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Vatican knew for decades about Legion problem

  • Article by: The Associated Press
  • Associated Press
  • April 21, 2014 - 4:35 AM

The late Pope John Paul II and his top advisers failed to grasp the severity of the sexual abuse problem until late in his 26-year papacy, especially concerns about the troubled Legion of Christ order and its leader, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. But the Legion's troubles were not news to the Vatican, according to a trove of 212 Vatican documents exposed in the 2012 book "The Will to Not Know" and placed online at www.lavoluntuddenosaber.com . Here's a look at some of the more pointed criticism about Maciel from the archive, which also included plenty of letters from bishops and Vatican officials praising him and his order.

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June 8, 1948:

—The Vatican's envoy to Spain sends the Vatican's Congregation for Religious an investigator's report to determine if Maciel's new association should be approved as a religious order. The investigator, the Jesuit Rev. Lucio Rodrigo, reports violations of the confessional seal, that Maciel falsified documents, demonstrates "a certain moral lassitude," and lives a life that "wasn't very pious and at the same time quite comfortable."

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May 28, 1962:

—The Congregation for Religious summarizes the mounting accusations against Maciel: Suspended as superior by the Vatican from 1956-1958, he was ordered to get medical help to cure his morphine "abuse." Maciel also exhibits "dubious moral conduct," makes personal use of "copious amounts of money" without identifying its origins, gives "dangerous" spiritual direction to others with regards to priests' vow of chastity and demands priests in his order vow not to criticize their superiors.

That vow, which the Legion only officially removed in 2007, was key to Maciel's success in preventing his priests from coming forward with allegations against him.

"Given the nature of the accusations ... the moment has come to take definitive measures concerning Father Maciel, also to prevent great public scandal from arising," the summary reads. The congregation recommends removing him as superior, naming a new superior and a Vatican investigator, or placing the Legion in the hands of the archbishop of Mexico City.

Nothing was done.

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Aug. 6, 1979:

—The Vatican's envoy to Washington sends the Congregation for Religious a letter from the bishop of Rockville Center, New York, along with a nine-part attachment detailing accusations against Maciel by two former Legion priests now working in his diocese. The documentation includes:

—An Oct. 20, 1976, letter from the Rev. Juan Vaca, from 1971-1976 the Legion's superior in the U.S., to Maciel, denouncing that night in 1949 when the "disgrace and moral torture" began in his bedroom, listing by name the 20 other Legion seminarians and priests Maciel had sexually abused over the years.

—A Dec. 24, 1978, affidavit from another former Legion priest, Felix Alarcon, backing Vaca's story and saying he too was a victim of Maciel and had been forced to procure him morphine.

—The June 21, 1979, summary of Alarcon's testimony to the Rockville Center chancellor, Monsignor John Alesandro, detailing the accusations. Alarcon "feels that the fact that the drug-related and homosexual activity of the founder could occur for such a long period of time without correction is only a signal of the deeper problem of the congregation itself," Alesandro wrote. "The congregation is a 'cult' of regimented and indoctrinated followers dependent slavishly on a central dependent-figure."

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Sept. 30, 1979

—An analysis of the Rockville Center documents by the Congregation for Religious concludes that the crimes alleged by Vaca occurred a long time ago and the case should be left alone "especially since the order is flourishing and maintains its discipline and fervor." If the accusations are to be taken seriously, it continues, Maciel should be asked to respond. If he denies them, "let it go." If he confesses, he should be asked to resign voluntarily, the Congregation recommends.

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