Vatican acts against long-accused Legionaries founder

In what is seen as confirmation of sex abuse allegations against Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, the 86-year-old founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Vatican has asked him to observe a series of restrictions on his ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter's John L Allen reports that Fr Degollado has not been laicised, but the restrictions issued shortly before Easter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith limit his public activity, such as his capacity to celebrate public Masses, to give lectures or other public presentations, and to give interviews for print or broadcast.

The restrictions have been approved by Benedict XVI, and the Vatican is expected to issue a brief statement shortly.

The action caps a decade-long on-again, off-again investigation of accusations of sexual abuse, the Vatican has asked Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, to observe a series of restrictions on his ministry.

In effect, Vatican sources told the National Catholic Reporter this week, the action amounts to a finding that at least some of the accusations against the charismatic 86-year-old Mexican priest are well-founded.

But Vatican sources stressed that the action against Fr Degollado should not be read as an indictment of the Legionaries of Christ or its lay branch, Regnum Christi.

A spokesman for the Legionaries, asked to comment on the development, replied in an e-mail, "We have nothing to say. We don't know anything about this."

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the congregation's investigation was closed sometime toward the end of 2005. In the early months of 2006, the cardinal members of the congregation in Rome were invited to review the documentation. The decision to impose restrictions was then reached sometime before Easter.

One cardinal who serves on the congregation was reported as saying that, in his view, the material left little doubt as to the validity of the charges, though he said he was less clear how Fr Degollado understood what he had done.

Under canon law, intent and state of mind are sometimes taken into consideration in meting out punishment.

Within the Vatican, the Fr Degollado case has long been seen as particularly sensitive, mainly because it could tarnish the reputation of the late John Paul II, who warmly praised and repeatedly honoured Fr Degollado.

The case could also call into question the action of Benedict XVI, who as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stopped the case against Fr Degollado in 1999. However, he reactivated the case in 2004 and ultimately approved the disciplining of Fr Degollado.

As late as 2002, when John Paul visited Mexico City, Fr Degollado was in the front row at a papal Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and was greeted by the Pope. In a 2004 letter, John Paul II congratulated Fr Degollado for 60 years of "intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry."

Founded by Fr Degollado in 1941, the Legionaries of Christ has become one of the most influential and rapidly growing communities in the Church. Today the order numbers some 650 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide. The lay branch of the Legionaries, Regnum Christi, reportedly has 50,000 members worldwide.

Vatican restricts ministry of Legionaries priest founder (National Catholic Reporter 18/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Legionaries of Christ

Mystery over high-profile abuse case (CathNews 26/5/05)
Pope praise for Legionaries of Christ (CathNews 31/12/04)

19 May 2006