Conservative Roman Catholic order meets to turn page on scandalous past
How can an order of priests go on serving the Catholic Church and the faithful after revelations that the man who founded it was a fraud who lived a double life as a pedophile, womanizer and drug addict?
That is the dilemma facing the Legionaries of Christ, as the conservative religious order started a six-week meeting on Wednesday to write a new constitution and chart a future course that would put the stain of scandal behind it.
The order, once a darling of the Vatican because it attracted more people to religious vocations and made sizeable financial donations to the Church, has been in receivership since 2010.
At that point, former Pope Benedict appointed a personal delegate to run it while investigations were carried out and preparations made for upcoming changes.
The order runs private Catholic schools and charitable organizations in 22 countries via its network of some 950 priests and 1,000 seminarians. It operates a Catholic university in Rome and its lay movement, known as Regnum Christi, has around 30,000 members.
Father Marcial Maciel, a Mexican who founded the order in 1941, ran it like a cult rooted in secrecy, according to former Legionaries. Members took a special vow promising never to criticize the founder or question his motives.
For decades the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that Maciel had abused them sexually, some when they were as young as 12.
Pope John Paul II, who is set to become a saint in May, was a strong supporter, appreciating the group’s ability to attract more people to clerical life than other religious orders.
The order also had many wealthy conservative benefactors who saw it as a bulwark against liberalism in the Church.