The Legion of Christ has attempted to put behind it the scandal surrounding its disgraced founder by announcing a new superior and governing council and apologising to his victims.
The move is set out in a statement issued by the religious order that seeks definitively to dissociate itself from Marcial Maciel Degollado who over a long period abused children and embezzled funds. The Legion has been in turmoil since Benedict XVI removed the Mexican-born founder from ministry in 2006.
The new superior, Fr Eduardo Robles Gil, 61, is also Mexican and is known to have been close to Maciel. Former Legion priests have described him as Maciel’s “spiritual son”. The Holy See has appointed two members to the governing council including Fr Robles’ deputy in a clear indication that it is not altogether relinquishing its oversight of the order. Papal delegate, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, has observed the Legion’s reform programme since the Vatican took control of the order in 2010. He also oversaw the election of the new leadership.
The Legion gave its most forthright denunciation yet of Maciel’s double life in its statement issued on Thursday.
“We find the incongruity of presenting oneself as a priest and a witness of the faith continuously for decades while hiding this immoral behaviour to be incomprehensible. We firmly condemn this,” it said.
The order also apologised to victims who have “waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr Maciel”.
The full scale of Maciel’s crimes and deceptions emerged after his death in 2008 at the age of 87. More seminarians came forward to say that he that he abused them. He is known to have fathered at least three children with two women. He was also addicted to drugs.
Many of the Legion’s priests and members of its lay organisation, Regnum Christi, left after Maciel’s crimes were exposed. Those that remain acknowledge that mistakes were made in the wholesale dependence and trust placed on their founder.
“Many times we gave undue, universal value to Fr Maciel’s directives and clung too much to them because of an inadequate understanding of the concept of founder and an excessive exaltation and uncritical way of considering his person. For this reason, one of the primary tasks in the revision of the current constitutions has been to distinguish what really expresses the charismatic patrimony of our Congregation from other accidental elements,” says the Legion’s statement.
Many believe that Maciel’s closeness to Pope John Paul II and the money and priestly vocations he brought to the Church protected him from being exposed much earlier.
Juan Vaca, a former Legion priest who was abused by Maciel was among a group of ex-seminarians whose complaints to Rome were ignored for decades. He told Associated Press that the statement and new leadership meant nothing.
"Seventy-three years of fraud, contaminated by severe personality disorders of the founder, and imbued by institutionalized lying and duplicity, cannot be deleted by just meetings of a General Chapter and by the subsequent communique," he said.