Vatican: Legionaries' Founder Cannot Exercise Ministry Publicly

By Cindy Wooden
The Tidings
May 26, 2006

In a decision approved by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has said the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, accused of sexually abusing minors, should not exercise his priestly ministry publicly.

The Vatican also said May 19 it would not begin a canonical process against the founder, 86-year-old Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, because of his advanced age and poor health.

The Vatican statement did not get into details about the allegations against Father Maciel, but Vatican sources said the wording of the statement and its call to penance signaled it had found there was substance to the accusations.

LEGIONARIES FOUNDER --- Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, left, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is pictured meeting students at Regina Apostolorum university in Rome in 1999.

In the statement, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican had investigated the claims made by former Legionary seminarians against Father Maciel, who founded the Legionaries in his native Mexico in 1941.

"After having submitted the results of the investigation to attentive study, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guidance of the new prefect, His Eminence Cardinal William Levada, has decided -- taking into account both the advanced age of Rev. Maciel and his delicate health -- to forgo a canonical process and to call the priest to a life reserved to prayer and penance, renouncing any public ministry," the statement said.

Navarro-Valls added, "The Holy Father approved these decisions."

The spokesman also said, "independently of the person of the founder, the well-deserving apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the association Regnum Christi is recognized with gratitude."

In a statement posted May 19 on its Web site, the Legionaries of Christ said Father Maciel, "our beloved father founder," has declared his innocence "and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way."

As to the Vatican's decision, it said, "with the spirit of obedience to the church that has always characterized him, he has accepted this communique with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience."

The congregation said its founder knows that the restriction on his ministry is "a new cross that God, the father of mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement."

Regain, a U.S.-based organization of ex-Legionaries critical of Father Maciel, praised the Vatican action "as a true and just vindication of so many of Maciel's victims."

Glenn Favreau, Regain board member, told Catholic News Service the Vatican "was trying to satisfy everybody" with its decision. It disciplined Father Maciel without applying the maximum penalty while it praised the work of the Legion and Regnum Christi, he said.

Favreau added that one of the accusations against Father Maciel was that he absolved in confession people who were his accomplices in sexual sins and that this is punishable by automatic excommunication.

Such a penalty is contained in Canon 1378 of the church's Code of Canon Law.

Favreau, who is not among the accusers of Father Maciel, was a Legionary member from 1984 to 1997. He had been ordained a deacon before leaving.

The U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it welcomed the Vatican's disciplinary measures but added that Father Maciel should have been removed from the priesthood.

According to the Vatican's 2006 yearbook, the Legionaries have 1,917 members, of whom 642 are priests. Regnum Christi is a lay movement associated with the Legionaries.

The Vatican statement said accusations against Father Maciel were brought to the doctrinal congregation in 1998.

In 2002 Father Maciel issued a public denial of the allegations of sexual abuse, it said.

"In 2005, because of his advanced age, Father Maciel retired from the office of superior general of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ," the Vatican said.

It said that in consideration of "all of these elements," then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, "authorized an investigation into the accusations" in accordance with new norms issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 with regard to clerical sex abuse and serious abuses of the sacraments.

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, an official of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, traveled to Mexico and the United States early in 2005 to interview adults who said they were abused by Father Maciel when they were teenage seminarians.

A May 2005 statement by the Legionaries repeated Father Maciel's denial: "I can categorically state that the accusations brought against me are false. I never engaged in the sort of repulsive behavior these men accuse me of."

Nine former Legionaries, one of whom is now dead, publicly accused Father Maciel of sexually abusing them when they were teenage seminarians in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

After earlier complaints to the Vatican brought no response, in 1998 the eight living accusers drew up another case against Father Maciel, accusing him of giving absolution to an accomplice in a sexual sin.


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