Irish bishop may lead inquiry into discredited order

 

AN IRISH bishop may be appointed as the special Vatican “delegate” who will lead a “commission of studies” into the discredited Catholic Order the Legionaries of Christ, Vatican sources have suggested.

Brian Farrell (63), secretary to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, is a close aide to Cardinal Walter Kasper at Christian Unity, and is a member of the Legionaries. He is one of the few Legionaries in a senior Vatican position.

The fate of the disgraced Catholic order remains unclear after the Vatican issued a tough statement on Saturday denouncing the “very serious and objectively immoral behaviour” of the order’s founder, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado.

The Holy See statement came after two days of meetings in the Vatican during which five “apostolic visitors” presented the findings of an investigation into the Legionaries to Pope Benedict XVI and his senior advisers.

That investigation, ordered by the pope last year and concluded in March, had come after more than a decade of allegations against Fr Maciel.

In 1997, nine former Legionary seminarians alleged they had been sexually abused by Fr Maciel. A year later, the seminarians filed a formal complaint to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by the present pope as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

An initial congregation investigation was halted by Cardinal Ratzinger, but reopened five years later, leading to Fr Maciel’s removal from priestly duties in 2006.

Having for years staunchly defended Fr Maciel, senior order figures for the first time acknowledged the truth about allegations against him two months ago, admitting that not only had he abused seminarians but he had also fathered three children with two different women.

The Vatican’s statement says Fr Maciel lived a life “deprived of scruple and authentic religious sentiment”. “The majority of the Legionaries were unaware of this [hidden] life, above all because of the network of relations created by Fr Maciel who was very clever in creating alibis for himself, inspiring the confidence, trust and silence of those around him whilst at the same time reinforcing his role as charismatic founder.”

The Vatican statement adds that in this way, Fr Maciel created a “defence mechanism” around himself that for a long time made him “untouchable”.

Although many critics had suggested that the pope might take harsh action against the Legionaries, perhaps even dissolving the order or replacing its senior leaders, Saturday’s statement stops some way short, saying only that the pope will appoint a “delegate and a commission of studies” to look into the order and its lay wing, Regnum Christi.

Further harsh sanctions against the Legionaries, however, cannot be excluded.

The statement makes no mention of how the Holy See failed to act against Fr Maciel for so long.