(Pope John Paul II blesses Father Marcial Maciel during a special audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on November 30, 2004. REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

A disgraced Catholic religious order whose late founder lived a double life as a paedophile, womanizer and drug addict officially denounced him on Thursday and apologized to his “many victims”.

The Legionaries of Christ, which former members said was run like a cult rooted in secrecy, accused Father Marcial Maciel of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” as head of the order from 1941 until former Pope Benedict removed him in 2006.

Once a darling of the Vatican because it attracted many Catholics to religious vocations and made sizeable financial donations to the Church, the order has been in Vatican receivership since 2010 and came close to being disbanded.

The apology, issued by delegates from around the world meeting in Rome to set a new direction for the order, came a day after a United Nations committee singled it out in a scathing report accusing the Church of ignoring child abuse by priests.