Monday, May 03, 2010

New Developments re the Legion of Christ

The Vatican moved to take control of the Legion of Christ over the weekend. Two interesting, related, aspects of this story:

(1) The Vatican issued it's announcement without notifying the Legion; and,

(2) It appears from reports that, despite the evidence, some (many?) of the Legion's leaders still don't get it. They still seem to think that this latest scandal involving Fr. Maciel will blow over and it'll soon be "business as usual".

Here's the story from the Wall Street Journal:

Pope Benedict to Overhaul Legion of Christ

VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI will overhaul the Legion of Christ, one of the most powerful orders in Roman Catholicism, in the wake of a Vatican investigation into decades of cover-ups inside the order that allowed its founder to sexually abuse seminarians and father at least one child.

In a statement Saturday, the Vatican announced plans for Benedict XVI to appoint a special envoy and set up a commission to restructure the Legion. The commission, the Vatican said, will rewrite the order's statutes and redefine the military-like culture, which led its members to maintain a code of secrecy in the face of sexual abuse committed by its late founder Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

"The conduct of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado had consequences in the life and the structure of the Legion that are so serious as to require a journey of profound revision," the Vatican said.

Father Maciel, who died in 2008, had always denied the allegations of sexual abuse. The Legion, which defended the founder for years, repudiated Father Maciel last month and apologized to his victims. "The Legionaries thank the Holy Father and embrace his provisions with faith and obedience," the Legion said in a statement posted on its Web site Saturday.

In an email responding to an interview request, Luis Garza, the Legion's No. 2 official, said: "For the moment, we will have to wait a bit to have the context and full knowledge of everything."

The overhaul of the Legion comes as Benedict XVI is under intense pressure to show his willingness to crack down on sexual abuse in the highest ranks of Catholicism. Over the years, Benedict XVI has stripped many sexually abusive priests of their ministry and met with victims in the U.S., Australia and Malta.

Benedict XVI, who visited the Shroud of Turin Sunday, will meet with bishops from Belgium this week to discuss their response to the sex-abuse crisis, the Associated Press reported.

Critics have faulted the pope for not taking swift action against bishops and other powerful figures within the Church hierarchy who for decades allowed the abuse to occur on their watch and, in many cases, failed to alert police and other civil authorities.

The decision to act against the order came one day after Benedict XVI met with top advisers inside Vatican City to receive a briefing on the Legion from five Vatican-appointed investigators, including Denver Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput.

A person close to the Legion said the order was taken by surprise Saturday by how quickly the Vatican acted, and didn't inform the Legion prior to making its plans public. "It's a defining moment for" the Legion, he said. "No one expected such a quick decision," the person said.

Father Maciel, who founded the Legion in Mexico in the 1940s, thrived at recruiting seminarians and used his connections with Mexican businessmen to raise millions of dollars for the Catholic Church. That, and the Legion's conservative outlook, made him a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II who was struggling to halt a drop in the number of priests world-wide.

Father Maciel also cultivated close ties with top Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was then the Vatican's No. 2 official and is now the dean of the College of Cardinals. A nun who responded to a phone call to Cardinal Sodano's residence on Saturday said the cardinal was unavailable for comment.

In its statement on Saturday, the Vatican said Father Maciel led a double life, benefiting from a "system of connections" that allowed him to create phony alibis and suppress internal dissent.

At the same time, Father Maciel's loyalists inside the Legion fostered a "mechanism of defense," the Vatican said, that shielded the founder from allegations of abuse. "It made him untouchable," the Vatican said.

The Vatican didn't elaborate on exactly how the Legion managed to insulate its late founder from allegations over the decades.

The person close to the Legion noted the Vatican statement didn't specify what would happen to the head of the Legion, Rev. Alvaro Corcuera, and his second-in-command, Father Garza, both members of prominent Mexican families who were placed in leadership positions by Father Maciel.

The Vatican decision, the person said, will require a thorough rewriting of the Legion's constitution and governing documents to uproot Father Maciel's influence from the order. For example, many of the pastoral letters Father Maciel wrote to the Legion community were written by other Legionnaires and signed by him, the person said. "The commission has to go through all of the Legion's history and determine what really happened," he added.

In 1997, nine former Legion seminarians went public in an article in the Hartford Courant about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Father Maciel. A year later, the seminarians filed a formal complaint to the office of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, who was then among a handful of top Vatican officials in charge of removing sexually abusive clerics from the priesthood.

Cardinal Ratzinger, tabled the former seminarians' 1998 complaint until quietly reviving it in December 2004, a few months before Pope John Paul II died.

One year after his election as pope in April 2005, Benedict XVI sanctioned Father Maciel, prohibiting him from celebrating Mass in public and ordering the priest to live a "private life" of prayer and penance.

Although the sanctions were regarded as unusually tough inside the Vatican, critics faulted Benedict XVI for allowing Father Maciel to retain his formal status as a priest. He remained a member of the clergy when he died in 2008.

In 2009, Benedict launched an investigation into the Legion itself, naming five church investigators, called "visitators," to inspect the Legion's global network of seminaries, schools and centers for its lay movement.

The Legion has some 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians operating universities and schools in more than 20 countries from Brazil to Chile and Spain. In the U.S., it operates 21 prep schools, a start-up university in Sacramento and the U.S.'s only three seminaries for teenage boys. The Legion's lay movement, known as Regnum Christi, has more than 50,000 followers around the world.

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