January 27, 2005

Controversial Priests Tapped for Jerusalem Center


January 28, 2005

By Jason Berry

Pope John Paul II has awarded control of an important Catholic cultural center in Jerusalem to a controversial, right-wing priestly order whose founder has been accused of sexual abuse.

The order, the Legionaries of Christ, received the administrative keys to the Jerusalem landmark, the Notre Dame Center, in a festive ceremony at the Vatican on November 30. The ceremony was part of a weeklong Vatican celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the entry into the priesthood of the order's Mexican-born founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, 84.

In an unusual twist, a church legal official disclosed less than a week later that a Vatican canon-law prosecutor was reopening the dormant investigation into abuse charges against Maciel. He had been accused in 1976 of sexually abusing seminarians in Mexico and in Spain in the 1950s and '60s.

Eight former members of the order filed formal charges against him in the Vatican in 1998, but the investigation was put on hold a year later by the Vatican's top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Maciel and his order have denied the charges repeatedly.

The Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, a palatial structure at the foot of Jaffa Road, facing the walls of the Old City just outside Jaffa Gate, was built by a French order a century ago as a pilgrims' hostel. Taken over by the Vatican in 1970, it now houses a conference center, a school of tourism and hotel management, the public library of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and a 150-bed hotel. It also houses administrative offices of several institutions linked to the local Catholic church, the so-called Latin Patriarchate, which represents mainly Arabic-speaking Catholics in Israel and the territories.

Posted by kshaw at January 27, 2005 07:36 AM