Sexual Abuse Allegations Against a Top Catholic Re-examined

ByABC News
April 21, 2005, 9:00 AM

NEW YORK, April 21, 2005 -- -- An investigation into the sexual abuse allegations against a high-ranking priest of the Roman Catholic Church has been reopened, seven years after the formal complaint was first filed with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, according to people familiar with the case.

Ratzinger's office ordered the case against the Rev. Marcial Maciel reopened in December, around the time there was growing speculation Ratzinger was a leading candidate to be the next pope. In fact, a Vatican investigator began taking sworn statements from the alleged victims just two weeks ago in New York, the day Pope John Paul II died, according to sources close to the case.

The men who brought the allegations against Maciel had thought their case was dead, having heard nothing but silence in the seven years since they brought the allegations to the attention of Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

"They knelt and kissed his ring, filing these charges in his tribunal, and after that it was simply stuffed, it was shelved," said Jason Berry, co-author with Gerald Renner of a book on the case, "Vows of Silence."

"This pope is at a crossroads. He has to resolve the Maciel case or it will stalk him like a shadow in the sun."

The charges against Maciel, the founder of a well-connected and well-financed order called the Legion of Christ, a conservative sect of the Catholic Church, date back to the 1950s. Eight men allege that Maciel sexually abused them as young seminarians in Rome, something Maciel has always strongly denied.

Juan Vaca, now a college professor in New York, told ABC News in 2002 that he reluctantly brought the charges as a way to get over the trauma he says he suffered.

"I was the one who called them from their bedrooms to go to see Maciel," he said. "In some instances, two were together with him, myself and another one."

The men making the allegations have been told they cannot talk about the case now that it has been reopened.