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New questions about Legionaries of Christ

A woman claiming to be the mother of Fr. Maciel's daughter speaks.

Followers of the Legionaries of Christ take part in a memorial service to honor their founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado at the Irish Institute in the suburb of San Pedro Garza in the northern city of Monterrey, Mexico on Jan. 31, 2008. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

NEW ORLEANS — On Dec. 5, 1994, seven daily newspapers in Mexico City ran half-page ads with a photograph of the Legionaries of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, kissing the ring of Pope John Paul II. An open letter from the pope, celebrating Maciel's 50th anniversary as a priest, called him "an efficacious guide to youth."

On Tuesday in Mexico City, an attorney named Jose Bonilla announced that Maciel had six children. Two daily papers, La Jornada and Milenio reported that Bonilla was taking legal action against Maciel's estate on behalf of three of them, who are now adults. Bonilla is seeking legal recognition for his clients as heirs to Maciel. Only one has been identified.

Norma Hilda Rivas, 23, reportedly born in Mexico, now lives in Madrid "and enjoys a level of affluence such that she does not work [and] lives in a luxury apartment ... acquired by Marcial Maciel with money from the congregation's benefactors," according to La Jornada.

Bonilla's announcement is just the latest action against Maciel, who died in 2008 at the age of 87. In 1941, Maciel founded the religious order the Legionaries of Christ and became the greatest fundraiser of the modern church.

John Paul never wavered in his support of Maciel, even after a 1998 canon law case filed in a Vatican tribunal by eight former Legionaries accused him of abusing them as seminarians. The case gathered dust until 2004, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the final months of John Paul's life ordered an investigation of Maciel. A few months later Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. In 2006, Benedict dismissed Maciel from active ministry, though without specifying why.

In February, the Legion shocked its followers by disclosing that Maciel had fathered a daughter out of wedlock. The Vatican announced a new investigation, this time of the Legion itself. Catholic blogs have raised questions about the daughter, her mother, whether they have financial support from the Legion, how much — and how long — Legion officials knew about them.

In June the Holy See named six bishops from as many countries as "visitators" to gather information from Legion schools, seminaries and colleges in Latin America, North America and Europe.

As the investigation progresses, it seems that one of Maciel's hidden connections has gone public. Rivas's mother was interviewed in an Aug. 9 report in the Madrid webmagazine PeriodistaDigital. "When I met this man I was under aged," Norma Hilda Banos, identified as 48 and a native of Acapulco, said of Maciel. "Neither my daughter nor I knew who this man really was until the very end."

The daughter "was abused by her father, Maciel," PeriodistaDigital quoted Hilda Banos as saying. "She suffers from severe trauma from her childhood and I don't believe she is ever going to get over it."

The site further reports that Maciel left Hilda Banos "two homes in her name in the exclusive Madrid building where she lives and three [other] places, all valued at about 2 million euros."