Friday, March 26, 2010

Scandal-plagued Catholic order apologises to victims

Scandal-plagued Catholic order apologises to victims
Friday, March 26 02:43 pm

Philip Pullella

An influential Catholic priestly order whose late founder was discovered to have been a sexual molester and to have fathered at least one child apologised on Friday to victims whose accusations were ignored.
The apology from the leaders of the Legion of Christ "to all those who have been affected, wounded, or scandalized by the reprehensible actions of our founder" came as the Catholic Church is being convulsed over reports of abuse of children.

Last week, the Vatican announced the completion of a one-year inquiry of the conservative order, which involved visits by papal inspectors to its more than 120 seminaries, 200 schools and 600 centres for lay Catholics around the world.

Father Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008 at the age of 87, was a cult figure within the order and for years had the ear of the late Pope John Paul II despite allegations that he had abused young male seminarians.

The order later found that he had lived a double life for decades and the revelations dealt a severe moral blow to the priestly order and its lay branch, Regnum Christi, which has tens of thousands of members.

In a statement believed to be unprecedented in the history of a Catholic religious order, the Legion disowned its founder: "We accept that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life."

While heading an order of priests who take vows of celibacy, he had a mistress with whom he fathered at least one child in Mexico and perhaps had two other children by another woman.

"We later came to know that Fr Maciel had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts," the statement said.

Former students for the priesthood accused Maciel of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers but the order denied the allegations for years. They were confirmed in Friday's statement.

"We ask all those who accused him in the past to forgive us, those whom we did not believe or were incapable of giving a hearing to, since at the time we could not imagine that such behaviour took place," the order said in a statement.

Founded by Maciel, a Mexican, in 1941, the order now has about 850 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 21 countries. It also runs a pontifical university in Rome.


In 2006, after new evidence, Pope Benedict ordered Maciel to retire to a life of "prayer and penitence." At the time, the sanctions made him one of the most prominent persons to be disciplined for sexual abuse in the Church's history. He died in 2008, still a priest.

Amid accusations from some critics that Pope Benedict may have looked the other way on cases of sexual abuse before his election -- accusations the Vatican has rejected -- officials have pointed to his firm handling of the Maciel case as evidence of what they say is his tough stand on the issue.

His supporters say he took action while his predecessor John Paul did not give credence to the accusations of abuse.

Like in many religious institutions, the founder became a cult figure among members, even while he was alive, and many refused to believe that he had done anything wrong.

Critics both inside and outside the order said it would have been impossible for Maciel to have led a double life without his top aides knowing about it and the order addressed the issue in its statement.

"If it turns out that anyone culpably cooperated in his misdeeds we will act according to the principles of Christian justice and charity, holding these people responsible for their actions," it said.

But questions have remained over whether any of the current leaders may have had a role in helping Maciel hide his double life. A spokeswoman for the order said she did not know which current leaders were in their roles while Maciel was in power.

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