April 2, 2009 / 12:34 AM / 10 years ago

Mexican Catholic sex abuse probe could uncover more victims

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict’s probe into an influential Roman Catholic priestly order could uncover more cases of sexual abuse similar to those committed by its founder, a victims’ group in Mexico said on Wednesday.

Pope Benedict ordered the investigation into the Legion of Christ last month following a string of scandals tied to its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, a Mexican, who died last year at the age of 87.

“We have testimonies that there have been other Legionaries who followed Maciel’s example,” said Jose Barba, the legal representative of eight former Legionaries who started court proceedings against Maciel in 1998. “The ramifications of the problem exist throughout the Legionaries of Christ,” he added.

Barba, who says he was abused by Maciel when he was in the order as a teenager training to be a priest, said he expected the investigation would take months.

“What they have to investigate is to what extent the evil, the gangrene was spread through the Legionaries of Christ and didn’t end just because Father Maciel died,” Barba said.

Last month, the order said it had found evidence that Maciel had lived a double life for decades.

While running an order of priests who take vows of celibacy, Maciel had a mistress with whom he fathered at least one child.

In 2006, Pope Benedict told Maciel to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence” after accusations that he had molested boys and men among seminarians decades earlier.

The order had denied the molestation charges for years but the Vatican moved against Maciel after new evidence emerged. At the time, the sanctions against Maciel made him one of the most prominent persons to be disciplined for sexual abuse.

Founded in 1941, the conservative order now has about 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in more than 20 countries. It also runs a pontifical university in Rome. Like in many religious institutions, the founder became a cult figure among members, even while he was alive.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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