MEXICO CITY – Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the Vatican acted "slowly and late" in a scandal surrounding the Legionaries of Christ, and a Vatican official called Tuesday for an investigation into who covered up for the conservative order's disgraced founder.
The pope insisted, however, that the order has done good and should not be dissolved despite the double life of the late Rev. Marciel Maciel, who was discovered to have abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.
"Unfortunately we addressed these things very slowly and late," Benedict said in a book released Tuesday. "Somehow they were concealed very well, and only around the year 2000 did we have any concrete clues."
Maciel founded the Legion in 1941 in Mexico and it became one of the wealthiest and fastest growing orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Despite long-standing allegations that Maciel was a pedophile, no action was taken until 2006, when the Vatican ordered him to a lifetime of penance and prayer — though it did not say for what.
Only after his death in 2008 did the order admit publicly that he had fathered children and that the abuse allegations were true, spurring the Vatican investigation.
Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's evangelization office, said the Vatican would be wise to look at who covered up for Maciel inside the Legion — "those who took his appointments, those who kept his agenda, those who drove him around."
Fisichella was responding to questions at a news conference in Rome about the pope's comment that Maciel's crimes had been concealed, amid reports that the reverend had high-ranking supporters in the Vatican who protected him for decades.
Maciel is known to have been a favorite of Pope John Paul II because of his orthodoxy and his ability to recruit priests and raise money from wealthy patrons.
But Fisichella said the Vatican suggested looking inside the Legion. "We must be able to verify how well-covered up it was inside his congregation, not outside it," he said.
Jim Fair, the Legion's communications director, said "the Legion agrees with the pope's comments in the new book."
The order announced Tuesday that its powerful vicar general, the Rev. Luis Garza, was giving up some of his duties. Garza has insisted he knew nothing about Maciel's crimes until recently.
The Legion said in a statement that Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the Vatican official whom Benedict appointed to profoundly reform the disgraced order, has also expanded the group's governing general council and will appoint the two new members himself.
In the book, Benedict said the order deserves to continue its work.
"Maciel remains a mysterious figure. There is, on the one hand, a life that, as we now know, was out of moral bounds — an adventurous, wasted, twisted life. On the other hand, we see the dynamism and the strength with which he built up the congregation of Legionaries," the pope said. "Naturally corrections must be made, but by and large the congregation is sound. In it there are many young men who enthusiastically want to serve the faith. This enthusiasm must not be destroyed. Many of them have been called by a false figure to what is, in the end, right after all."
The revelations have thrown the Legion into chaos, with several prominent priests leaving the order over the past year, and dozens of consecrated members of the Legion's lay branch, Regnum Christi, quitting.
In October, the order suffered one of the biggest blows with the resignation of the Rev. Santiago Oriol, who headed the Everest School in Madrid and was a member of a wealthy Spanish family that for decades helped the order raise money.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.