Pope meets with head of scandal-tainted Legion

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Associated Press 

17 June 2010  


VATICAN CITY — The pope met Thursday with the head of the Legionaries of Christ pending an expected papal announcement about who will take charge of the conservative order scarred by revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least one child. 

The Legionaries said that, during the private audience, its director general, the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera Martinez del Rio, thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his “fatherly care” and assured him of the “unconditional loyalty” of the Legionaries and its lay movement Regnum Christi. 

The Vatican announced May 1 that the pope had decided to appoint a delegate to take charge of the order after an eight-month investigation showed that the Legionaries needed to be profoundly re-evaluated and purified to survive, given the enormous influence the late founder had on it. 

The Holy See said the founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, had committed grave and “objectively immoral actions” that constituted true crimes in some cases and showed a “life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.” 

It said Maciel had created a “system of power” built on silence, deceit and obedience that enabled him to lead a double life that allowed the abuse to go unchecked and unquestioned. 

The statement was shocking, since Maciel had enjoyed such favor at the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, who admired the order’s conservative bent and its success in bringing in new vocations and fundraising at a time when numbers of priests were on the decline. 

Maciel had been dogged for decades by allegations that he had molested seminarians, but the Vatican never took firm action against him and the Maciel case today stands as one of the most glaring examples of Vatican inaction in the face of sex abuse allegations. 

Only in 2006, a year after Benedict was elected pope and after on again-off again investigations, did the Vatican sentence Maciel to lead a “reserved life of penance and prayer,” although it didn’t say what for. He died in 2008 at age 87. 

In February 2009, the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had fathered at least one child who is now in her 20s and lives in Spain. And in March of this year it acknowledged that Maciel had also sexually abused seminarians and that two men are claiming to be his sons. 

It’s not clear what role Corcuera will have in the Legionaries’ future. Critics say he and others in the Legionaries’ current leadership couldn’t have been unaware of Maciel’s double life.

 In its May 1 statement, the Vatican said Maciel’s secret life was “unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries.” But it didn’t say all were kept in the dark, suggesting that a few must have known something. 

In an internal memo sent from Legionaries’ headquarters to territorial leaders after the Vatican communique, the Legionaries said that meant that the Vatican had determined that “those who are currently in the leadership of the Legion” didn’t know about his misdeeds. 

The communique says no such thing. 

Jim Fair, a U.S. spokesman for the Legion, said the memo “wasn’t in any way an attempt to interpret or deny or in any way change the meaning,” of the Vatican statement, “but simply to suggest to people that they needed to read it.” 

It remains to be seen the extent of power that the pope’s delegate will have over the Legionaries, particularly if the current leadership remains in place. The Vatican hasn’t described the scope of the delegate’s work, or whether he will also control the Legionaries’ financial assets. 

In a statement Thursday, the Legionaries said Benedict had assured Corcuera “that he continues closely accompanying the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi with his prayers.”

 Maciel founded the Legion in his native Mexico in 1941 and the order’s culture was built around Maciel. His photo adorned every Legion building, his biography and writings were studied, and his birthday was celebrated as a feast day. Until recently, Legion members took a vow not to criticize their superiors, including Maciel.

 Since the revelations about his double life emerged, the order has been purging Maciel’s influence from both its physical and spiritual life. The Vatican’s May 1 communique said critical issues that must be dealt with included reviewing how authority is exercised and redefining the true spirit of the order given that its founder had been so discredited.

 The Legionaries now claims a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in Regnum Christi. It runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Its U.S. headquarters are in Orange, Connecticut.

 Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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