April 24, 2005

The Pope, the letter and the child sex claim

The Observer

Sunday April 24, 2005
The Observer

Of all the matters lurking in the overflowing in-tray of the new Pope Benedict XVI, the long-running and emotive issue of paedophile priests is the most damaging - not just to the church, but to his own personal standing.

The new pontiff has been accused of failing to investigate a series of abuse claims made against one of his predecessor's closest supporters - a failure which has come to be seen as typical of the Catholic Church's determination to keep a lid on the scandal of priests who breach their position of trust.

The story goes back to the Nineties when the new Pope - then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office responsible for investigating abuse claims.

One of the most high-profile of such claims was made by Professor José Barba Martin, a 68-year-old professor of humanities at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. He is one of nine former members of the Rome-based Legion of Christ who allege they were abused by the religious order's powerful founder, Marcial Maciel.

Maciel, 84, set up the ultra-conservative order in 1941. Today it has around 500 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 20 countries. It may be small, but its influence is significant. Maciel, who stood down as the order's head in January because of his age, was a confidant of Pope John Paul II, who praised him as an 'efficacious guide to youth'. For decades, Barba Martin kept silent about the abuse claims which are strenuously denied by Maciel and the Legion of Christ. It says the accusers are 'attempting to tar the Vatican... with the stain of these false allegations.'

Posted by kshaw at April 24, 2005 06:41 AM