Vatican Set To Rule On Legionaries Of Christ
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to one former priest who's tried for years to get answers about the founder of a powerful Catholic order in Mexico. Last week, we had a conversation about that order, the Legionaries of Christ, which has admitted its founder abused young seminarians.
NPR's Jason Beaubien has more, from Mexico City.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Mexico is a deeply Catholic country, with more than 75 percent of the population identifying themselves as members of the faith. Ever since colonial times, the Catholic Church has played a central role in Mexican society.
Father Jose de Jesus Aguilar Valdes, with the Mexican Archdiocese, says the church made mistakes in handling sexual abuse by priests in the past. But he says there hasn't been the level of abuse here that's been alleged in Europe or the United States.
Father JOSE DE JESUS AGUILAR VALDES (Mexican Archdiocese): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: At least in Mexico, he says, right now, there are only a few cases, which he acknowledges caused deep pain to the victims. One case involves a Mexican priest who abused young boys in the United States and thus, Father Jose de Jesus says it's not under the Mexican Archdiocese jurisdiction.
In another high-profile case, the father points out, the accuser retracted his allegation. Advocates for abuse victims, however, say the problem in Mexico is far, far worse than this. The most prominent pedophilia case is that of Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
In 2006, the Vatican ordered Maciel to give up his public ministry rather than face a church inquiry into the charges. Maciel died two years later, in 2008.
Alberto Athie spent 20 years as a priest in Mexico, but he quit the clergy over the Maciel scandal. Athie says when he first heard allegations that Maciel sexually abused young boys, he found it hard to believe.
Mr. ALBERTO ATHIE (Former Catholic Priest): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Because at the time, Father Maciel was this very important priest in Mexico, Athie says. He was very close to the pope.
Maciel had rapidly built the Legionaries of Christ into an influential order, with seminaries around the globe. In 1994, Athie was called to minister to a dying, ex-Legionarie named Juan Manuel Fernandez. Fernandez had joined the Legion as a young man and served as president of one of the order's most prestigious universities in Mexico City. Fernandez told Athie that he had a secret that he didn't want to take with him to the grave.
Mr. ATHIE: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Father Maciel completely destroyed my life, Athie recalls Fernandez saying. He said Father Maciel had sexually abused him and numerous other seminarians when they were teenagers. At Fernandez's funeral, Athie told the congregation that Fernandez had forgiving Father Maciel, but still demanded justice.
Athie says that after the service, eight other men came to tell him that they'd also been abused by Maciel. Athie found himself on a mission. He got notarized statements from the men. He eventually convinced an archbishop to personally deliver a letter detailing the allegations to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This was seven years before Ratzinger would become Pope Benedict the XVI.
Athie's envoy returned, saying Ratzinger had read the letter but rejected it.
Mr. ATHIE: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The case of Father Maciel can't be opened because Father Maciel is a person very close to the Holy Father, Athie was told. He has done a lot of good work for the church. I'm sorry.
Athie says the case shows how the current pope was part of the institutional cover-up of sexual abuse by priests that went on inside the Catholic Church for decades.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
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