New Legionaries of Christ leader calls for examination of conscience of scandal-plagued order

By Nicole Winfield, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Papal delegate to Legionaries: examine consciences

VATICAN CITY — The pope’s delegate for the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ has told its members they must examine their consciences and reform following allegations that their founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered children.

Archbishop Velasio De Paolis met with the order’s top leaders for the first time Saturday and celebrated Mass with them at their Roman headquarters, explaining his job to them and assuring them of the pope’s support, the order said Wednesday.

Pope Benedict XVI announced May 1 that he was naming a delegate to take charge of and overhaul the Legionaries after a Vatican investigation determined that their founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, had led a secret double life devoid of any scruples or religious sentiment.

The pope said the order must be purified of the abuses that allowed Maciel’s misdeeds to go unchecked, including the authority structure that demanded obedience of its members, forbade questioning of superiors and made the order’s growth a priority at all costs.

The Legionaries, which Maciel started in Mexico in 1941, had long been favored at the Vatican for their success bringing in new priests and money. The order was discredited by its long refusal to admit that Maciel had sexually abused seminarians, although it now admits such accusations were true and that he had fathered at least three children.

Benedict last week tapped De Paolis, a 75-year-old Italian canon law expert who heads the Holy See’s financial office, to take over the order and reform it.

In his first homily to Legionary priests and seminarians, De Paolis struck a conciliatory tone, assuring them that the pope wanted to accompany them spiritually on the necessary process of reflection and restructuring.

But he also told them that the task before them was difficult — that the norms that had guided their lives for decades needed to be reformed — and that what was necessary was calm consultation, not confused, quick decisions.

“We need to reflect at times, to pause for an examination of conscience,” he told them. “Not to reflect constantly about the past, but to take stock of our present, to realize our situation,” he said.

“We will overcome the darkness that at times can oppress us; we will overcome the difficulties also of our human weakness and fragility, because the mystery of God is greater than all human weakness,” he said.

De Paolis’ appointment was the latest in a series of moves taken the Vatican aimed at shoring up the church amid a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal. The Vatican is soon expected to release a new set of norms outlining the canonical procedures and punishments for priests who sexually abuse minors and adults with mental impairments.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had subjected Maciel to such a canonical proceeding in the 1990s, but the investigation was blocked by Maciel’s supporters in the Vatican.

Only in 2006, a year after Benedict was elected pope, did the Vatican sentence Maciel to lead a “reserved life of penance and prayer,” although it didn’t say what for. He died in 2008 at age 87.

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