The Vatican is investigating seven priests from the troubled Legion of Christ religious order for alleged sexual abuse of minors and another two for other alleged crimes, The Associated Press has learned.
The investigations mark the first known Vatican action against Legion priests for alleged sexual assault following the scandal of the Legion’s founder, who was long held up as a model by the Vatican despite credible accusations – later proven – that he raped and molested his seminarians.
The Legion, which is now under Vatican receivership, has insisted that the crimes of its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, were his alone.
But the Vatican investigation of other Legion priests indicates that the same culture of secrecy that Maciel created within the order to cover his crimes enabled other priests to abuse children – just as abusive clergy of other religious orders and dioceses have done around the world.
In a statement Friday to the AP, the Legion confirmed it had referred seven cases of alleged abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that investigates sex crimes. All but one involves alleged abuse dating from decades ago; one case involves recent events, the Legion said.
While the investigation is under way, the accused priests are being kept away from children, the Legion said.
“Over the past few years, in several countries, the major superiors of the Legion of Christ have received some allegations of gravely immoral acts and more serious offenses … committed by some Legionaries,” the statement said.
It said it was committed to examining the accusations and reaching out to victims while safeguarding the rights of all involved.
The Legion issued the statement to the AP after the news organization approached it with the allegations; the Legion simultaneously sent the statement out to all priests in the order.