By John Thavis/Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — Top officials of the Legionaries of Christ acknowledged that the order’s founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, sexually abused young seminarians, and they asked forgiveness for failing to listen to his accusers.
A statement released March 26 by the Legionaries and its lay branch, Regnum Christi, said that any members of the order who were guilty of cooperation in Father Maciel’s crimes would be held accountable.
The statement said the Legionaries were looking to the future with the hope of continuing to serve the church, but with a greater emphasis on reconciling with those who suffered from Father Maciel’s actions and greater cooperation with local pastors and other church officials.
The future of the order rests in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI, who ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries last year. The visitation team’s report was expected to be handed in to the Vatican at the end of April.
After investigating allegations that Father Maciel had sexually abused young seminarians, in May 2006 the Vatican ordered him to stop practicing his ministry in public and to live a life of prayer and penitence. At the time, Legion officials defended Father Maciel’s declaration of innocence and compared him to Christ for his suffering.
The latest statement says the 2006 Vatican investigation reached “sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Father Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians.”
“Therefore, though it causes us consternation, we have to say that these acts did take place,” it said.
The statement asked forgiveness from “those whom we did not believe or were incapable of giving a hearing to, since at the time we could not imagine that such behavior took place.”
“If it turns out that anyone culpably cooperated in his misdeeds, we will act according to the principles of Christian justice and charity, holding these people responsible for their actions,” it said.
In early 2009, the Legionaries said they had learned that Father Maciel had fathered a daughter. The latest statement said Father Maciel had had a longstanding relationship with the child’s mother. Two other people have claimed to be the offspring of Father Maciel and a different woman.
“We find reprehensible these and all the actions in the life of Father Maciel that were contrary to his Christian, religious, and priestly duties. We declare that they are not what we strive to live in the Legion of Christ and in the Regnum Christi movement,” it said.
“Once again, we express our sorrow and grief to each and every person damaged by our founder’s actions,” the statement said. It offered the order’s “pastoral and spiritual help” to those who were injured by Father Maciel’s actions.
Father Maciel, who died in January 2008 at age 87, founded the Legionaries of Christ in 1951 and was its superior until 2005.