The current chairman of the board at Zenit, Legionary priest Father Oscar Nader, requested I take this step based on the view that as a person linked to various Catholic communications initiatives, I do not offer the clear idea of the institutional identity of Zenit that the Legionaries of Christ wish to communicate from now on.
How do you explain this decision?
Well, in reality I think this decision is the culmination of a gradual mutual loss of trust which began several years ago. The manner in which the Legion of Christ hid the information about Fr. Marcial Maciel, which was discovered bit by bit by the press, caused a breakdown of trust in this institution on the part of the director of the news agency.
I understand the difficult situation in which the superiors of the Legionaries of Christ found themselves. Now in public statements they have said they already had proof of Fr. Maciel’s different lives for years before his death. Nevertheless, despite the statement issued by the Holy See in 2006, they continued to present him as a role model, even at his death and after his death.
The superiors invited me to a Mass celebrated at the chapel of the Legionaries’ Center for Higher Studies 30 days after his death. During the homily, before hundreds of religious, Fr. Maciel was presented as a role model. This is particularly grave, because it is one thing to avoid a scandal in revealing the crimes or the double (although you would have to say the triple or quadruple) life of Fr. Maciel, and quite another to continuing maintaining this myth of sanctity that the congregation had promoted during his life.
Moreover, since a number of years had passed since the Vatican statement was issued calling on Fr. Maciel to retire and to publicly acknowledge his lies and crimes, the impression was spread among the religious and those close to the Legionaries that the Pope had unjustly punished him. This to me is very grave, especially considering everything that this Pope has done for the congregation.
But, in reality since the Legionaries were the ones who asked you to resign, it seems that they also lost trust in you.
Yes, undoubtedly trust is a sentiment that goes in two directions, it cannot be one way. In the last two years, everything the congregation has experienced has created tension. Two years ago, the Zenit staff asked the board to establish a totally separate and transparent management in order to guarantee independence in response to any accusations. Zenit is an agency that depends on donations from its readership and ought to be able to explain where every dollar goes. Although the board promised to set up this kind of arrangement, in practice this has not been done. I am morally convinced that the money we have received from our readers goes directly to Zenit, but I cannot demonstrate this formally and administratively.
As one can understand, my continuous complaints about this situation led the superiors of the Legionaries to also lose trust in me. This trust was completely broken when I proposed allowing other Catholic entities to have a seat on the board of Zenit, in order to address these questions and provide for an editorial future and greater ecclesial representation. Not only was the proposal ignored, it led to my firing as well.
You knew Fr. Maciel well, you even published a book interview with him. Did you know anything about his private life?
Like the vast majority of people who knew him, including John Paul II, I could have never imagined that he was guilty of the crimes that have now been proven. During the meetings I had with him, I always believed I was standing before an authentic priest. This is the “enigma” of Fr. Maciel which Benedict XIV spoke about in his book. I never had any doubts about him until the Vatican published the statement calling on him to retire to a life of prayer and penance. The review of his biography and the amazing growth of the works he founded led me to believe that there had to be Christian authenticity at the origin. There were some details that sometimes surprised me, such as his interest in appearance, for example, but I ascribed that to his cultural origins. Like so many other people, I was also shocked to discover the deceit in someone who had been presented to us as a role model.
For 20 years you have worked as correspondent in Rome, and 14 years ago you began Zenit. What is your assessment?
The Maciel case and its understandably tragic consequences cannot blur the human, spiritual and professional adventure experienced by those lucky enough to spend their lives offering news coverage of the life of the Pope and the Holy See. As a journalist you see human weakness, but you also see a lot of holiness, an immense work of charity at the service of those most in need. I have been able to know John Paul II and now Benedict XVI: two people of surprising spiritual and intellectual stature.
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All this depth and holiness cannot be clouded by Fr. Maciel’s lies. Honestly I know many priests and seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ and I consider them to be authentic Christians and, in a certain sense, martyrs of the situation they are confronting with so much love for Christ and the Church.