Pope Benedict XVI named a senior Vatican official to run the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ after an eight-month investigation of the order. Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, an Italian who heads the Holy See’s financial office, will serve as papal delegate for the Legionaries. The appointment is the latest in a series of moves aimed at shoring up the church amid a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal.
The order, which its disgraced founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, started in Mexico in 1941, has been scarred by revelations that Maciel sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children. The order, long favoured by the Vatican for its success in bringing in new priests, claims a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in its lay movement Regnum Christi. It runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Its U.S. headquarters are in Connecticut.
The investigation of the order showed that the Legionaries needed to be deeply re-evaluated and purified to survive, given the enormous influence Maciel had on it, according to a Vatican report in May. It said Maciel, who died in 2008 and had been supported by the late Pope John Paul II, had created a system of power built on obedience and deceit that allowed him to live a double life with abuse going unchecked. It said his life was “devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stated De Paolis would meet soon with the Legionaries’ current leadership and would himself decide how to explain his mandate and that of a church commission to study the Legionaries’ founding constitutions. Javier Bravo, spokesman for the order’s Mexico office, stated De Paolis’ financial background would serve him well and was an important qualification for the job.
Italian news reports have put the Legion’s assets at some €25 billion ($33 billion). Legion officials have scoffed at such figures but haven’t provided alternatives other than to say that its 2009 activities produced $40 million. “It’s a big congregation, a big task, a big responsibility, but Archbishop De Paolis has all the aspects needed to really help and build and work with the Legion toward a very fruitful future,” Bravo said.
The Legionaries welcomed the appointment with gratitude and said they would “put themselves completely at the disposal of Archbishop De Paolis.” In a statement, the order stated the practical details of his mandate would be defined in the coming weeks. It remained unclear what would happen with the cleric currently running the order, the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera Martinez del Rio. He met with Benedict last month.
The Vatican continues to grapple with abuse allegations, which began in North America but recently have spread across Europe. It is expected to soon release a document codifying instructions on dealing with pedophile priests. It is expected to also crack down on priests who prey on mentally impaired adults, sanctioning them with the same set of punishments meted out for clerics who rape and molest children, The Associated Press has learned.
The church’s internal justice system for dealing with abuse allegations has come under attack because of claims by victims that their accusations were long ignored by bishops more concerned about protecting the church and by the Congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected pope in 2005.