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Legion Of Christ In Mexico Reveals Its Founder Abused Dozens Of Minors


An investigation into an ultraconservative Catholic order in Mexico has uncovered a history of abuse. The order published an internal report over the weekend. It accuses 33 priests and 71 seminarians of sexually abusing children. This includes the man who founded the Legionaries of Christ order. He's accused of abusing at least 60 kids. This report says there are likely more cases. And just a warning - this story contains details that some listeners could find disturbing.

I want to turn now to freelance reporter David Agren, who is in Mexico City and has been covering this. David, welcome.

DAVID AGREN: Thank you.

GREENE: Can you just tell us about this order and its founder to give us some context here?

AGREN: Sure. The Legionaries of Christ was founded in 1941 in Mexico City by a priest named Marcial Maciel, who grew the order quite substantially by courting the rich. The rich were not being necessarily attended to by other Catholic orders. And he went about getting the upper crust into this order, and it became very economically powerful. And it also became very influential within the Vatican.

It was known for being conservative. It was known for being elitist and somewhat exclusionary and also controversial. And when these accusations of abuse came up - originally, these were lodged by seminarians - they were denied. And because of the power of the Legionaries of Christ in Mexico, at least, these - it took a long time for these accusations to be - come to the public's attention.

GREENE: And what exactly are the accusations? What did this report find?

AGREN: Well, the report found that there were 175 people abused, mostly boys between the ages of 11 and 16 years old, by 33 priests and 70 - more than 70 seminarians. With the priests, one thing they had found was that 14 of them - of the victims of Father Maciel, the founder, had gone on to commit crimes themselves against children. This was seen as a - you know, a chain of abuse.

It was all quite disturbing, and it was believed to be almost 2.5% of the priests that had ever been ordained committed abuse, which is actually a little bit of a lower number than the average in the U.S. So there are questions about the report, and the Mexican Bishops' Conference are among those asking questions.

GREENE: Asking questions about whether there - this could be more widespread than the report is actually...

AGREN: That's right, or if the, you know - the order has said that there will - there's probably more to come, at least in terms of issues such as abuse of authority.

GREENE: And I mean, you say this order has been affiliated with the Vatican. And I mean, there was a relationship with the pope. What has the Vatican's response to this been so far?

AGREN: It's been muted. The response has come more from the Mexican Bishops' Conference, which is - has said that the report has come too late and also seems to have shortcomings in it. It's a little bit - a bit of a surprising response because the bishops hadn't really been all that vocal about the Legionaries of Christ in the past, and part of that is because of the legion's influence, its economic power.

It feels like a lot of people are coming to the point of sort of just repudiating the order, especially the order's founder. The order was taken over by the Vatican in 2010 and - largely because it was sort of seen as it had been - become a cult of the founder, Maciel, and it needed to be founded anew. What seems to be happening now is that the legionaries are saying, yes, our founder was responsible for some horrible crimes committed against children and young men. But it's sort of - this is the - are they telling the whole story? That's the question that a lot of people are asking.

GREENE: Freelance reporter David Agren in Mexico City this morning. Thanks, David.

AGREN: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.