The Legion needs to break away from an embarrassing past. Cardinal De Paolis is working hard to purify a body that has been tainted by some very serious misdoings
From Vatican Insider
By GIACOMO GALEAZZI
There is no peace in the Legion which the Pope has placed under the supervision of the Pontifical delegate, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis. The process of “purification” wanted by Benedict XVI is shedding light on further abuses, offences and betrayals on the part of the religious order which had become one of the pillars of the universal Church, particularly the Latin American one, during Karol Wojtyla’s pontificate.
“All the new things that are emerging are showing that this issue will not simply be resolved by the order severing its ties with its founder because other representatives of the Legion are guilty of the same offences,” a qualified source told Vatican Insider. “All remaining irregularities need to be removed in order to save the majority within the Legion of Christ which did not have double standards.”
For a long time now, the pact of steel between the Legion’s leaders and some elders of the Roman Curia has guaranteed “extensive moral exemption” which Joseph Ratzinger put an end to the minute he was elected Pope. However, the recovery process is far from over, as has been proven by the latest scandals which have broken out in the order. Seven Legionaries of Christ are being investigated by the former Holy Office and in at least one of the cases, it was found that the abuse was committed recently.
According to the anti-paedophilia laws reinforced by Benedict XVI, suspected abuse cases are reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But there is always trouble creeping round the corner for the Legion of Christ. On Wednesday, Fr. Thomas Williams released a shock statement in which he said: “A number of years ago I had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. am deeply sorry for this grave transgression and have tried to make amends. My superiors and I have decided it would be best for me to take a year without active public ministry to reflect on the wrong I have done and my commitments as a priest. I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation, and I ask for your prayers as I seek guidance on how to make up for my errors.”
This revelation caused an outcry across the whole world. Fr. Williams is professor of theology and ethics as well as a well known member of the Legion of Christ in the United States. The order is trying to batten down the hatches as a vicious storm brews. “I know that this news is hard to take in for all of us and may leave us sad or discouraged,” the Italian Legion’s leader, Oscar Nader wrote in a letter to representatives of the Legion and to the lay movement Regnum Christi. “Seeing the good that a priest can do and then on the other hand witnessing human weakness, we cannot but strengthen our faith in God and rely more and more on His grace, so that we can be pushed to live our consecration to the Lord in the most graceful manner.”
What the Legion needs to do now is to break away from an embarrassing past. “The Legion of Christ hast the unyielding responsibility to gather and examine all accusations made against them, to be understanding towards potential victims and always show respect for the rights of those involved,” the order’s new leaders stated. “During the investigation carried out by civil authorities (if necessary), the previous canonical investigation and while the case is being studied by the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, directors of local branches and the general director have taken precautionary measures, narrowing down the ministry of the accused priest, because the protection of children and communities is a priority for the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, without nevertheless issuing a verdict,” leaders stated. The former Holy Office “also received some formal accusations in relation to acts which are not considered to be delicta graviora (major crimes such as paedophilia, Ed.),” the note read. “Some accusations of delicta graviora were made against Legionaries who, following (civil or canonical) investigations, were declared innocent.” So: “We urge everyone to respect and remember our brothers and particularly those affected, in prayer.” The founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado had been forced by Benedict XVI to give up all pastoral responsibilities and activities after he was accused of abusing minors, including his own illegitimate children. The Church had been kept in the dark as to his children and his relations with a number of women. In 2006 Joseph Ratzinger sentenced him to a reserved life of prayer and penitence and after new scandals involving him emerged, the Pope first sent an Apostolic delegation and then decided to appoint a special pontifical delegate who has full control overt he order.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which is competent in the field of the so-called delicta graviora is currently looking into cases of abuse against minors which are said to have been committed by members of the Legion of Christ, the Holy See’s spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed. He specified that “it was the competent ecclesiastical superiors directly,” who brought the cases in question to the Congregation’s attention. “The competent ecclesiastical superiors did indeed follow the procedures required by law, bringing certain cases they learnt about, to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Most of these cases date back to a few decades ago,” the Vatican spokesman said. The Legion’s founder, the late Fr. Maciel, was even found to have abused his own children, tried by the Church and given a suspension a divinis.
The Legion of Christ was later on placed under the administration of an external commissioner and underwent an ecclesiastical inquiry. It looked as though the external commissioner was only going to stick around for a short period of time. In actual fact, however, there was still a great deal more to be resolved within the order. The nightmare is not yet over for the Legionaries. In the case of Fr. Thomas Williams, who had a relationship with an adult woman “the measures stipulated in canonical law and Church protocol – the Legionaries’ website states –are neither precise nor consistent.” The Legion recalled, that in these cases “the priest asked the Pope of his own accord for a dismissal from his priestly obligations so that he could assume his natural obligations to his son and possibly form a family. In other cases, priests repent for their sins and ask to carry on exercising their priestly ministry.
“With his bishop or religious superior,- the website read – he has to find ways to provide adequate support to the child and the mother of the child. In addition, one has to make sure that repentance is deep and lasting and that the future ministry of the priest is not a motive for scandal or confusion among the faithful.” As everyone waits for the American priests take a decision regarding his own future, “The superiors suggested to Fr. Thomas to act in an appropriate way and to withdraw himself from public appearances. They also accompanied him in his reflection about his personal situation.”