Maciel and the Pope

If I have the Maciel story right, he was given a rather mild punishment, sort of a quiet retirement with no heavy lifting, at the very end of his life, for unspeakably bad behavior, with no resolution of whether he actually did anything bad. What in the world is going on here?

(1) We couldn’t figure out whether he did it for decades, but now we’re finally sure, and he’s a frail old man, and he’s our old man, and the kids were in another country, and nobody died.

(2) We’re still not sure, so we’ll give him a mild punishment. I think it would almost make more sense to roll a die and (if the odds are 2:1 for innocence) put him in a dungeon if it comes up 1 or 2, otherwise nothing. This has a sort of lunatic logic: everybody who’s accused gets some jail time, a lot if the state has a strong case, a few weeks if it’s just an uncorroborated accusation from an ex-spouse? Should we try this?

(3) We know he treated those kids badly, but we’re not sure if it was gross sexual abuse or maybe just too-harsh criticism when their altarboy robes were dirty for mass, so we’ll assume the latter category of offense.

(4) The Vatican’s administrative, investigational, and justice systems are in a state of complete moral and competency collapse. It’s who you know, and sucking up to a good umbrella of powerful protectors, that count: the sixteenth century is back or never went away.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

12 thoughts on “Maciel and the Pope”

  1. I live in a conservative, highly Catholic area. Many of my neighbors, lifelong and multi-generational Catholics, have withdrawn from the church over the abuse scandal, and no small number have converted to other forms of Christianity. Not a huge number, but not insignificant either.
    Do the Pope and the other high-ups in the Catholic Church even understand that?
    Cranky

  2. I'm betting on #4. And I recommend Tuchman's March of Folly chapter on the cardinals scrabbling their way to the top in the period just before the Reformation as a way to think about what may be happening here. And for that matter Tuchman is a real good way to think about General Motors, the national Democratic Party, and the UAW, not to mention the Nassau Republican Party.

  3. #4, and it never changed.
    Every organization that achieves any sort of power becomes this way.

  4. From one who has been on the inside (me), there are two things at play here: 1) "The Legion of Christ…… is one of the fastest-growing in the world, with about 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. Its lay branch, the Regnum Christi Movement, claims tens of thousands of members. Legionaries say they have established or run more than 100 schools." 2) Maciel is 86 years old. If you think you have a grasp on the nature of 'bureaucracy', you haven't got a clue about the bureaucracy that is the Catholic Church. Think in terms of millions and millions of people worldwide who believe in all that the Catholic Church teaches, indeed, for these millions, the Church is the guide to their consciences. The top most levels of that bureaucracy know full well of the responsibility they hold. And they are, for all pratical purposes, consistent. Believe me, for Benedit to censure this old, degenerate animal is momentous. They porobably can't do much more. For the Catholic Church, the Rhythm Method, denial of condom use in Afria, the worldside clergy sexual abuse scandal, and their treatment of homosexuals all stem from the same worldview. That may change (recent word has come out that condom use is being considered) but the Catholic Churh will not cease to exist. Indeed, it is a source for good in more areas than can be listed.

  5. The Church has very little real ability to impose punishments, especially on someone too old to actively work for the church. About the only thing they could do beyond what they have done would be to turn over Fr. Maciel to secular authorities. The problem with that approach is that they likely do not have sufficient evidence to convict him in a fair legal system, while turning him over to an unfair one would result in Maciel's conviction regardless of the actual evidence.

  6. Gee, Anthony, that's kind of lame, isn't it? In that situation why can't they say what you said, and maybe a little more:
    (1) We think he did it.
    (2) We're really ashamed it took us so long to figure it out.
    (3) We can't do any more about it than this [well, they could pay some damages to the victims, maybe?], and we're sorry about that too.
    (4) Here's what we're doing to make sure we don't take decades to get on top of the next case like this.
    It appears from the news reports that there's actually buckets of direct victim testimony lying around, though. The waffling and obscurity of the church's statements on this remain really shameful. One could interpret these events reasonably as "we protected a villain as long as he was useful to us; when he got old enough to be irrelevant, we threw a bone to public opinion but maintain complete deniability." As long as you don't count the victims, or the future victims of those who infer the wrong incentives, or the further destruction of the church's moral authority, it's the smart play.

  7. Many of my neighbors, lifelong and multi-generational Catholics, have withdrawn from the church over the abuse scandal, and no small number have converted to other forms of Christianity. Not a huge number, but not insignificant either.
    Do the Pope and the other high-ups in the Catholic Church even understand that?
    I'm not even close to a Catholic, Cranky, but I do live in Latin America. I don't think the Church is set up to care about the opinions of people who have the capacity to switch to another brand of Christianity. In fact, if they were to start pandering to this crowd, it would probably speed their demise — the illusion of infallability and universality they've cultivated over the millenia is the best thing they've got going for them.
    ObT: My mother thinks, and I tend to agree, that public tolerance of homosexuality is going to seal the doom of the Catholic Church. With gay lifestyles increasingly accepted, the priesthood will no longer be the best excuse not to get married.

  8. Defrock would be good if he did it, and nothing if he didn't. What's happened makes no sense. No, I'm not expecting criminal punishment from the Vatican. The church has a very bad record in the US of telling civil authority of crimes by priests, which is the right thing to do and now, I think, obligatory under law for child abuse. It would have been good to drop a dime on this guy to the Mexican authorities a long time ago if they had the goods…but it's the ambiguity of the Vatican's behavior that I'm most upset about.

  9. Michael, are you of the view that the Vatican has dungeons at its disposal? If you are, I hate to correct you. The only more severe punishment that the Vatican could impose would be to defrock him. That, as it happens, isn't a severe penalty for someone guilty of the crimes he's been accused of. We look to the state for determination of whether a crime has been committed, and what the appropriate punishment for a crime should be. That is, we liberals do–I'm not sure where you look.

  10. Michael, are you of the view that the Vatican has dungeons at its disposal? If you are, I hate to correct you. The only more severe punishment that the Vatican could impose would be to defrock him. That, as it happens, isn’t a severe penalty for someone guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of. We look to the state for determination of whether a crime has been committed, and what the appropriate punishment for a crime should be. That is, we liberals do–I’m not sure where you look.

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