Pope begins reform of Legionaries of Christ

VATICAN CITY — In initial steps toward reforming the Legionaries of Christ, Pope Benedict will name a personal delegate with authority over the order and a commission to study its constitutions, the Vatican said today.

In a lengthy statement, the Vatican indicated that the Legionaries would need to undergo very deep changes, including a redefinition of the order’s religious charism and a revision of the way authority is exercised among its members.

While the pope will have the final word on whatever changes are eventually imposed, one Vatican source said after seeing today’s statement: “It looks like they are calling for a refoundation of the order.”

The pope met Friday with the five bishops who conducted a visitation of the Legionaries’ institutions over the last year. They visited almost all the order’s religious houses and most of its pastoral institutions, meeting with more than 1,000 Legionaries.

The Vatican emphasized what it said was a high degree of sincerity and cooperation shown by the Legionaries, and said the visitators encountered many young priests who were “exemplary, honest and full of talent.”

The Vatican statement castigated the Legionaries’ founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who had been found to have fathered children and sexually abused seminarians. His “most grave and objectively immoral conduct” calls for “a path of profound revision” in the order, the Vatican statement said.

It said Father Maciel committed “true crimes” that reflected “a life devoid of scruples and of authentic religious sentiment.” Most Legionaries didn’t know about his conduct because Father Maciel was able to skillfully “create alibis and obtain the trust, confidence and silence of those around him,” it said.

Most Legionaries, because of their “sincere zeal,” believed that accusations against Father Maciel could only be lies, it said.

The Vatican said the visitation highlighted three primary requirements:

– The need to “redefine the charism” of the Legionaries of Christ, preserving “the true nucleus, that of ‘militia Christi’ (the army of Christ), which distinguishes the apostolic and missionary action of the church.”

– The need to revise the exercise of authority in the order, in a way that “respects the conscience” and is closely connected with truth.

– The need to preserve the enthusiasm and missionary zeal of younger members through adequate formation.

“In fact, the disappointment about the founder could place in question the vocation and that nucleus of charism that belongs particularly to the Legionaries of Christ,” it said.

The Vatican said the pope wanted to assure the Legionaries and members of the order’s lay movement, Regnum Christi, that “they will not be left on their own” and that the church will “accompany them and help them on the path of purification that awaits them.”

Part of that path, it said, is a reaching out to those inside and outside the order who were “victims of the sexual abuse and of the system of power put in place by the founder.”

“To them at this moment go the thoughts and prayers of the Holy Father, together with gratitude for those among them who, in the face of great difficulty, had the courage and the constancy to demand the truth,” it said.

As for future steps, the statement said the pope has “reserved to himself” those decisions, beginning with the naming of his delegate and the commission to study the order’s constitutions. He will also name a visitator for the Regnum Christi movement, at their request.

10 Responses

  1. If they’re going to refound the order, why not go with Saint Faustina?

  2. If the head (founder) was rotten how does the rest of the body escape the scourge

    Here in Africa, most political heads are corrupt and most of persons in positions of government authority are corrupt – but some of us follow Gods Laws and pay taxes to Governments and adhere to the laws of the land etc

    It is good to know that it is not that the Vatican or the Catholic Church wrong doings that should affect our love of God and fear of Judgment day. We as persons matter than the wrong doings of Priests etc, we need to pray for a better system of getting priests etc who are like Jesus: simple and put others above themselves

  3. Bishop Albert Ottenweller did a somewhat similar study of a Steubenville, Ohio branch of the Sword of the Spirit Covenant Community in 1990. In this case there was not sexual misconduct, but over-reaching leadership that resulted in a high control environment. Members wrote a letter to the community leaders and were met with a less than positive response.

    Eventually the letter made its way to the bishop who responded immediately by calling in recognized experts. He ended up requiring the community to make radical changes, one of which sounds very much like the revision of authority requirement above.

    He also met privately with many members and collectively with all who cared to at a Mass where he apologized for this happening on his watch. I’ve thought of him often over the last 8 years. If only his brother bishops had his courage and pastoral heart, we would not be in the scandal we find ourselves currently.

  4. Very glad to see this action taken by the Holy Father.
    He will know the right thing to do. This order is in great need of reform.

  5. Vinci in bono malum

  6. Throughout the history of the Church it has been the founder of a religious order who embodied in his or her own life the charisms, holiness, and ideals of the order that in turn served as a living model for its members of the vocation that the Lord Jesus willed to establish.

    Since the debauched priest who was the founder of the Legion of Christ lived “a life devoid of scruples and of authentic religious sentiment” that reflected “most grave and objectively immoral conduct”, those who follow his example will be members of the legion of Satan rather than any legion of Christ. It is impossible to imagine that the All-Pure God whom the Seraphim unceasingly praise as thrice-Holy could use such a grotesque pervert and deviant to found a religious order.

    I am grateful that the Holy Father has taken this action firmly in hand. It is indispensable. However, I think it needs to be seen and interpreted in accordance with the unbroken tradition of the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Instead of suppressing the Legion of Christ out of hand and possibly destroying or injuring innocent clerical and lay members, I believe the Holy Father will save what elements he can and let the others come to the end that Gamaliel told the Sanhedrin would to all movements that are the work of man rather than God.

  7. As a former RC member, the news of the Vatican’s intervention is a welcome sigh of relief. For the sake of all LC priests and RC members I hope the refoundation process goes quickly. I also hope that those who covered up this mess be made accountable.

  8. Unless the abusers are held accountable in a court of law for crimes against children, this action is merely window dressing. Ratzinger needs to finally stray from his path of cowardice and bring forth the proof that IS documented in the archives of the church. In addition, the courts must remove the stifling statutes of limitations to enable all cases — no matter how old — to be tried. It’s time for the Catholic church to cease acting like Christ and to start living like Jesus.

  9. Keep the Holy Father, pastors/priests/bishops in your prayers. “There is none righteous, not one… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Including YOU and ME.

  10. I am very happy that LC and RC are under scrutiny. I think our pope is quite brave, unlike our previous leader who ignored this matter and the claims made against him many, many years ago. It is too late to try the LC founder as he has been judged and is serving his sentence…an eternal one to be sure. Those who covered for him and are still living, however, do need to be tried. This whole matter disgusts me and I am glad I escaped from it before I got in too deep.

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