Cardinal Velasio de Paolis told 31 new priests of Legionaries of Christ that their perseverance shows “the love of Christ” that can overcome the past scandals of their congregation and purify and renew it.
“You have suffered, and you have realized the suffering that other Legionaries – beginning with the founder – have caused in the lives of others. And the suffering of others has helped you to understand and carry your own suffering,” the cardinal said in his homily before the priestly ordinations Dec. 14 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
“By your decision and by your faithfulness, by your suffering and by bearing the shame of other Legionaries’ sins, you have enabled the purification and renewal of the congregation itself, and you have made it more beautiful in its service to Regnum Christi and to the Church,” he said, referring to the congregation’s lay association.
In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI removed the Legion of Christ’s founder Father Marcial Maciel from ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The priest has been the subject of accusations that he sexually abused seminarians. He was also revealed to have led a double life in which he fathered children and allegedly abused some of them as well. Fr. Maciel died in 2008.
Cardinal de Paolis, a papal delegate overseeing the reform of the Legion, discussed the scandal and its aftermath in his homily.
“There was a moment in the Legion when sin oppressed it, when sin became so visible and clamorous that it reached monstrous proportions and filled the media throughout the world,” he said.
“The Legion’s survival seemed uncertain. The world looked at it with a pitiless gaze that uncovered the indigence and the shame. It was truly a difficult moment. For the Legionaries it was certainly an unpleasant and difficult time.”
The cardinal said that many Legionaries’ call to their congregation was “sorely tested,” with some feeling “lost and distrustful.”
“Some – fortunately only a few – have left.”
Those who remained, he said, did so “because they believe that they chose Christ, who did not betray them and can never betray them.”
“They have entrusted themselves to the God of goodness and of mercy, who is able to renew man’s heart and bring forth children of Abraham even from the very stones.”
He stressed that those who remained with the Legion are “not personally responsible for the painful facts” of the last three years. The men about to be ordained, he said, have “admitted the truth and tried to correct what is wrong.”
“You have persevered in your congregation and today you will receive the priesthood in it; trials have buffeted the Legion, and you have experienced them all. If you’re here today, it’s because you have overcome them; and if you have overcome them, it’s only because your hearts have preserved the certainty of a love, the love of Christ.”
The cardinal noted that the new priests’ preparation for ordination “coincided with the path of purification and renewal” of the Legion.
The Legion’s extraordinary general chapter will begin on January 8, 2014. It will elect new superiors and approve new constitutions.
Cardinal de Paolis said he trusts that a new Legion of Christ will arise that is “reconciled with itself and with others” and “able to forgive and ask forgiveness.” He reminded them that Jesus Christ showed “the merciful face of the Father.”
“May this be the face of your priesthood too,” he said.
He said the priest’s “entire meaning” is found in celebrating the Eucharist. To celebrate this worthily, he added, “the priest must be ready to repay Christ’s love with the gift of his own life.”
The cardinal told the men to be ordained that God gives them a “great gift” and asks that they give this in turn: “the gift of your life, a life lived out in total, generous and joyful love.”