Finally, after scandals and controversies plagued the Legionaries of Christ necessitating an apostolic visitation, the order is moving on with a revitalized charism of service.
After a three and a half year review, the Legionaries will this week appoint a new government and approve new constitutions which will govern the organization into the future. On January 8, the Extraordinary General Chapter began with a Mass at the Legion’s Centre for Higher Studies in Rome. Preceding the Mass, all Legionaries participated in a Novena to the Holy Spirit; Chapter fathers participated in a week-long retreat.
The Legion of Christ was devastated by scandal in the early 2000s when its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, was accused of sexually abusing minors and fathering at least three children. What emerged after investigation was a pattern of neglect on the part of Legion staff who knew of the allegations, and an exceedingly slow response on the part of Church officials, purportedly because of the Mexican priest’s ties to Pope John Paul II.
In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI called for the apostolic review which has recommended significant reforms in the organization’s infrastructure. In March 2010 the Legion of Christ, after first denying allegations, publicly acknowledged that “reprehensible actions” by Maciel, including sexual abuse, actually happened. The Vatican subsequently issued a strongly worded statement, denouncing the late Fr. Marcial Maciel for creating a “system of power” that enabled him to lead an “immoral” double life “devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment.”
After some priests and supporters fled the order, the Legionaries begin the process of rebuilding. In December 2013, thirty-one new priests were ordained for the order.
And on January 8, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, C.S., Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, celebrated the Opening Liturgy for the General Chapter and spoke about the Legion’s future. The revision of the constitutions, he warned,
“…cannot simply be considered a technical effort, but should be accompanied by a process of examination of life, of review and of spiritual renewal for the institute. Therefore, it cannot be regarded simply as a ‘code of laws’ that unites you only in discipline, but rather as ‘an expression of a common vocation, a common ideal, a common mission, a common path to healing.’”
Cardinal De Paolis reminded the Legionaries gathered that their new government has as its primary duty
“…to preserve and promote the Institute’s charism; the charism is only guaranteed when authority is exercised as service, in the spirit of the Gospel and in fidelity to the norms of the Church. It is a point which should always be given special attention, especially for you, who have a history of suffering in this regard. It is important not to forget that. And this has been a topic about which the new constitutional text has been careful and vigilant”.
Recalling the path of preparation culminating in the General Chapter, Cardinal De Paolis urged the Legion to preserve
- “hope in the Lord who has preserved your vocation;
- hope in the Legion, which, thanks to you, presents itself to this chapter with new strength and new horizons; and
- hope in the Church, which has accompanied you, particularly through Pope Benedict XVI–who, in the most tragic moment in your history, has had confidence in you and has believed in your capacity for renewal and faithfulness to the Lord–and in the current Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis–who wanted to be present at this important moment in your history”.
In closing, the Cardinal considered the role which suffering played in the reformation and restoration of the Legion of Christ. He concluded his homily:
“You have suffered much, both internally and externally. You have suffered the shame of being accused, viewed with suspicion and of being exposed to public opinion, even within the Church. You have been able to accept this suffering out of love for your vocation, and out of love for the Church and for the Legion.
Suffering has purified you, matured you and made you experience God’s grace and love, who has called you to share in the mystery of redemption through the cross and through sorrow.
You have participated in the pain of those who have suffered because of some members of the Legion.
You have chosen the only way the Gospel knows for the redemption of evil: not escape, not rejection, not the condemnation of others, but participation, solidarity, and love that enters into sin and sorrow so as to redeem them from the inside”.