ROME — Eight victims of the Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile priest are pressing the Legion of Christ religious order to compensate them for the sexual abuse they suffered and the psychological harm they say resulted from the order’s prolonged campaign to discredit them.
The men sent a letter to the Legion’s leadership seeking public recognition of their status as victims of Father Marcial Maciel and the Mexico-based order, which was once one of the fastest-growing congregations in the Church but suffered a credibility crisis over Maciel’s crimes and cover-up.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, is the latest indication that clergy abuse victims are increasingly demanding recognition and apologies for the retaliation often inflicted on them by Church leaders after they report allegations of abuse.
Pope Francis just this week acknowledged making “grave errors” in discrediting abuse victims in Chile and begged their forgiveness.
There was no immediate comment Thursday from the Legion.
The letter shows the unfinished business surrounding the scandal over Maciel. The charismatic preacher was beloved by the Vatican but turned out to be a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians, fathered three children and created a cult-like order to hide his double life. The Vatican knew of allegations against him since the 1950s, but only took action against him in 2006. He died in 2008.
In the letter, the victims asked that a compensation commission, which had been active during a Vatican-mandated period of reform of the Legion after Maciel’s crimes were exposed, be reopened to consider their cases. For a variety of reasons, the eight men never approached the original commission, and they lamented that the commission never contacted them.
The men, all Mexican citizens who lodged the original official church complaint against Maciel in 1998, called for the commission to develop a plan of action to “determine the harm inflicted on us and its indispensable reparation.”
After the men went public with their accusations in 1997, the Legion embarked on a yearslong campaign to discredit them. The order and its supporters accused victims of attacking the Church and slandering a man held up as a living saint by his followers and praised by Pope St. John Paul II and his cardinals.
As it turned out, the Vatican determined the victims were right. The Legion issued a lengthy apology in 2014.
After the Vatican sentenced Maciel in 2006 to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his crimes, Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion and imposed a yearslong period of renewal. That process included the creation of a compensation commission, which was active from 2011-2014 and compensated 12 people for an undisclosed sum.
In their March 26 letter, the eight men insisted the Legion recognize them as victims of both Maciel’s abuse and the “moral, psychological and spiritual harm” inflicted on them “in a continued, consistent and prolonged way” by the Legion after they denounced his behavior.
They called for the Legion to recognize that their revelations were not a betrayal but rather a service to both the Church and the Legion.
No mention was made of the letter in an April 8 press release by the Legion after a recent meeting of Legion leaders to whom it was addressed.