Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful during the Angelus prayer at Castel Gandolfo, on the outskirts of Rome, Sunday, July 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito) (Pier Paolo Cito – AP)
The Associated Press
Saturday, July 24, 2010; 1:50 PM
By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY — The pope has granted broad powers to the archbishop he selected to overhaul the Legionaries of Christ following revelations that the order’s founder led a double life.
A decree approved by Pope Benedict XVI and published Saturday on the Legionaries’ website said Archbishop Velasio De Paolis can override the Legionaries’ own constitutions as he goes about reforming the order and purging it of its institutional abuses.
The conservative order once hailed by the Vatican for its orthodoxy and ability to recruit priests fell into disarray starting last year as it admitted that its founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.
In a May 1 statement, the Vatican said Maciel had built a system of power built on obedience and deceit that allowed his criminal and immoral misdeeds to go unchecked for decades. It said the Legionaries needed to be profoundly purified to survive, with the order’s essential spirit redefined, its founding constitutions revised and the systemic abuse of authority corrected.
In the decree dated July 9, the Vatican said De Paolis would have broad powers of governance to carry out those tasks: He will oversee the commission revising the constitutions. He will have authority to decide who becomes a Legionary priest and where current priests are based. He will approve decisions about Legionary schools and seminaries, all extraordinary administrative matters, and transfers of the order’s assets.
The order’s current leadership – accused by critics of having covered up for Maciel’s misdeeds – remains in place “unless it becomes necessary to provide otherwise,” the decree said.
Questions about the fate of the current leadership and control of the Legions’ finances have swirled since the Vatican announced it was taking over the order. News reports have estimated the Legion has assets totaling euro25 billion ($33 billion) in a holding company headed by the order’s current No. 2.
Appeals against De Paolis’ actions go to the pope himself, the decree stated.
Maciel founded the Legion in his native Mexico in 1941. The Legionaries now claim a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in its lay movement, Regnum Christi. The order runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
In a letter to the Legionaries also posted Saturday on the order’s website, De Paolis said the abuses and errors of the order were of such magnitude that they could have “threatened to its roots the congregation itself” had Rome not intervened.
He urged its members not to be discouraged by the past but to rejoice in the present and not question their vocations – an apparent reference to the defections of Legionary priests in recent months.
“A vocation is of too great import to decide it in a moment of turmoil,” De Paolis said. “One must first recover serenity of mind and soul. … Let us be patient.”