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25 years later, victims of the Legion of Christ seek reparations


VATICAN CITY – A Connecticut newspaper uncovered one of the Catholic Church’s biggest sex abuse scandals when it reported 25 years ago on Wednesday that eight men accused the revered founder of the religious order the Legion of Christ of raped and assaulted as boys preparing for the priesthood.

It took a decade for the Vatican to sanction the founder, the Reverend Marcial Maciel, and another decade for the Legion to admit he was a serial pedophile who raped at least 60 boys. In the meantime, the original whistleblowers suffered a smear campaign from the Legion, which branded them liars bent on creating a plot to harm a man believed to be a living saint.

As they marked a quarter century of revelations that tarnished the legacy of Saint John Paul II, three of Maciel’s victims are still seeking reparations from the Legion to compensate for the abuse they suffered and the “moral” wrong. ” caused to their reputation by the order.

They had refused previous offers of compensation that fellow survivors had accepted, and a mediation process that began in 2019 has stalled, according to emails and documents provided to The Associated Press.

In 2010, the Vatican took over the Mexico-based Legion and forced a reform process after an investigation showed Maciel sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. The Vatican discovered that it had created a system of power based on silence, deceit and obedience that allowed it to lead a double life.

The findings were by no means new to the Holy See: Documents from the Vatican archives show how a succession of popes, cardinals and bishops from the 1950s onward simply turned a blind eye to credible reports that Maciel was a con artist, drug addict, pedophile, and religious fraud. The Vatican and especially John Paul, however, appreciated his ability to attract vocations and donations.

The reality of Maciel’s depravity burst into the public domain on February 23, 1997, when The Hartford Courant published a lengthy exposé by investigative journalists Jason Berry and the late Gerald Renner on Maciel and the Order, whose US headquarters was based in Connecticut.

The story, which formed the basis of a 2004 book “Vows of Silence”, cited several victims by name who independently reported that Maciel would bring them to his room at night and, under the pretense of abdominal pain, would incite him to subdue him.

“When The Courant published the lengthy investigative piece Renner and I did on Maciel, we thought Pope John Paul II would see the light and punish Maciel,” Berry told the AP in an email. . He noted that other mainstream media only began reporting on clergy sexual abuse after the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” revelations in 2002. “At that time, John’s blind faith Paul en Maciel was a cover by any other term and lasted until his death.”

A year after Courant’s original story, in 1998, the victims filed a formal canonical complaint against Maciel with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where the case languished until John’s death. Paul. Maciel was sentenced in 2006 to a life of “penance and prayer”, and he died in 2008, still considered a saint by the Legion.

Following the Vatican-mandated reform process, the Legion has apologized and attempted to make amends, even as it has been forced to deal with revelations from a new generation of abusers within its ranks. – some of whom are Maciel’s first victims – and superiors who covered up the crimes, some of whom remain in power.

In 2020, the Legion publicly retracted the “negative institutional and personal judgments about the character and motives of those who made legitimate and necessary accusations” in the Courant’s original exposition. Naming the first victims, he said “Today we recognize as prophetic their charges for truth and justice.”

But Jose Barba, one of the eight most vocal survivors, wants the Legion to formally retract what he calls the “lies” of the order given to the Courant to discredit him and the other victims. They include what he says is a forged letter from a Chilean bishop who investigated Maciel in the 1950s, and false statements from four Mexicans who claimed the victims tried to enlist them in a plot against Maciel.

Barba, who says he represents fellow survivors Arturo Jurado and Jose Antonio Perez Olvera, wrote a proposed letter to the Courant and the Vatican newspaper he wanted the Legion to submit to withdraw the claims. But the Legion’s superior, the Reverend Eduardo Robles-Gil, refused during a December 2019 mediation meeting in Mexico City, Barba said.

In a summary of that Jan. 4, 2020 meeting, Barba said the Legion’s initial calculation of a five-figure settlement offer for each of the three remaining victims was a “humiliation,” and he offered a team of five. arbitration experts to determine a fairer remedy.

Robles-Gil signed the summary but wrote, “I receive this without agreeing to the process which is requested and it remains for our consideration whether to accept it or not.”

The Legion’s new superior, Reverend John Connor, unsuccessfully attempted to engage Barba after his election in February 2020, sending two letters that remained unanswered until Barba emailed him on January 5, 2021 , seeking to relaunch negotiations.

Connor assured her that he wanted to “find ways to help heal and close the painful events in the history of our congregation”. But in an email, Connor said Barba’s proposal for five arbitration experts would not help “find a common solution”.

Barba never answered. “I don’t trust them because it’s not in good faith,” he told the AP.

In a statement to the AP, Legion spokesman Reverend Aaron Smith noted that the order had reached agreements with most historical victims and hoped for a resolution with the others.

“We are saddened that the meeting has still not taken place, especially given the positive experience of meeting with other victims of Father Maciel,” Smith said in a statement. “We continue to remain hopeful that this will take place in the near future allowing for an open dialogue with him.”

Barba, meanwhile, says he is getting old and his two colleagues are sick. As they are hailed by ex-legionnaires as “los 8 Magnificos” (the Magnificent Eight) for standing up to Maciel and the order, Barba recalls a November 8, 1997 letter that he and the others wrote to John Paul, translated into Polish, asking the pope to hear their pain and do something.

“It seems inconceivable to us, Holy Father, that our grave revelations and complaints mattered absolutely to you,” they wrote, according to a copy of the letter provided to the AP. “We want the church and society to understand that all we want is justice: not just for legitimate personal vindication, but for the good of the church and society.”