May 4, 2010 -- Critics and victims of Father Marcial Maciel, late founder of the powerful Catholic order known as the Legion of Christ, say that Pope Benedict XVI's decision to overhaul the leadership of the group is inadequate, and does not explore the role of high church officials in allowing Maciel to lead the Legion for more than half a century.
The pope's decision to appoint an outside commissioner to run the order, announced this weekend after consultation with five bishops who have been investigating the Legion, comes after he promised action against sexual abuse. The Legion has admitted that Maciel sexually abused young male seminarians, and also fathered at least one child.
But Juan Vaca and Jose Barba, two of a group of eight seminarians who sent sworn affidavits to the Vatican in the late '90s alleging sexual abuse , asked why the decision did not include making an inquiry into long-time Maciel's network of support among high Vatican officials.
Said Vaca, "I would have liked to see the Vatican admit that they did wrong. ...That they screwed up."
"The Vatican alludes to Maciel's mechanisms of corruption and silence," said Barba, "but does not explain how it was possible for the Holy See's eminent personalities . . . to come under Maciel's control."
Author Jason Berry, who recently published two pieces in the National Catholic Reporter alleging that specific Vatican officials, including former Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, had accepted large gifts from Maciel over the years, said he was troubled by the way the Vatican's statement about the decision "seem[ed] to lay all the blame on Maciel.
"The Vatican helped create Maciel," said Berry.
Vaca claims he personally delivered gifts and money to Vatican officials in the 1950s.
Father Maciel founded the Legion of Christ in the 1940s, when he was only in his 20s. Because of Maciel's fundraising and recruitment skills, the Legion grew to have an annual budget of more than $600 million dollars, 800 priests and 2,600 seminaries in 22 countries.
Maciel appeared to be a favorite of John Paul 11, who appeared at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Maciel's ordination at the Vatican in 2004.
Soon after, Cardinal Ratzinger, then the official in charge of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and thus responsible for investigating sexual abuse, announced an inquiry into Maciel's behavior. In 2006, after Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he ordered Maciel to give up the active priesthood and live a life of prayer and penance. He did not defrock Maciel.
In 1998, when Vaca, Barba and the other seminarians sent their affidavits alleging sexual abuse to the Vatican, Ratzinger, was already in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, but there was apparently no full investigation of the allegations against Maciel at that time.
Maciel died in 2008. Only since his death has the Legion acknowledged, in statements published on its web site, that Maciel probably did molest seminarians and that he fathered a daughter who lives in Spain. Two other men in Mexico allege they are Maciel's sons, and one says Maciel molested him.
In a statement issued Saturday, the Vatican said hat in addition to appointing an outsider as the Legion's new leader, the pope would create a special board to look into the order's constitution, and investigate the Legion's lay affiliate, Regnum Christi. The lay organization has more than 70,000 members worldwide, including many wealthy donors.
In an official statement, the Legion's spokesman, Jim Fair, thanked Benedict and said the Legion would "embrace his provisions with faith and obedience."
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi did not respond to requests for comment. The Vatican also did not respond to requests for comment from both ABC News and the National Catholic Reporter on Sodano's relationshi with Maceil.