MADRID (ChurchMilitant.com) - A high-ranking cardinal says the Vatican had information on notorious abuser Fr. Marcial Maciel as early as 1943.
Cardinal João Braz de Aviz is head of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In a speech last month widely reported in Spanish media, he said that the Vatican had known about Maciel for decades and did nothing.
Spanish Catholic magazine Vida Nueva quotes the Brazilian cardinal as saying, "Who covered him was a mafia, they were not Church."
Cardinal Braz de Aviz was speaking in Madrid, Spain, addressing the 25th general assembly of the Spanish Confederation of Religious.
Maciel, a Mexican priest who founded the religious institute the Legionaries of Christ, was first investigated by Vatican officials for allegations of drug abuse from 1956 to 1959. Despite numerous investigations into his behavior over the course of decades, it was not until 2005 that the Vatican determined child sex abuse allegations were credible and cracked down on Fr. Maciel. Church officials removed Maciel from his leadership of the Legionaries. Then in 2006, Maciel was commanded to retire to a life of prayer and penance. He died in 2008.
Father Maciel has been accused of molesting seminarians, fathering children with secret "wives" and even sexually abusing his own offspring.
Some are speculating that Cdl. Braz de Aviz might have brought up the case of Fr. Maciel to deflect blame for the current clerical sex abuse cover-up scandals tarnishing Pope Francis' pontificate. The current pontiff has faced intense criticism since Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò testified in August that Pope Francis lifted disciplines that had previously been imposed on accused homosexual predator ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The cardinal claims his congregation has "nothing to do" with cover-ups like the one that kept Maciel in ministry for decades. He said the congregation now follows "a very good process" for responding to abuse allegations.
He emphasized that it is important for Church leaders to "be immediate in the face of abuse," adding, "What comes to us immediately has to be heard."
Speaking about the clergy abuse crisis in general, Cdl. Braz de Aviz said, "I have the impression that allegations of abuse will grow, because we are only at the beginning. We've been concealing for 70 years, and this has been a tremendous error."
Addressing the gathering of Spanish religious, Cdl. Braz de Aviz told them not be discouraged when people show disdain for Catholic clergy and religious and "tell us we are pedophiles."
"It is a difficult moment, but from here we will be converted," the cardinal continued. "Maybe as a smaller Church, but also a more correct one."
Cardinal Braz de Aviz's reputation in the Church is far from that of being a conservative. For example, he spoke to the Spanish religious last month about the incorporation of laity, and especially women, into leadership roles at the Vatican — saying at one point that "of the five areas" in his dicastery, "three are already led by women."
Back in 2015, the Brazilian cardinal claimed that religious orders who deviate from the Second Vatican Council "are killing themselves — sooner or later, they will die."