New Questions About Pope Benedict's Role In Sex Scandal

Did top Vatican official pressure Ratzinger not to investigate Father Maciel?

March 30, 2010, 1:07 PM

Apr. 1, 2010 — -- With growing questions about the role of Pope Benedict in the Catholic church's sex scandal, there is renewed attention to the Pope's handling, while still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of a case involving a pedophile priest who had powerful connections inside the Vatican.

Now investigative journalist Jason Berry says that Cardinal Ratzinger was pressured not to purse allegations of abuse against Father Marcial Maciel, considered a favorite of Pope John Paul II, because of pressure from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. It was only after Ratzinger became Pope that he forced Maciel into retirement, although he did not strip him of his priestly powers.

Maciel, who died in 2008, was the founder of the powerful worldwide Catholic order known as the Legion of Christ. "Father Maciel was a revered figure in the Vatican," said Berry. "I think that Father Maciel used money the way some politicians do, in spreading it liberally to buy support, both for himself and his religious order."

Berry says that Maciel was known as a man who spread around generous gifts and cash to top people in the Vatican.

In a statement issued just last week, the Legion of Christ admitted that Maciel had abused seminarians. Last year, the order issued a statement admitting that its founder had fathered at least one child.

But when former Legion members brought allegations to the Vatican in 1998 that they had been abused as teen seminarians by Father Maciel, nothing happened for six full years.

Juan Vaca, now a college professor in his seventies in New York, said he was molested by Maciel.

"He pushed my hands into his penis," said Vaca. "And I didn't know anything about masturbation. And he said, 'You don't know how to do it. Let me show you.' "

Vaca was one of eight men who sent sworn affidavits to the Vatican in 1998 alleging that they had been molested by Maciel. The Vatican's response, said Vaca, was "Absolutely nothing, not a word."

The Vatican official in charge of the investigation was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

Cardinal Ratzinger became upset when I tried to ask him about the delay in the Maciel case in 2002. "You do not come to me," he said, and slapped my hand away.

Berry now says Ratzinger was pressured to halt the case by a well-placed Maciel ally, Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

" And Ratzinger basically got the message do not go after this man," said Berry.

Berry says Ratzinger finally decided to go ahead with an investigation on his own in 2004, after Maciel continued to be seen in public with Pope John Paul II, despite the allegations.

Said Berry, "I think at that point Ratzinger figured he had to do something on his own. And so he broke ranks with Sodano, broke ranks with the Pope, and ordered an investigation of Maciel."

Shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he forced Maciel into retirement, although he did not defrock him, meaning strip him of his priestly powers.

Maciel died in 2008, still a priest. Vatican officials say the Pope will soon decide whether to take further action against the order he fouinded and led for more than 60 years, the Legion of Christ.

Berry's documentary film "Vows of Silence" about the Maciel scandal and the Legion of Christ will air on Irish television next month.

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events