Alleged son of priest-founder of Legion says Catholic order knew his dad was a pedophile

NEW YORK (AP) — A Mexican man said Monday he is the son of the founder of a once-influential Roman Catholic religious order, and accused his father of repeatedly molesting him.

In a lawsuit, Jose Raul Gonzalez, 30, accused the late Rev. Marcial Maciel of abuse beginning at age 7. Gonzalez said Maciel led a double life, explaining his long absences from the family by saying he was a CIA agent and oil executive.

Despite the power the Legionaries of Christ once held with Vatican officials, the Holy See recently concluded that Maciel, the order's founder, led a life that was "devoid of any scruples" and included molesting young boys.

Gonzalez said the abuse began when Maciel took him on trips in South America, England and elsewhere. Leaders of the Legion knew for decades that Maciel was a pedophile and did nothing to stop him, Gonzalez said in his legal claim against the group.

"He always said to us that he was an enemy of the lies, but he was the most liar, the biggest liar," said Gonzalez, at a news conference with his attorney, Jeff Anderson.

Jim Fair, a U.S. spokesman for the Legion, said he could not comment on the lawsuit, but Fair noted that the Legion has said that Gonzalez' paternity claim "apparently was true."

Maciel died in 2008 at age 87. Legion officials acknowledge Maciel fathered at least one other child, a girl, and abused seminarians, but insist they only just discovered his misdeeds.

For decades, former Legion members who said they had been abused by Maciel tried unsuccessfully to persuade Vatican officials to take action against him.

Gonzalez' mother, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, has said that Maciel had two children with her and adopted another. She said she was 19 when she met the priest, then 56, who passed himself off as "Jose Rivas."

Gonzalez said the abuse began at age 7 and occurred multiple times over the next nine years, whenever Maciel would ask his mother that Gonzalez be sent on trips with him.

"That became normal in my life," Gonzalez said. "When I was on a vacation with him, I grew (up) with that. That was normal."

Gonzalez said he met his half-sister when they were young and visited the Vatican, where Maciel had enjoyed unquestioned support from many of the highest-level officials, including Pope John Paul II. At the Monday news conference in Anderson's office in Minnesota, Gonzalez stood before a poster-sized photo of himself around age 8 at an audience with John Paul, his arm raised in blessing. Gonzalez said the audience with the pope was arranged by his father.

Gonzalez didn't specifically address how his father could have kept his true identity a secret for so long, but insisted repeatedly on Monday he did not know Maciel was a priest until 1997.

He said Maciel also had abused his brother, who was not joining the lawsuit. Gonzalez had previously asked the Legion for $26 million to keep quiet. On Monday, Gonzalez said he was only seeking the inheritance Maciel had promised and some compensation for his suffering.

Despite John Paul's high-profile trips to Mexico, during which Maciel was often seated next to the pontiff, Gonzalez said his family didn't discover the priest's real identity until 1997, through a Mexican magazine article that accused him of abuse.

Maciel founded the Legion in 1941 in his native Mexico and built the order's culture around himself. His photo adorned every Legion building, his biography and writings were studied, and his birthday was celebrated as a feast day. Until recently, Legion members took a vow not to criticize their superiors, including Maciel.

A recent Vatican investigation excoriated him for creating a "system of power" built on silence, deceit and obedience that enabled him to lead a secret life "devoid of any scruples and authentic sense of religion."

The order now claims a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in Regnum Christi. It runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Its U.S. headquarters are in Connecticut, where Gonzalez filed his lawsuit.

Pope Benedict XVI will soon name an envoy to take over and reform the Legion.