Legion Reform Off to Shaky Start?

Maciel with Pope John Paul II in 2004

Too little, too late? In an effort to "define conclusively the posture of the congregation with respect to the behavior of Fr. Marcial Maciel and his role as founder," the Legion of Christ issued an apology today to Maciel's legion of victims. Many have argued that the order has been irredeemably damaged by the record of its founder and the astonishing breadth of his offenses, and the LC scandal itself featured prominently in yesterday's controversial UN denouncement of the Vatican's response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The newly elected General Director of the Legion, Father Eduardo Robles Gil, in issuing the communique on Maciel today noted, "so that it can truly be a new beginning, it is necessary to put the challenges of the past in their place. ... We can’t erase the past. We have to learn the lessons, mourn what occurred, trust in God’s mercy and, like St. Paul, run forward in pursuit of the goal of reaching Christ.”

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If off to a new beginning, the election of Robles Gil makes a shaky start. A fellow Mexican and a longtime collaborator with Maciel, according to an AP report, Robles Gil has been described by priests who have left the order as a "spiritual son" of Maciel. They say his election shows no break from the order's troubled past. That concern may be shared by the Holy See, which, after the election of a new L.C. governing council, felt it necessary to appoint two reform-minded members itself, including the new second in command to Robles Gil, Father Juan José Arrieta, L.C.

Noting the "the magnitude of the evil and scandal [Maciel] caused," the Legion's communique states: "We hope to be able to redeem our painful history and overcome with good the consequences of evil."

It adds:

"Our founder died in 2008. We ask God to have mercy on him. At the same time, we want to express our deep sorrow for the abuse of minor seminarians, the immoral acts with men and women who were adults, the arbitrary use of his authority and of material goods, the indiscriminate consumption of addictive medicines and the act of presenting writings published by third parties as his own.  We find the incongruity of presenting oneself as a priest and a witness of the faith continuously for decades while hiding this immoral behavior to be incomprehensible. We firmly condemn this. We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr. Maciel. Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons.” 

“Many times we gave undue, universal value to Fr. Maciel’s directives and clung too much to them because of an inadequate understanding of the concept of founder and an excessive exaltation and uncritical way of considering his person.”

“The Pontifical Delegate has first of all led us to an adequate comprehension of the role of Fr. Maciel in relation to the Legion. In the past, the Congregation stipulated that it cannot propose Fr. Maciel as a model, nor his personal writings as a guide for the spiritual life.  We recognize his condition as founder.  Nevertheless, a religious congregation and its essential features do not have their origin in the person of the founder; they are a gift of God that the Church accepts and approves and that afterwards live in the institute and in its members.”

According to the statement, L.C. chapter fathers extend various apologies to “all those who in one way or another were hurt by the sad events of these years and our shortcomings," adding:

“We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr. Maciel.... We acknowledge with sadness the initial incapability of believing the testimonies of the persons who had been victims of Fr. Maciel, the long institutional silence and, later on, the hesitations and errors of judgment when setting out to inform the members of the congregation and others. We apologize for these shortcomings, which have increased the suffering and confusion of many.” 

“To all of our brothers, religious and priests, who during this period have left the Congregation, we want to express our sadness that we no longer have you among us. We sincerely apologize for the times we have not listened to you or been there for you in the spirit of the Gospel. We would like to maintain your friendship and fraternal dialogue.”

“We would like to apologize and reiterate our desire to reconcile with all those who in one way or an-other were hurt by the sad events of these years and our shortcomings.”

The rest of the communique can be found here.

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