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Vatican knew of Mexico abuse long before acting, book says

Says Holy See lied about pedophile leader of order

MEXICO CITY - Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico Friday to a very public reminder of one of the Catholic Church’s most egregious sex abuse scandals: A new book says internal Vatican documents show the Holy See knew decades ago of allegations that the Mexican founder of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order was a drug addict and pedophile.

The documentation has been compiled in a book “La voluntad de no saber’’ (“The will to not know’’), which is coauthored by Jose Barba, a former Legion priest who along with other priests in 1998 brought a church trial against the Legion’s founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, for having sexually abused them while they were seminarians.

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While details of the abuse were made public years ago, the new documents seem to solidify proof that the Vatican knew of the allegations long before taking action.

Excerpts of the book were published by the Mexican magazine Proceso on Sunday.

“The importance of this book is that it documents the irrefutable evidence and proof that the Vatican has been lying about Maciel,’’ said Bernardo Barranco, an expert from the Religious Studies Center of Mexico and author of the prologue of the new text.

Questions about the Vatican’s handling of Maciel and his victims have grown in the lead-up to Benedict’s arrival amid speculation that the pope might meet with some of the victims.

Juan Jose Vaca, 75, who was sexually abused for years by Maciel, sent a letter to the Vatican’s ambassador to Mexico on Monday asking for a meeting, and followed up Wednesday with a hand-delivered version.

“Keeping silent and letting this opportunity pass to meet with Maciel’s victims during his visit to Mexico - a country that Maciel offended and causes so much damage to with his depraved and criminal life - would be another affront to these victims and an inexcusable disservice to the church,’’ Vaca wrote, according to the text he provided The Associated Press.

But the Vatican has said no such meeting is planned. Barba and some other victims say they would not meet with Benedict, anyway, because of his role in the Maciel affair.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict, headed the office that received their complaint in 1998, but it took the Vatican eight years to sanction Maciel for the crimes, while the accusers were branded as liars and discredited by the Legion.

Maciel, meanwhile, continued to enjoy Pope John Paul II’s highest regard as the founder of one of the world’s fastest-growing religious orders, able to attract money and vocations to the church despite the mounting accusations against him.

Benedict took over the Legion in 2010 after the order finally admitted Maciel had molested seminarians and fathered three children with two women.

A Vatican investigation determined Maciel, who died in 2008, was a religious fraud who had built an order based on silence and obedience that allowed his double life to go unchecked.

Benedict’s envoy is now trying to reform the order amid charges from former members that they were spiritually and emotionally abused by Maciel’s rigid rules, the cultlike life he created, and the religious vows they took preventing them from criticizing their superiors.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barba said the book was based on information from some 212 documents in a Vatican archive that he said he had obtained from unnamed church officials.

The documentation, he said, demonstrates that the Vatican had information against Maciel as early as 1944 and in the mid-1950s, when the Holy See launched its first investigation into the Mexican-born Maciel.

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