REPORTING FROM LEON, MEXICO -- Sexual abuse victims angrily accused the Vatican on Saturday of protecting a notorious Mexican priest for decades, and said they were dismayed that Pope Benedict XVI will not meet with them on his visit to the country.
Benedict has sat down with abuse victims in almost every country he has visited. But his spokesman said Mexican bishops did not request such an encounter here -- an omission that victims' advocates said was unconscionable.
The pope arrived in Mexico’s central Guanajuato state Friday and continues to Cuba on Monday. He was scheduled to meet with President Felipe Calderon later Saturday and will preside over an open-air Mass on Sunday that organizers say could draw more than 300,000 people.
A group that included abuse victims and experts in the field held a forum here in Leon to release a book that they say establishes "irrefutably" that Vatican officials knew of the egregious crimes committed by the late Rev. Marcial Maciel.
Maciel was the Mexican-born founder of the Legion of Christ, a very conservative and influential order that dates to the 1940s. He wielded enormous power and was considered a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II. After Maciel’s death, the church was forced to acknowledge that the priest had fathered at least three children with two women and for years had sexually assaulted seminarians and other youths.
Although the book, titled "La Voluntad de No Saber" ("The Will to Not Know"), does not contain new allegations, it does purport to document efforts to conceal the truth about Maciel, what the authors called a "complicity of silence" that went on for years.
"The book shows that the Vatican not only knew about [Maciel], but it tolerated and protected" his abuses, said Bernardo Barranco, a church expert who wrote the book’s prologue. "The Vatican lied about Maciel and about sexual abuse."
Co-authors include Jose Barba, a former Legionary who said he was abused by Maciel, and Alberto Athie, a former priest who renounced the cloth in 2000 because of disgust over pedophilia in the church.
The documents in the book include Vatican correspondence and internal reports and are part of a cache of more than 200 pieces of evidence smuggled from Holy See files, the authors said.
Among those who should have known, the authors argue, was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for 24 years head of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and today the pope.
Maciel was also protected by some of Mexico’s most wealthy entrepreneurs and media tycoons, with whom he had profitable friendships, along with the conservative local church hierarchy.
The authors said it was inexplicable, given the level of Maciel’s crimes, that the pope would not meet with victims.
"They have been asking to be heard for 60 years," Athie said.
Photo: Outside Silao, Mexico, pilgrims and volunteers made their way to the Parque Bicentenario on Saturday to claim a space and spend the night before Pope Benedict XVI delivers a Mass on Sunday morning. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times