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May 27, 2005
Vol. 4, No. 32

John L. Allen Jr.


Chronology of the latest news about Maciel; Peace, justice and the liturgy; Benedict's first major public events; Kasper on Eucharistic unity


The most-discussed news out of Rome this past week was the May 20 Vatican statement that there is no canonical procedure against Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, nor is one foreseen. As is by now well known, Maciel has been accused of sexual abuse by several former members of the Legionaries, charges which he and the Legionaries have long denied.

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The news caught many people off-guard, especially in light of the fact that the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, had traveled in early April to New York and Mexico City to meet with alleged victims. Those efforts suggested that the congregation was conducting a preliminary investigation regarding the accusations against the 85-year-old Maciel, who stepped down on January 20, 2005, as the superior of the Legionaries, who number some 650 priests and 2,500 seminarians.

In evaluating Vatican statements, the exact wording, coupled with who said it and what level of authority it enjoys, is always important. Unfortunately, this analysis in the Maciel case is complicated by larger scripts that come quickly into play. For those convinced that the church is involved in a pattern of denial with regard to the sexual abuse crisis, any news about Maciel is likely to be read in that light. Those leery of the Legionaries of Christ for whatever reason -- their alleged secretiveness or power, their "conservatism" -- are sometimes tempted to pounce on anything potentially negative. Similarly, those who admire the Legionaries -- for their dynamism, their success in generating vocations, and their unambiguous fidelity to church teaching -- naturally feel protective of the order's founder.

There can be legitimate discussions about all of these views, but each runs the risk of clouding objectivity. What I want to do here is provide as much clarity as possible about what we know, and what we don't know.

The most helpful way to go about this, it seems to me, is a chronology.

o On April 23, the New York Times carried a lengthy story reporting that Pope Benedict XVI, while he was still head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had "re-opened" the case against Maciel. That was technically inaccurate, since a case in the formal, canonical sense had never been opened in the first place, but the substance was correct in that Scicluna was indeed collecting testimony. The next day, the Times carried an op/ed piece from journalist Jason Berry, a longtime critic of the Legionaries, arguing that the Maciel case and the broader sexual abuse crisis represents an "epic challenge" to the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

o On the morning of May 20, respected Italian journalist Sandro Magister published an article on the Maciel matter in his on-line column, "www.chiesa," titled "Fr. Maciel's Trial Draws Nearer." Though the piece largely summarized material from other reports, it raised the profile of the Maciel affair in Rome, including inside the Holy See.

o The same morning, May 20, a fax arrived at the Rome headquarters of the Legionaries of Christ from the Vatican indicating that there is no canonical procedure in course, nor is one foreseen for the future, with regard to Fr. Maciel. The Legionaries say they were authorized to make the communication public, and were told that if anyone wanted to confirm it, they could contact the Vatican Press Office. The procedure was slightly unusual, because normally one of two methods would be used to communicate a decision of the Vatican -- either the relevant department would issue a statement itself, or the director of the Vatican Press Office would issue a declaration on behalf of the Holy See. Given, however, that in the early days of a new papacy it's not entirely clear how communications will function, it's perhaps not terribly surprising that things shook out in this fashion.

o Friday afternoon, May 20, the Legionaries of Christ issued a statement. Its key sentence read: "The Holy See has recently informed the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ that at this time there is no canonical process underway regarding our Founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, LC, nor will one be initiated." This statement was widely distributed to the English-speaking press.

In point of fact, the translation given in the Legionaries' press release was not quite exact. This is a case where the precise wording, given in Italian, is important. The original communication read, "non vi nessun procedimento canonico in corso n previsto per il futuro nei confronti di P. Maciel." Literally translated, it does not say "nor will one be initiated," but that a procedure "is not foreseen for the future." In Vatican argot, this is a potentially meaningful distinction. The formula "is not foreseen" is sometimes used for a development that is not officially in the works, but not completely outside the range of possibility. When papal trips are first rumored, for example, spokespersons sometimes say they are "not foreseen," only to have them eventually materialize. On the other hand, most things described as "not foreseen" don't happen.

o Later on Friday afternoon, May 20, news agencies began contacting the Vatican Press Office for confirmation of the Legionaries' press release. Catholic News Service published a story that day carrying the confirmation, given by the vice-director of the Press Office, Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini. (The director of the Vatican Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was out of town). Other agencies followed, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, and Reuters. The gist of these stories was that the Vatican had announced it would not move against Maciel.

o Among long-time critics of Maciel and the Legionaries, the news was a thunderbolt. On Monday morning, May 23, someone from a group called ReGAIN, composed of former members of the Legionaries, called Benedettini in the Vatican Press Office. After that conversation, they issued a statement from Spain claiming that the Legionaries of Christ had "misinformed the press," asserting that Benedettini had told ReGAIN there was no official statement from the Holy See. The release gave the impression that Benedettini had contradicted what he had earlier said to the news agencies, and that there was in fact "no news" about the investigation concerning Maciel.

o In response to the ReGAIN e-mail, I called Benedettini on May 23, who told me that all he had said to the people who called him was the same thing he said to journalists, to wit: "There is no canonical procedure in course nor is one foreseen with respect to Fr. Maciel." He said he never denied that this was an official response of the Holy See -- to do so would be absurd, since he had given just that response in an official capacity, on the record, to several news agencies.

o On May 25, a new twist emerged. NCR carried on its Web site a story specifying that the Vatican agency that issued the original communication on Maciel was not the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which under a 2001 motu proprio from Pope John Paul II has competence for matters relating to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, but the Secretariat of State. A senior Vatican official said that the doctrinal congregation has made "no statement" on the case. This does not mean that the Secretariat of State's communication was inaccurate, because for now there is no case against Maciel, nor is one officially in the works. What it does mean is that the story is not over until the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes a final determination -- and we do not know if that has happened.

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The best summary of the situation, therefore, seems the following: The Holy See has issued a communication stating that there is no case against Maciel, nor is one foreseen. The wording is a customary Vatican way of saying that one should not expect a case, though it does not completely foreclose the possibility. The statement came from an authoritative source, though not the office that ultimately has to make a judgment about Maciel, and officials of that office are saying that they have not made any statement. We therefore do not know if that office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has reached a final decision.

Bottom line: The Maciel story is not yet, at least not quite yet, over.

Let me be clear that none of what I've reported here implies ill will or duplicity on anyone's part.

In the world of cyber-commentary, some have accused the Legionaries of "spin" or "deception" with regard to what the Holy See said. On the contrary, the Legionaries received an official communication from the Secretariat of State, and were authorized to make it public. Granted, their English translation was slightly more definitive than the original Italian, but that could be a simple matter of inexact word choice. Further, it is unreasonable to expect the Legionaries to parse in public the difference between a statement from the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; they are as entitled as anyone else to presume that when the Holy See speaks, it does so with one voice.

Some have also implied that Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State and a longtime friend and admirer of Maciel and the Legionaries, fabricated a statement on Maciel's behalf. Yet the fact is, what the Secretariat of State communicated is true; there is no case against Maciel, and there are no plans for one. Even if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith eventually were to conclude it has the basis for an action, the Secretariat of State's communication to the Legionaries does not rule out that possibility.

On the other side of the coin, some have suggested that anyone who points out the complexities surrounding what the Vatican has said, anyone who suggests that there is still a possibility of action against Maciel, is somehow engaged in a campaign to defame Maciel, the Legionaries, or the Catholic church. (My favorite case in point came on a Catholic blog where, in response to my story on the communication coming from the Secretariat of State rather than the CDF, I was accused of being complicit in a "pro-abort/homosexual/lesbian agenda/USCCB/Democrat agenda.") In fact, the situation is not entirely clear-cut, and it does no one any favors to pretend otherwise.

I understand the passions people bring to this issue. Supporters of Maciel believe he is entitled to a full exoneration, not just a terse statement that "there is no case," while his accusers feel justice has been too long denied. I sympathize with the eagerness to read Vatican statements through the filters of those desires. For now, however, it seems we all are going to have to be patient a bit longer.

The June 3 issue of NCR will carry an in depth look at the Maciel case.

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One week ago, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at San Anselmo co-sponsored a study seminar titled "Peace and Liturgy: A Research Itinerary." The event took place in the offices of the Council for Justice and Peace in the Palazzo San Calisto, in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, with a select group of 45 invited Vatican officials and academics from a variety of disciplines, including moral theologians, anthropologists and economists, in addition to liturgists.

The idea was to promote research interest in the connection between the liturgical life of the Catholic church and its action on behalf of peace and justice.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Council for Justice and Peace, opened the seminar by invoking the words of Pope John Paul II in his last apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum, Domine, devoted to the Eucharist: "The lacerated image of our world, which began the new millennium with the specter of terrorism and the tragedy of war, calls Christians more than ever to live the Eucharist as a great school of peace, where men and women are formed who become weavers of dialogue and communion."

Peace, according to participants in the seminar, must be seen as both a prerequisite of the church's liturgical life, as well as one of its fruits.

In addition to Martino, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Archbishop Piero Marini, the pope's top liturgist, were also present.

Martino insisted that liturgy, especially the Eucharist, should propel Catholics towards engagement on issues such as "conflicts, war and peace, and all the subordinate causes of poverty, exploitation, oppression, and ethnic and racial hatreds." Martino announced that the Council for Justice and Peace intends to prepare a pastoral note on the liturgy as a "grand school of peace."

Jesuit Fr. Keith Pecklers, a liturgist who teaches at the Gregorian University, delivered a keynote address on the dangers of liturgical celebrations divorced from concern for the broader world. He warned against "liturgical isolationism," in which the exchange of peace, for example, is understood simply with reference to members of the parish community or one's neighbors. The result, he argued, is an anemic celebration that leaves the Body of Christ divided.

Pecklers went on to offer some hard-hitting examples. He noted that some officers of the Nazi SS attended Mass each morning during the Second World War, and then went about implementing the Holocaust. Similarly, he noted that some military officials in Chile during the Pinochet regime were faithful Mass-going Catholics and yet were involved in the torture of dissidents. How, Pecklers asked, could the two things go together?

Professor Enrico Mazza of the Catholic University of Milan provided a historical overview of the development of liturgical rites within the Catholic church, noting that in its origins, Catholic liturgy was understood as a sacrament of unity and peace. Both the Alexandrian rite, Mazza argued, and the Roman canon point to peace as a specific fruit of the Eucharist, a point, he said, which should provide important direction for the church of today.

Professor Paul De Clerck of the Catholic Institute of Paris examined the history of liturgical texts regarding prayers for peace from the third century to today, noting the strong commitment of the ancient church to pray for its persecutors. De Clerck called for a creative revival, and not merely a repetition, of some of these ancient texts. Benedictine Fr. Thomas Pott argued that part of the unfinished business of liturgical reform is not additional changes in the rites, but changes in the worshippers who are "liturgical subjects," so that the church's liturgical life becomes evermore a foretaste of the Reign of God.

These analyses generated some discussion about the Exchange of Peace in the Mass, and whether it would make sense to place it before the Eucharistic prayers, so that it becomes a prelude, almost a necessary pre-condition, for what follows. In the early church, Pecklers noted, there is precedent for having the Exchange of Peace in this position, and the Ambrosian Rite in Milan currently offers it as an option. The Exchange of Peace thus comes at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, as a "seal" to what has been said, and a "bridge" to what comes next.

Pecklers said that no immediate consensus came out of this discussion, but there seemed to be interest in the topic.

Professor Simona Beretta of the Catholic University of Milan insisted that Catholics must measure themselves "without shortcuts" against the aims of development and the eradication of poverty, "which is the other name of peace." The grace that flows from liturgical life, she suggested, is the Christian alternative to the cynicism that the difficulties of social change can sometimes generate.

A footnote to this report.

The connection between liturgy and justice is a long-time passion for Pecklers, who, among other things, is one of the co-founders of an English-language worshipping community in Rome at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita. In his 2003 book Worship, Pecklers devotes a chapter to the history of Catholic reflection on this subject. (He cites, for example, a 1991 essay in Worship magazine by Robert Hovda, who wrote that, "Individuals are incapable of worship."). Anyone interested in pursuing the subject would do well to consult Pecklers' book.

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This week will see Pope Benedict XVI's first two major public events following the ceremonies marking the beginning of his pontificate. On Sunday, he goes to the southern Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast, to celebrate the final Mass of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress. It will be the first trip outside Rome of his papacy, and I'll be in Bari to cover the event.

The congress, the theme of which is, "Without Sunday We Can't Live," began on Saturday, May 21. Each day's schedule features a morning Mass, followed by Eucharistic adoration and then catechetical talks.

The other big event came Thursday, May 26, with the Corpus Christi Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, followed by the traditional procession down the via Merulana to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

In his homily for the occasion, Benedict XVI offered reflections that in an interesting fashion pick up on the discussion above about liturgy and justice. On Holy Thursday, he said, the church accompanies Christ on his procession to the Mount of Olives, and the beginning of his passion; on the Feast of Corpus Christi, however, the church accompanies the Risen Christ on his procession to Galilee, which among First Century Jews was considered the gateway to the pagan world. Hence this procession impels the Church outward, towards a dynamic missionary commitment to engagement with the entire world.

Since Corpus Christi is preeminently a Eucharistic feast, the pope also touched on the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine of Catholic communion. Receiving the consecrated host, he said, is not so much a matter of eating, but of a meeting between two persons, in which the communicant desires to assimilate his or her life to that of Christ. This too implies an impulse towards concern for the other, so that adoration and procession, functioning here as metaphors for spiritual devotion to the Eucharist and service to others, are properly seen as two elements of one and the same Eucharistic act.

When Benedict walked out in the opening procession of the Mass at St. John Lateran, one unexpected but familiar face was behind him: Archbishop Stanislaw Dzwisiz, the private secretary of Pope John Paul II. Though Benedict_s own secretary, Msgr. Georg Gnswein, was present to attend to his pope, Dzwisiz's presence was a visible reminder of the strong link between Benedict and his predecessor.

Pope Benedict had issued an invitation during his May 25 general audience for people to attend the Corpus Christi Mass and procession, and tens of thousands turned out. The pope did not walk the route himself, but was driven on a special platform, covered by a canopy, on the back of a flatbed pick-up truck. He knelt in prayer. The truck was proceeded by clergy and Vatican officials, as well as members of lay confraternities and guilds wearing colorful costumes.

When the entourage arrived at Santa Maria Maggiore, Pope Benedict was welcomed by Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who resigned amid the sexual abuse scandals in the United States, and who is now the archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore. Law stood next to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican_s Secretary of State, during the adoration service.

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On May 19, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top ecumenical official, delivered an address at Rome's Centro Pro Unione on the Eucharist and Ecumenism. In it, Kasper unpacked how he sees the connection between the sacrament of the Eucharist and efforts on behalf of Christian unity.

Kasper argued that for the great fathers and theologians, the Eucharist is preeminently the sacrament of the unity of the church. St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, for example, were ardent champions of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but they did not regard that presence as the "point" of the Eucharistic celebration. Rather, the presence of Christ, in their view, pointed to something else.

"The unity of the church," Kasper said, "is the reason why the Eucharist exists."

Kasper also called for a new appreciation of the connection between the Eucharist and ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church.

"No community that celebrates a Mass can isolate itself, withdraw into itself," Kasper said. "It can celebrate only in communion with all other communities. A Eucharistic ecclesiology is the basis not for the independence of local churches, but their interdependence, mutual co-penetration."

Coming specifically to the ecumenical dimension, Kasper reminded his audience that ecumenism is not a secondary concern, but part of Christ's explicit will for the church. At the same time, it is primarily a spiritual undertaking, not something to be fabricated around a negotiating table.

The most important imperative that flows from the Eucharist, Kasper argued, is awareness that "all the disciples of Christ should gather around one table of the Lord. This is part of God's great plan of salvation."

In that sense, he said, the Eucharist sends Catholics forth to work on behalf of Christian unity.

On the vexed question of the participation of other Christians in the Catholic Eucharist, Kasper said two principles have to be operative:

o Eucharist and unity belong together, so that one should receive the Eucharist in the fellowship to which one belongs. Unity around the table presupposes unity in faith. This is why, he said, Catholics can't issue blanket invitations for non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist.

o At the same time, "the supreme law of the church is the salvation of souls," Kasper recalled, citing the final canon, 1752, of the Code of Canon Law. A person must be treated as an individual, Kasper insisted, and not simply as an example of some general category. Thus under some circumstances, Catholic pastors are permitted to administer the sacraments, including the Eucharist, to non-Catholics.

"This seems to me an appropriate response to the contemporary situation," Kasper said. "It allows bishops to reach prudent pastoral decisions in particular instances.

Spiritual questions cannot be regulated by canon law alone. We need pastoral wisdom and the discernment of spirits."

During the question and answer period, Kasper was challenged on whether the Eucharist could be a source, as well as a summit, of Christian unity. In other words, by inviting others to share in the Catholic Eucharist, would we not foster the unity Kasper described as an imperative?

Kasper responded that at a minimum, to invite a non-Catholic to receive communion, "we must share the same faith in the Eucharist."

"At the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the community answers 'Amen,'" Kasper said, "meaning, 'I agree.' Everyone has to ask, 'Can I really say 'Amen' to what is said and done according to Catholic understanding?'"

"These restrictions are not external, disciplinary positions of the church," Kasper said. "They are an explication of this 'Amen.' Otherwise it would be dishonest to go to communion.

"I would say the same to many Catholics," he added. "Does your life correspond to what this Eucharist is? You have to reflect about this, do penance and conversion, and so on. We do not invite all Catholics, either. It's a very hard question of conscience."

Kasper was also asked to comment on the frustration some Protestants feel, given that the Catholic church does not regard their denominations as a "church" in the full sense of the term. He was asked, does this not imply a negative judgment?

"Of course I take the other seriously," he said, "but I also take seriously that we have different ecclesiologies. It would not be honest to say that we acknowledge you theologically on the same level. On a personal level, I express full recognition of their conviction, but mine is different. This is a matter of respect too."

Referring to the 2000 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, which referred to some Protestant bodies as not churches "in the proper sense," Kasper said he did not think this formula was "quite correct," but said it's accurate to say they are not churches "as we Catholics understand 'church.' "

"These differences have to be expressed in some way," he said. "We have to live with this."

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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