Catholic Legionaries of Christ tries to get over scandals of founder Maciel

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 10:59pm

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 paedophile, womaniser 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, the then 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 organisations 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 criticise the founder.

For decades the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that Maciel had abused them sexually, some when they were as young as 12. Other victims allegedly included his own secret children.

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.

"The Legion for six decades was a cult of personality built on lies and Maciel's phenomenal fundraising," said Jason Berry, author of Render unto Rome - The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church and who has written extensively on the order.

Maciel died in 2008 at the age of 87.