First, one of the Legion of Christ’s top officials abruptly quit the troubled religious order in frustration over the slow pace of change.
Then priests in the cult-like movement empowered proteges and associates
of the order’s disgraced founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, to vote for
their next leader.
The past month has seen some setbacks in the
Legion’s efforts to rehabilitate itself as it moves toward electing a
new leadership next month, the culmination of a three-year Vatican
experiment aimed at overhauling a damaged order.
Yet even as the Legion
prepares to present a new face, high-ranking members continue to speak
nostalgically and even reverently of Maciel — a sexual predator who
molested his seminarians, fathered three children and was, in the words
of Vatican-appointed investigators, ‘‘devoid of scruples and authentic
It all means that hopes are dwindling that
the Vatican’s effort to radically reform the Legion has succeeded,
raising the question of what Pope Francis will do with the once-powerful
and wealthy order after the mandate of the papal envoy running it
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, took over the Legion
in 2010 and appointed a Vatican cardinal to govern it after
investigators determined that the congregation itself needed to be
‘‘purified’’ of Maciel’s influence.
In reality, the Vatican knew well of
Maciel’s crimes for decades but turned a blind eye, impressed instead
by his ability to bring millions of dollars and thousands of seminarians
into the church.
Rome’s failure to stop him marks the most
egregious case of its indifference to victims of priestly sexual abuse,
and has tarnished the legacy of Pope John Paul II, soon to be canonized,
because he had held up the Legion as a model for the faithful.
be sure, some progress has been made during the past three years of
Vatican receivership: The order rewrote its constitutions, released
statistics about sex abuse cases, and a well-respected priest recently
begged forgiveness from Maciel’s victims for how he and the Legion
ignored and defamed them.
But if recent elections in the Legion’s
consecrated lay branches are any indication, the membership itself has
voted for the status quo.
That mindset has driven dozens of
disillusioned priests and hundreds of seminarians and consecrated
members out of the order: On Saturday, the Legion will ordain 31 new
priests, half as many as were ordained at its annual ceremony just three
Last month, the Legion’s reform-minded governing
counselor, the Rev. Deomar De Guedes, announced that he was not only
resigning his position but was leaving the congregation altogether, a
major blow just weeks before the Jan. 8 assembly to approve the new
constitutions and elect a new superior.
In his farewell letter,
De Guedes said he didn’t have the strength to carry on. But the Legion’s
spokesman, the Rev. Benjamin Clariond, acknowledged that De Guedes was
often the ‘‘minority’’ in pressing for deeper and faster reform and that
this was a source of ‘‘tension’’ for him.
‘‘We grant that the
reform has gone slowly up to now,’’ Clariond said in an email. ‘‘That is
because we intend to effect changes that are not just cosmetic, but
that address the underlying causes of the problems ... As is
understandable, this takes time.’’
But with the mandate of the
papal delegate, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, ending after the assembly,
key questions are being asked now that will pose a major test for
Francis: Has the Legion truly shed the cult-like practices that French
bishops recently denounced in a letter to victims of spiritual abuse?
Will Francis approve the constitutions and essentially give the Legion a
clean bill of health?
Or will he make some provision for continued
Vatican oversight after De Paolis leaves?