Fr. Owen Kearns, L.C., the publisher of the National Catholic Register, has published an apology for defending the disgraced Legionaries of Christ founder Fr. Marcel Maciel. He specifically apologized to victims of Maciel’s abuse, investigative journalists who helped expose the crimes and to readers of the Register.
“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,” he told victims.
In a publisher’s note dated April 20 and published in the Register, Fr. Kearns said he had intended not to comment until the Holy See issued its findings after its apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ.
However, he realized even if he was not ready his readers were.
“To be honest, they have probably been ready for some time,” he continued.
Fr. Kearns explained that he had publicly defended Maciel as a spokesman for the Legion of Christ in early 1997 and as publisher in the National Catholic Register in November 2001 and again in 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,” he wrote.
The allegations that Maciel perpetrated sexual abuse were a “complete shock” to the Legion, he said.
“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 the Vatican’s invitation of Fr. Maciel to a retired life of prayer and penance gave Fr. Kearns hope that he was innocent because of the absence of a public explanation.
“The conclusive evidence that he had done things incompatible with religious and priestly life made me rethink everything,” he wrote.
As other “shameful and reprehensible” facts have emerged, the Register recused itself from further reporting and used reliable news reports from independent sources.
He expressed regret that he “took to task” journalists Gerald Renner and Jason Berry and their Hartford Courant editors.
“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.”
He prayed that Maciel’s victims can accept his words and he expressed hope for a journey towards healing and reconciliation.