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REUTERS - The Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Roman Catholic order that once had absolute and high-level Vatican support, has been disgraced by revelations its charismatic Mexican founder led a double life that included abusing young boys and fathering children.
Here are some facts about the order and its founder:
* Father Marcial Maciel was born in Michoacan state in western Mexico in 1920. Several uncles were Catholic bishops whose connections helped the rise of the Legion of Christ, which Maciel started in 1941, during a meeting in the basement of a house in Mexico City before he was ordained as a priest. Jason Berry, an American journalist who wrote a book on sex abuse scandals in the church, said Maciel gained favor at the Vatican by distributing cash and expensive gifts to well placed figures in the Catholic hierarchy.
* With the backing of wealthy families and influential politicians in Mexico and abroad the Legion grew quickly and today counts 800 priests and 2,600 seminarians in 22 countries. Its lay movement, Regnum Christi, has 75,000 members and runs more than 100 universities, elementary and secondary schools, according to its website. The Legion amassed a fortune from its affluent patrons and at its peak had a $650 million yearly budget. Maciel cultivated connections in the highest levels of Mexican society including the owners of breadmaker Bimbo and Carlos Slim, the telecoms magnate listed by Forbes as the world's richest man. Mexican media has reported that Maciel officiated at Slim's wedding.
* The abuse charges came to light in 1997 when Berry published the accounts of nine men who said they were molested by Maciel as seminarians in Spain and Italy in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. They described disturbing scenes of Maciel luring them into his bedroom and making them perform sexual acts. In some cases, the men claimed, he told them the Pope had given him special permission to use them sexually as a way to relieve his debilitating pain. They also told of Maciel's addiction to morphine-like painkillers. Maciel wrote a letter denying the newspaper's charges, but the report was reproduced in Mexican news outlets. The men say they took their complaints to the Church but received no response. In March, the Legion's leaders issued an unprecedented apology "to all those who have been affected, wounded, or scandalized by the reprehensible actions of our founder."
* Two women have come forward saying Maciel, using false identities, fathered their children. The Legion, in its formal apology, acknowledged the existence of at least one daughter. In March, Blanca Gonzalez went public for the first time claiming she had two sons with Maciel, one who said he was abused by his father for years from aged 7. The son, Raul Gonzalez, decided to speak publicly because the Legion rebuffed a request for $26 million in exchange for keeping his story quiet, according to Legion officials. Gonzalez said Maciel had promised to leave him money in a trust fund before he died.
* He died in 2008 still a priest at the age of 87. In 1994, Pope John Paul II, who was close to Maciel, issued a statement praising the priest as an "efficacious guide to youth." The Vatican, struggling with accusations of abuse by priests around the world, recently launched an investigation into the order. The probe found that while Maciel's thousands of followers have genuine religious zeal and devotion, the priest himself was "devoid of scruple and of genuine religious sentiment." The Pope is now charged with deciding the future of the order, which will need to redefine itself as separate from Maciel's scandalous legacy.
(Reporting by Anahi Rama and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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