By Thomas Escritt
BERLIN – Former Pope Benedict XVI denied that he was given information about child abuse in the Legionaries of Christ religious order when he was a top Vatican official, in a case that has tarnished the reputation of his predecessor, John Paul II.
Founded by Mexican cleric Marcial Maciel in 1941, the Legionaries of Christ order was heavily favoured during the conservative papacy of John Paul II, who praised Maciel’s work in reaching out to and evangelising young people.
Maciel turned out to be one of the Catholic Church’s most notorious paedophiles, even abusing children he had fathered secretly with at least two women while living a double life and being feted by the Vatican and Church conservatives.
The former pope’s denial was made to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper in response to allegations it had published from filmmaker Christoph Roehl, who said he had found evidence that two Chilean priests had presented the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with a dossier listing abuse victims in the order.
At the time, Ratzinger was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and John Paul II’s right-hand man, the Polish pope’s ideological and doctrinal enforcer.
But Benedict, 94, who retired in 2013, denied this had happened.
“No, this is not correct,” his long-time personal secretary and fellow German cleric Georg Gaenswein said in a statement to Die Zeit on behalf of Benedict.
Although allegations were made against Maciel as early as 1954, the Vatican and the order only began slowly acknowledging Maciel’s abuse in 2006, when Benedict, as newly-elected pope, ordered him to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence.”
Maciel died in 2008, aged 87. Pope Francis, Benedict’s successor, in 2020 told the Legionaries they still had a long road of reform ahead of them.
John Paul II was made a saint in 2014, nine years after his death, effectively a declaration by the Church that his life was so exemplary that he was sure to be in heaven. Allegations that he failed to discipline abusers have tarnished that legacy, with many now saying his canonisation was too hasty.