The rehabilitation of the scandalized Legion of Christ has entered a new phase according to the Vatican official in charge of the troubled religious congregation.
In an Oct. 19 letter to Legion members, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis said the Legion is entering a period of “reconstruction and renewal.”
His letter was dated one day before Pope Benedict XVI announced that Archbishop De Paolis, president of the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economic Affairs, would be one of 24 new cardinals to be installed in a consistory to be held Nov. 20.
The cardinal-designate had been tapped by the Pope in July to oversee renewal of the Legion following revelations of grave sexual and financial abuses by its charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel.
A team of five bishops assigned by the Pope to investigate, found evidence of "very grave and objectively immoral actions" and said Father Maciel had lived "a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning."
Because of his continuing influence on the congregation, the Vatican team suggested that Legion redefine its mission and its governing structure. Archbishop De Paolis has been charged with overseeing this transition.
Questions remain, he acknowledged, about how much other Legion leaders knew about Father Maciel’s abuses. Finding the truth is “not that simple,” he said.
“There is one recurring difficulty from more than one place: some feel that the current superiors could not have been ignorant of the founder’s misdeeds,” he said. “By silencing them, they must have lied. But we know that the problem is not that simple. The different denunciations published in the newspapers from the 1990s onward were well known, also to the superiors of the congregation. But it is something else to have proof that they were founded and even more that they were certain. This came only much later, and gradually.”
The cardinal-designate said that today, “it is a vital requirement now to recover trust.”
Archbishop De Paolis said in his letter that while “not a few things” must be changed, the Legion’s basic approach to religious life and the priesthood should be “preserved and promoted."
"What matters above all is for each one to be moved by the desire for the good, and by the will to be converted ever more to the Lord, under the guidance of the Church, and so to be open to his will and to progress along the path of fidelity and holiness according to our own vocation," he said.
"If we are united and respectful of each other as we move forward the journey will be swift and sure, but it will be certain shipwreck to let ourselves get caught up in the desire to win out and impose our own ideas."
The cardinal-designate outlined plans for a renewal process that could take three years or more. He and four close advisors will work with Legion officials to revise the congregation’s constitution; in addition, he is considering appointing a committee to address complaints made against the Legion and another to address financial management issues in the congregation.
Included in the process will be a second investigation -- this time of the lay branch of the congregation, known as Regnum Christi. Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez of Valladolid, Spain, will head up that investigation, working in tandem with cardinal-designate De Paolis.
Despite the shock caused by Father Maciel's actions, he said, the Legion "not only survives, but is almost intact in its vitality."