The Legionaries of Christ under the guardianship of Rome

Source: FSSPX News

On May 1 the Holy See announced the measures taken by Benedict XVI with regard to the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, which was seriously affected by revelations concerning the double life of their founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado (1920-2008).  At the request of Rome, an investigation was conducted among the members of the community from July 2009 to March 2010 by five bishops, Ricardo Watty Urquidi (from Mexico), Charles J. Chaput (from the U.S.A.), Giuseppe Versaldi (from Italy), Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (from Chile) and Ricardo Blázquez (from Spain).

This investigation made it possible “to ascertain that the conduct of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has given rise to serious consequences in the life and structure of the Legion, such as to require a process of profound re-evaluation.”  Because he intends to “accompany” and “help” the Legionaries of Christ “along the path of purification that awaits them,” Benedict XVI decided to appoint a “Delegate” as well as a “commission to study the Constitutions” of that religious congregation, which numbers some 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in twenty-two countries.  The name of the papal delegate, probably someone from outside the Legionaries’ community, could be announced within “several weeks”, explained the director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi.  Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister believes that the name of the Mexican cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop of Guadalajara, has been mentioned.  Besides appointing this papal delegate, who will have full authority over the congregation, the pope will send “a Visitor” to the Regnum Christi movement at the request of that lay branch of the Legionaries of Christ.

The communiqué from the Holy See denounces the acts of the Legionaries’ founder and the system that he put into place.  “The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder.  Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.”  In this regard the Visitors noted that for many Legionaries the delayed discovery of Fr. Maciel’s deeds had caused “surprise, dismay and profound grief.”

Indeed, as early the 1940’s and -50’s, the founder of the Legionaries had been accused of sexually abusing seminarians and novices who were minors, but also of consuming drugs.  Benedict XVI had asked him to resign from all public ministry in May of 2006;  he passed away in January 2008.  In early 2009 his memory was sullied by the revelation that he secretly had a daughter and then later that there were several other children.  Speaking to the press on May 1, Fr. Lombardi confided that “The pope is taking this affair very seriously.”  The determination of Benedict XVI, at a time when the Church is weathering the storm of the pedophile priest scandal, confirms that the pope intends to bring this whole matter to light.  It is even more impressive, since there is a significant risk that the affair could have consequences for the beatification process of John Paul II (1978-2005), who was especially attached to the Legionaries of Christ and to their founder.  The American press recently reported that several close collaborators of the Polish pope, including Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Eduardo Martinez Somalo, as well as the Polish bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, at that time the pope’s secretary, received money donated by Fr. Maciel so as to put an end to the investigations concerning him.  According to the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Ratzinger refused the “offerings” of the Legionaries’ founder.

Time will tell whether or not these reports are verified.  In any case, as early as January 6, 2009, the Swiss daily Le Temps, commenting on an article dated January 4 in the French newspaper Le Monde, questioned the discernment of John Paul II.  In an opinion piece, Patricia Briel, who can hardly be suspected of sympathizing with Benedict XVI, whom she has rebuked for lifting the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, tells the reader that John Paul II, although he was a “great pope,” was, in her opinion, “sometimes completely lacking in discernment.”  Fascinated by Father Maciel, John Paul II “had held him up as a model for youth in 1994.  But the Mexican priest was the target, on several occasions during his lifetime, of serious accusations, which he always denied:  drug trafficking and consumption, pedophilia, sexual abuse of young seminarians, lying.  Furthermore he had at least four children by two women.”  The journalist stressed the protection afforded Father Maciel by John Paul II, against the advice of Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Already in 1956 the Holy See had ordered a canonical investigation of Father Maciel, who was suspens [forbidden to perform priestly duties] for almost three years.  But the Mexican priest emerged from it exonerated, despite the doubts expressed by the chief investigator.  Then, Le Temps continues, in 1997 an American daily, The Hartford Courant, published the testimony of eight seminarians who stated that they had been abused by him when they were between ten and sixteen years old.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was shocked by these new accusations.  But it seems that John Paul II tabled inquiry into that dossier, according to information published in 2006 by the French daily, La Croix.  Only at the death of the Polish pope—indeed, at the very moment of his agony—did Cardinal Ratzinger reopen the investigation.

“It was necessary to wait until the death of John Paul II for Joseph Ratzinger to initiate an investigation at last, which would reveal, among other things, Maciel’s pedophilia.”  The journalist underscores that the beatification process for John Paul II is moving “quickly,” no doubt too quickly.  “Is there sufficient distance to establish a serious record on a candidate for sainthood?”  “The breadth of the sexual scandals in the bosom of the Catholic Church should induce Benedict XVI to expect that a full light be shed on the stance taken by John Paul II in this episode.  The law of silence has already resulted in too many victims and too much damage to the Church’ image,” Patricia Briel concludes.

(Sources : Imedia/Apic/ Le Monde/ Le Temps/ La Croix/ Le Figaro - DICI no. 214 dated April 8, 2010)