Vatican To Assume Control Of Troubled Legion Of Christ

07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Members of the Legion of Christ are waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to name officials who will supervise reform of their conservative Catholic movement, following the Vatican's repudiation of its late founder.

In a statement on Saturday (May 1), the Vatican announced the conclusion of an investigation into the Legion, also known as the Legionaries of Christ, which began last July.

The investigation was prompted by revelations that the movement's founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had fathered at least one illegitimate child and sexually abused minors.

"The serious and objectively immoral behavior of Father Maciel, supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling," the Vatican's statement said.

Noting that Maciel's legacy calls for a "journey of profound re-evaluation," the Vatican said the pope would "soon" name a delegate and a commission to study the movement's constitution, with an eye to redefining its mission and power structure.

Benedict will appoint another official, called a visitor, to oversee reforms at the Legion's affiliated lay movement, Regnum Christi, the Vatican said.

The Vatican promised that the reform process would entail "sincere confrontation with all those who, inside and outside the Legion, were victims of sexual abuse and of the power system devised by the founder."

Controversy around Maciel dates at least as far back as 1997, when nine former Legionaries accused him of sexual abuse decades earlier, while they were studying to become priests under his authority.

Maciel, who died in 2008, was not disciplined during the reign of Pope John Paul II, when the Legion rose to its greatest prominence. But in 2006, under Benedict, the Vatican announced that Maciel had been ordered to lead a "life reserved to prayer and penitence, renouncing all public ministry."

The Legion continued to honor Maciel in its official literature and to deny the allegations against him until last year.

Earlier this year, two Mexican men also stepped forward to claim Maciel was their father.

The Legion claims to have 800 priests and more than 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, including the United States. Regnum Christi claims 70,000 lay members in more than 30 countries.

A statement posted on the Legion's Website said the "Legionaries thank the Holy Father (for the Vatican's announcement) and embrace his provisions with faith and obedience."

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