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John Paul II Sainthood a Delicate Issue for Mexicans

Agence France-Presse
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April 26, 2014
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Thousands witness canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II (Reuters)

MEXICO CITY - Many Mexicans have mixed emotions about seeing the late pope John Paul II become a saint: they loved the man but feel he covered up sexual abuses by priests.

In the Latin American country with the most Catholics after Brazil, most Mexicans “will welcome the canonization, but not all of them, because his pontificate had a dark side,” said sociologist Bernardo Barranco, who specializes in religious issues.

He added: “I do not think everyone will forgive him for having covered up” the pedophilia that went on to rock the church with scandal in recent years.

In his first overseas trip in 1979, John Paul visited Mexico, where 80 percent of the population of 118 million is Catholic.

Upon his arrival, the pontiff kissed the ground and thus began very warm ties with the people of Mexico, who turned out to greet the pope by the tens of thousands during each of his five visits to this country.

John Paul praised Mexicans as “always faithful” and they would serenade him at night with a song called “Amigo,” or friend.

The Legion of Christ

But in 1997, ex-members of an ultra-conservative Catholic congregation called the Legion of Christ accused its Mexican founder Marcial Maciel of sexual abuse.

They did so in a letter to John Paul, and a formal complaint was filed with the Vatican a year later.

The ex-congregation members sent “a kilo and a half of documents, most of them notarized,” said Jose Barba, one of the young seminarians who said he suffered abuse at the hands of Maciel and says he has received no response from the Vatican despite having revealed his case to senior church officials.

Barba, now 75, said the canonization is the “epitome of the cover up” as it reflects “an enormous desire to put the issue to rest and forget about Maciel.”

Maciel, a priest who died in 2008 at the age of 87, was accused of abusing several seminarians. At the same time he led a double life, having relationships with two women and fathering several children, who also said they had been abused by him.

After years of denials by the church hierarchy, the Vatican launched a probe and in 2004 it forced Maciel out as leader of the Legion of Christ. In 2006 he was defrocked altogether and told to retire to a life of prayer and penitence.

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