A well-connected Vatican insider accused of molesting young priests in training will not face a trial or be severely punished, the Vatican said today. Instead, Father Marcial Maciel was asked to give up all of his public ministry appearances.
A statement issued by the Vatican earlier today invited Father Maciel, who retired in 2005, "to lead a reserved life of prayer and penitence." There was no official finding of guilt.
A number of former priests told Vatican investigators they were abused by Father Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, a small but wealthy Catholic order that operates in the United States and 25 other countries.
Many of Maciel's accusers had waited for years for the Vatican's decision. "It has to come, we are so many victims of this man," Juan Vaca, one of the accusers, told ABC News earlier this week. The accusations go back to the 1950s.
The allegations were presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 1998 when he was a Cardinal. Some of the accusers said then-Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to cover up the case because of Maciel's prominence and close relationship with Pope John Paul II.
The then-Cardinal Ratzinger became visibly upset when asked about the Maciel case by ABC News' Brian Ross in April 2002.
"You do not ask such questions," he said and then slapped Ross's hand.
Any finding of guilt "would automatically become a stain on the legacy of Pope John Paul II, who was a huge supporter of Maciel," according to Jason Berry, author of "Vows of Silence," which deals with sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church.
The Legion of Christ issued a statement on his behalf saying that despite the allegations against Father Maciel, "he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way."
Complete statement by the Legion of Christ follows:
In reference to the news regarding the conclusion of the investigation of the accusations made against Fr. Marcial Maciel, our beloved father founder, the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ offer the following statement:
1. Fr. Marcial Maciel has received during his life a great number of accusations. In the last few years, some of these were presented to the Holy See so that a canonical process would be opened.
2. Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way.
3. Considering his advanced age and his frail health, the Holy See has decided not to begin a canonical process but to "invite him to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing to any public ministry."
4. Fr. Maciel, with the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him, he has accepted this communiquÃ© with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.
5. The Legionaries of Christ and the members of the Regnum Christi, following the example of Fr. Maciel and united to him, accept and will accept always the directives of the Holy See with profound spirit of obedience and faith. We renew our commitment to work with great intensity to live our charism of charity and extend the Kingdom of Christ serving the Church.