The Legionaries of Christ, an influential conservative Catholic religious and lay order, may have difficulty rehabilitating itself after its recently deceased founder was revealed to have left a long trail of sexual abuse and corruption behind him.
The dilemmas of replacing a charismatic leader is compounded for the Legionaries, since the misdeeds of founder Father Marciel Macial are widely alleged to have been tolerated and even covered up by some in the leadership, reports the Rome-based magazine Inside the Vatican (March).
The Mexican-based Legionaries was treated as a frontline renewal movement by Pope John Paul II and other church officials, even while Maciel was being investigated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former doctrinal watchdog of the Vatican and now Pope Benedict XIV. The Vatican has appointed a commission to rehabilitate the order, but the situation remains complicated and divided. Fr. Richard Gill, a long-time former member of the order, writes that approximately 70 priests of over 800 have left the Legionaries and vocations have plummeted in the U.S., Spain and the rest of Europe.
There is the possibility it will return to being a largely Mexican movement. Fundraising operations have also been impaired and the order has been forced to sell schools and other assets (including, most recently, the National Catholic Register). The commission and Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, whom the pope has appointed as the authority of the rehabilitation effort, has insisted that every member of the Legionaries should participate in changing the organization’s constitution, an “enormous paradigm shift” from earlier, when Maciel was seen as interpreting the constitution according to the will of God. But Gill sees the order still operating from the premise that it is the “work of God” and that its strict hierarchical order should not be challenged.
The Legionaries still seeks control of its members, recently installing a surveillance system to monitor e-mail correspondence, according to Gill. He concludes that while most Catholic movements renew themselves by going back to their “charism” or founding mission, this is impossible with the Legionaries, since it is based on Maciel’s teachings and leadership style. It is also difficult to cultivate leaders from within the group, since there is distrust of the current leadership, with many members holding that it was ineffectual and in some cases complicit with Maciel’s transgressions.
(Inside the Vatican, P.O. Box 57, New Hope, KY 40052-0057)