One day after the United Nations handed down a hard-hitting report on sex abuse cases inside the Catholic Church, the Legionaries of Christ — the ultra-conservative group founded in 1941 by controversial Mexican priest Marcial Maciel — publicly issued an apology for “serious and immoral abuses” committed by its founder.
The statement was unprecedented because it was the first time the legion — which has been under attack for years for covering up the sex abuse that took place inside the organization — has distanced itself from Maciel, who died in 2008.
Pope Francis has permitted the group to announce the name of a new director general, the Mexican Eduardo Robles Gil, a sign that the legion has been given official authorization to continue as a Regnum Christi movement within the church after a three-year observation period imposed by the Holy See.
In the statement, the organization asked for forgiveness for the abuses by Maciel “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.”
The apology came after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the Vatican to remove child abusers from the Church and report all alleged crimes to law enforcement authorities. It also said that it was “gravely concerned” that the Holy See had still “not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.”
We are grieved that many victims have waited so long in vain for an apology”
Despite the public allegations and complaints lodged against Maciel by seminarians and lay members who claimed they were harassed and abused, the late Pope John Paul II protected the Legionaries founder while church authorities attacked the victims. The legion’s statement was drafted after 61 delegates who had been attending a special plenary assembly of the General Chapter of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome since January 8. Their goal was to obtain Pope Francis’s blessing to reorganize their group. The election of the 61-year-ol Gil Robles as the new coordinator actually took place on January 20, but it wasn’t made public until Thursday. Delegates had no choice other than to acknowledge the shocking abuses committed by Marcial, including the sexual molestation of the children he had from affairs with two different women.
“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,” the statement said.
“We have heard reports about how the major superiors of the congregation discovered these hidden aspects of the life of our founder, how they sought to discern the appropriate response in light of ethical and moral demands, and how they carried out the process of communication.
“Together with them, today 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.”
Under Maciel’s leadership, the Legionaries recruited young people from many countries who were often separated from their families through “psychological manipulations and isolated from the outside world,” the UN said in its report.