Pope Benedict should oust the head of the Legion of Christ.
Fr. Alvaro Corcuera now admits recent and serious wrongdoing. That’s the easy and essentially meaningless part. (Many Catholic officials have made similar admissions.)
But he faces no consequences. (Few of complicit supervisors ever do.) That’s the hard and meaningful – and painfully rare – part: punishing secretive and deceitful church wrongdoers.
That, however, is the part the Pope must play here if there’s a chance for real reform in the church hierarchy on clergy sex crimes and misdeeds and cover ups.
Despite tons of pledges, policies and procedures, virtually nothing will change if the Pope and other church officials continue to let their colleagues and underlings act recklessly and deceitfully – year after year after year – and get by with saying, when they're caught, “Oops, sorry, I goofed.”
In the case of Fr. Thomas Williams, who admits secretly fathering a child years ago, Fr. Alvaro Corcuera has acted deceitfully and recklessly by:
• accepting Fr. Williams’ denial at face value in 2005,
• staying silent for seven years after learning that Williams’ violated his celibacy pledge and secretly fathered a child,
• doing (according to the AP) "nothing to prevent (Williams) from teaching morality to seminarians or preaching about ethics on television, in his many speaking engagements or his 14 books, including ‘Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience’”
• being, in his own carefully-crafted words, “not firm enough” when he supposedly asked Fr. Williams to withdraw from public ministry
• secretly putting “restrictions” on Fr. Williams in 2010,
• not “diligently enforcing” them,
• letting Fr. Williams be the keynote speaker at a Legion-affiliated women’s conference just last month in the U.S.
• letting Fr. Williams commit to speaking at another women’s conference in October, and
• continuing to hide his own complicity in this disturbing case until just hours ago.
It's important to remember that if not for a brave whistleblower, all of this would still be hidden. Again, as we have for decades, we learn about clerical misconduct primarily from the bottom - through victims, witnesses and whistleblowers - not the top - from Vatican officials, bishops or other church staff. And we learn it only because of external pressure and threats, not because of voluntary disclosures.
It’s also worth noting that in his 1,400 word letter to his staff, Fr. Corcuera seeks prayers for Fr. Williams and other Legion wrongdoers. However, he makes no mention whatsoever of their victims – either those who were sexually violated as kids by Maciel and other Legion clerics, or those who were sexually exploited as adults by Williams and other Legion clerics. That omission speaks volumes. For Fr. Corcuera, like so many Catholic officials, predatory priests come first.
Those who are at risk of abuse or have been abused – either as kids or adults – are secondary at best or often (as in this case) not worthy of thought or mention whatsoever.
Fr. Corcuera’s reassurance that “things are handled differently now” is laughable. This is such an easy statement to make, and solely aimed at removing the egg on Corcuera’s face. In his letter, he begs forgiveness for his “ineffectiveness.” On the contrary, he was effective for years with Fr. Williams – he effectively kept serious wrongdoing hidden and kept a powerful, popular priest on the job for years.
Fr Corcuera’s announcement of a “review” of Legion abuse cases is a desperate, pre-emptive strike, much like Joe Paterno’s failed announcement that he’d quit at the end of the Penn State football season last year. In both cases, wrongdoers frantically sought to cling to power by belatedly and begrudgingly promising to “do better.” In both cases, the pledges are “too little, too late.”
Whether he is or should be forgiven or not is up for debate. But one point should be certain: if Pope Benedict wants a more holy and pure and safe church, he can’t keep ignoring or rewarding serious wrongdoing. He must oust Fr. Corcuera from his position.