The release of court documents involving a Roman Catholic organization is fueling speculation that Pope Benedict was forced to resign.
Prior to her death in 2008, wealthy Rhode Island widow, Garielle Mee, designated a Catholic order known as the Legion of Christ as the beneficiary of her $60 million fortune. Following Mee's death, her niece, Mary Lou Dauray, filed a lawsuit challenging Mee's will, claiming the Legion had defrauded Mee.
In September 2012, Judge Michael Silverstein of Rhode Island Superior Court said there was evidence that the Legion had "unduly persuaded" Mee to change her will so the Legion would be the beneficiary of the fortune. Silverstein also pointed to a detailed process used by the Legion to slowly take control of Mee's finances. Despite the evidence, Silverstein dismissed the case against the Legion, saying Dauray had no legal standing in the case.
Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion, was investigated by the Catholic Church for allegations of sexual abuse on several occasions. In 1997, nine men accused Maciel of sexual abuse, filing a formal complaint with the Vatican in 1998. The case was never investigated however, being shelved by the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which was led by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Digital Journal reported that Ratzinger, who is now known as Pople Benedict XVI, was named head of the Congregation of Faith in November 1981. In that capacity, Ratzinger was in charge of overseeing all investigations into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
Father Stephen Fichter, a New Jersey priest who was a part of the Legion of Christ order for 14 years and served as the chief financial officer, believed Marciel may have been involved in a possible financial scandal as well. He told the New York Times he had informed the Vatican that every time Marciel traveled, he was required to give Marciel $10,000 in cash. Fichter continued by saying:
“As Legionaries, we were taught a very strict poverty; if I went out of town and bought a Bic pen and a chocolate bar, I would have to turn in the receipts. And yet for Father Maciel there was never any accounting. It was always cash, never any paper trail. And because he was this incredible hero to us, we never even questioned it for a second.”
Accusations against Maciel continued, including accusations that he had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter. In 2004, Ratzinger's office sent a letter to the alleged abuse victims saying and investigation into Maciel would be opened. Two years later, once Ratzinger had been named Pope, the Vatican announced that Maciel would not be tried for his crimes due to his age. Maciel died a short time later.
According to an ABC News report, the Vatican had known about the alleged abuse for years, but chose to ignore it. The report points to the fact that Jerry Renner and Jason Berry, reporters with the The Hartford Courant newspaper, informed the Vatican of the allegations of abuse, but never received a response. A short time later, Maciel was appointed to represent the pope at a meeting of Latin American bishops, which in the eyes of Renner and Berry was a clear signal Ratzinger and the Vatican were choosing to ignore the sexual abuse allegations.
J. Paul Lennon, who was a member of the Legion for 23 years, said a lawsuit was filed by alleged victims in the Vatican's court which asked to have Maciel excommunication. According to Lennon, it was Ratzinger that "quietly made the lawsuit go away". Lennon also states that none of the victims were ever asked for a statement.
On Friday, a Rhode Island Superior Court judge agreed to unseal court documents related to the lawsuit filed by Dauray. The documents detail how Rev. Luis Garza, second in command of the Legion, confronted Maciel's mistress and daughter in 2006 after seeing the two women in Maceil's hotel room. It was then that he learned that Maceil had indeed been having an affair with a woman and fathered a child. Garza said he did not go public with the information "because we needed to comply with indications of the Holy See". As reported by Digital Journal, when Ratzinger was the Holy See (leader) of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he stated that church investigations into accusations of sexual misconduct by priest should remain private.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion and named a papal delegate to oversee order. That does appear to have resolved issues within the order however.
In 2012, another member of the Legion, Rev. Thomas Williams, admitted he had an affair with a women and fathered a child. According to the Christian Post, the Legion was aware of Williams' affair, but chose not act on the matter.
The Legion had fought the release of the court documents, claiming they could prejudice a jury in any future law suits. However the The Associated Press, The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and The Providence Journal argued that the documents "were in the public interest".
Many are speculating that the Pope's sudden resignation was due to the pending release of the documents. The released documents included depositions of high-ranking Legion officials and shows the relationship between Ratzinger and Maciel. Revelations of that relationship, along with previous testimony alleging the Pope ignored known sexual abuse and sexual misconduct on the part of Maciel, is fueling speculation that the Pope was forced to resign.
Some are also pointing to the court documents as the reason behind reports of the Pope seeking immunity from prosecution from the Italian President. Prior knowledge of the content of the documents is also believed to be behind a statement from a Vatican source saying the Pope will continue to live at the Vatican because he "wouldn't have his immunity" otherwise.