The Vatican has proposed giving hundreds of women who live like nuns within the troubled Legion of Christ order greater autonomy after a Holy See investigation found serious problems in their regimented communities.
Regnum Christi is a community of some 70,000 Catholics in 30 countries who have regular jobs and families yet help promote the movement’s aim of bringing people closer to Christ through missionary-type work.
The pope’s delegate running the Legion, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, said in a letter published Monday that the problems of the consecrated women of the Legion’s lay branch were “many and challenging.” Of particular concern is that they have no legal status in the church.
In a 2010 Associated Press expose, former consecrated women spoke of the cult-like conditions they lived in, with rules dictating nearly every minute of their day — from how they ate to what they watched on TV — all in the name of God’s will.
The women described emotional and spiritual abuse they suffered if they questioned their vocation, and of how they would be cast aside if their spiritual directors no longer had any need for them.
The Vatican ordered the investigation after word of the abuses emerged during a broader Vatican probe into the Legion, a conservative order founded in Mexico in 1941 by the late Rev. Marciel Maciel.
After decades of denying allegations Maciel was a pedophile, the Legion in 2009 began admitting to his double life: that he sexually abused seminarians and had fathered at least three children with two women.
The revelations have put the Legion in a tailspin and cast a shadow over the Vatican since Pope John Paul II had held Maciel up as a model for his orthodoxy and ability to attract new priests and donations.
Maciel had created the consecrated branch of the Legion’s lay movement Regnum Christi primarily as a fundraising tool and to provide unpaid teachers for Legion-owned schools.