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Pope Francis meets with Legionaries of Christ leader

Pope Francis receives Fr. John Connor Pope Francis receives Fr. John Connor, general director of the Legionaries of Christ, in a private audience at the Vatican, April 22, 2021./ Vatican Media

Pope Francis received Fr. John Connor, the general director of the Legionaries of Christ, in a private audience on Thursday.

Following the meeting on April 22, Connor sent a note to the Legionaries in which he said that the audience “renewed in him the importance of filial love for the Holy Father as one of the principal characteristics of our spirit.”

A statement from the religious congregation said that the general director told Pope Francis about the “steps taken in the path of renewal” and “asked him for light and advice in the task that he has been entrusted with.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Connor was elected to lead the embattled religious congregation in February 2020 during its general chapter in Rome.

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The priest, who was born in Severna Park, Maryland, had served as the North American territorial director of the Legionaries of Christ since 2014.

The Legionaries of Christ presented a report last month, “Truth, Justice, and Healing,” on their fight against the sexual abuse of minors by members of the congregation.

Unlike a previous report released in December 2019, the new document included the full names of some of the priests who committed sexual abuse.

The congregation founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel -- who himself abused at least 60 minors -- promised to continue to publish an annual report on the progress being made, updating the data, and providing accountability in addressing abuse.

In 2006, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The Vatican congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age. Maciel died in 2008 at the age of 87.

In 2009, Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation, or worldwide administrative review, of the religious institute. He then placed it under direct Vatican oversight. Benedict ordered the congregation to develop and implement new governing documents and policies after Church officials found substantial problems in the Legion’s formation and governance structures.

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Pope Francis has continued pushing for reforms to the religious order. In a message to the Legion and to the lay consecrated members of Regnum Christi in January 2020, the pope told members to look toward the future as they continue to reform themselves, seeking continuous conversion under the guidance of the Church.

Regnum Christi is a Catholic movement made up of the Legionaries of Christ religious congregation of priests and seminarians, as well as consecrated and lay members.

There are fewer than 1,000 priests in the Legionaries of Christ, which runs schools in South America, North America, and Europe.

At the end of the private audience, Fr. Connor asked for the pope’s blessing for all of Regnum Christi.

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