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Founder disgraced, Legion of Christ moves to damage control

April 5, 2010 |  2:07 pm

Maciel legion of christ In case you missed this stunner of a story from the L.A. Times on Legion of Christ founder the Rev. Marcial Maciel, take another read of the lead, or opening paragraph: "He hobnobbed with Mexico's rich and famous, cut lucrative real estate deals and was rumored to travel on occasion with a briefcase full of cash. He fathered at least one child, molested seminarians and boys and is said to have boasted that he had the pope's permission to get massages from young nuns."

Whoa. Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008 at the age of 87, is perhaps the most prominent and powerful Catholic priest in recent history to have been accused of sexual abuse. His alleged crimes seem almost unreal in their excess, even as new abuse allegations and cases continue to unfold surrounding the Roman Catholic Church.

Yet Maciel was a favorite of Pope John Paul II, accompanying the revered pontiff on several trips to Mexico, where the priest founded the Legion of Christ in 1941.

Reporter Tracy Wilkinson, who covered the Vatican as The Times' bureau chief in Rome between 2003 and 2008, details the Legion's reach, wealth and influence in Mexico, which seems to only grow despite the Maciel scandals. "Enter Maciel," the story says. "He told Mexico's wealthy that God loved them more than the poor, just what they wanted to hear."

Read the whole piece here.

The Legion last month apologized for Maciel's transgressions (the official communique is here), but the order's general director, Father Alvaro Corcuera, seems destined to be handling damage control for some time. In an interview with the Mexican daily Milenio, Corcuera said he would apologize to each of Maciel's victims in Mexico on his next trip here from Rome.

Milenio also reports that the Legion of Christ has hired a public relations agency to help restore the order's image. The agency's founder, Milenio says, is an alumnus of a school founded by Maciel.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Portrait of the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Credit: Legion of Christ.