MEXICO CITY March 5, 2010 — -- Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the powerful Catholic religious order the Legion of Christ, was banned from active ministry by Pope Benedict in 2006 after testimony from more than 20 men that he molested them when they were teens.
Now Maciel's reputation has been further tarnished by accusations made Wednesday by two Mexican men who say they are his sons, and that Maciel sexually abused them when they were young.
The allegations come as Vatican investigators, already looking into charges that Maciel misused funds and fathered up to six children, are about to deliver their findings to Pope Benedict.
After founding the Legion of Christ in Mexico in 1941, Maciel built a vast network of schools, colleges, seminaries and lucrative real estate holdings. At its peak the Legion had an annual budget of $650 million, more than 650 priests and 60,000 followers in an affiliated lay group also founded by Maciel, Regnum Christi. Its pockets were so deep that Mexicans sometimes called the order the "Millionarios de Cristo."
Pope John Paul II championed the Legion for its unswerving orthodoxy (and Maciel's fundraising prowess), and in 1994 called Maciel "an efficacious guide to youth." The Legion sold videocasettes with stirring images of Maciel with John Paul at a papal audience, the Pope nodding approvingly and smiling at Maciel as Legion followers cheered.
But after John Paul died, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, shocked the Legion by ousting Maciel from formal ministry. In 2006 Benedict ordered Maciel to a "life of prayer and repentance" after a Vatican investigation of alleged pedophila. At least 20 ex-Legionaries claim that Maciel sexually abused them as teenage seminarians in the 1950s and 60s.
Maciel´s alleged victims gave media interviews, but the Legion stood fast behind Maciel. The order never admitted guilt on the part of the priest they called Nuestro Padre, Our Father. The Legion stopped selling videos of John Paul and Maciel together, but claimed that Maciel, who was not formally tried by the Vatican, had acted like Jesus in refusing to defend himself from the charges. When Maciel died in January 2008 at age 87, a post on the Legion's web site said that he had gone to heaven. Thirteen months later, however, Legion officials released an internal statement to the order's priests and to members of Regnum Christi revealing that Maciel had fathered a child.
As the revelations made news, the Vatican ordered another investigation of the religious order, this time to look into the Legion's internal finances and allegations that Maciel had lived a double life. Five bishop-visitators (as Vatican investigators are called) from five countries will submit their findings to the Vatican by March 15.
Now two men have given interviews to a Mexican broadcaster alleging that they are sons of Maciel and that he sexually abused them as boys. The two men say they knew Macial by the name of Raul Rivas, as the younger of the two men, Jose Raul Rivas, told Carmen Aristegui, host of a morning radio program on the MVS network.
The men said that because of "Rivas"'s long absences, they believed for years his claim that he was a CIA agent. Jose Raul Rivas, who says he is Maciel's natural-born son, is 29. Older brother Omar, 33, while not Maciel's natural-born son, was allegedly adopted by the priest when Maciel began a common-law relationship with the mother of Omar and Jose Raul, Blanca Estela Lara Gutierrez. Gutierrez also has a 17-year-old son named Christian who she says was fathered by Maciel.
Gutierrez was a 19-year-old babysitter in Tijuana when she says she met Maciel in 1977. Maciel was 57 at the time. By then he had already founded the Legion of Christ and its lay arm, Regnum Christi, and had been leading the Legion for 36 years.
"I idolized him," Gutierrez told Aristegui. "I told him, 'You are my god.'"
When Omar and Jose were boys, they say Maciel took them on trips to Europe and the U.S., where he had sex with them numerous times. In an interview, attorney Jose Bonilla, who represents Estela and her children, told ABC News the alleged molestation stopped when the two boys reached mid-adolescence.
The boys say they learned Maciel´s true identity in 1997 when The Hartford Courant published an investigation by the late Gerald Renner and this writer profiling nine men who accused Maciel of abusing them as seminarians. Maciel declined to comment for the Courant report, but asserted his innocence through written statements. As the news reached Mexico, Jose Raul claims he got a call from Maciel telling him to buy copies of a magazine with a story on the scandal and to get rid of them. On reading the report, the two brothers told their mother in order to prevent their younger brother Christian, not yet in grade school, from being alone with his alleged father. They say that Cristian, now 17, was never abused by Maciel.
According to reports in the Spanish media, Maciel also has a daughter by another woman. The 23-year-old, who has been identified as Norma Hilda, is apparently the Maciel child already officially acknowledged by the Legion. There have been reports that Maciel has as many as six children around the world.
Norma Hilda reportedly lives in an upscale Madrid apartment with an income provided to her and her mother by Maciel. Maciel´s support of his family in Mexico ended with his death, according to attorney Jose Bonilla.
On November 24, 2009, Bonilla, Gutierrez, Jose Raul and Omar say they met with Bishop Ricardo Watty of Mexico, one of the five bishop visitators assigned by the Vatican to the latest Legion inquiry.
"Blanca and her sons wept as they told Watty the whole story," said Bonilla. "Watty talked about [Legion director-general] Father Alvaro Corcuera meeting with Jose Raul to fix this problem of their compensation. He told us he was going to try to make that meeting possible."
Bonilla says that Corcuera never met with the family, though Jose Raul had meetings with Legion officials in Mexico. In a letter released Thursday, the Legion claims that Jose Raul demanded $26 million, which the Legion refused. Legion officials held open the possibility of further discussions.
The decision to tell their story to a national audience on Aristegui's program has generated front-page stories in several Mexican newspapers and widespread discussion in the media and blogs, much of it quite critical of the Legion.
Watty and the four other bishop visitators will submit the findings of their investigation to Pope Benedict a week from Tuesday. A nun in Watty's office in Mexico told ABC News that the Bishop was traveling on business and was unavailable for comment.
Jason Berry is in Mexico doing research on an investigative grant from The Nation Institute. His documentary on the Vatican and Maciel, "Vows of Silence," will air in Ireland this spring.