Vatican to inspect Legionaries after scandal

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VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has taken the extraordinary step of ordering an investigation into a conservative Roman Catholic order that recently disclosed that its late founder had fathered a child.

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has taken the extraordinary step of ordering an investigation into a conservative Roman Catholic order that recently disclosed that its late founder had fathered a child.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said investigators would visit all of the institutions run by the Legionaries of Christ, one of the fastest-growing orders in the Roman Catholic church.

Bertone said in a letter to the head of the order posted Tuesday on the Legion’s Web site that the Vatican was stepping in “so that with truth and transparency, in a climate of fraternal and constructive dialogue, you will overcome the present difficulties.”

The Legionaries of Christ was much admired by the late Pope John Paul II for its conservative view, strict loyalty to Vatican teaching and success in enrolling recruits. However, its Mexican founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, was long dogged by allegations he sexually abused seminarians.

In 2006, a year into Benedict’s pontificate, the Vatican disciplined him on the sexual abuse charges, asking that he lead a “reserved life of prayer and penance,” and refrain from celebrating Mass in public. Maciel died in 2008 at age 87.

Last month, there were fresh revelations about Maciel’s sexual life. The Legionaries’ head, the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera, has not publicly provided details, but individual Legion leaders have confirmed that Maciel had a relationship with a woman and fathered a daughter who is now in her 20s and living in Spain.

While the abuse charges had long cast a cloud over Maciel, the latest disclosures tarnished the Legion’s reputation even more. Observers have questioned how it can carry on since the order is so closely affiliated with Maciel’s persona.

Maciel is held up as a hero whose life is to be emulated; seminarians and members of its lay affiliate study Maciel’s writings and they pray that the spirit of the founder lives on in their behavior.

Corcuera said the Legionaries welcomed the Vatican investigation “with deep gratitude,” saying Benedict was offering his support as the order faces “our present vicissitudes related to the grave facts in our father founder’s life.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the investigation was the way the Vatican can get firsthand information about a problem in the church. In a similar move in 2004, the Vatican sent a team of investigators to an Austrian seminary following revelations that seminarians were hoarding child porn.

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In photo: Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 1, 2009.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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