VATICAN CITY – The Legionaries of Christ have elected a successor to the Mexican priest who has headed the embattled religious order since its founding 64 years ago.
The Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, 84, declined re-election, but a spokesman for the order said the decision had no tie to recent reports that the Vatican has reopened an investigation into allegations that Degollado sexually abused seminarians.
The accusers – two Mexican-Americans, five Mexicans and two Spaniards, one now deceased – have tried for years to call their accusations to the attention of Pope John Paul II. Maciel and the order have vigorously denied the allegations, saying the men are conspiring to defame him.
In November, Pope John Paul II praised Maciel on the 60th anniversary of his ordination, citing his “intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry.” A week later, Maciel’s accusers were told the Vatican was reopening a canon law investigation of their claims that stalled in 1999, according to The Hartford (Conn.) Courant and the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newsweekly.
Maciel cited his age and his wish to be present during a transition under the new general director, the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera Martinez del Rio, a fellow Mexican, the order’s spokesman said. “He had been planning this for at least three years,” said the Rev. Tom Williams.
Corcuera has been rector of the Legionaries’ international seminary in Rome. Its U.S. headquarters is in Orange, Conn., and it has a seminary in Cheshire, Conn.
Maciel founded the order when he was 20, in 1941. It claims a membership of 65,000 people, including some 600 priests in 18 countries.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said Maciel’s decision to step down “does not, we believe, absolve Vatican officials from investigating the serious sex abuse charges against him.”
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