The vicar general of the Legion of Christ has confirmed that the order’s leaders are likely to step down at their next General Chapter meeting, which could be held as early as 2013.
“In any religious congregation leadership changes with time, so I think that by the time we have the General Chapter it will be a normal moment, I would think, to change the leadership,” Fr. Luis Garza, the Legion’s vicar general, told CNA.
Fr. Garza’s comments come as the Vatican is evaluating the Legion’s constitution and its future mission. That process is being headed up by the Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis.
“Cardinal De Paolis is a very sound man, he’s very intelligent, he’s very wise, very prudent,” said Fr. Garza.
“He’s been helping us to understand the way that we should go and chart, in a sense, the way for the future.”
Cardinal De Paolis was appointed as the Pope’s delegate to the Legion last year, after a Vatican investigation condemned the late founder of the Congregation, Fr. Marcial Maciel, as a being guilty of “serious and objectively immoral behavior” as well as “real crimes.”
Fr. Maciel was found to have sexually abused seminarians over many years and fathered several children with different women. He died in 2008, aged 87.
“My hope is that we can continue serving the Church with the same enthusiasm, or even more, and with the same dedication but at the same time purifying all that was wrong and that we definitely need to change,” said Fr. Garza of the Vatican review process.
“The fear, of course, is that due to our lack of prayer and to the idea of not being faithful to a charism that we’ve received, (we) could produce changes that are not according to what God would want and God’s plans.”
Fr. Garza does not want to see the Legion to “take a way by which the idea of religious life would be deprived of any value.”
“Religious life, as you know, has vows and you need to abide by obedience, by poverty, by chastity. So if you move away from those principles, virtues and vows then you destroy religious life,” he explained.
He also stressed that he doesn’t believe such changes will, in the end, be recommended by Cardinal De Paolis.
The issue of vows is a delicate one for the Legion. In 2007 Pope Benedict abolished a private vow taken by Legionary seminarians and priests. The so-called “oath of charity” prevented any kind of criticism of superiors and their decisions by member.
It was reported at the time that a second vow, an “oath of humility,” had also been suppressed. This forbade the religious men from aspiring to positions within the leadership of the Legion.
Last year’s Vatican report described how Fr. Maciel “had created around him a defense mechanism which made him untouchable for a long time, thus rendering knowledge of his real life difficult,” and that “the large majority of Legionaries were unaware of that life.”
Fr. Garza has always maintained that he and the rest of the Legion’s leadership were also unaware of Fr. Maciel’s misconduct.
Now, the Legion’s current leaders seem eager to move forward and beyond the controversy.
“Well, we’ve had the delegate for a year so the time frame, which is not extremely precise, (it) will be another two years for the constitutions and then probably at the end of that period we’ll have a General Chapter,” said Fr. Garza.
The next General Chapter will will choose new leaders for the order. It could be held by 2013, but it might not be held until 2014 or 2015, depending on when the review of the constitutions is completed.
“The decision to leave the leadership of the Legion essentially intact is a serious mistake,” said Father. Richard Gill, who was a priest for 29 years with the Legion. He left last year and is now a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.
“By failing to remove major superiors, or at least some of them, Cardinal De Paolis failed to send to the whole Legion a clear signal that the manner in which the current superiors handled the revelations about Maciel was completely unacceptable,” Fr. Gill said in an e-mail to CNA.
“I seriously doubt the Legion can wait until 2015 to get a new group of superiors.”
Fr. Gill says any possible future for the Legion will rest on good leadership and not solely on a good constitution.
“The future of the Legion depends on somehow awakening good spiritual leadership in its members, in the emergence of a new generation of leadership not tainted by Fr. Maciel and the scandals. Unless the current group steps aside, it is hard to see how that new generation can come forward.”
Fr. Garza says he and the rest of the Legion’s leadership will step down immediately if asked to do so by Cardinal De Paolis. So far they have not been asked to do so. Neither, though, have they tendered their resignations. But the vicar general agrees that the future of the Legion lies in good new leadership.
“It’s not that, in a sense, I believe that I can do anything special or different from anybody else. The Legion has a lot of very good men to really follow this process and bring the Legion to betterment to better serve the Church.”