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Maciel Escapes Harshest Actions; But Sanctions Signal This Pope’s Resolve

By Gerald Renner

 

May 20, 2006

 

The Vatican’s sanctions against the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado serve notice that under the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, such high-ranking insiders will no longer get a pass when serious allegations of sexually abusing children are raised against them.

The charismatic founder of the conservative religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, Maciel avoided for nearly 30 years answering complaints that he abused young boys in seminaries.

Pope John Paul II never responded to formal complaints against Maciel made through official church channels in 1978 and 1989, and a canon law case against him was quashed without explanation in 1999.

But now, in the wake of his experience handling sex abuse cases as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict is bent on removing what he called “filth” in the church in a widely publicized sermon last year.

In the most high-profile case on his watch so far, Benedict has moved against Maciel, who had been repeatedly praised by John Paul over the years and had highly placed friends all over the Vatican.

As a result of Benedict’s action, Maciel, 86 and ailing in his hometown of Cotija, Mexico, finds himself stripped of his public persona as a priest, no longer able to preach, say Mass in public or speak to the media.

It is a most ignominious end for a man who has been a priest for 62 years and a respected church leader for half a century.

The restrictions placed on him after a year’s investigation are most gentle compared to what the penalty could have been – defrocking (or “laicization” as the church calls it), suspension or even excommunication had a canonical trial been held.

Instead, the Vatican expressed compassion. It placed a statement on its website Friday (www.vatican.va) saying that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “decided – bearing in mind Fr. Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health – to forgo a canonical hearing and to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.”

The statement indicated that the decision was made by the new head of the congregation, American Cardinal William J. Levada, and approved by Benedict.

“It’s a polite way of saying he has been suspended for life,” said the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon lawyer who has been a strong advocate for sexual abuse victims. The sanctions against Maciel would not have been imposed had the congregation not found some of the charges against him well-founded, Doyle said.

The Vatican “showed an extraordinary degree of compassion for the accused, but I have seen other cases where older priests have not been laicized because of their age,” Doyle said.

The Vatican did not publicly specify what the accusations against Maciel were, but referred to the canon law case brought against him in 1998, which entailed sexual abuse charges brought by nine former Legionaries. The charges were first made public in The Courant in 1997. The accusers claimed Maciel abused them during the 1950s and 1960s when they were young boys or teenagers, ages 10 to 16, in seminaries in Spain and Italy.

In canon law, sexual abuse charges have an effective statute of limitations of 10 years, but that can be waived by the pope. However, in the eyes of the church, the most serious charge against Maciel has no limitation – that he absolved in confession some of the boys he is accused of abusing. Such a charge under canon law amounts to a sacrilege of the sacrament of reconciliation, which incurs automatic excommunication.

During the yearlong investigation by Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, a “permanent promoter of justice” for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, other people surfaced who had not come forward before and said they had been abused by Maciel. Scicluna interviewed more than 30 people in the investigation, which concluded at the end of 2005.

In a statement released from the Legionaries’ U.S. headquarters in Orange, Conn., Maciel continued to proclaim his innocence.

“Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way,” the statement said.

“He has accepted this communique with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement,” the most lay auxiliary of the Legion.

Glenn Favreau, a former Legionary who worked with Maciel in his Rome headquarters and is now a leading critic of the Legion, said he expects the Vatican to quietly focus attention on reforming the religious order. He said many of the people Scicluna spoke to in his investigation were people who knew nothing of sexual abuse.

They testified about what Favreau said was the intensely secretive and psychologically abusive way that Maciel set up the Legion to operate. Favreau, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, said for instance the Legionaries must take private vows not to criticize actions of superiors and to report on those who did. He said the confidentiality of spiritual counseling is often violated.

Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in 1941. The order says it now has 650 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. One of those seminaries is in Cheshire.

Although the Vatican statement said it “gratefully recognized” the work of the Legionaries and of Regnum Christi, Favreau said that was just cover.

“It will be handled silently,” he said. “No one said everything was hunky-dory.”

Gerald Renner is a retired Courant religion writer.

 

Vatican Punishes a Leader After Abuse Charges

By IAN FISHER and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

 

 

ROME, May 19 — The Vatican cautiously acknowledged today long-standing allegations of sexual abuse by the founder of a prominent Catholic order, asking him to give up his public ministry in favor of a quiet life of “prayer and penitence.”

The Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, seen in Spain in 2001, was asked to renounce celebrating public Masses and live a life of “prayer and repentance.”

The Rev. Marcial Maciel, with by Pope John Paul II in 2004, was warmly regarded the pontiff.

The statement by the Vatican did not address the allegations themselves. But it marked a significant action by Pope Benedict XVI on a sensitive issue for the church, veering close to a finding of guilt against the highest profile church figure to be accused of sex abuse: the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, 86, founder of the fast-growing Legionaries of Christ, who was often praised by Pope John Paul II.

The statement said that Father Maciel, who founded the order in Mexico, would not undergo a church trial for the allegations against him because of his “advanced age” and “weak health.” The Vatican did not disclose the allegations, but at least nine men have accused him of molesting them when they were young.

But the statement said the Vatican’s doctrinal office had decided “to invite the father to a life restricted to prayer and penitence, renouncing any public ministry. The Holy Father has approved these decisions.”

The Legionaries, now based in Connecticut, released a statement noting that Father Maciel has long “declared his innocence,” but decided not to defend himself, “following the example of Jesus.”

The group said he “has accepted this communiqué with faith, complete serenity and tranquillity of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer.”

Father Maciel stepped down from the order’s leadership last year.

Reactions to the Vatican decision varied, with some praising the Pope for taking so public a stand and others saying it did not go far enough given the seriousness of the allegations against Father Maciel himself and the wider crisis of confidence in the church over sexual abuse.

“It’s tempting and easy to want to believe that this is a positive long-term sign,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who praised the Vatican for a statement that he said “sanctioned” Father Maciel.

“But I think one act, even a brave one, isn’t necessarily indicative of a trend,” he added.

Juan Vaca, a former priest in the Legionaries who said Father Maciel abused him over 10 years starting in 1950 when he was 12, said he felt Father Maciel should be removed from the priesthood entirely — something the Vatican decision did not do.

“It’s not enough,” Mr. Vaca, an adjunct professor of psychology and sociology at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., said in an interview on Thursday as reports of the decision began leaking out. “Because this man has done a lot of damage to a lot of people — to children and supporters and even the hierarchy of the church.”

The decision was first made public on Thursday on the Web site of National Catholic Reporter.

The Vatican document did not specify exactly what duties Father Maciel would be barred from, but the National Catholic Reporter quoted anonymous Vatican officials as saying he could not celebrate mass publicly or give speeches or interviews.

Since its founding in 1941, the Legionaries have tracked an impressive arc of growth and influence with Father Maciel as its charismatic helmsman: It now has 650 priests worldwide, 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries and 50,000 members in its lay affiliate, Regnum Christi. The order runs a dozen universities, and recently opened its first degree-granting college in the United States, the University of Sacramento.

Todd Carpunky, a lawyer in New York City who belonged to the Legion for six years as a religious brother, said, “The Vatican’s move is going to be devastating because, unlike a lot of religious orders like the Jesuits, the Legion is the cult of the persona of Maciel. When you go to a Legion home or a Legion center, there are pictures of Maciel hanging next to pictures of Jesus. The Legionaries always call him ‘Nuestro Padre,’ which in Spanish means ‘Our Father.’ ”

Pope John Paul II had repeatedly praised Father Maciel and his work, most recently at a public audience on Nov. 30, 2004, for the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

In 1994, in a trip to Mexico, Pope John Paul II called him “an efficacious guide to youth” — a statement that several victims said prompted them to make complaints.

Two years later, nine victims came forward in newspapers articles and a book, “Vows of Silence,” (Free Press: 2004), alleging that Father Maciel had abused them when they were between the ages of 10 and 16.

As an indication of Father Maciel’s influence, a number of influential American Catholics wrote testimonies defending him on the Legionaries website in 2002. They included George Weigel, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon, William Bennett and William Donohue.

On Friday, Father Neuhaus, editor of ‘First Things,’ an ecumenical magazine based in New York, said he still believed that the charges against Father Maciel are “unfounded.”

“There is nothing in the Vatican statement that suggests that the word ‘penance’ is meant as a punitive measure,” he said.

Asked why then the Vatican would take any action then, he said, “It wouldn’t be the first time that an innocent and indeed holy person was unfairly treated by church authority.”

The Maciel case has presented a complex tableau for the church’s willingness to confront allegations of sexual abuse, the legacy of Pope John Paul II and what many church experts say is the evolving view on the issue of sex abuse by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who last year became Benedict XVI.

John Paul has often been criticized for minimizing the scandal as it broke in the United States, and many accusers cited as one grey area in his papacy his long friendship and public support of Father Maciel.

“I don’t think he could ever get his mind around this business,” said John Wilkins, the former editor of the influential British Catholic magazine, the Tablet. “For him the priesthood was such a high ideal.”

The issue is more complicated for the pope, who as Cardinal Ratzingerheaded the church’s doctrinal office. He was cited in “Vows of Silence” as wondering in 1999 whether it was “prudent” to pursue the allegations against Father Maciel, given his contributions to the church. That year, he reportedly halted the case against Father Maciel.

And in 2002, as the American church was in an uproar over abuse, Cardinal Ratzinger said the because of the media attention given to it, “one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated — that there is a desire to discredit the church.”

But colleagues and other church experts said his view began to change as his office was flooded with allegations of sex abuse. In 2004, his office reopened the case against Father Maciel, interviewing dozens of victims and other witnesses. Then, before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke last year of the need to remove “filth” in the church, widely interpreted to mean priests who abused children.

Jason Berry, co-author of “Vows of Silence,” said that the judgment shows that the Vatican is still uncertain about how to deal with the sex abuse issue or how to apply church law evenly in the face of the mountain of allegations. While some priests have been defrocked, he noted, the better-connected Father Maciel received a lighter sanction.

“It is a judgment that falls far short of a penalty commensurate with what he did,” he said. “He sexually abused a great number of boys who carried that trauma like a cross upon the soul through their lives.

“You could look at it as an attempt to be Solomonic, cutting the baby down the middle,” he added. “And yet what it really does is raise more questions about the inability of the canon law system to function.”

Legion Leader Faces Sanctions; Report: Vatican To Restrict Ministry Of Maciel, Accused Of Sex Abuse

By Gerald Renner

 

May 19, 2006

 

Pope Benedict XVI has restricted the ministry of the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Rome-based Legionaries of Christ, who has been accused for years of having sexually abused young seminarians in his charge, according to a report published Thursday.

The Vatican would not confirm the report but said it would issue a statement about its investigation into the charismatic, 86-year-old priest as early as today.

The restrictions were reported online by the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper, following a week of rumors of some kind of action against Maciel.

John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the newspaper, reported that Vatican sources said the restrictions placed on Maciel amount to a finding that at least some of the accusations against him are well founded.

According to the story, which cited Vatican sources, Maciel is restricted from publicly acting as a priest. He is not defrocked – “laicized,” in church terms – but he cannot celebrate public Masses, give lectures or other public presentations, or give interviews for print or broadcast. The pope approved the restrictions shortly before Easter, the story said.

The first public allegations against Maciel surfaced in a Courant report in February 1997. Nine former members of the Legionaries said Maciel abused them in the 1950s and ’60s when they were young boys or teenagers, ages 10 to 16, in seminaries in Spain and Italy.

The Vatican did not respond directly to the allegations. Later that year Pope John Paul II appointed Maciel as his personal representative to a high-level meeting on the Americas, signaling his full support for the priest.

Maciel, a native of Mexico, founded the Legionaries of Christ religious order in 1941. The order says it now has 650 priests, and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. Its U.S. headquarters is in Orange, Conn., and it has a seminary in nearby Cheshire.

Maciel was repeatedly praised by John Paul and other high church leaders. Maciel and the Legionaries vociferously proclaimed his innocence. Maciel accused the nine men of a conspiracy to defame him.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Thursday that “Maciel is the most powerful Catholic official to ever face Vatican sanctions for child sexual abuse.”

“It would have been easy to let this case quietly go unresolved, as so many similar cases have,” Clohessy said. “We deeply appreciate that, at the highest levels of the church, action has been taken against such an extraordinarily high-ranking Catholic leader.”

The Rev. James Martin, associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said the Legionaries had enormous support in the Vatican because of their loyalty to the church, their conservative views and their success in recruiting candidates for the priesthood.

“So to take action against their founder is absolutely stunning,” Martin said. “Benedict shows his independence by taking on a darling movement of the conservative right.”

Spokesmen for the Legionaries in Rome and in Orange said that they had no comment because they knew nothing of any Vatican action against Maciel.

Juan Vaca, a former priest who headed the Legionaries’ U.S. operations in Connecticut from 1971 to 1976, and who said he was abused by Maciel beginning when he was a 12-year-old boy, was cautious Thursday.

“My reaction is I am still in my state of expectation until I see the official document and the official statement from the Vatican. We have been waiting for so long,” said Vaca, who lives in Holbrook, N.Y., and teaches psychology at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Vaca left the Legionaries in 1976 to join the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York. He and another priest, the Rev. Felix Alarcon, sent letters to the pope accusing Maciel through official church channels in 1978 and 1989 but never got a response. Vaca left the priesthood. Alarcon, who established the Legionaries’ U.S. headquarters in Connecticut in 1965, is a retired priest in good standing in Madrid.

Vaca and Alarcon were among eight former Legionaries priests and seminarians who filed a canon lawsuit against Maciel in 1998 with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was assigned by Pope John Paul to handle sex-abuse charges against priests. The case lay dormant and no action was taken.

In January 2005, several months before he was elected to succeed John Paul, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger authorized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he headed, to investigate the charges. Within days Maciel announced he was retiring because of his age and moved to his hometown of Cotija, Mexico.

A yearlong investigation was concluded at the end of 2005. It was conducted by a Maltese priest, Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, a “permanent promoter of justice” for the congregation.

Scicluna traveled to the United States and Mexico, where he interviewed more than 30 people, several of whom claimed abuse but had not publicly come forward. Others were summoned to Rome.

Those Scicluna interviewed included former Legionaries priests and people associated with Regnum Christi, an auxiliary of mostly lay people who support the Legionaries. Two who spoke on condition of not being identified said in interviews with a reporter last fall that they knew nothing of sexual abuse but had complaints about what one called “psychological abuse.”

News reports of Scicluna’s investigation triggered confusion after the Legionaries of Christ in Rome sent out a press release last May saying that “the Holy See” informed the order that “there is no canonical process under way into our founder … nor will one be initiated.”

The Legionaries’ statement was confirmed to the press by the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican Press Office. “There is no investigation now, and it is not foreseeable that there will be another investigation in the future,” Benedettini said.

He made no reference to Scicluna’s investigation or how that squared with his statement that there was no investigation.

It turned out that the denial of an investigation originated in the office of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state and a staunch supporter of Maciel. His office had nothing to do with investigating allegations of sexual abuse. Only the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could speak to it, and its members are bound by an oath of secrecy.

Gerald Renner is a retired Courant religion writer. An Associated Press report is included in this story.

 

Communique Concerning Founder Of Legionaries Of Christ

This communique comes from the Vatican Press Office. ReGAIN awaits an official document from the Sacred Congregation for the Docrine of the Faith.

The response of the Legion of Christ can be found on http://www.legionofchrist.org

Following the Communique, we offer the text of the introduction to the Motu Proprio Document mentioned which gives the proper context of this decision.

 

VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2006 (VIS) – With reference to recent news concerning the person of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Holy See Press Office released the following communique:

“Beginning in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received accusations, already partly made public, against Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, for crimes that fall under the exclusive competence of the congregation. In 2002, Fr. Maciel published a declaration denying the accusations and expressing his displeasure at the offence done him by certain former Legionaries of Christ. In 2005, by reason of his advanced age, Fr. Maciel retired from the office of superior general of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ.

“All these elements have been subject to a mature examination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and – in accordance with the Motu Proprio ‘Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela,’ promulgated on April 30 2001 by Servant of God John Paul II – the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, authorized an investigation into the accusations. In the meantime, Pope John II died and Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the new Pontiff.

“After having attentively studied the results of the investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guidance of the new prefect, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, decided – bearing in mind Fr. Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health – to forgo a canonical hearing and to invite the father to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry. The Holy Father approved these decisions.

“Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Association ‘Regnum Christi’ is gratefully recognized.”

OP/LEGIONARIES CHRIST/MACIEL VIS 060519 (320)

SACRAMENTORUM SANCTITATIS TUTELA

POPE JOHN PAUL II

APOSTOLIC LETTER

GIVEN MOTU PROPRIO

by which are promulgated Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The Safeguarding of the Sanctity of the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist and Penance, and the keeping of the faithful, called to communion with the Lord, in their observance of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, demand that the Church itself, in her pastoral solicitude, intervene to avert dangers of violation, so as to provide for the salvation of souls “which must always be the supreme law in the Church� (Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1752).

Indeed, Our Predecessors already provided for the sanctity of the sacraments, especially penance, through appropriate Apostolic Constitutions such as the Constitution Sacramentum Poenitentiae, of Pope Benedict XIV, issued June 1, 1741;[1] the same goal was likewise pursued by a number of canons of the Codex Iuris Canonici, promulgated in 1917 with their fontes by which canonical sanctions had been established against delicts of this kind.[2]

In more recent times, in order to avert these and connected delicts, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, through the Instruction Crimen sollicitationis, addressed to all Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, and other local Ordinaries “even of an Oriental Rite� on March 16, 1962, established a manner of proceeding in such cases, inasmuch as judicial competence had been attributed exclusively to it, which competence could be exercised either administratively or through a judicial process. It is to be kept in mind that an Instruction of this kind had the force of law since the Supreme Pontiff, according to the norm of can. 247, § 1 of the Codex Iuris Canonici promulgated in 1917, presided over the Congregation of the Holy Office, and the Instruction proceeded from his own authority, with the Cardinal at the time only performing the function of Secretary.

The Supreme Pontiff, Pope Paul VI, of happy memory, by the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, issued on August 15, 1967,[3] confirmed the Congregation’s judicial and administrative competence in proceeding “according to its amended and approved norms�.

Finally, by the authority with which we are invested, in the Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, promulgated on June 28, 1988, we expressly established, “[The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] examines delicts against the faith and more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments, which have been referred to it and, whenever necessary, proceeds to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of both common and proper law,�[4] thereby further confirming and determining the judicial competence of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as an Apostolic Tribunal.

After we had approved the Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine,[5] it was necessary to define more precisely both “the more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments� for which the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith remains exclusive, and also the special procedural norms “for declaring or imposing canonical sanctions.�

With this apostolic letter, issued motu proprio, we have completed this work and we hereby promulgate the Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Norms are divided in two distinct parts, of which the first contains Substantive Norms, and the second Procedural Norms . We therefore enjoin all those concerned to observe them diligently and faithfully. These Norms take effect on the very day when they are promulgated.

All things to the contrary, even those worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.

Give in Rome at St. Peter’s on April 30, 2001, the memorial of Pope St. Pius V, in the twenty-third year of Our Pontificate.

Pope John Paul II

Full text of the Document may be found by clicking here for the link.

 

Vatican to Issue Statement on Sex Abuse

May 18, 2006

 

By By NICOLE WINFIELD , Associated Press

 

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/V/
VATICAN_SEX_ABUSE?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=INTERNATIONAL

 

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Thursday it would issue a statement on its investigation into allegations the Mexican founder of the conservative order Legionaries of Christ sexually abused seminarians decades ago.

The statement is expected to be issued Friday, Vatican officials said. The National Catholic Reporter said on its Web site Thursday that the Vatican had asked the Rev. Marcial Maciel to limit his public activity by not celebrating public Masses or giving lectures or interviews.

The reported action was taken after the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded its long-running investigation into allegations by former seminarians that the 86-year-old Maciel sexually abused them. Nine former seminarians accused Maciel in the 1990s of having abused them when they were boys or teenagers from the 1940s to 1960s.

The Vatican officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the statement had not been issued, declined to say what the Vatican’s findings were or what action, if any, was taken against Maciel.

Maciel and the Legionaries have strongly denied the allegations.

“Before God and with total clarity of conscience I can categorically state that the accusations brought against me are false,” Maciel said in a 2002 statement. “I never engaged in the sort of repulsive behavior these men accuse me of.”

Asked Thursday to comment on the reports of the Vatican action against Maciel, Jay Dunlap, spokesman for the Legionaries in the United States, said in an e-mail: “We have nothing to say. We don’t know anything about this.”

The order is based in Orange, Conn.

The case against Maciel has been followed closely by victims of the clerical sex abuse scandal because Maciel in particular, and the Legionaries in general, curried such favor in the Vatican under Pope John Paul II.

In January 2005, John Paul hailed Maciel for his “paternal affection and his experience.” A few months earlier, the late pope praised Maciel on the 60th anniversary of his ordination, citing his “intense, generous and fruitful” priestly ministry.

Maciel declined last year to be re-elected head of the order, citing his age.

Any Vatican sanctions against Maciel, who founded the Legionaries in 1941 in Mexico City, also would be significant since this represents the first major sex abuse discipline case decided by the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith until his election as pope last year.

The Rev. James Martin, associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said the Legionaries had enormous support in the Vatican because of their loyalty to the church, their conservative views and their success in recruiting candidates for the priesthood.

“So to take action against their founder is absolutely stunning,” Martin said. “Benedict shows his independence by taking on a darling movement of the conservative right.”

Victims groups hailed the reported sanctions.

“It would have been easy to let this case quietly go unresolved, as so many similar cases have,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Accused by Priests. “We deeply appreciate that, at the highest levels of the church, action has been taken against such an extraordinarily high-ranking Catholic leader.”

Jason Berry, who along with Gerald Renner wrote “Vows of Silence” about the abuse claims against Maciel, said church officials must have felt compelled to take action when the allegations against Maciel spread and prompted additional accusers to come forward after the original nine seminarians unsuccessfully lobbied the Vatican to take action.

Berry said any punishment of Maciel would be “a stain on John Paul’s legacy” because the late pope had praised him so “extravagantly.”

The Vatican investigated Maciel in the 1950s for alleged drug use, trafficking and misuse of funds but not for sexual misconduct. He was suspended from his duties as head of the order then reinstated after being cleared of all allegations.

The status of the sex abuse investigation into Maciel has been particularly confusing. In May 2005, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State informed the Legionaries there was no canonical process underway against Maciel, implying the investigation had been closed.

However, it was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that was actually responsible for the case and was continuing its investigation at that time, the Vatican officials said Thursday in explaining the discrepancy.

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Religious Groups Awareness International Network, Monitoring harmful groups in mainstream Churches

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