Order's founder fathered children, court told
Newly unsealed documents in a lawsuit brought against the Roman Catholic order Legion of Christ show the group's former second-in-command testified he discovered the order's founder, the late Reverend Marcial Maciel, had fathered a daughter in 2006.
However, the Reverend Luis Garza said he never confronted Maciel about his double life and didn't share the news with the group's broader membership.
The documents, previously sealed in a lawsuit in Superior Court in Rhode Island, include thousands of pages of testimony from high-ranking leaders at the Legion, its members, and relatives of Rhode Island widow Gabrielle Mee, who bequeathed US$60 million (NZ$70m) to the Legion before her death at age 96 in 2008.
The Legion, founded by Maciel decades ago in Mexico City, was taken over by the Vatican in 2010 after a church investigation determined that Maciel had sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children by two women.
The scandal, which tarnished the legacy of Pope John Paul II, has been cited as an especially egregious example of how the Vatican ignored decades of reports about sexually abusive priests because church leaders put the interests of the institution above those of the victims.
The documents released on Friday (local time), at the request of The Associated Press and other news organisations, include the first-ever depositions made available of high-ranking Legion officials, including Garza, the Legion's former No. 2.
In a deposition December 2011, Garza says he became suspicious while visiting Maciel in 2006 at a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, because of two women he saw there. He later learned they were Maciel's daughter and her mother, a fact he confirmed with both women.
Garza said he obtained the daughter's birth certificate as proof - listing the father as "Jose Rivas". Later, it was revealed that Maciel used the "Jose Rivas" pseudonym with his other hidden family, a Mexican woman with whom he had two sons.
Yet Garza said he never asked Maciel about his daughter or discussed it with him, and he didn't think it was necessary to share the news with the Legion's membership or its lay movement, Regnum Christi. He said he only told the Legion's superior and two other priests.
"I didn't think at the time that the fact that fathering a child would change in any way the way we needed to behave vis-a-vis Father Maciel or the actions that we needed to do," Garza said in the deposition. "Because we needed to comply with indications of the Holy See and also because there was an issue of privacy and respect for the mother and the daughter."
The Legion didn't acknowledge Maciel's children or the sexual abuse allegations against him until February 2009, about a year after he died.
Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray, filed the Rhode Island lawsuit after her aunt died, saying Mee was defrauded by an order whose leaders orchestrated an effort to hide its founder's misdeeds from her aunt. A Superior Court judge ruled in September that Dauray did not have standing to sue.
But the judge noted that the documents filed under seal raised a red flag. He referred to the Legion's top officials as "clandestinely dubious religious leaders", and said there was evidence that Mee had been unduly persuaded to change her trusts and will.
Bernard Jackvony, the lawyer for Mee's niece, said taken as a whole, the depositions expose how the Legion knew by 2004 that the Vatican was investigating Maciel for sexual abuse and by 2006 that he had a daughter yet kept the information private. He argued that Mee never would have given the Legion her money had she known of Maciel's true nature.
"In terms of fraud, when you withhold information from people, that's the same as if you said something to them that's not true," he said.
The Legion said on Friday it didn't exert undue influence over Mee's decision-making and she made her gifts of her own will.
"Our actions with regard to Mrs Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable," Legion spokesman Jim Fair said.
Among other documents released on Friday was 2001 testimony from Mee in a separate lawsuit, showing her complete trust in the Legion.
"I know they needed money and what their dealings were, and I have complete confidence and trust. I know it's all above board. It's all very honest," she said. "I know no details and I don't ask."
The documents in Dauray's lawsuit were kept under seal until the AP, The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and The Providence Journal intervened, arguing that disclosure of the documents was in the public interest. The Legion argued that media coverage of the documents could taint prospective jurors if there was a trial.