Abuse victims seek to take claims to pope in Mexico

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 23 2012 07:27 AM | Updated as of Mar 23 2012 03:27 PM

LEON, Mexico - Victims of pedophile priests hope to present a demand for justice to Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Mexico this weekend, particularly in the case of the disgraced Legion of Christ order.

Debate has grown around the Vatican's handling of the scandal surrounding the influential order of deceased Mexican priest Marcial Maciel and his victims ahead of the papal visit to Mexico which begins Friday.

Benedict XVI has already met with victims of sexual abuse during foreign visits, but is apparently not planning to do so in Mexico, where many victims are still seeking justice.

Apologies "aren't enough. They're worth nothing. The Church needs to bring justice to all the abusers," Joaquin Aguilar, spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Sexual Abuse by priests, told AFP.

The group, representing 129 victims, is seeking an audience with the pope, who will travel to the central conservative state of Guanajuato until Monday when he leaves to visit Cuba.

"His visit makes me infinitely sad," said Saul Barrales, who was an assistant to disgraced Mexican priest Maciel and believes the current pope knew early on about abuses he committed.

Maciel, who died in 2008, was accused of molesting eight seminarians and secretly fathering children.

After years of growing complaints, the Vatican finally forced him to abandon all his positions in 2006.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, coinciding with a period in which many complaints were made against Maciel.

"Ratzinger knew everything. He knew the truth," according to Barrales.

The first complaints were made to the Vatican in 1998 but it was only eight years later, in 2006, that Catholic authorities obliged Maciel to give up public office and "withdraw to a life of prayer and penitence."

Several experts say Ratzinger knew about the complaints well beforehand, but most believe he was not trying to cover up for Maciel.

Vatican expert Bernard Lecomte said some close allies of the previous pope John Paul II, like his secretary of State cardinal Angelo Sodano or personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz, "obstinately refused to believe such insane accusations" against Maciel.

Ratzinger named Maltese priest Charles Sciluna in 2002 to head a probe and "sent him to investigate against the advice of his peers in Mexico," according to Lecomte.

Former priest Alberto Athie, now an activist for victims of abuse, meanwhile claimed that, when he was cardinal, Ratzinger "blocked the process of formal complaints made by several former members of the order in 1998... or at least withheld it. It was a deliberate act."

Athie said that soon to be published archives on Maciel from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would show that he could have intervened in time.

But Vatican expert Marco Tosatti said Ratzinger was the first to mistrust the founder of the Legion of Christ.

"Maciel had an unusual capacity. He was manipulative and charismatic but Ratzinger was the first to see through that image. He tried to block him, but he couldn't because of people close to the pope who didn't want to believe the accusations," said Tosatti.

"Once he was elected pope, he acted very fast (to investigate)," he added.

Maciel directed the influential Legion of Christ order, which he founded in 1941, to his death.

It is one of the largest and wealthiest of the Church's dozens of orders, present in more than 20 countries and running 12 universities.

Faced with pedophile scandals in Europe and the United States, Benedict XVI decided in May 2010 to take control of the Legion of Christ.

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