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Vatican Denies Mexico Abuse Probe

The Vatican (search) said Monday there was no investigation under way of allegations that the Mexican founder of a conservative religious order sexually abused seminarians more than 30 years ago, and the Holy See had no plans to bring a church trial against the priest.

The Legionaries of Christ said Friday that the Vatican notified them a day earlier about the status of the case involving the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degallado (search). In the late 1990s, nine former seminarians alleged Maciel had abused them when they were young boys or teenagers in Roman Catholic seminaries in Spain and Italy. The alleged abuse occurred in the 1940s-1960s.

Maciel, 85, has denied the allegations and said his accusers plotted to defame him.

"There is no investigation under way and it is not foreseen that there will be one in the future," a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Monday.

Earlier this year, news reports surfaced that the Vatican had reopened the sexual abuse case against Maciel. But Vatican officials at the time said the reports resulted from a misunderstanding.

The Vatican said an official from its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles clergy sex abuse cases, had contacted a lawyer for some of the former seminarians about the case, a move which was mistakenly interpreted as a new Vatican probe.

Benedettini said Monday he did not know when a decision on the case had been made. The Vatican did not explain the reason for its decision.

The Vatican would not say whether this was the first sexual abuse case involving a priest decided under the new pontiff, Benedict XVI (search), or if it had been decided when Pope John Paul II (search) was still alive.

In January, John Paul hailed Maciel for his "paternal affection and his experience." A few months earlier, the late pope praised Maciel on the 60th anniversary of his ordination, citing his "intense, generous and fruitful" priestly ministry.

The Legionaries said they had not solicited any official statement from the Vatican about the case and suggested a recent Italian media report about the Mexican religious leader might have prompted the Vatican to inform the order about the case's status.

An official at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not say why no case would go forward against Maciel. The new pope headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith beginning in the early 1980s until he was elected pontiff last month.

"The policy of the CDF is not to give statements on individual cases," said the Rev. Charles Scicluna.

When Benedict was elected, one of Maciel's accusers, Juan Vaca, a former priest, expressed hope the allegations would be examined anew.

The Vatican investigated Maciel in the 1950s for alleged drug use, trafficking and misuse of funds but not for sexual misconduct. He was suspended from his duties as head of the order then reinstated after being cleared of all allegations.

Earlier this year, Maciel, citing his age, declined to be re-elected, and a successor was chosen.

Legionaries, with their conservative emphasis on morality, had a high profile under the papacy of John Paul. The order claims a membership of 65,000 people, including hundreds of priests worldwide.