VATICAN CITY, (AP) — The papal official running the disgraced Legionaries of Christ has warned that the conservative order faces “certain shipwreck” unless its superiors and members work together to change course following revelations that their founder led a double life.
Archbishop Velasio De Paolis also said in a letter to the Legion that it will take three years or more to reform the order, dashing the hopes of Legion superiors who had wanted a quick-fix turnaround. At the same time, though, he made clear that the Legion was still viable as an order and suggested that, once reformed, it could have a role in the pope’s new efforts to revitalize Christianity where it’s on the wane.
Pope Benedict XVI named De Paolis to take charge of the Legion after an eight-month Vatican investigation determined it needed to be thoroughly “purified” to purge it of the influence of its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel.
Maciel founded the Legion in 1941 in Mexico and it became one of the wealthiest and fastest growing orders in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II admired the Legion for its orthodoxy and ability to attract priests and money from wealthy patrons despite long-standing allegations that Maciel was a pedophile and drug addict.
The Legion revealed in February 2009 that Maciel had fathered a child; it later admitted that decades-old accusations that he had sexually abused seminarians were true and that he had fathered at least two other children.
The revelations have thrown the Legion into chaos, in part because its members had revered Maciel as a living saint, and prompted questions about what the current leadership knew about his misdeeds and when.
Over the past year, several prominent Legion priests have left the order to become diocesan priests and dozens of consecrated members of the Legion’s lay branch, Regnum Christi, have quit. Several have spoken about the deception and spiritual manipulation they say they endured in a cult-like movement that until recently had the unquestioning blessing of Rome.
De Paolis wrote a letter to current Legion priests and consecrated members last week, telling them that the process of reform was under way now that his team of canon lawyers and experts was in place.
He hinted at a power play with the current Legion leadership, detailing what they are supposed to be doing to help the Legion renew itself rather than digging in and resisting change.