Pope Benedict XVI may soon have to decide the fate of a well-connected Vatican insider accused of molesting young priests in training.
A number of former priests have told Vatican investigators they were abused by Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, a small but wealthy Catholic order that operates in the United States and 25 other countries.
"It has to come, we are so many victims of this man," Juan Vaca, one of the accusers, told ABC News. The accusations go back to the 1950′s.
The allegations were presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 1998 when he was a Cardinal. Some of the accusers said then Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to cover up the case because of Maciel’s prominence and close relationship with Pope John Paul II.
The then-Cardinal Ratzinger became visibly upset when asked about the Maciel case by ABC News’ Brian Ross in April 2002.
"You do not ask such questions," he said and then slapped Ross’s hand.
In the last year, however, the Maciel case has picked up steam and now there are reports that the Vatican may soon issue its findings publicly. The Pope would have to decide if Father Maciel would be ex-communicated.
An article in the National Catholic Reporter today says the Vatican has taken action to severely limit Father Maciel’s public activity, suggesting an official statement from the Vatican is expected shortly.
Any finding of guilt "would automatically become a stain on the legacy of Pope John Paul II, who was a huge supporter of Maciel," according to Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence, which deals with sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church.
A spokesman for Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ said the accusers are simply liars. "Father Maciel has never engaged in any abuse," the spokesman said.