ROME (AP) — A judge in Milan on Monday acquitted five members of the Legion of Christ religious order and their lawyers of attempted extortion in a case in which they were accused of offering to pay the family of a sexual abuse victim to lie to prosecutors.
Four of the five were also absolved of obstruction of justice charges because the statute of limitations expired, while a fifth was acquitted outright, said Daniela Cultrera, the lawyer for the victim’s family.
The investigation was an offshoot of a case in which Italy’s highest court last year upheld the conviction and 6 1/2-year prison sentence for a defrocked Legion priest, Vladimir Resendiz, for sexually abusing boys at the Legion’s youth seminary in northern Italy.
That case was sparked in 2013 when one of Resendiz’s victims confided in his therapist about the abuse he suffered while he was in middle school at the seminary. The therapist informed law enforcement authorities, who opened the probe.
Prosecutors alleged the Legion hierarchy in Italy and their lawyers offered the family of the victim 15,000 euros in exchange for a settlement agreement in which the son ruled out having been abused by Resendiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said if the family members were ever called to testify, they were to make the same declarations, denying the abuse that they had already reported to prosecutors.
The family refused to sign and reported the offer to law enforcement.
At the time the offers were made, the Legion was emerging from years of Vatican-mandated reform following revelations that the founder of the Mexico-based order was a religious fraud who sexually abused his seminarians and built a secretive, cult-like order to hide his crimes.