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North America - Mexico - Christianity - Catholic

Lawyers in Mexico church sex abuse case resign
E. Eduardo Castillo (AP, March 8, 2010)

Mexico City, Mexico - A Mexican lawyer said Monday he has resigned from handling the case of a woman and her sons who claim the males were sexually abused as boys by the founder of a conservative Roman Catholic religious order.

Lawyer Jose Bonilla said he and a team of other lawyers who had represented the family would no longer do so, after one of the sons acknowledged he had asked the order for $26 million to keep quiet about the case.

"I know they were sexually abused by their father. This is a truly grave, lamentable situation," Bonilla said. "I always told them ... that they have a right to damages for moral and sexual abuse, but they have absolutely no right to ask for money from anybody in exchange for their silence."

While saying his team could not be part of that, Bonilla said of the family, "I wish them well in this fight with all my heart."

The case involves the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the deceased founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The mother, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, alleges Maciel maintained a long relationship with her under a false identity, fathering two sons and adopting a third. She says he abused two of the boys.

One of her sons, Jose Raul Gonzalez, told a radio station last week that he asked the Legionaries of Christ for $26 million because Maciel had promised him and his two brothers a trust fund when he died and as financial compensation for the alleged sexual abuse.

Gonzalez's mother had told her story earlier in the week to MVS Radio. Her charge was the most damaging yet against Maciel, who before his death had been the subject of a Vatican probe into multiple allegations he sexually abused seminarians.

Legion leaders last year acknowledged that Maciel had a daughter in Spain, but they have not directly accepted allegations by several seminarians that he molested them.

Maciel died in 2008 at age 87, more than a year after Pope Benedict XVI disciplined the ailing priest by sending him to "a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry."

Lara Gutierrez said she was 19 when she met Maciel, then 56, who she said passed himself off as "Jose Rivas," an employee of an international oil company, a private investigator and a CIA agent.

She said she didn't discover his real identity until 1997, when she saw a magazine article about previous allegations against the priest.

The family's accusations could not be independently verified, but the order took them seriously enough to acknowledge several meetings with Gutierrez.

Founded by Maciel in 1941, the Legion became one of the most influential and fastest-growing orders in the Roman Catholic Church. The order says it has more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide, along with 50,000 members of the associated lay group Regnum Christi.