Rev. Marcial Maciel , the controversial founder of the Legionaries of Christ, has been cleared of sexual abuse allegations by the Vatican. The investigation had been delayed during the latter part of Pope John Paul’s pontificate only to be re-started by Pope Benedict XVI. It remains unclear whether a true investigation was ever undertaken. It may be that Benedict re-opened Maciel’s case just to close it.
Maciel, 85, who retired in January and lives in Rome, had been a powerful figure in the Catholic Church for decades. He was a friend of Pope John Paul II, who strongly backed the Legion and other renewal movements, such as Opus Dei, that demonstrated loyalty to the Vatican and success in evangelizing.
At the same time, Maciel has long been dogged by various allegations. Between 1956 and 1959, church officials investigated, and ultimately cleared him of, accusations of drug abuse.
In 1998, the papal nuncio in Mexico City encouraged several men who had accused Maciel of sexual abuse to make their case through the church’s internal tribunals rather than in civil courts.
With the help of eminent canon lawyers, they filed allegations that Maciel not only molested them but also, in at least four cases, gave them absolution for sexual sins in which he was complicit. Under church law, that is a grave violation of the sacrament of confession and, unlike sex abuse, carries no statute of limitations.
After their complaint was formally accepted for investigation, it was shelved without explanation in 1999 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. But the allegations were kept alive by investigative reporters, including the authors of three books in Spain, a bestseller in Mexico and “Vows of Silence,” a critically acclaimed 2004 book by Americans Jason Berry and Gerald Renner.
Last December, the investigation was suddenly reopened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department formerly headed by Benedict. Its promoter of justice, or chief prosecutor, Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, traveled to the United States and Mexico to meet with more than 30 people in April.
Vaca said in a telephone interview yesterday that Scicluna spent six hours with him on April 2 and took a sworn deposition in the presence of a Vatican notary. When it was over, Vaca said, the prosecutor was clearly moved and told him the church owed Maciel’s victims an apology.
“He said he was convinced that everything I said was absolutely the truth,” Vaca said. “I said, ‘I hope this time you honor your word.’ ”