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21 Jul 2019 10:19
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  •   Home > News > International

    How Catholic clergy ruled alongside the 'gay mafia', despots, and rent boys in Latin America

    While all eyes are on the Catholic Church for its handling of child sexual abuse among clergy, the Latin American clergy ran fiefdoms alongside the continent's autocrats for decades.


    Over the past few years, Australians have been largely pre-occupied with revelations of decades of misconduct by the country's Catholic Church.

    The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, running from 2013 to 2017, found that 7 per cent of all Australian priests — or 1,880 alleged perpetrators — were accused of child sexual abuse between 1950 and 2010.

    It determined that the Australian Church was responsible for "catastrophic failures of leadership" over decades, where civil authorities were actively kept away from numerous allegations of abuse in parishes around the country.

    In March 2019, one of the Vatican's highest-ranked officials, Cardinal George Pell, was prosecuted for the sexual abuse of two choirboys, which seemed to mark an apex in Australia's civil reckoning of the clergy's crimes.

    However, for Frédéric Martel, a French journalist and author, the prosecution of Pell is just the tip of a global iceberg.

    "When I was in Australia some people asked, 'Is the world speaking about Pell?', and I said no," Martel told the ABC.

    "Pell is one symptom among many others."

    A picture of regional fiefdom: Mexico's Marcial Maciel

    Earlier this year, Martel releasedIn the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, a book that maps the presence of homosexuality within the Catholic Church's patriarchal hierarchy.

    While it speculates that about 80 per cent of clergy are homosexual — who may or may not act on their desires — the process of writing the book put Martel up against some of the clergy's most egregious crimes.

    When he looked into the Latin American Church's late-20thcentury history, a picture of regional fiefdoms quickly emerged, with Mexico's Marcial Maciel telling one of the Church's darkest stories.

    Maciel was the founder of the Legionaries of Christ order in 1941 — a group praised by Pope John Paul II for bringing in a record number of seminarians and money into Church coffers.

    But by the end of century, Maciel would be accused of numerous instances of sexual abuse against children and his seminarians that stretched over decades.

    By 2010, the Legionaries acknowledged that he had fathered a child with a long-term partner.

    In the weeks after the official disclosure, a Mexican attorney alleged that Maciel fathered up to six children, after being asked to litigate on behalf of three of them.

    Theology professor and Church historian Massimo Faggioli, who has written extensively about the Church's sexual abuse crisis, told the ABC that cases like Maciel's were the product of a time when the protection and growth of the Catholic brand was paramount.

    "If you brought to Rome a lot of money and young priests, nobody is going to ask questions of you," Dr Faggioli said.

    He said this coincided with Pope John Paul II's "automatic defence" posture when the clergy was accused of sexual abuse.

    "There was a coordinated effort from the Vatican down to shield [priests] from secular justice."

    Maciel was never prosecuted by Vatican or civil authorities in his lifetime — nor was he defrocked as a priest — and was only forced from the active ministry by Pope Benedict XVI, two years before his death in 2008.

    'He finished his sexual relations by beating them'

    In Colombia, there was Alfonso López Trujillo, a man who would become a Colombian Cardinal and president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, where he would espouse hard-line teachings against homosexuality.

    He once suggested that HIV could pass through condoms.

    For Martel, in private the cardinal was "one of those men who seek power in order to have sex and [have] sex in order to have power".

    His former master of ceremonies, Alvaro Leon, alleged to Martel that some clergy in Colombia found young male sex workers for him, who Cardinal López Trujillo then "insulted and humiliated", which sometimes resulted in beatings.

    "He finished his sexual relations by beating them, out of pure sadism," Mr Leon said.

    For Dr Faggioli, what is inherent to the systemic abuse of power among clergy is the percentage of homosexual priests who fear being "outed", which he said created a system of "mutual threats".

    "So it's a case of, 'If you're going to say this about me, I'm going to say something about you'," he said.

    Argentina's 'fascistoid gay mafia'

    In Argentina, there was Pio Laghi, an Italian-born Vatican diplomat, known as a Papal Nuncio, who served in the country at the height of its Dirty War — a military dictatorship that led to the killings and disappearances of almost 20,000 people.

    He was known for regularly playing tennis with one of the ruling junta's leaders, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera.

    Martel alleges that rumours of the Nuncio's homosexuality allowed him to be compromised.

    "Laghi went even further: he chose to socialise actively with the fascistoid gay mafia surrounding the regime," Martel wrote.

    In 1997, a human rights group made up of mothers of Argentina's disappeared, Madres de Plaza de Mayo, accused the Nuncio of having first-hand knowledge of the torture, murder and kidnapping of political dissidents.

    In response to the allegations, Laghi admitted that he "wasn't a hero", but insisted he was "no accomplice" during his time in Argentina.

    Declassified documents from the United States State Department later revealed the Nuncio told the Argentinian US embassy that the junta's leaders were "good men at heart" who had "grave problems of conscience" in 1977.

    The fight against Communism distracted Vatican

    Throughout his book, Martel is careful to separate perceptions of criminality from homosexuality.

    For him, what allowed the egregious crimes of the Latin American Church to take place for decades in the late 20th century was the idea that tackling them wasn't seen as a high priority.

    Instead, he said the fight against Communism was far more important.

    "In Latin America, the nominations [of clergy] by John Paul II were really organised by political views," Martel said.

    Across the South American continent, a number of democratic and non-democratic revolutions threatened to throw the balance of power in favour of Communism, such as Chile's Salvador Allende — the first democratically elected Marxist head of a liberal democracy.

    Within the Catholic Church, similar ructions were taking place across the continent with Liberation Theology — a faith doctrine that fused Christian and Marxist principles to fight for social justice and political agency for the poor and oppressed.

    Martel told the ABC that this development spooked those high up in the Vatican who were "afraid" of progressive Catholic orders such as the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and the Jesuits — the order of current Pope Francis — which led to the promotion of offending clergy.

    "You don't want to denounce a paedophile because that's not important in your fight — the fight is about Communism," he said.

    Today the Church is distracted by another ideological fight

    Today however, another ideological fight is brewing, one that appears to be a repeat of the themes of the Cold War — it's just that the historical enemy is now in the papal seat.

    "Pope Francis is seen as a threat against certain alliances between Catholicism and capitalism," Dr Faggioli said.

    "They are using the sexual abuse scandal against Francis, to try and say that he's an accomplice of abusers and that he has done nothing."

    In 2018, conservative Italian Archbishop Maria Viganò called for Pope Francis's resignation in a letter that alleged that the pontiff was directly responsible for the cover-up of abuse allegations related to American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

    In February, McCarrick was expelled from the Church after being found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.

    "This is something that you didn't see in the previous pontificates — they were accused of acting slow or not paying attention [to sexual abuse] — but no one was accusing them of consciously colluding with abusers," Dr Faggioli said.

    So far however, Pope Francis has held his nerve in a period which Dr Faggioli said is equivalent to multiple "impeachment" attempts.

    He explained that this has become another sideshow that has distracted the Church from a primary focus, that being the protection of the vulnerable.

    "There's no phenomenon of the Catholic Church purely dealing with the phenomenon of sexual abuse purely in moral terms," he said.

    "There are other [ideological] factors that can help us understand why it hasn't been tackled historically, and why it is trying to be tackled now.

    "The goals are not always for the protection of minors."

    The Vatican, the Latin American Episcopal Council and the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference have been contacted for comment and responses to Frederic Martel's book, but did not respond by publication time.

    Cardinal George Pell has lodged an appeal against his conviction of sexually abusing two choirboys.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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