ROME (CNS) – The Legionaries of Christ only recently found out that their founder had fathered a child, knowledge that has caused the members great suffering, but has not destroyed the gratitude they owe him, said a spokesman for the Religious order.
Fr Paolo Scarafoni, spokesman at the Legionaries’ headquarters in Rome, said that, despite the failures and flaws of the late Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, members of the order are grateful to him for having founded the order and its various ministries.
“We found this out only recently,” Fr Scarafoni said, referring to the fact that Father Maciel had a daughter. Asked how the Legionaries came to know about her, Father Scarafoni said, “Frankly, I cannot say and it is not opportune to discuss this further, also because there are people involved” who deserve privacy.
In the past, Fr Maciel had been accused of sexually abusing young seminarians in the order, accusations that Fr Scarafoni said “have never been proven definitively.”
Because the Holy See decided against conducting a canonical trial to investigate the allegations, but rather ordered the then-elderly Father Maciel to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance in May 2006, “we do not know what allegations were made and examined at that time,” Fr Scarafoni said.
Fr Maciel died on January 30, 2008, at 87. The pain the Legionaries are experiencing now “is so great precisely because this is something we did not know before,” Fr Scarafoni said.
However, he said, “We are serene. Certainly, it is a time of great trial for us and in the face of this there is great suffering.”
Fr Scarafoni had told the Mexican news agency Notimex that the Legionaries were living through “a process of purification.”
He told CNS: “When you are faced with such great pain, it means that you must grow, you must be better, you must be purified spiritually because you must continue to move forward motivated by even higher ideals. This is especially true when you are faced with the unexpected.”
At the same time, he said, “there is much gratitude. Our gratitude to him remains very strong because we have received so much that is good from him. This is something we cannot and will not deny.”
He said the Legionaries of Christ and the lay members of Regnum Christi are dealing with the news “as a family. With prudence and charity we are informing our members and trying to help each other overcome this situation. What is important is not to renounce the great mission that we have. The priority is the life and the holiness of each of our members,” he said.
Fr Alvaro Corcuera, director general of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi, acknowledged that the order is “living a time of pain and suffering.”
In an undated letter to the 65,000 predominantly lay members of Regnum Christi, Fr Corcuera did not specifically identify the actions of the Legionaries’ founder, but wrote that “these things that have hurt and surprised us – and I don’t believe we can explain with our reason alone – have already been judged by God. It is true that we are going through much suffering and a great deal of pain. As in a family, these pains draw us together and lead us to suffer and rejoice as one body. This circumstance we are living invites us to look at everything with much faith, humility and charity. Thus we place it in the hands of God, who teaches us the way of infinite mercy,” the letter said. A spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ in the United States acknowledged that some aspects of Father Maciel’s life “were not appropriate for a Catholic priest.”
“We have learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and hard to understand,” Jim Fair, the order’s US spokesman, said, adding that Fr Maciel now “stands before God’s judgment and mercy” and denied rumors that the Legionaries would renounce Fr Maciel.
“It’s one of the mysteries of our faith, that someone can have tremendous flaws but yet the Holy Spirit can work through them,” Fair said from Chicago.
Despite the unsettling news, Fair said, the order will continue its ministries. Fr Maciel lived the last years of his life under a Vatican order not to practice his priestly ministry in public. The accusations that Fr Maciel sexually abused seminarians first became public in 1997 in a report in The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant daily newspaper. In a letter to the paper, Father Maciel denied the allegations, saying “In all cases they are defamations and falsities with no foundation whatsoever.”
Fr Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in his native Mexico in 1941. Fr Scarafoni said the Legionaries have 3250 male members, of whom 850 are priests; about 1000 consecrated women; and about 60,000 members of Regnum Christi, the lay branch.