September 21, 2009
NEWTON, MA – Jason Berry, the author, investigative journalist, and documentary producer, has been named recipient of the Saint Catherine of Siena Distinguished Lay Person Award by Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the national Catholic reform organization.
The presentation occurred at the VOTF biennial conference October 30-31 at the Hilton Long Island/Huntington in Melville, New York.
In announcing the honor, President Daniel Bartley cited Berry’s “persistent effort over 24 years to bring the sexual abuse scandal to light. Jason is that rare combination of skilled writer and compassionate disciple whose quest for justice withstood repeated attack. We are proud to recognize his outstanding work.”
It is widely acknowledged that Berry’s 2004 book, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, written with the late Gerald Renner, was the catalyst for the reopening of investigations on molestation charges against and the sanctioning of one of the most powerful priests in Rome: Fr. Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ. A movie based on the book followed in 2008 and was cited as the best television documentary at an international film festival, among other awards.
Legionaries of Christ investigation 1994-2009
Since 1994, exhaustive research by Berry and Renner exposed evidence against Fr. Marcial Maciel whose order grew to number 800 priests and 2,500 major and minor seminarians in 22 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, and Australia.
A favorite of Pope John Paul II, Maciel was untouchable for decades, despite many claims about abuse and improprieties. The Legion’s militant spirituality and fund-raising prowess, as reflected in a $650 million annual budget, gained him influential support.
The Legionaries operate 21 prep schools in the United States; the University of Sacramento; the U.S.’s only three minor seminaries; a newspaper, the National Catholic Register; and numerous formation programs, camps and clubs as part of the lay Regnum Christi apostolate. Yet the Legion has not received the attention in the U.S. media, despite its significant presence across the country.
Following publication of Vows of Silence, and renewed focus on a canon case filed by survivors in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI invited Maciel to a life of prayer and penance in 2006, barring him from priestly ministry. Maciel died in 2008 but posthumous reports showed that he had fathered one daughter and perhaps more children. The Legionaries are currently being investigated by a special commission of the Holy See, with dissolution of the order a possible result.
None of these outcomes would likely have occurred without Berry’s ongoing efforts on behalf of Maciel’s survivors. He is the most authoritative source on the Legionaries long and checkered history.
Investigations across US from 1984 on
Berry led coverage of the first abuse case to receive national attention in 1984-85, that of Gilbert Gauthe in Berry’s native Louisiana. The reports were written for the Times of Acadiana, a courageous weekly newspaper in Lafayette. The publisher endured an advertisers’ boycott organized by a prominent monsignor after the paper called for the resignation of the bishop. Interestingly, six months after this call for resignation, the Vatican sent a new bishop to the diocese of Lafayette.
Later, Berry’s articles appeared often in the National Catholic Reporter (not to be confused with the Legion’s National Catholic Register). But it was a lonely battle to get other media to pay attention to the issue not only of sexual abuse but also of the cover-up by the hierarchy.
In 1992, Berry’s book on the Louisiana case, Lead Us Not into Temptation, previously rejected by 30 publishers, was finally published by Doubleday. It won the Catholic Press Association award the following year, and as Rolling Stone magazine noted, became “the bible of the survivors’ movement” in newsrooms across the nation.
In ensuing years, Berry’s pioneering investigations exposed sex crimes and duplicity by priests and bishops from Louisiana to Ohio to Connecticut and California, to name several states. His reporting was pivotal in establishing a national pattern of abuse long before press revelations in 2002: articles and reports appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hartford Courant, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Reader, Gambit Weekly of New Orleans, and countless other publications and broadcast outlets.
Berry broke many stories for which credit is not generally acknowledged. For example, he was the first to report on Cleveland Bishop A. James Quinn’s advice to diocesan canon lawyers to comb through files and send “dangerous” materials to the nunciature/ embassy in Washington, a move to gain diplomatic immunity out of the reach of U.S. law; and Cardinal Francis George’s comments reported by National Review Board members that they “will be the downfall of the Church.”
The list of national media appearances by Berry since 1988 includes ABC Nightline, ABC World News, Tonight; NBC Nightly News, CBS Nightly News, CNN, 20/20, A&E Investigative Reports, Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo, National Public Radio, BBC, and CBC Good Morning. He was also a consultant to ABC News from 2002 to 2008.
Berry is currently working on a book for Doubleday regarding an investigation of financial governance of the church and the impact on parish closings—two key issues in the ongoing story of Catholicism in America. His expertise in reporting on religion is well-established, and VOTF anticipates this effort will be very helpful to its own proposed reforms in these areas.