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Pontiff meets with head of troubled conservative order

Vatican to decide on delegate after alleged sex abuse

By Nicole Winfield
Associated Press / June 18, 2010

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VATICAN CITY — The pope met yesterday with the head of the Legionaries of Christ pending an expected papal announcement about who will take charge of the conservative order scarred by revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least one child.

The Legionaries said that, during the private audience, its director general, the Rev. Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río, thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his “fatherly care’’ and assured him of the “unconditional loyalty’’ of the Legionaries and its lay movement Regnum Christi.

The Vatican announced May 1 that the pope had decided to appoint a delegate to take charge of the order after an eight-month investigation showed that the Legionaries needed to be profoundly reevaluated and purified to survive, given the enormous influence the late founder had on it.

The Holy See said the founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, had committed grave and “objectively immoral actions’’ that constituted true crimes in some cases and showed a “life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.’’

It said Maciel had created a system of power built on silence, deceit, and obedience that enabled him to lead a double life that allowed the abuse to go unchecked and unquestioned.

The statement was shocking, because Maciel had enjoyed such favor at the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, who admired the order’s conservative bent and its success in bringing in new vocations and fund-raising at a time when numbers of priests were on the decline.

Maciel had been dogged for decades by allegations that he had molested seminarians, but the Vatican never took firm action against him and the Maciel case stands as one of the most glaring examples of Vatican inaction in the face of sex abuse allegations.

Only in 2006, a year after Benedict was elected pope and after on again-off again investigations, did the Vatican sentence Maciel to lead a “reserved life of penance and prayer,’’ although it did not say what for. He died in 2008 at age 87.

In February 2009, the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had fathered at least one child now in her 20s who lives in Spain. And in March it acknowledged that Maciel had also sexually abused seminarians and that two men claim to be his son.

It is not clear what role Corcuera will have in the Legionaries’ future. Critics say he and others in the Legionaries’ current leadership couldn’t have been unaware of Maciel’s double life.

In its May 1 statement, the Vatican said Maciel’s secret life was “unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries.’’ But it did not say all were kept in the dark, suggesting that a few must have known something.

In an internal memo sent from Legionaries’ headquarters to territorial leaders after the Vatican communique, the Legionaries said that meant that the Vatican had determined that “those who are currently in the leadership of the Legion’’ did not know about his misdeeds.

The communique says no such thing. Jim Fair, a US spokesman for the Legion, said the memo “wasn’t in any way an attempt to interpret or deny or in any way change the meaning,’’ of the Vatican statement, “but simply to suggest to people that they needed to read it.’’

It remains to be seen the extent of power that the pope’s delegate will have over the Legionaries, particularly if the current leadership remains in place.

The Vatican has not described the scope of the delegate’s work, or whether he will also control the Legionaries’ financial assets.

In a statement yesterday, the Legionaries said Benedict had assured Corcuera “that he continues closely accompanying the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi with his prayers.’’

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