( dpa ) - Father Marcial Maciel, the controversial founder of the Catholic congregation known as the Legion of Christ, has died at age 87.
Maciel died of natural causes on Wednesday in the United States, where he had lived in retirement, Alvaro Corcuera, the Legion's director general, said Thursday on the congregation's website.
For decades, Maciel - who was close to the late Pope John Paul II - fought accusations of sexual abuse against priests, former seminarians and former students.
Following a lengthy internal investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church asked him to retire from public life in May 2006. The Legion always maintained its leader was innocent.
Maciel was born in 1920 in Cotija, in the Mexican state of Michoacan. In 1941, at age 20, he founded the Legion of Christ, which he led until 2005 in Mexico City. In 1949, he founded the lay movement Regnum Christi.
The Legion of Christ became a powerful force in the Catholic Church. It is present in 40 countries and is particularly influential in Mexico and Spain.