Jason Berry, along with his colleague Gerald Renner (now deceased) will forever be remembered for the solid investigative journalism that revealed the truth about the sordid life of Fr. Maciel Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ so honored and beloved by the late John Paul II. Their book, appropriately titled Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, was roundly ignored for years by the Vatican and the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith headed by Ratzinger. It demonstrated that letters and formal requests to be heard by victims of Maciel's sexual abuse in seminaries he founded were ignored for years; it makes one weep and outraged at this man's perfidy. Yet, Pope John Paul II was so enamored of Maciel's fund raising prowess and of his all-obedient troops that he took him with him on plane rides to Latin America and ordained fifty-some of his priests in a massive public showing of support in St Peter's square. Ratzinger once commented that it would not be "prudent" to go after Maciel since he had done so much good for the church. Try telling that to the twenty-some seminarians he abused AND the two common law wives he had on the side along with four children, all of whom (boys and one girl) he also abused sexually. Ratzinger as Pope Benedict finally got around to investigating Maciel and his Legion of Christ order which, among other strange and fascist practices, demanded a vow of not speaking badly of the "saintly founder" (that is, Maciel). Maciel was not only a great fund raiser and recruiter for the priesthood, he was also enamored of Pinochet and other right wing dictators.
Now Jason Berry continues his probings into the sordid facts about the Roman Catholic Church in our time. He moves from pedophile scandals to financial scandals in Render to Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church. The two scandals are by no means separate however if one considers how $3 billion of Catholic lay peoples' hard-earned cash has gone into paying lawyers and victims of the pedophile story. Or if one traces the money flow, which Berry does, from parish to bishop and to what is often secret funds. Berry is himself a Roman Catholic; he is not trying to destroy the church but report on it. The hierarchy is destroying the church, not truth-telling reporters. Berry comments that the Vatican's net worth "is invisible." In its 2007 balance sheet it listed the value of St Peter's Basilica and other historic buildings at 1 euro each ($1.47)!
The current Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone, was a lowly canon lawyer picked from obscurity by Ratzinger to investigate the Maciel case; he swore all the victims to secrecy and ended up doing nothing about Maciel. For his loyalty he was named archbishop of Genoa, then Cardinal, and now Secretary of State. While he was ecclesial chief of Genoa he found the time and interest to endorse Maciel's book (since proven to have been lifted 80% from a dead theologian's book--add plagiarism to Maciel's list of sins and crimes). Bertone endorsed it in the most effusive way by writing a celebratory preface to the Italian edition in 2003. To repeat, this same Bertone so enamored of Maciel is now secretary of state for Pope Benedict's Vatican. It is amazing what loyalty will buy.
The previous secretary of state was a certain Cardinal Sadono--the same cardinal who interrupted the Easter Mass in St Peter's Square in 2010 to declare that Ratzinger was being abused by "petty gossipers" who complained that he was not taking action about pedophie priests and bishops and cardinals who cover up for them. It was Sadano who put pressure on Ratzinger at the CDF not to act against Maciel in the first place. This same Sadono had worked in Chile under Pinochet's dictatorship, ever obsequious to his fascist ways even though hundreds of priests, sisters and lay leaders were being tortured and murdered by Pinochet's regime. He approved only those priests for bishop who supported Pinochet. He was the recipient of a special medal given him by Pinochet in 1988. And it was John Paul II (now destined to "sainthood") who handpicked Sadono as secretary of state to manage the Curia and to offer "more hard line resistance" to communism. Berry makes a strong case that Sodano laundered money for his erstwhile nephew and his business partner Follieri who gave money to the Vatican and who is now in prison in New York for fourteen counts of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. After yielding his job as secretary of state to the great and loyal Bertone, Sadono became dean of the College of Cardinals just in time for the College to vote Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.
William Casey, the CIA director under Reagan was a right wing Catholic so enamored of Maciel that he and his wife gifted them with a seven figure donation--a plaque honors their bequest in the novitiate in Cheshire, Ct. Casey steered money to the Vatican to support Solidarity in Poland and apparently in return the Vatican went after Liberation Theology and base communities in South America. Casey also fed money to right-wing militias in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, the very militias that murdered five Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador and also Archbishop Romero. Other champions of Marcel included Jeb Bush and Cardinal Rode who was head of Religious Orders in the Vatican and who took vacations in Cancun at the expense of the Legion. Not surprisingly, righteous right-wing Catholic William Bennet, ever on American TV, was also a proud and loud admirer of Maciel.
Berry asks the question: "Why beatify a pope whose faith in Maciel and myopia on the abuse crisis left a trail of human carnage? The rush to spectacle cannot airbrush facts from history." Spectacle is indeed what the present and past papacies love about Television. And the media loves to oblige (ABC hired one of Maciel's Legion of Christ priests to offer commentary for the funeral of the last pope.)
So much for Rome, church headquarters. What about America? The bottom line is that the bishops in their respective dioceses are like medieval princes who rule practically unchecked when it comes to financial matters. Many dioceses have no way of keeping healthy books even if they wanted to keep them. Transparency is rare and often non-existent. Cardinal Law in Boston, for example, famous for his passing pedophile priests from parish to parish and for his promotion to run a fourth century basilica in Rome, took money earmarked for priestly retirements and used it to pay off pedophile claims without telling anyone. The result? The clergy retirement fund is over $104 million in the hole. Law did this secretly before the pedophile scandal broke in 2002. Law currently serves on the Commission in the Vatican that appoints bishops worldwide.
One of his handpicked bishops, Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland was famous in Boston where he oversaw "Reconfiguration," i.e. the closing of parishes usually taking into account none of the objections and alternatives of parishoners who held sit ins and sleep ins in certain parishes targeted for closure there. On arriving in Cleveland, Lennon set out to close 53 parishes while more local people felt the number could be limited to fifteen. He did not make himself the most popular cleric in town. In fact, so unbeloved by his flock is Lennon that when he comes to a parish to conduct confirmation he wears a flak jacket (sic!) and is accompanied down the aisle by two policemen. Lennon's plan had no in-put from urban planners, public officials, priests or nuns. It included shutting down eight churches officially designated as historical landmarks.
Berry traces the money trails in the Boston diocese, Cleveland, New Orleans and Los Angeles. A prime example is the most important and historic black parish in New Orleans, built in 1842, that Bishop Hughes (also from Boston and another Law protege) shut down . A near riot among the parishoners eventually got it reopened but the charismatic pastor was exiled to Texas. The point is made that an effort to raise money through appeals to significant black leaders would have done wonders to keep the place open. After all, this was post-Katrina. But the Bishop never tried an appeal like that.
Perhaps the most startling news to me on reading this book (other than the flack-jacketed Bishop) was to hear the facts about Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles. Mahoney, Berry points out, was even more duplicitous than Cardinal Law but he was more expert at holding off the legal attacks and his diocese was more flush with cash that he put into legal defense funds against victims of pedophilia. However, charity funds dried up almost entirely. Mahoney was a genius at manipulating the media. Perhaps one expects that of a bishop of Hollywood land. "Mahoney's decisions in recycling perpetrators, and living among them, were more egregious than Bernard Law's scandal. But the media-savvy Mahoney spent heavily on publicity and used his financial muscle to wage the legal fight...ratcheting up an overall final payout of $750 million. But Mahoney was not indicted." (323)
Berry proposes a solution to the legal battles raging over priestly pedophilia offered by Patrick Schiltz, of the St Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Why not set up a national tribunal of well-respected people who are completely independent of the church to arbitrated sexual claims against the church. "The most important benefit of this system is that it would let the church and the victim work together in a common cause--achieving a just and healing result--rather than put them against each other through several years of litigation," Schiltz proposes. The idea was offered in 2003; so far the bishops have not come on board. So the litigations continue and, ultimately, "all roads lead to Rome...it all leads to the pope" according to one lawyer deeply involved in such matters.
This is an honest book but a sad one to read. A telling story of the church of Pope John Paul II who "stood passive" and scolded the media , blaming therapists for misleading bishops while the cardinals around him blasted media and lawyers and dug in his heels in stubbornness against the truth coming out. It very much confirms my conviction that a gross "Dumbing Down of the Church" has been consciously orchestrated from the Vatican since John Paul II took over the reigns. This is clear in the theological Inquisitions that occur to this day but also in the appointments of "Yes men" as bishops. One welcomes the truth coming out as painful as that is. Didn't someone once say, "the truth will make you free?" Isn't that Someone the supposed source behind the Christian movement?
At the conclusion of a recent workshop Jason Berry offered on "Render to Rome," a man turned to me and said: "Wait until these facts come out. This will ignite more fire than even the pedophile crisis because it hits closer to home for many Catholics in the pew, people who give money to the church." I suspect he is right. Maybe, as I propose in my book, The Pope's War: How Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can be Saved, pushing the restart button on Christianity is the only solution to the patent sexual, financial and ideological corruption in the highest places of Catholicism at this time in history.