Book Review: Pathetic plight of Christian scholars from Asia – N.S. Rajaram

Dr. N.S. RajaramTheology is the distinctive contribution and concern of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Christianity it has been taken to such stratospheric heights that for an outsider at least it is hard to see what it is that keeps it afloat. In the currently fashionable interfaith dialogues, Christian scholars often begin by telling Hindus that theology is to Christianity what Vedanta is to Hinduism. Nothing could be further from the truth though gullible Hindu intellectuals are easily flattered by the comparison.” — Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Prof. R.S. SugirtharajahR.S. Sugirtharajah is a Sri Lankan Christian scholar who until recently was professor of Biblical Hermeneutics at the University of Birmingham in England. This probably makes him a hermeneutician—something like a beautician perhaps or better still a politician. For those unused to hair-splitting exercises of Biblical hermeneutics, exegeses and exegetes, it is easier to think of him as a theologian engaged in analysing interpretations of the Bible with reference to history and philosophy.

Theology is the distinctive contribution and concern of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Christianity it has been taken to such stratospheric heights that for an outsider at least it is hard to see what it is that keeps it afloat. In the currently fashionable interfaith dialogues, Christian scholars often begin by telling Hindus that theology is to Christianity what Vedanta is to Hinduism. Nothing could be further from the truth though gullible Hindu intellectuals are easily flattered by the comparison.

Vedanta is an open-ended exploration of the meaning of the universe and our existence that acknowledges only the universal truth contained in the Vedas. Theology on the other hand is a closed system which is bounded by the text of the Bible and the dogmas of Christianity. All the resources of logic and sophistry are used to justify Christianity as the only truth. One challenges theology at one’s peril as Galileo and Giordano Bruno found out. The freedom of Vedanta often brings it close to metaphysics which explains why great physicists like Opperheimer, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, David Bohm and others were drawn to it. Theology may be hermeneutics, but it certainly has no metaphysics.

The Bible and AsiaThis background is necessary to understand what the author is trying to achieve in his sad little book. As he correctly points out Christianity is Asiatic in origin, more specifically West Asian, but “its influence in Europe and the Americas has received far more attention than its complex career in the East.” Even in India it has a longer history than in Europe beginning in the fourth century or later with the arrival of the merchant Thomas of Cana— not the mythical St. Thomas who supposedly came to Kerala in 58 AD when neither Christianity nor the Christian Bible existed. Fortunately the author is a serious scholar and does not peddle this nonsense.

Add to this the fact, which the author does not stress, the decline of Christianity in the West amounting almost to a collapse in Europe, forcing the churches to recruit Asians to fill its emptying seminaries, churches and hospitals. These could not exist without massive infusion from countries like India and the Philippines. For all practical purposes Christianity today is a third world religion. The Catholic Church at least has recognized this in electing the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the latest Pope.

For all this Christian institutions have failed to treat Asian theologians as equals. They may be useful and even indispensable but as the author points out they are repeatedly told “only the West matters,” meaning they should toe the line set by their Western masters. By ‘Western’ they don’t mean African-American, Hispanic or anyone else but white European and American. This is racism in all but name though they dare not display such attitudes towards outsiders—to individuals and groups outside Christianity. In interfaith dialogues they make a great show of the ‘equality’ of the churches.

Dancing Jesus in the New Indian Community Bible.This is a carry-over from colonial days during which Asian and African converts and missionaries wholeheartedly cooperated with the ruling Christian powers. They are being repaid for this loyalty with contempt and ingratitude. As the author observes, in pre-colonial days the Bible was receptive to Asian sources like the Upanishads and the Lao Tzu, but European colonization of Asia and Africa changed all that:

“With the emergence of modern colonialism the Bible was introduced as an artifact of modernity in the form of the King James Bible, the ‘national Bible’ of the English people. In this incarnation, the Bible became a very European book, lost all its oriental traits, and became less Asiatic. … The imported ‘white man’s book’ was seen as a strange instrument, an entrapment to lure them away from their own traditions.” As a result, an Asian reading of the Bible is always a contrived one and not as natural as a Hindu reading of the Bhagavad Gita or a Buddhist reading of the Dhammapada.”

As a result, all that Asian servants of Christianity have earned for their decades of loyalty is life in a limbo with no independent identity except as courtiers and camp followers in an essentially colonial, even racist institution in the post-colonial world. It is to these lost souls that Bible and Asia is addressed. And this is what makes it particularly sad reading.

The author’s advice to his fellow Asian theologians is to reclaim Christianity for Asians by going back to its Hindu and Buddhist sources. Curiously he makes no mention of Gnostic sources that had at least as great an influence on the growth of Christianity as Hindu and Buddhist thought. Perhaps as an Asiatic the author finds Gnosticism to be alien while finding Hindu and Buddhist thought more congenial. Perhaps he believes other Asian Christians will share the same feeling.

Prof. Michael WitzelHow sound is his advice to claim Christianity as their own by invoking their ancestral Asian sources? Here is a pointer. For at least a century, Western Indologists have been telling Indians, Hindus in particular how to read and interpret their history and tradition by creating interpretations based on the Aryan invasion bringing Vedic ideas from Europe. When Hindu scholars contested this by pointing out contradictions from the Sarasvati River to the Harappan archaeology, Western scholars fought a fierce academic and propaganda battle until they could no longer sustain them against mounting evidence.

Will such people yield control of their Bible to Asians? Based on personal experience with scholars like Michael Witzel of Harvard it is a pipe dream. When logic and evidence failed they resorted to personal attacks. Theologians will be no better, perhaps worse.

Here is a more practical option. Instead of using Hindu and Buddhist scripture to gain control of Biblical theology, make the Gita, the Upanishads and the Dhammapada your own. There will be no opposition for they belong to everyone. Who in this day and age needs theology and dogma anyway? Why be satisfied as someone else’s courtiers and camp followers when you have the matchless philosophic treasures of your own—which you gave up in return for small gains and false promises? Why beg when you can be the owners of the richest philosophical treasures the world has ever known?

» Dr. N.S. Rajaram is a scientist, historian and contributing editor to  Folks Magazine.

Did Sri Ramakrishna embrace Christianity and Islam? – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst“The Ramakrishna Mission’s ambition to outgrow Hinduism and be “universal” is a form of hubris. In Greek religion, hubris, or man’s will to be equal to the gods, is the cardinal sin. In Christianity too, Adam and Eve committed hereditary sin, not by lust … but by hubris: initially innocent creatures, they wanted to be equal to God, who knows good and evil. In this respect, at least, many—it would be hubris to assert “all”—religions agree, and they happen to be right. So, let us stop this bad habit of making claims about “all” religions, including those that we know only hazily or not at all.” — Dr. Koenraad Elst

Ramakrishna Mission EmblemThe Ramakrishna debate

The debate on the Ramakrishna Mission’s claim that Ramakrishna, the 19th-century Kali priest, also practised Christianity and Islam, and that he distanced himself from Hinduism to found a new universal religion called Ramakrishnaism, has taken the form of some hostile reactions from sympathizers of the Mission. They may be members or have some other status, I don’t know, so we may just focus on what they have to say.

M.K. Gandhi and a Muslim companion during the Khilafat MovementRamakrishna Mission is Hindu

One person scolded me for even thinking that the Ramakrishna Mission is non-Hindu. He cites the Hindu atmosphere and the many Hindu rituals and practices at the Mission centres. I might add the fact that the Mission only recruits among Hindus. No Christian or Muslim would join this Pagan outfit. That fact alone refutes the Mission’s own claim that it has somehow embraced all religions. The Mission is a typically Hindu group, and even its pompous claim of validating all world religions is a claim made by many Hindus. When Mahatma Gandhi said: “I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Sikh, I am a Christian”, Mohammed Ali Jinnah dryly commented: “That is a typically Hindu thing to say.”

But I am surprised to hear that the Ramakrishna Mission has not disclaimed Hinduism. Not only has the organization shouted from the rooftops and on all kinds of public forums that “universal Ramakrishnaism” is superior to “narrow Hinduism”, it has even gone to court to be officially recognized as a non-Hindu minority.

Sri Ramakrishna in samadhi.Logic

Then there were some who, expectedly, took the opposite position, viz. that the RKM follows its saint Ramakrishna in embracing non-Hindu religions and their founders. One of these deserves a closer and more detailed reply. Not that he had said much beyond several lengthy e-mails full of personal abuse (a poor advertisement for the effects of being a Ramakrishnaite). He belonged to a type I have become sadly familiar with on the internet: born Hindus who muster endless argumentation, often cleverly twisting issues and deploying a sophisticated discourse, all in order to defend a case that is downright silly; and that is, moreover, harmful to Hinduism.

For instance, I’ve had to face endless argumentations in favour of the belief that Jesus lived and died in India. This belief stems from a book (1887) by the Russian aristocrat Nicolas Notovich, who claimed to have found notes about Jesus’ stay in India in a monastery in the Himalaya. This manuscript was never found and the monastery’s abbot denied ever having had or seen such a text. The contents of the text which Notovich claimed to have seen was also very suspect by its contents: the themes of Jesus’ alleged controversies with Brahmins are typical for the late-colonial age, not at all for the 1st century. Although the polemic about it involved such worthies as Max Muller and yielded no proof at all, and although Notovich finally admitted to having made it all up, in 1899 Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (founder of the heretic Ahmadiyya sect of Islam) used the story to bolster his claim that prophets could just as well be native to India rather than to the Middle East, so that he could be a legitimate prophet too. And even now, the story has numerous defenders among Hindus. Passionate believers, sometimes even clever and argumentative believers, in a story that is patently false.

In the present case too, we have a learned display of rhetoric in the service of an illusion. Of course, he doesn’t try to prove his claim. Either this claim has not been proven, as we maintain, or it has been proven. In that case, it would be well worth the extra trouble to spell out this proof clearly, once and for all. But alas, this proof was not forthcoming. To be sure, this proof is not that according to a second person, Ramakrishna had “had a vision”, then according to a third person years later, this vision was Prophet Mohammad“perhaps of Mohammed”, and according to a fourth person, later again, it is dead certain that he saw Mohammed. For the founding moment of a religion, “Ramakrishnaism”, one is entitled to expect proof of higher quality than testimony (?) at several removes.

Even if this very flaky and very suspect sequence were to convey the truth, such a “vision” would in no way be what the  RKM now claims, viz. the “practice” of Islam/Christianity. As a Muslim commented, you cannot take a holiday and be a Muslim for a while, then revert to goddess-worshipping. Neither Christianity nor Islam consist in having a “vision” of the founder.

Nonetheless, this RKM sympathizer’s reformulation of the challenge to non-Ramakrishaites is interesting:

“The scope of my discussion is quite limited and is focused on only one thing: Ramakrishna believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ and he did practice some discipline of Christianity on the results of which his such belief was based. The same can be said of his feeling for some discipline of Islam—that he practiced it and derived divine/spiritual satisfaction from it. I think it is for Koenraad Elst to spell out his clear position on this observation once and for all.”

As a matter of walking the extra mile, I will spell out my position. However, let it be understood that I am under no obligation to explain anything or give proof for anything, as I am not putting forward any claim. I am merely skeptical of a claim made by the RKM and this fellow. Because it is he who has put forward a claim, it is up to him to prove his point. Even if nobody comes forward to offer any kind of counter-proof or refutation, the mere fact that the claim is put forward, does not annul its need for proof. As long as the claim is not proven, it was right for sterling Hindus like Ram Swarup and Shiva Prasad Ray to express scepticism of it. The burden of proof is for 100% on the maker of this challenge.

Jesus as a yogi in IndiaBelief in Jesus

Now, my position. If Ramakrishna had found that his own Hinduism was insufficient, if he had founded a new religion which the RKM calls Ramakrishnaism, if Ramakrishna had found Christianity and Islam to be “part” of this new religion, and if he had personally “verified the truth” of these religions by means of “visions”, then this would be such a momentous revolution that he would have spent the rest of his days discussing and elaborating it. Instead, absolute silence, and [the continued worship of] Kali. So, this already pleads against the RKM’s claim.

Now that we are discussing this, it strikes me that in the 24 years that I have followed this debate, I have not seen the RKM people come up with an actual quote from the master in which he claims Jesus’ divinity. Surely, such belief would have been big news to his Hindu and non-Christian followers. Our critic too has eloquently beaten around the bush in several replies, but he has spurned the occasion to present to us the only thing that would finish this debate, viz. proof (as opposed to mere claims) that RK worshipped Jesus as a divine being. The best proof would be a statement to this effect by Ramakrishna himself, but this time too it is not forthcoming.

But to really evaluate Ramakrishna’s beliefs about Jesus, it would be useful (from a scholarly viewpoint, even necessary) to get the facts straight about Jesus himself. I have not brought Jesus into this discussion, it is the RKM that insists Ramakrishna had a vision of Jesus and believed in Jesus’ divinity. So, let’s discuss Jesus. But let me warn you: Hindus by their upbringing may know everything about puja or other Hindu things, but their knowledge of Jesus tends to be very hazy. I, having gone through the whole Catholic education system and moreover having made a purposeful study of the character Jesus, know more about this subject than the RKM sympathizer will ever know in his lifetime. I have studied Jesus, he has not. That is not some colonial utterance, in fact two Hindus sceptical of the RKM claims set me on this path, but it is simply a fact that someone who has assimilated the scholarly findings on Jesus knows the subject better than religious types who have only interiorized some missionary sermons calculated to fool a gullible audience. Conversely, Hindus who have not made a specific study of comparative religion and especially of Christianity are ill-equipped to pontificate about Jesus.

So, what I know about Jesus, is that he was no more divine than you or me. He was a wandering healer, with his ears open for the wisdom going around, which he relayed in his own logia, sermons with parables, a few of them good—but still revered by the people mostly because of his reputation as a healer. To be sure, his friends and relatives who knew him, saw through his act, which is why he performed no “miracles” in his home town. Elsewhere, he could often pull it off, but still he was less powerful than proper medicine. Thus, he healed someone from epilepsy (“ghost-possession”), making him rise after his epileptic seizure—but such fits always subside and end in a return to normalcy. And in one case, the Gospel says in so many words that the disease later reappeared. Nothing scandalous, but nothing divine either, about false beliefs in healing powers.

Angry Jesus drives the vendors out of the temple. According to Dr. Aslan, this is a key moment in the life of zealot Jesus.Jesus had a rather big idea about himself, just like Mohammed and some other religious leaders. Thus, he believed that he was the Messiah. He repeatedly made the prediction that he himself would return within the lifetime of some in his audience. Today we are two thousand years and dozens of generations down the line, yet Jesus has not come back. Now, wrong predictions are human, in fact they are ten a penny. Jehovah’s Witnesses put their foot between your front door to predict the end of the world, but it didn’t come in 1914, nor in 1975. What makes Jesus’ wrong prediction an even worse failure is that, while the Witnesses make a prediction about someone else, Jesus did so about himself. Unlike other diviners, Jesus merely had to look in his own agenda to see when he was scheduled to return, and still he failed! So, nothing divine about wrong predictions.

But at least Jesus overcame death by his resurrection? This is the core of the Christian belief system. Now, the difference between the living and the dead is that you can run into the living, not the dead. But, like the dead, Jesus is beyond meeting. People have reported “seeing” Jesus in visions, but no one has met him in person. So his condition is the same as that of other mortals. The wages of original sin are mortality and child-bearing in pain, and it would be somewhat divine if Jesus had overcome mortality to live endlessly and still be among us. But no, he’s gone. The New Testament writers have spirited him away through the trick of the “Ascension“: though somewhat spectacular, he did the same thing as the rest of us, mortals: he went to heaven. So, nothing particularly divine about mortality.

I will of course not go through the numerous findings of Bible scholarship, about which so many books are available. But for now, I have said enough to underpin the conclusion: Jesus was not divine. If Ramakrishna was a Muslim, as the RKM claims, then he was already convinced of Jesus’ non-divine status, which is a basic belief of Islam (and in that respect, Islam is more rational than the personality cult which is Christianity). If, however, as our RKM sympathizer claims, Ramakrishna believed in the divinity of Christ, then he was badly informed, not to say that he was mistaken.

In fact, this sympathizer wants you to venerate a silly Ramakrishna who believed the sop stories of the missionaries, to the point of self-hypnotizing and seeing a vision of Jesus. By contrast, I (or rather Ram Swarup and Shiva Prasad Ray) give you a Ramakrishna who was discerning enough to keep the missionaries at a distance. He was not a Christian nor a Ramakrishnaist, but simply a Hindu, worshipping Krishna and Hanuman and most of all Kali. You too can live a happy, healthy, holy life while staying a Hindu and ignoring Jesus.

BaptismBeing a Christian

The second claim is that Ramakrishna “practised a Christian discipline”, and that as a result, he found that Christianity is equally true and yields the same results that he had already reached through his Hindu sadhana. Now, “being a Christian” or “being a Muslim” has a precise definition, which Ramakrishna did not fulfil. He was not recognized as one of theirs by any known mullah or padre. The missionaries sent bulletins home in which they reported the conversions they wrought; surely they would not have neglected reporting the christianization of a leading Hindu saint? And the RKM has had more than a century to get and show the document that proved their case, viz. that Ramakrishna turned his back on “narrow Hinduism”.

Even in the different sects of Hinduism, you only become a member by going through a formal ceremony, you are given a yajnopavit (sacred thread) or you get diksha (initiation) or shaktipat (transmission of energy). Ramakrishna never went through the formal ceremonies making him a Christian or a Muslim. He was not circumcised and never uttered the Islamic creed. He was not baptised and never uttered the Christian creed. No matter what vision he had, it did not make him either Christian or Muslim.

Further, there is no such thing as “practising” Christianity or Islam. Either you are in or you are out. Imitating the behaviour of a Muslim/Christian all while remaining a Pagan does not make you a Muslim/Christian. In fact, we would like to know what these practices were. Our RKM sympathizer has repeatedly spurned the occasion to spell this out. Did he observe Ramadan, or did he prefer Lent? Did this vegetarian offer sheep sacrifice, as is prescribed for Muslims? Did he eat fish on Friday, as Christians do? Did he condemn caste, which is an intrinsic attitude of Christianity, at least according to contemporary missionaries? And again, was he baptised? Which Christian worthy accepted him as a Christian? We would like some straight answers to these questions.

Not that they would make any tangible difference. Ramakrishna may have been pure gold, but even his acceptance of the quintessential Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity would not make Jesus divine; at least not more than you and me. If, after all these years, the RKM were at  last to prove that Ramakrishna did worship Jesus, we would have to conclude that he was mistaken—surely not the conclusion which the RKM would like us to draw. Fortunately, there is no indication that he did.

Circumcision in Egypt: It is a curious fact that the Jews and Muslims have made the Pagan practice a central rite in their religions.Some further problems with the RKM’s claim

Another problem: a Christian cannot be a Muslim, and a Muslim cannot be a Christian. Leaving aside Hinduism and “Ramakrishnaism”, please focus only on Christianity and Islam. How could Ramakrishna be a Christian while also being a Muslim? No Christian or Muslim authority would accept his being the one while also being the other. Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, both God and man, while Muslims consider him just a man. Christians believe he was resurrected while Muslims disbelieve that he even died on the cross. How did Ramakrishna combine these mutually exclusive beliefs?

Finally, Ramakrishna is known to have died while worshipping Kali. By Christian and Islamic definition, he was a goddess-worshipper, hence an out-and-out Pagan. If he ever was a Muslim or a Christian, his dying as a Pagan meant that he was an apostate. If being an ignorant Pagan is bad enough, being a wilful apostate, who has known but rejected the truth and reverted to the false belief of Paganism, is really demonic and a sure ticket to the fires of hell. So, according to the RKM, Ramakrishna has spent the last century braving the fires of hell. For that is what Islam and Christianity (which the RKM holds to be “true”) promise to a Pagan like Ramakrishna.

The RKM professes a syncretism, combining elements from different religions. Ramakrishnaism is the syncretism par excellence, affirming “all” religions to be true. As the Church Fathers wrote, syncretism is typical of Paganism. The Roman-Hellenistic milieu in which the first Christians had to function, was full of syncreticism, with Roman matrons worshipping Isis with the babe Horus (an inspiration for the image of Mary holding the babe Jesus), legion soldiers worshipping Persian-originated Mithras, and imperial politicians worshipping the Syrian-originated Sol Invictus( . Against this syncretism, they preached religious purity: extra ecclesiam nulla salus, outside the Church no salvation. They had no problem admitting that Paganism was naturally pluralistic, but what is the use of choosing between or combining different kinds of falsehood? They as Christians had something better than pluralism, viz. the truth. And once you have the truth, you are no longer interested in any other religion. So, from the Christian viewpoint, the RKM’s dissatisfaction with “mere” Hinduism is an admission that Hinduism doesn’t have the truth.

Swami VivekanandaSwami Vivekananda’s claim

The best argument in favour of the RKM’s claim is a statement apparently made by Swami Vivekananda:

“The next desire that seized upon the soul of this man [Ramakrishna] was to know the truth about the various religions. Up to that time he had not known any religion but his own. He wanted to understand what other religions were like. So he sought teachers of other religions. … He found a Mohammedan saint and placed himself under him; he underwent the disciplines prescribed by him, and to his astonishment found that when faithfully carried out, these devotional methods led him to the same goal he had already attained. He gathered similar experience from following the true religion of Jesus the Christ.”

Our RKM sympathizer wants to “point [out] to KE that the burden of proof is on him to disprove the observations of RK’s chief disciple (and official spokesman?), as otherwise, by default, they should be assumed to be true. … Would KE care to share his compelling reasons to believe that SV lied?”

Once again, he has got things backwards. It is he who makes a claim, and the burden of proof is thus for 100% on him. Swami Vivekananda was not an eye-witness and made this statement, which I will for now assume to be true (Ram Swarup was a great reader of Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works and doesn’t mention it), many years after the fact. Nothing of the above loses any of its force by this early version of a claim later made into the official line of the RKM, but for which any proof is missing.

It is no surprise that somebody ignorant of the rules of logic should use an “argument from authority” as his trump card. He plays upon the expected indignation of the Indian-born majority of the readership if I dare to say that Swami Vivekananda “lied”. Argumentation from authority is a logical fallacy!But in fact, I don’t need to put it down as a “lie”. In the world of religion and the occult, I have rarely seen anyone who deliberately said something that he knew to be untrue. But I have met or witnessed or read thousands of people who spread falsehoods which they believed to be true.

Even Swami Vivekananda was just a fallible human being—a statement which may scandalize his followers but which he himself would wholeheartedly accept. The processes which have led the RKM to believe and propagate the falsehood about Ramakrishna’s visions, may have taken him in, too. Or he may simply mean that Ramakrishna had that commendable Hindu attitude of curiosity and respect for whatever other religions draw his attention. At any rate, while we don’t know which processes were at work in Vivekananda’s case, we have his naked statement and this, at least, we can evaluate. And we find it, if taken literally, to be simply false.

Liberation“, the goal of the Upanishadic seers and of most Hindu schools since, is not the goal of Christianity. No Christian ever claimed to have achieved it, nor was he claimed by other Christians to have done so. The case applies even more bluntly to Islam: the goal of the five pillars of Islam is simply to obey God’s commandments as given in the Quran, not any “Liberation”. The goal of a Hindu sadhana will not be achieved by a Muslim or a Christian “sadhana”, and vice versa. If someone said that a Christian discipline “led him to the same goal he had already attained”, he was most certainly wrong. However, it is possible that the state of consciousness which Ramakrishna had already attained in his Hindu sadhana remained with him when he practised whatever this sheikh gave him to do. But would that state still be so easily achieved if he had practised only these Islamic cq Christian exercises?

Hindu Swastika FlagConclusion

Sita Ram Goel once said that “Hindus think they know everything about everything”. Thus, while it is hard enough to study a handful of religions, numerous Hindus routinely make claims about the equal truth of “all” religions, as if they had studied them all. In this respect, at least, the RKM monks are certainly Hindus.

The RKM’s ambition to outgrow Hinduism and be “universal” is a form of hubris. In Greek religion, hubris, or man’s will to be equal to the gods, is the cardinal sin. In Christianity too, Adam and Eve committed hereditary sin, not by lust (as many superficial people think) but by hubris: initially innocent creatures, they wanted to be equal to God, who knows good and evil. In this respect, at least, many—it would be hubris to assert “all”—religions agree, and they happen to be right. So, let us stop this bad habit of making claims about “all” religions, including those that we know only hazily or not at all. One thing that initially attracted me to the Hindu cause was the humbleness and simplicity of the ordinary Hindus I met. It would be nice if all megalomaniacs climbed down from their high horses and rediscovered this simplicity.

Secondly, I find it sad and not spelling anything good, that Hindus who are so laid back about the enemies of and challenges before Hinduism, get so worked up when their own little sect is challenged. Arya Samaj spokesmen don’t have 1% of their forebear’s concern with the Christian and Islamic threats, but they really get into the act when defending against other Hindus their pet beliefs about Vedic monotheism and non-idolatry. The ISKCON people never confront Christianity or Islam, but they get really nasty against fellow Hindus who are not as Krishna-centred (such as the pre-Krishna Vedic Rishis) as they themselves are. And here too, the RKM is alarmed when some Hindus disbelieve its pet doctrine of Ramakrishna’s visions of Jesus and Mohammed. It would be good if they shed this obsession with their sectarian “unique selling proposition” and return to a broader consciousness, one that would be recognizable to all Hindus.

Hinduism existed before Jesus and Mohammed. It was good enough for the Vedic seers and non-Vedic sadhus, and it didn’t need those two. I think Hinduism will only survive if it forgets about this false incarnation and this false prophet. The RKM ultimately has no choice but to admit that for the past so many decades, it has been spreading an erroneous and harmful belief. It should announce out loud that all struggles over its exact identity are over, because it owns up to its natural Hindu identity. Indeed, it should rediscover and second its founder, Swami Vivekanada, who declared: “Say with pride, we are Hindus!”

» Dr. Koenraad Elst is a Belgian writer and orientalist (without institutional affiliation). He was an editor of the New Right Flemish nationalist journal Teksten: Kommentaren en Studies from 1992 to 1995, focusing on criticism of Islam. He has authored fifteen English language books on topics related to Indian politics and communalism, and is one of the few western writers (along with François Gautier) to actively defend the Hindutva ideology.

Ramakrishna Mission Secretary's letter to Prof. Asnani.The Secretary’s letter is disingenuous to say the least. He says the great rishis and acharyas of Hinduism were not Hindus but that the Ramakrishna Mission is not non-Hindu. Yet the RKM had approached to the court to argue that they were a non-Hindu minority religion called Ramakrishnaism. Eventually the court decided that the Ramakrishna Math and Mission were indeed Hindu and that there was no such religious sect called Ramakrishnaism. – IS

Muslim objections to Vande Mataram not valid – Vivek Gumaste

Bahujan Samaj Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Burq walking out as Vande Mataram is played in the Lok Sabha

VG Icon“Vande Mataram’s culpability … is a notoriety extrapolated by its inclusion … in Bankim Chandra Chatterji’s revolutionary novel Anandamath. Even this charge of guilt by association is a nebulous one as a careful reading of the novel indicates. Set in famine ravaged Bengal of 1770’s, the novel outlines the horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Muslim Nawab and the peasant rebellion that it sparks. The anti-Muslim sentiment voiced in the narration is an artistic depiction of robust native resistance to cruel alien subjugation and cannot be interpreted in literal terms as a Muslim-specific castigation.” – Vivek Gumaste

Shafiqur Rahman BurqIt was an act of crass insensitivity; a deed deliberately designed to raise the hackles of all right-minded Indians; a cruel, blatant affront to the Constitution of India made doubly noxious by its inaction on the hallowed floor of the Lok Sabha, the fountain head of our pluralistic democracy.

Bahujan Samaj Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Burq by walking out of the Lok Sabha while the official national song Vande Mataram was being played exhibited the ugly recrudescence of a persistent malady that continues to afflict a small section of the Muslim community, namely one that pits nation against religion.

The million dollar question that cries out for a response is whether this unsavory infraction carries any iota of justification. Is this protest based on a factual interpretation of the Vande Mataram? Is there a sound logic underlying this protest or is this nothing more than a fallout of a jaundiced perception intentionally hyped up to pander to extremist elements in order to stoke discord in our society?

Why do some Muslims find Vande Mataram objectionable? The answer lies in its supposed anti-Muslim fervour. Certain clarifications, however, are in order before one confers validity to this conclusion. The song itself does not contain a single syllable that is derogatory to Muslims or Islam. To be precise, the words Islam and Muslim do not figure in the text at all.

Anandmath Book CoverVande Mataram’s culpability stems not from its intrinsic demerits but is a notoriety extrapolated by its inclusion (the first two verses were penned years earlier) in Bankim Chandra Chatterji’s revolutionary novel Anandamath. Even this charge of guilt by association is a nebulous one as a careful reading of the novel indicates. Set in famine ravaged Bengal of 1770’s, the novel outlines the horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Muslim Nawab and the peasant rebellion that it sparks. The anti-Muslim sentiment voiced in the narration is an artistic depiction of robust native resistance to cruel alien subjugation and cannot be interpreted in literal terms as a Muslim-specific castigation. Firming this belief is the subsequent avatar of Vande Mataram as a rousing popular battle cry of the Indian freedom movement against British oppression.

Maulana Azad, the noted freedom fighter and Muslim scholar found nothing repulsive in singing the Vande Mataram. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who can hardly be accused of nurturing Muslim phobia were perplexed by this illogical opposition to the Vande Mataram, which was without a doubt India’s first choice for the national anthem.

In an article in Harijan dated July 1, 1939, Gandhi wrote: “… No matter what its source was and how and when it was composed, it had become a most powerful battle cry among Hindus and Musalmans of Bengal during the partition days. It was an anti-imperialist cry. As a lad, when I knew nothing of Anandamath or even Bankim, its immortal author, Vande Mataram had gripped me, and when I first heard it sung it had enthralled me. I associated the purest national spirit with it. It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song or meant only for Hindus…. It stirs to its depth the patriotism of millions in and outside Bengal. Its chosen stanzas are Bengal’s gift among many others to the whole nation.”

Maulana AzadNehru dittoed Gandhi’s feelings with this statement made to the legislative committee of the Constituent Assembly on August 25, 1948: ”It is unfortunate that some kind of argument has arisen as between Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. Vande Mataram is obviously and indisputably the premier national song of India, with a great historical tradition, and intimately connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the position and poignancy of that struggle, but perhaps not so much the culmination of it. In regard to the national anthem tune, it was felt that the tune was more important than the words… It seemed therefore that while Vande Mataram should continue to be the national song par excellence in India, the national anthem tune should be that of Jana Gana Mana, the wording of Jana Gana Mana to be suitably altered to fit in with the existing circumstances.”

This recantation of history also serves to emphasise the accommodative approach of the Indian government. Despite finding no merit in the Muslim objection, and in an action that overruled majority opinion, the government thought it appropriate to reject Vande Mataram’s rightful claim to being the national anthem. Vande Mataram was accorded secondary status as a national song, that too in an edited form to accommodate Muslim sentiments.

Current protests not only ignore this magnanimity but also suffer from a gross factual deficiency.

With regard to paying obeisance to the motherland, Shafiqur Rahman Burq notes: “Vande Mataram is an ode to motherland. Muslims like me bend only before Allah, not before any other god.”

S.S. KhandwawalaBut again this is a subjective interpretation that not all Muslims agree upon. In November 2009 when Muslim clerics from Deoband issued a fatwa against the singing of Vande Mataram, Gujarat’s first Muslim Director General of Police, S. S. Khandwawala countered their stance with this riposte (Indian Express, November 15, 2009):

“I give a salaam to my mother every day before I leave home and also to my motherland…. When we offer namaaz, we bow down and kiss the ground, which itself is a salute to the motherland. Religion never prevents a man from respecting his motherland…. If Hindus consider land as mata (mother), then giving respect to the land is the duty of a true Muslims … not hurting the sentiments of others and respecting all religions equally is also a Muslim’s duty….”

The Muslim community must take their cue patriotic Indians like Khandwawala. In a pluralistic society like India it is imperative that religious fervour be tempered to suit the common good. – Rediff.com, 14 May 2013

» Vivek Gumaste camps in New York City and writes for the Hindustan Times and Rediff.com.

» Sri Aurobindo’s translation of Vande Mataram is here

VIDEO: The Science Delusion – Rupert Sheldrake

Reputed biochemist Rupert Sheldrake has intelligently and with a clear mind completely debunked the ten dogmas of science which aggressive materialists like Richard Dawkins put their faith in.  He says, “The difference between people with scientific beliefs and those with religious beliefs is that most religious believers are aware that their position is based on faith [while] people who put their faith in scientific materialism are often unaware that their beliefs are beliefs at all.” So not only are some scientific materialists superstitious, they are pretty dumb too! — IS 


VIDEO: The Pope is an enemy of humanity – Richard Dawkins

» The unedited speech by Richard Dawkins at the “Protest the Pope” rally in London, 18th September 2010. 

» Archbishop George Pell of Sydney states that Jews are intellectually inferior—Jesus was a Jew—and then goes on to demolish his own argument.

Benedict’s Legacy: Sex, lies, and the sordid history of the Catholic Church (with videos) – Michael Moynihan

Fr. Lawrence Murphy

Michael MoynihanAlex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa, tackles the Catholic Church’s sordid history of sex abuse. Michael Moynihan talks to the director about forced celibacy and the pope’s complicity.

Gibney’s most affecting films scrutinize institutions he considers irredeemably corrupt—the United States government, the lobbying industry, the war on terror. With Mea Maxima Culpa, he turns his critical lens on the child-molestation scandals that have consumed the Catholic Church, along with the church’s shameful record of denial, obfuscation, and omertà. Gibney, whose late father-in-law was the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the famous radical theologian, focuses on the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Roman Catholic priest in Milwaukee who sexually abused hundreds of deaf boys under his spiritual care. When news of the molestation was brought to the attention Alex Gibneyof church authorities, Murphy, like many other priests accused of abuse, was merely relocated to a different church while his victims were ignored—a policy, Gibney argues, determined by the Vatican itself.

The Daily Beast spoke with Gibney about Pope Benedict XVI’s culpability in the scandal, the church’s policy of forced celibacy, and a backlash of criticism of his film from a prominent victims’ group.

The Daily Beast: Explain the title of the film.

Gibney: There’s a point in mass when you beat your chest three times and say “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” In my day, it was translated “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” That seemed to me a pretty good title for the film. It’s followed by the subtitle Silence in the House of God, which has a double meaning in this context, both because of the deaf survivors and the crimes that the church was silently overseeing.

Good Riddance, Benedict!The story of sex abuse in the Catholic Church has been told in a number of other recent documentary films. Why retell the story?

There were two things: this local case, the Milwaukee case, uncovered documents that lead straight to the top, straight to Joseph Ratzinger—then-cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. So you could see this sex-abuse crisis not as a few bad apples, but evidence of a rotten barrel. The other thing was, for all the darkness about this story, it was oddly inspirational for me. These guys at the heart of the story, these deaf men, mounted the very first public protest of clerical sex abuse in the United States. This is a case where a priest abused 200 deaf children. What more heinous crime could you imagine? But the victims, who were so marginalized because they couldn’t speak to a hearing audience, nevertheless managed to have a huge impact—from a small parish in Milwaukee all the way to the top of the Vatican.

You point out in the film that the same thing—Catholic priests assaulting deaf children—happened in Verona, Italy. Was this deliberate strategy, to attack children who were even more defenseless than the average child?

I think you have to see it as pure predatory behavior. We can accept that there are predators everywhere—Boy ScoutsPenn State—but what the Catholic Church is clearly responsible for is harboring those predators, not punishing them, moving them around [to other parishes]. For a long time, the church has said that clerical sex abuse could either be blamed on the 1960s or the United States—the licentiousness of the country, that’s the problem. We didn’t know about the Verona case when we started the film. It was an exact parallel to the case in Milwaukee. The priests “reach out” to those deaf students because they are helpless. In fact, we found out in Milwaukee that the priests particularly sought out kids whose parents could not [use] sign [language]. So the predator priest (who [knew] sign [language]) was actually an intermediary between the kids and their parents. Horrible.

Boy under the shadow of a Catholic priest.There is a bit in the film about forced celibacy. But these priests aren’t seeing prostitutes. And we see this happening, for instance, in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn [see second article] right now. Is there something particular to the church here? Is there something about religion that allows this to happen?

What’s peculiar about the Roman Catholic Church is that at the heart of its doctrine is a lie—the lie of forced celibacy. One of the former priests … did a study for the church to try to understand the sex lives of priests and found that over 50 percent of priests, that he could ascertain, were not observing celibacy. So that leads to a system of secrecy and blackmail, a kind of protective quality, with anything that has to do with sexuality. So as a result, I think that predators intuitively or instinctively sought out an environment like that.

Do you think that if the rules on celibacy were loosened, this would change things considerably?

I do think in the Catholic Church that if you take away forced celibacy, you take away the inherent hypocrisy and secrecy at the heart of the institution. I think forced celibacy is idiotic. I believe that you can choose to be celibate and that you can train people to be celibate. But if you eliminate forced celibacy, I think you’d eliminate the issues that compel priests to abuse or to keep quiet about the abuse.

You say that Pope Ratzinger and the former Pope John Paul knew this was happening and covered it up in a Joe Paterno kind of way.

I don’t see Ratzinger as a monster. I see him as a deeply flawed human being who aided and abetted criminality. I think he is offended by men who abuse their power by abusing children. He says he is disgusted by [the abuse], and I believe him. But he lives within this institution, with this group of men who exist between mortals and the angels, and he favors protecting the institution to protecting the children. That to me is his great crime. It makes him weak, and, ultimately, I think it makes him a criminal.

Former Archbishop Weakland of MilwaukeeOne victims group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), criticized the film for it sympathetic treatment of former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who himself was embroiled in scandal and accused of ignoring sexual abuse in the church. What do you make of their criticism?

The criticism from the SNAP people, with regards to Archbishop Weakland, was that I was too easy on him, that he was a malefactor also, that he didn’t do nearly enough … They would argue that he aided and abetted crimes by pedophile priests. That may be so. He was a guy who was valuable for a number of reasons. He had a personal connection to Ratzinger—he knew him—and at some moment in time, say what you will about what he had done previously, he tried to do something for those victims. Whether it was a conversion for him or whether it was this particular case because they were deaf children, he sensed that justice needed to be done. So I didn’t want to vilify him. He was also a very famous liberal priest, in terms of economic justice and so forth. In a film like this you can only show so much crime. I left out some stuff about Ratzinger in the film too. The fact is, [Ratzinger] moved pedophile priests around when he was archbishop of Munich. So much depravity, so little time.

We joke around the office that our films are pretty bleak; we make films that make people sick. The thing about Mea Maxima Culpa is that towards the end of the film there is actually a moment of hope and inspiration. These deaf men worked so hard at such odds to have their voices heard. And in some fundamental way they did. They loosed documents that let us understand the magnitude of this crime. It’s an inspiring thing, what they did. And that give me a boost. There was a little bit of bright light in the dark tunnel. – The Daily Beast, 4 February 2013

» Michael Moynihan is an American journalist, publisher and musician. He is best known for co-writing the book Lords of Chaos, about black metal. Moynihan is founder of the music group Blood Axis, the music label Storm Records and publishing company Dominion Press. Moynihan has interviewed numerous musical figures and has published several books, translations and essays.

See also

  1. Vatican hideout will protect Benedict from sexual abuse prosecution – Philip Pullella
  2. Fr. Marcial Maciel and the Popes who protected him – Jason Berry
  3. Benedict XVI on child abuse: It’s normal for men and children! – Sign of the Times
  4. Richard Dawkins calls for arrest of Pope Benedict XVI
  5. Benedict XVI: Sex abuse victims urge ICC to prosecute pope – Robert Chesal
  6. Put the Pope in the Dock: The Vatican should feel the full weight of international law – Geoffrey Robertson
  7. The Catholic priests who abused children—and the men who covered it up—must be prosecuted – Christopher Hitchens
  8. Benedict XVI: Sex abuse victims urge ICC to prosecute pope – Robert Chesal
  9. The Pope is not above the law – Christopher Hitchens
  10. Dutch Catholic Church: Not only did it abuse boys, it castrated the whistle-blowers – Robert Chesal
  11. Dutch Child Sex Abuse Archive – Radio Netherlands
  12. Catholic Church abused tens of thousands of children in Holland – Times of India
  13. Catholic Ireland to close its Vatican embassy because of child sex abuse issues – Vaiju Naravane
  14. US Jesuits pay $166,000,000 to sex abuse victims in Oregan – William Yardley
  15. Catholic Church pays $77 million to sex abuse victims – Laurie Goldstein
  16. Buggery and Pope Benedict XVI – Media Reports
  17. Mote and the beam – Sandhya Jain
  18. K.B. Shibu: Sexual depravity in God’s own church – Media Reports
  19. Benedict XVI: Papal infallibility to moral frailty – Sandhya Jain
  20. Vatican: Religion or polity? – Sandhya Jain

Fr. Marcial Maciel and the Popes who protected him – Jason Berry

Pope John Paul Ii & Fr. Marcial Maciel

Jason Berry“A life … out of moral bounds,” is how Pope Benedict XVI described Maciel in a 2010 interview, two years after Maciel’s death. A “wasted, twisted life.”

And a life that exposed shocking flaws in the Vatican and the papacy. The saga of Father Maciel opens a rare view onto the flow of money in the Roman Curia across the last half century, a time during which his rise to power and late-life crash into scandal stained the campaign for John Paul II’s sainthood and became a quagmire for Benedict XVI.

Fr. Marcial Maciel  DegolladoIn the late 1940s, Maciel began sexually plundering teenage seminarians in the religious order he founded, the Legion of Christ. He also shuttled between Mexico, Venezuela, and Spain, courting benefactors like a senator with silk between the fingers, portraying his Legionaries as a force of resurgent orthodoxy, himself a fearless foe of communism.

That message had booming resonance in Mexico, a heavily Catholic country seared by memories of lethal anticlerical persecutions set in motion by the Calles regime in the 1930s, a milieu powerfully evoked in Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory. Maciel won government support for seminary scholarships in Madrid, after the Spanish Civil War cemented ties between Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and the Catholic hierarchy. Wealthy industrialists and patricians from the Spanish-speaking world poured money into Maciel’s fledgling order. 

The youngest of five boys in a family of nine children, Maciel was born in 1920 into the provincial aristocracy of Cotija de la Paz in south-central Mexico, today a crossroads in the drug wars. The surname derived from his father’s Creole French-Spanish ancestry. His father, a rancher with a sugar mill, ridiculed the boy for being a sissy, subjected him to whippings by older brothers, and sent him to work with field hands to shape up as a man. Many years later, he told one of his seminary victims, Juan Vaca, how mule drivers sexually abused him.

On his mother’s side, four uncles were bishops. Maciel as a teenager entered a seminary in Mexico, but was dismissed for reasons yet to surface; he joined a seminary run by Jesuits in New Mexico and was again expelled for “misunderstandings,” according to his official biography. Had it not been for the quartet of uncles, he never would have been a priest. But pull is pull. Bishop Francisco Arias arranged private lessons and ordained his nephew in 1944. A cameraman filmed Maciel in the moment, the footage used in later years for Legion marketing efforts.

Cardinal Clemente Micara the Vicar General of RomeMaciel raised money for lodgings and lessons in Mexico City for the small group of followers he had attracted. In 1946 he arrived in Rome and gave $10,000 to Cardinal Clemente Micara, the vicar of Rome, “a huge sum in a city reeling from the war,” a priest with seasoned knowledge of Legion finances told me. Maciel, 26, tall and lean with searchlight eyes, spoke no Italian. But the portly Micara, a former Vatican diplomat, spoke Spanish; he provided an endorsement letter for Maciel’s fundraising and an audience with Pope Pius XII.

Legionaries called their leader Nuestro Padre (Our Father). They were taught that their founder was a living saint. They took private vows, swearing never to criticize Maciel or their superiors and to report on anyone who did. The cultlike insular culture Maciel molded would reward spying as an act of faith and shield Nuestro Padre from scrutiny as the youngest victims grew up and left the order, returning to Mexico and years of grappling with his traumatic impact on their lives.

In 1956 at the Legion seminary in Rome, Maciel spun out of control from an addiction to a morphine painkiller. A priest and older seminarian complained to the Vatican, which prompted an investigation that sent Maciel to a hospital briefly and removed him as superior general. But with no public notice of his suspension, Maciel kept traveling, raising money to complete construction on Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Rome. His victims, bound by the private vows, lied to defend him, as they would admit in interviews many years later.

He got his break in 1959. Pius XII had died. Vatican high officials had to stop their duties in the interregnum before a new pope. Micara, in an apparent violation of canon law, signed a decree reinstating Maciel that no one else disputed. Micara was smiling when the basilica opened.

The Legionaries were easy to spot in Rome, young men with close-cropped hair in traditional cassocks or double-breasted blazers, walking two by two like a spiritual army. In the 1970s Maciel hatched a lay group, Regnum Christi, whose highest members lived as consecrated celibates. Regnum Christi helped run Legion prep schools and raise money for the movement, as the larger culture was called. In discussion groups, followers studied Maciel’s letters in a cult of personality, while Maciel expanded the donor base in America.

In 1971 Maciel sent Father Juan Vaca, 34, to Connecticut as director of the Legion’s embryonic U.S. presence. Vaca, who grew up in a small Mexican town, was 10 when he entered the Legion and 12 when Maciel began molesting him in Spain. Vaca extracted himself from the twisted psychosexual relationship at age 24.

Fr. Marcial Maciel and son Raul GonzalezIn 1976 Vaca bolted to the Long Island diocese of Rockville Centre. He wrote a 12-page single-spaced letter to Maciel, identifying 20 other victims, “good and gifted young boys … [subjected to] aberrant and sacrilegious abuse.” Bishop John Raymond McGann included Vaca’s letter in a dossier to the Vatican suggesting that it investigate. The letter was acknowledged; nothing happened. The bishop and Vaca wrote again in 1978, when John Paul II became pope.

But again, nothing happened.

In 1980 Maciel sired a son, Raul, by Blanca Gutierrez Lara, whom he met in Acapulco. He was 60; she was 22, with a 3-year-old boy from a previous relationship. Maciel used the name Raul Rivas on the birth certificates of Raul Gutierrez and a second son he had by Blanca. He gave her a house in Cuernavaca with financial support, visiting periodically, telling them that he was a CIA agent and oil-company detective. Meanwhile, he held great prominence in Rome. Cardinals relished the grand dinners with a mariachi band at the Legion college. He traveled relentlessly, each time taking $10,000 in cash with no questions asked from his subalterns.

In 1986 he had a daughter by another woman from Acapulco.

Even as Maciel siphoned Legion funds to support his secret life and shadow families, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, and his wife made a seven-figure donation for construction of a Legion building in Cheshire, Connecticut, and were memorialized by a plaque.

Raul and Pope John Paul IIPowerful men who support the progeny of their mistresses are commonplace in Latin America. But Maciel was a narcissist beyond category. In the late 1980s he brought Raul together in Rome with Normita, his daughter by Norma Hilda Baños. Wearing his Roman collar, he arranged for Raul to attend a private Mass with John Paul in the Apostolic Palace. The photo of young Raul with a clueless John Paul was undoubtedly taken by Nuestro Padre.

Gaining access to the small chapel in the Apostolic Palace turned on a flow of donations Maciel allegedly orchestrated to Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish assistant to John Paul and gatekeeper of attendance at the private masses, who admitted only a few world leaders.

In 1995, according to former Legion insiders, Maciel sent $1 million via Dziwisz in advance of a papal trip to Poland. In 1997, according to a priest who left the Legion and spoke on the condition of anonymity, a wealthy family from Mexico gave Dziwisz $50,000 to attend a private papal mass. Dziwisz, now a cardinal in Kraków, did not answer my questions about the incident, sent by fax in 2010 and translated into Polish. “This happened all the time,” the ex-Legionary told me. “It was always in cash. And in dollars.”

While the Vatican has no constitution or statutes that would make such transactions illegal, a second priest who says he gave funds to Dziwisz said, “You don’t know where the money is going. It’s an elegant way of giving a bribe.”

Cardinal Angelo SodanoMaciel’s pivotal supporter, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, became John Paul’s secretary of State in 1989. The friendship formed in the early ’80s in Chile: as Maciel opened a seminary, a prep school, and a radio station, Sodano, as papal nuncio and supportive of the regime, saw Maciel as an up-and-comer. Back in Rome, recalls ex-Legionary Glenn Favreau, now a Washington attorney, “Sodano came over with his entire family, 200 of them, for a big meal when he was named cardinal. And we fed them all. When Sodano became secretary of State, there was another big celebration.”

In Rome, Sodano was a “cheerleader for the Legion,” as several ex-Legion priests told me. “He’d come give a talk at Christmas, and they’d give him $10,000,” said one. Another recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano. (Sodano has also declined my interview requests.)

In 1989 Vaca sent a long, detailed letter to John Paul in a dossier from his Long Island diocese, via Vatican diplomatic pouch, again including his original statement naming Maciel’s victims. This time he wrote more directly, telling John Paul that because of the abuse, he never should have been ordained. He was about to marry and wanted release from his vows. Several years later Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a document granting that, but on the Maciel charges—again, nothing.

As Legion money flowed through the Curia, seminarians drove across Rome in the days before Christmas, delivering baskets with fine wines and $1,000 Spanish hams to favored officials.

In 1994 the Legion took out ads in major Mexican dailies reproducing a letter from John Paul praising Maciel as “an efficacious guide to youth.” That letter was like a sting to José Barba, a Mexico City college professor who earned a doctorate at Harvard after leaving the Legion and never forgot the grope of Maciel’s paws.

Barba, Vaca, and others found their way to me. Meanwhile, Gerald Renner of The Hartford Courant was reporting on men leaving a Legion seminary—an environment they found overly repressive—in Connecticut. Renner and I connected for a jointCourant assignment. The February 23, 1997, report exposed a history of pedophilia by Maciel through nine victims on the record. The Vatican refused comment. Maciel claimed innocence, but refused to be interviewed. The Legion counterattacked with a website denouncing the accusers as fomenting a conspiracy against Maciel.

And to Maciel and the Legion’s defense rose a glittering chorus of professional Catholics. First up was William Donohue of the Catholic League, calling the men’s claims “balderdash.” Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine asserted “for a moral certainty” that the charges were false. John Paul biographer and NBC Vatican analyst George Weigel praised the Legion; so did Bill Bennett, a former Reagan Education secretary, now a CNN commentator. Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law professor who also taught at the Legion college in Rome, scoffed at the charges. She later became U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

The Ratzinger Slap: Ratzinger slaps reporter Brian Ross when asked about a priest molesting children.To this day, not one of the celebrities has apologized to the victims.

Sodano pressured Ratzinger to overlook the charges. And John Paul ignored the allegations, continuing his praise of Maciel.

Not until 2004, when Maciel was 84 and John Paul was dying, did Ratzinger dispatch trusted canon lawyer Charles Scicluna to investigate the allegations. Shortly thereafter, a Legionary met with Cardinal Franc Rodé, the head of the Vatican office that oversees religious orders. The priest showed him a videotape of Maciel “with a woman and child represented as his,” Rodé told me in an interview for GlobalPost on November 29. Rodé said he reported the information to Scicluna, but did not confront Maciel because “I was not his confessor.”

The Legion had a $650 million annual budget and $1 billion in assets by May 2006, when Ratzinger, as Benedict, banished Maciel to “a life of prayer and penitence.” The Vatican communiqué did not stipulate what he had done. But Maciel had “more than 20 and less than 100” victims, according to an unnamed Vatican official quoted by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.

Fr. Maciel with his mistress and daughter at his exclusive residence in Florida.Maciel retired to Jacksonville, Florida, and a house with a pool in a gated community the Legion bought to comply with Rome’s penitential order. He died January 30, 2008, surrounded by several priests, his daughter Normita, and her mother, Norma Hilda Baños. Several days later he was buried at a family crypt in his hometown, Cotija de la Paz.

His son Raul watched the news on TV in Cuernavaca; several years had passed since he had been heard from, though Raul in subsequent interviews said he never forgot how the man he knew as dad sexually abused him through adolescence, a charge now pending in a civil lawsuit against the Legion in Connecticut.

The Legion website announced that Maciel had gone to heaven. It took them another year to disclose his paternity, which sent shock waves through the movement, at which point top Legionaries began apologizing to the pedophilia victims whom they had attacked for years as participants in a dark conspiracy.

At that point the Vatican, which had known about the daughter for four and a half years, announced an investigation of the Legion. In 2010 the Vatican took the scandal-battered order into receivership, something unique in the modern church. Benedict appointed a delegate (read: overseer), Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, a canon lawyer with a background in economics. Among his first duties, after the pope ordered the abolition of the private vows, was to rewrite the Legion’s constitution.

Pope John Paul II + Cardinal RatzingerBut by then, John Paul’s denial and Benedict’s soft-glove punishment became a liability as information began surfacing.

The Legion had long capitalized on footage of a beaming John Paul praising Maciel at a papal audience to cheering Legionaries, sending cassettes to donors. With Nuestro Padre an impediment to the sainthood juggernaut for John Paul, the Legion withdrew the cassettes and got rid of the photos in a makeover of its website. A scene of John Paul embracing Maciel at the altar was high drama for true believers, like Gabrielle Mee.

Mee was a wealthy widow who adulated Maciel and donated $30 million to the Legion in her later years while living in a Regnum Christi house in Rhode Island. She died four months after Maciel, kept utterly in the dark about his secret life. Her niece has sued the Legion to overturn the will and return the funds.

Why didn’t the Vatican release all the information on Maciel in 2006, when Benedict sent him off to a life of penance? Barba, who filed a 1998 case seeking Maciel’s ouster and has become a news celebrity in Mexico with his forceful analysis of breaking information, is convinced that Ratzinger, after becoming pope, wanted to minimize the damage done by John Paul’s failure, knowing Rome would push to make John Paul a saint. In spring 2011 Benedict beatified John Paul, the step before sainthood. It would be a dicey move for the next pope to take the final step. When Benedict flew to Mexico in spring 2012, he faced damaging media coverage for his failure to meet with Maciel’s victims. As long as those men live, any movement on the story of John Paul’s sainthood should be balanced with the reality of those, like Barba and Vaca, who sent John Paul all the messages he needed, but that he failed to heed, choosing instead to bless the myth of Nuestro Padre. – The Daily Beast, 12 March 2013

» Jason Berry is the author of Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown). He covered events in the Vatican for GlobalPost and as a consultant to ABC News.

Map of Legionares of Christ

The Legion of Christ has a presence in the US, EU and SA. Click to enlarge.

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