Rome, Italy, Jul 14, 2014 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The appointment of Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J., as pontifical advisor for the Legion of Christ aims to advance the renewal and reform of the troubled religious congregation.
Fr. Benjamin Clariond, a Legion of Christ spokesperson, said the advisor’s presence guarantees help and oversight for the Legion “in following through on the path we already started.”
Fr. Clariond told CNA July 4 that rebuilding “trust and credibility” is something “that takes time.” But, he added, “I would ask people to give us a chance.”
Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, named Fr. Ghirlanda as a pontifical advisor on July 3 and explained his functions and role.
The announcement of the priest’s appointment followed a meeting at the Legion’s Center for Higher Studies in Rome. The cardinal and Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, O.F.M., the Vatican congregation’s secretary, met with the Legion’s general director Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, L.C.
The revelations of scandals involving the Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel prompted the Holy See to take over the process of reforming his religious congregation.
Maciel lived a double life as a pedophile and a womanizer and fathered at least one child.
In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The Vatican congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age.
From that point, Pope Benedict carried on a process of reform for the Legion of Christ. In 2010, he appointed then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis as the papal delegate to the Legion of Christ to oversee its reform.
The process of renewal has not been easy for the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Clariond said.
“It is just like you are in the sea and a wave turns you upside down,” he said.
Despite the tough times, however, Fr. Clariond stressed that “we have felt the love of the Church that accompanied us.”
Fr. Ghirlanda has served as an advisor for the commission overseeing the religious congregation’s new constitution since March 19, when he was named to the position by the Legion’s general director. He has also served as one of the four deputies of Cardinal de Paolis.
The Legion of Christ in a July 3 statement said that Cardinal Braz de Aviz emphasized that the advisor’s new role will be “strictly consultative” and he will not take part in the actual government of the congregation.
As an advisor, Fr. Ghirlanda will be able to participate in the Legion of Christ’s general council meetings “when he sees fit.”
The Legion voiced hope “that he will be able to continue supporting the Legion of Christ in overcoming the institutional crisis that has taken place in the past few years.”
Fr. Clariond stressed that the advisor was named at the pleasure of the Holy See and “he will be with us as long as the Holy See deems it convenient.”
Regnum Christi, the congregation’s lay affiliate, includes consecrated men and women as well as non-consecrated laymen.
At the start of 2014, the Legion of Christ held its extraordinary general chapter. Cardinal de Paolis declared the congregation “reconciled with themselves, with their history, with the world and the Church.”
The extraordinary general chapter elected the new general director and government. It also issued a draft of the new statutes.
Once drafted, the statutes were given to an ad hoc commission established by the Congregation for Consecrated Life. Cardinal Braz de Aviz presented the commission’s findings to the government of the Legion of Christ on July 3, indicating corrections and improvements to be made.
The new statutes consist of 247 articles, compared to the 878 articles of the previous statutes.
The first part of the new statutes concerns the Legion of Christ’s charism and its patrons. The second part describes the four vows the Legionaries of Christ must profess. The constitution then explains the congregation’s formation and the characteristics of suitable candidates to become Legionaries of Christ, as well as the congregation’s religious profession, studies, management and administration.
According to Fr. Clariond, the final article is the best summary of the whole constitution. It reads: “The Legionnaire must shape his life on Christ.”
He explained that the old constitution included many sections about the application of the norms. By contrast, the new constitution is “more essential” and focuses on principles.
“We can change applications according to different realities,” the priest said.
The ad hoc commission required some adjustments, including explicit references to texts of the Second Vatican Council and to texts of the post-conciliar magisterium.
The commission also said that the constitution should indicate the canons of the Code of Canon Law which underlie its norms. This will help make references to concrete canons when necessary to interpret the text.
Fr. Ghirlanda will help with this adjustment.
After the July 3 meeting with Fr. Gil, Cardinal Joao de Aviz and Archbishop Rodriguez had supper with some members of the congregation. They “encouraged seminarians who are in Rome to continue in this path,” recounted Fr. Clariond.
At present, there are 947 priests affiliated with the Legion of Christ.