Pope Orders Vatican Inquiry of Religious Order with Sacramento Parish

By Jennifer Garza
Sacramento Bee
April 1, 2009

In an unusual move, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday ordered a Vatican investigation into a religious order that has a prominent presence in the Sacramento diocese.

Church leaders from the Vatican will visit and evaluate all seminaries, schools and churches run by the Legionaries of Christ, said a statement released by church officials.

"We welcome the visit," said the Rev. Lino Otero, pastor of Sacramento's Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, which is run by priests from the order. "They will see that we are living according to the norms of the church. It will dispel any doubt there may be."

The order arrived in the Sacramento diocese in 2000 and now has 10 priests serving here. In addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, they operate a seminary in Colfax for teenage boys contemplating the priesthood. In 2005, the order opened the University of Sacramento, the only Legion-run university in the United States.

The Legionaries of Christ has been in turmoil since February, when church officials acknowledged that the Legion's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel of Mexico, had fathered a daughter, who is now in her 20s and living in Spain.

Maciel was forced to leave public ministry in 2006 following accusations that he had abused men studying for the priesthood decades earlier. Maciel died in 2008 at the age of 87.

In a statement to the order, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the second-highest-ranking official at the Vatican, said "so that with truth and transparency, in a climate of fraternal and constructive dialogue, you will overcome the present difficulties."

The "Apostolic Visitation," as it is called, is expected to occur in the next few months, but no visits have been scheduled.

Victim advocates were skeptical of Tuesday's announcement.

"In light of the Legion's troubled history, I suppose some action is better than no action," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"But it's hard to feel hopeful that any 'visitation' will have any real impact on reforming such a secretive and unhealthy institution."

The Legionaries of Christ is one of the fastest-growing orders in the Catholic Church and was championed by Pope John Paul II.

The Rev. Robert Presutti, president of the University of Sacramento and a priest with the order, said the past few months since learning about their founder's history "have been painful." But he also welcomed the upcoming apostolic visit.

"It is an opportunity to clear things up," said Presutti. "They'll get a good look at what the Legion is and what we're doing."

The order is credited for turning Our Lady of Guadalupe once a struggling parish into the biggest church in the diocese, with about 6,500 worshippers attending weekly Mass.

Not all dioceses have been as welcoming. Some U.S. leaders, concerned about the order's recruitment methods and the zealousness of some its members, banned the order, including St. Paul-Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto praised the order's work in Sacramento.

"The Legion of Christ has performed exemplary service here," said the bishop in a statement Tuesday. "I know this is a difficult time for the Legion, but I know them to be a people of faith and good will, and they can count on my prayers and support."



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