Setting the Record Straight
BY Father Owen Kearns, LC
April 25-May 8, 2010 Issue | Posted 4/20/10 at 10:00 AM
A version of this publisher’s note was originally published as a Register Exclusive.
This is in some way a special edition of the Register, giving our readers an overview of what is involved in the firestorm over the Church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse.
Doing this thoroughly requires setting the record straight regarding previous Register coverage of the abuse scandal surrounding Father Marcial Maciel. I had intended waiting until the Holy See issued its findings after the apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, mostly to give myself enough time to wrap my mind and my heart around all I have learned about our founder.
I realize, though, that even if I don’t feel quite ready to talk about my role in defending our founder and the grief my words must surely have caused, the readers of the Register are ready and it is better that I speak now. To be honest, they have probably been ready for some time.
I publicly defended our founder as spokesman for the Legion of Christ in early 1997 and as publisher in the National Catholic Register in November 2001 and May 2006. On each of these occasions I believed completely that the allegations against Father Maciel were false. I trusted him and his profession of innocence. I know now that I was wrong.
The 1997 allegations of Father Maciel’s sexual abuse came as a complete shock to the Legionaries of Christ. We couldn’t believe that the allegations against our founder were true, because they were so incompatible with our experience of him. We tended to interpret them as one more attack — something normal in the life of many founders.
Even when the Vatican invited Father Maciel in 2006 to a retired life of prayer and penance, and it was obvious to many that he was considered guilty, the absence of a public explanation for the move allowed me to hope against hope that he was innocent.
Nothing in my experience of our founder prepared me to believe his victims — nothing, that is, until I learned that he had fathered a daughter. The conclusive evidence that he had done things incompatible with religious and priestly life made me rethink everything.
In February 2009, in the edition that covered the news, I wrote that I was saddened first of all for all those hurt by his misdeeds, and I asked Register readers to pray for his victims.
Since then, other shameful and reprehensible facts we never imagined about our founder have come to light. All of these revelations have been extraordinarily difficult for me to comprehend, let alone assimilate.
To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Register recused itself from further reporting of the events. We adopted the objective policy of covering the scandal by using reliable news reports produced independently of the Register and of the Legionaries.
I regret that in my defense of Father Maciel I took to task Gerald Renner and Jason Berry, the writers who broke the story, and their editors at the Hartford Courant. They didn’t get everything about the Legion right but they were fundamentally correct about Father Maciel’s sexual abuse and I ask forgiveness — too late for Gerald Renner, who is deceased.
To Father Maciel’s victims, I pray you can accept these words: I’m sorry for what our founder did to you. I’m sorry for adding to your burden with my own defense of him and my accusations against you. I’m sorry for being unable to believe you earlier. I’m sorry this apology has taken so long.
In the days to come, it is my prayerful hope to join with you in the journey toward healing and reconciliation of our community and our Church.
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