A report from the Legionaries of Christ — a Catholic order championed by Pope John Paul II — has found that 175 minors were abused by priests since its inception, a third of whom were abused by notorious founder Marcel Maciel.
The report sheds light on a dark chapter of the order's history of abuse, which was denied by the papacy of John Paul II as he and clerical authorities routinely dismissed accusations by seminarians that Maciel and others committed such crimes.
Between 1941 and 2019, 175 minors were victims of abuse by 33 priests in the order, the report said. At least 60, or about one-third, were abused by Maciel himself, it said.
Most victims were boys between 11 and 16.
The founder was only forced from the active ministry by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, two years before his death in 2008, but he resisted calls to dissolve the order entirely.
The Vatican instead took over the order in 2010 and began a process of reform.
The order said the report, which was released on Saturday and covers the period since Maciel founded it in his native Mexico in 1941 to this year, was "an additional attempt [by the Legionaries] to confront their history".
This report follows earlier historical reckonings.
In 2010, the order acknowledged Maciel had fathered a child with a long-term partner and, at the time of the admission, a Mexican attorney alleged that Maciel fathered up to six children, after being asked to litigate on behalf of three of them.
It was later revealed Maciel abused the children he had fathered while he was publicly feted by Vatican leadership and Catholic conservatives.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92, who was secretary of state under John Paul II, was for years one of the Legionaries' biggest protectors in the Vatican.
Pope Francis accepted his resignation as dean of the college of cardinals — the body which elects Popes — on Saturday and simultaneously changed church law to limit the dean's position to a five-year term, rather than for life.
While the report said the 33 amounted to only 2.44 per cent of the 1,353 priests ordained by the order, it said that nearly 43 per cent of those who committed the abuse were in positions of authority, making it difficult to report or punish the abuse.
"[Abuse] was linked to the abuse of power and conscience on the part of some who took advantage of their posts to abuse," it said.
Of the 33, six have died, eight have left the priesthood, and one had left the order.
Of the 18 who remain members, four have "ministerial restrictions" to keep them away from minors and 14 have no public priestly ministry, the report said.
Seventy-four seminarians studying for the priesthood also abused minors and 81 per cent of them were not ordained.
Father Christian Borgogno, a former member of the order, said that the numbers of those abused were "clearly unlikely" to be accurate and believed that they were much higher.
"It is difficult to think that this is anything more than a whitewash of the [Legionaries] image," he said in a tweet.
He said the reported lacked "independent sources".
After Maciel's death, Vatican investigations found that he had also fathered several children with at least two women, visited them regularly and sent them money. He also used drugs.
Former members have said the order was run like a cult, with rules forbidding any criticism of the founder or questioning of his motives.
Maciel gave huge contributions to the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul II, who admired the Legionaries' orthodoxy and ability to supply priests