New Maciel Revelations on the Heels of Papal Visit to Mexico

New Maciel Revelations on the Heels of Papal Visit to Mexico

Underscore Need for Accountability at the Very Top of the Roman Catholic Church

Recent Report Shows Mexico a Destination for Priests Escaping Charges of Rape and Sexual Violence in U.S.


By Pam Spees
Senior Staff Attorney
Center for Constitutional Rights

While nothing is being done to protect the children of Mexico still being assaulted by Catholic clergy, plenty of preparations have taken place for this weekend’s papal visit. According to Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Pope will not be meeting with survivors of sexual abuse by priests while in Mexico as he has done in previous visits to other countries. The reason given is that these meetings would have to take place in “a context in which the bishops asked the pope to do it because it was a problem felt in society and the church, and that it was something desired.” It seems that in the case of the many abuse survivors in Mexico, their suffering and the fact that the systematic sexual abuse of children continues does not feel problematic enough for church officials to ask the Pope to address it.

The Pope’s visit to Mexico comes on the heels of recent revelations about the Vatican's decades-long knowledge and cover-up of rape and sexual violence by the Mexican priest Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, one of its most favored, and notorious. Maciel’s case illustrates once again the Vatican’s role in creating a culture of sexual violence within the Church—and the resulting need for accountability at the very top.

In an effort to ensure accountability for these widespread crimes and end the on-going crisis, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a complaint last year with the International Criminal Court on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests charging Pope Benedict XVI and three other high-level Vatican officials with crimes against humanity for the widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence against children and vulnerable adults by priests and others associated with the church. The complaint was supported by more than 20,000 pages of documents consisting of findings and reports of commissions of inquiry and grand juries, testimonies, and other evidence of sex crimes by Catholic clergy and of the policies and practices involved in enabling the crimes and in the cover-ups in different countries.

The evidence submitted to the Prosecutor included references to more than 20 Mexican victims of rape and sexual violence by priests, including victims of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. The submission contained correspondence between victims of Maciel and Pope John Paul II describing the crimes and seeking a canonical proceeding against the priest. A new book recently published reveals leaked internal Vatican documents which confirm that the Holy See knew for decades of the allegations against Maciel and did nothing.[1] Other sources have disclosed that at least since 1956 Mexican bishops were recommending that Rome remove Maciel from the priesthood for, among other things, “acts of sodomy with boys of the congregation.”

The knowing refusal and failure of those at the very top, including then-Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to take action against Maciel, directly resulted in the rape and sexual violence of even more children and vulnerable adults by Maciel over the years.

In related news, The Chicago Tribune recently published a web application documenting the stories of 32 Roman Catholic priests who have fled the U.S. to foreign countries while facing criminal charges of sexual assault or abuse of minors, including rape.[2] Eleven of those priests fled to Mexico.

These recent revelations further confirm what many victims and survivors have been saying for a very long time—that the crimes against children and vulnerable adults in Mexico committed by Maciel and others associated with the church are part of a much larger and system-wide commission of these crimes, and related cover-ups within the Church. The global scale and magnitude of the crimes have so far worked to the Church's benefit as those fighting these issues locally have only been able to address small slices of the global problem. The harm in terms of lives affected and lost, physically, mentally, and emotionally cannot be overstated.

A firm and robust international response is required to bring an end to the international system of child sexual violence that has been enabled and fostered by the highest-level Vatican officials. Those who have idly, and at times actively, presided over this far-reaching devastation must be held accountable.

For more information on the Center for Constitutional Rights’ ICC complaint against Vatican officials, visit:

[1] Nicole Winfield and E. Eduardo Castillo, Pope Mexico Trip: Legionaries of Christ Sex Abuse Victim Jose Barba’s Book ‘La Voluntad de No Saber’ Overshadows Visit, Associated Press, Mar. 21, 2012, available at
[2] David Jackson, Gary Marx, & Brian Boyer (Research and reporting); David Eads, Katie Nieland, Joe Germuska, & Brian Boyer (Web application), Fugitives from Justice: Roman Catholic Priests, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 11, 2012, available at

Last modified 

November 13, 2013