Legionaries, a fast-growing, very traditional Catholic order of priests that was founded in 1941 in Mexico by Marcial Maciel. The pope ignored allegations by about a dozen former seminarians that Maciel had sexually abused them.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI publicaly retired Maciel from ministry, without saying why. But it was obvious.

This past February, the Legion itself disclosed that Maciel had fathered children and lived a “double life.” The Vatican is now investigating the order.

The whole story is set out in journalist Jason Berry’s video “Vows of Silence.”

One can argue that the tale of Maciel and the Legionaries is a microcosm of the larger sex-abuse scandal. Allegations of abuse were made and the church — in this case, the POPE — either looked the other way or ignored the evidence. What did he know? When did he know it?

I keep wondering whether the Maciel case will affect John Paul’s otherwise glowing reputation as the late pontiff zooms toward sainthood. It sure seems to be a dark stain on his pontificate. But hardly anyone knows about it.

The religion story of the decade still inspires curiosity, but no more.