MEXICO CITY (AP) - Two prominent members of the Legion of Christ said Thursday that they have met a man who says he is an abused son of the group's founder, and one priest said the man had offered to "keep quiet about the truth" if he received $26 million.
The statements from two senior figures in the conservative Catholic order follow one of the most damaging allegations yet against the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, who had been the subject of a Vatican probe into multiple allegations he sexually abused seminarians.
A Mexican woman, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, told MVS radio's Carmen Aristegui on Wednesday that Maciel had two sons with her during a 20-year relationship and sexually abused one of them - as well as a son she had earlier whom Maciel had adopted.
The sons appeared with her on the program and supported the allegations.
The Rev. Jesus Quirce, rector of the Legion's Universidad Anahuac in Mexico City, sent a letter to The Associated Press and other news media on Thursday confirming that he had met with Raul Gonzalez several times in 2008 and 2009, though he said Gonzalez never mentioned being molested.
Quirce did not directly confirm that Gonzalez was Maciel's son, but he said the man told him Maciel had promised to leave a trust fund of $6 million for him, his brother and his mother.
"It was a painful surprise for me to learn of this situation," Quirce wrote. "I believed in his word and in his good intentions."
Quirce said he was "surprised and disillusioned" tolearn that Gonzalez had taped the meetings.
The order's Mexico office also released a Jan. 12 letter written to Gonzalez by the Rev. Carlos Skertchly, acting as general procurator of the order.
It said Gonzalez had asked for $6 million to honor Maciel's promise and another $20 million "as compensation for your sufferings."
Skertchly said that Gonzalez told him in a phone call: "If you give me the money, I will keep quiet about the truth" - a petition the order rejected.
"In no way can we accede to your request for money in exchange for silence," Skertchly wrote. "While we value all of the pain and suffering that you have shared with us, and we deplore the evil of scandal that may follow, we will never accept petitions of this sort, which are also illicit.
"We prefer to seek and face the truth, no matter how painful it may be."
It was impossible to reach the Gonzalez Lara family for comment. They had no known telephone number.
The order's statement said members "have gradually come to know, with surprise and great sorrow, hidden aspects of the life of Fr Maciel."
"We renew our request for forgiveness from the affected people for all of the suffering this has caused and for the ensuing scandal."
Legion leaders last year acknowledged that Maciel had a daughter in Spain, but they have not directly accepted allegation 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 told MVS that she met Maciel when she was 19 and he was 56, but she said she didn't know he was a priest. She said he 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.
The family's accusations could not be independently verified.
Jason Berry, author of the book "Vows of Silence," an investigation of the claims against Maciel, said that by 1976, Maciel traveled so much that he wasn't really based anywhere and he often spent time in Mexico.
After its founding by Maciel in 1941, the Legionaries of Christ 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.
The pope last March ordered a Vatican investigation of the order. Church leaders are evaluating all its seminaries, schools and other institutions around the world.