Three Irish priests who are members of the Legionaries of Christ are taking part in a six-week long extraordinary general chapter in Rome.
The gathering, which brings together sixty-one Legionaries from
eleven countries, comes after a three year effort by the Church to
launch the conservative order on a path of renewal.
At the chapter, the order will appoint new leadership and approve a new constitutions.
Speaking at a Mass at the opening of the Chapter, Cardinal Velasio De
Paolis, CS, Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the Legionaries
of Christ, said the revision of the constitutions could not just be
considered “ a technical effort” but had to be accompanied by a “process
of examination of life, of review and of spiritual renewal for the
The Constitutions, he said, were “an expression of a common vocation,
a common ideal, a common mission, a common path to healing”.
The Legionaries’ new leadership had the duty to preserve and promote
the Institute’s charism which was only guaranteed “when authority is
exercised as service, in the spirit of the Gospel and in fidelity to the
norms of the Church”.
The Legionaries of Christ were founded in Mexico in 1941 by Marcial
Maciel who was ordained a priest in 1944 by his uncle, a bishop. A fact
which has led to some question over whether Fr Maciel was validly
Throughout his life, rumours of child sexual abuse, abuse of
seminarians and drug-taking were attached to Fr Maciel which he and his
order strenuously denied.
There were also concerns over the financial affairs of the Legion and
its preference for members with financial means, notably amongst the
monied classes of the US and Latin America.
In 2005, charges of impropriety were reopened by the Vatican and
Maciel was instructed to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence” on
the orders of Pope Benedict. In 2008, Maciel, who had been a great
favourite of the late John Paul II, died in Florida, aged 87.
After his death further revelations emerged in relation to his fathering of a number of children by a number of women.
Some members of the Legionaries of Christ (numbering 750 priests and
2,500 seminarians), and its lay equivalent, Regnum Christi (70,000
members) were devastated by the revelations.
to deny Maciel’s misdemeanours and continued to revere him in death as
in life – as a saint.
On March 2010, the superiors of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum
Christ publicly and formally expressed their deep sorrow for the
“gravely reproachable” conduct of their founder.
At the same time, they renewed their commitment to continue deepening
their understanding of their history, their dysfunctional charism and
spirituality and to undertake a journey of renewal under the guidance of
At the Mass of the opening of the Extraordinary Chapter on Wednesday,
Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said the Institute had not completed the
path of renewal, merely “the process of preparation.”
Referring to the pain the members of the order had passed through, he
urged them to preserve “hope in the Lord who has preserved your
vocation; hope in the Legion, which, thanks to you, presents itself to
this chapter with new strength and new horizons.”
He also urged them to hope in the Church, “which has accompanied you,
particularly through Pope Benedict XVI – who, in the most tragic moment
in your history, has had confidence in you and has believed in your
capacity for renewal and faithfulness to the Lord – and in the current
Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis – who wanted to be present at this
important moment in your history”.
He ended: “You have suffered much, both internally and externally.
You have suffered the shame of being accused, viewed with suspicion and
of being exposed to public opinion, even within the Church. You have
been able to accept this suffering out of love for your vocation and out
of love for the Church and for the Legion.”
He went on: “You have chosen the only way the Gospel knows for the
redemption of evil: not escape, not rejection, not the condemnation of
others, but participation, solidarity, and love that enters into sin and
sorrow so as to redeem them from the inside”.