In a communique released on Thursday, the top leaders of the Legionaries of Christ acknowledged and asked forgiveness for the “reprehensible actions” of their founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. Jim Fair, communications director for the Legion, told CNA on Friday that the communique was issued during the territorial directors annual meeting in Rome after a discussion on the current state and future of the order.
The March 25 statement's recognition of the allegations against the order's founder comes nearly four years after the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith completed a canonical investigation in 2006. Though the scandals surrounding Fr. Maciel have been alluded to by leaders within the movement in previous documents, homilies and conferences, the recent statement is the first one to be jointly written and signed by the all the territorial directors of the movement.
“We had thought and hoped that the accusations brought against our founder were false and unfounded, since they conflicted with our experience of him personally and his work,” reads Thursday's statement. “However, on May 19, 2006, the Holy See’s Press Office issued a communique as the conclusion of a canonical investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had begun in 2004.”
“At that time, the CDF reached sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Fr Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians. Therefore, though it causes us consternation, we have to say that these acts did take place.”
“We later came to know that Fr Maciel had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts,” the communique added. “After that, two other people surfaced, blood brothers who say they are his children from his relationship with another woman.”
“It has taken us time to come to terms with these facts regarding his life,” the leaders said. “For many, especially the victims, this time has been too long and very painful. We have not always been able, or found the way to reach out to everyone in the way we should have, and in fact wanted to. Hence the need we feel to make this communique.”
“We ask all those who accused him in the past to forgive us, those whom we did not believe or were incapable of giving a hearing to, since at the time we could not imagine that such behavior took place. If it turns out that anyone culpably cooperated in his misdeeds we will act according to the principles of Christian justice and charity, holding these people responsible for their actions.”
The Legion of Christ became the subject of an Apostolic Visitation after the double life of its founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, came to light. The five bishops who were appointed to carry out the Apostolic Visitation of the Legion of Christ, which began on July 15 of last year, will present their final report to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on April 30, after eight months of work.
Looking ahead to the end of the visitation, the Legion leaders wrote, “We will embrace with filial obedience whatever indications and recommendations the Holy Father gives us as a result of the apostolic visitation, and we are committed to putting them into practice.”
“The past months have helped us to reflect on our identity and mission, and they have also moved us to review various aspects of our institutional life, humbly and in all simplicity,” they added.
The communique concluded by listing multiple “resolutions” that the group will now adhere to, including honoring the “truth” about their history, continuing “to offer safety” for minors, improving cooperating with bishops and other institutions in the Church and redoubling their “dedication to their mission of offering Christ's Gospel to as many people as possible.”