The Vatican will overhaul the Legion of Christ, whose late founder, Marcial Maciel (centre), was accused of molesting seminarians. The church is seeking to stave off criticism that it has failed to confront allegations of abuse.
AFP - The Roman Catholic Church will overhaul the ultra-conservative Legion of Christ whose late founder Marcial Maciel was disgraced after abuse scandals, the Vatican said Saturday.
Maciel's "conduct... had consequences in the life and the structure of the Legion that are so serious as to require a journey of profound restructuring," a statement said.
Pope Benedict XVI will name an interim leader within weeks, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. The move comes as the Church faces intense pressure to crack down on abusers and their protectors in the hierarchy.
"The pope is taking this case very seriously," Lombardi said.
The Church "has the firm resolve to accompany and help (the order) on the way to the purification it needs," the statement said.
The Mexican-born Maciel, who died in the United States in January 2008 aged 87, was accused of molesting eight seminarians and secretly fathering children.
Many members of the order had been unaware of Maciel's misconduct as he "created around him a defence mechanism that shielded him for a long time," said the Vatican.
"Uncovering the truth caused surprise and deep pain," it said.
Maciel founded the Legion of Christ in 1941 and ran it with an iron fist, requiring a vow of secrecy and barring any criticism of the order's superiors including himself.
Before Maciel's fall from grace, he and his order enjoyed the adulation of Benedict's predecessor John Paul II.
Just weeks before the Polish pope died in 2005 he hailed Maciel's and the Legionaries' work throughout the world as the Church battled tough competition from evangelical groups, notably in its Latin American stronghold.
The Legion of Christ, which won Vatican recognition in 1965, is one of the largest and wealthiest of the Church's dozens of orders, and Maciel was a prodigious fundraiser and recruiter of priests.
After a nine-month probe into the order was completed last month, the investigating team of five bishops reported to the pope on Friday and Saturday.
Maciel's "very serious and objectively immoral actions confirmed by incontestable testimonies ... show a life without scruples nor authentic religious sentiments," the Vatican said.
Last month in Mexico the order asked for forgiveness from two brothers claiming to be Maciel's sons who said he had abused them.
Last year the order confirmed a report in The New York Times that Maciel had also secretly fathered a daughter.
In May 2006, just over a year after John Paul II's death, Benedict ordered Maciel to renounce all duties and lead a "quiet life of prayer and penitence".
But a canonical trial was ruled out because of his advanced age and poor health. Maciel had always denied any wrongdoing.
The Vatican said that in addition to naming interim leadership it would review the order's constitution and offer help to any victims of sexual abuse.
The movement accepted the pope's decision in a message released on its website Saturday.
"The Legionaries thank the Holy Father and embrace his provisions with faith and obedience," it said.
But the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it was "disappointed that the Vatican refuses to admit its own complicity in concealing Maciel's crimes."
"The Vatican's lengthy cover-up and foot-dragging, and now its disingenuous denunciation of Maciel, is every bit as 'immoral' as the horrific child sex crimes by Maciel himself," said a statement from the group.
Vatican expert Sandro Magister said the Vatican was setting a "positive example that the Church is decisively tackling the paedophilia issue."
Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni concurred, but he also noted that the Vatican did not dissolve the order which had proved to be "quite efficient."
Widely seen as elitist, the Legion of Christ is present in 22 countries, notably in the United States, Spain, Mexico, France and Australia, and runs 12 universities. It counts 800 priests, 2,500 seminarians and 70,000 lay members.
The Legion of Christ has a lay branch, the Regnum Christi, with more than 70,000 followers.
Date created : 2010-05-02