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The Vatican’s decision to assume leadership of the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ won acceptance Sunday from the order itself and praise from those who abandoned the conservative movement now discredited by revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least one child.
But the abuse victims of the Rev. Marcial Maciel said the Vatican didn’t go far enough in admitting its own alleged complicity in allowing Maciel’s misdeeds to go unchecked. Maciel’s most prominent accuser called for an independent commission of inquiry into the broader church’s actions in the case.
The reaction came a day after the Vatican issued an extraordinarily blunt statement about Maciel and the religious order once championed by Pope John Paul II for its orthodoxy and ability to attract new vocations at a time when the number of priests was falling drastically.
The Vatican on Saturday announced that Pope Benedict XVI would name a papal delegate to govern the order and that a special commission would study its founding constitutions to reform it. The decisions were made after five Vatican investigators reported to the pope about their eight-month global inquiry into the order after its late founder was so thoroughly discredited by revelations of his double life.
In announcing the papal takeover, the Vatican excoriated Maciel for creating a “system of power” built on silence, deceit and obedience that enabled him to lead a double life “devoid of any scruples and authentic sense of religion” and allowed him to abuse young boys unchecked.
But rather than closing the order down, which some critics had called for, the Vatican assured the Legion’s current members that it would help them “purify” what good remains in the order and would not be left alone as they undergo the “profound revision” necessary to carry on.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the Legionaries said they accepted Benedict’s takeover, saying their members “embrace his provisions with faith and obedience.” They thanked the pope and said they appreciated the Vatican investigators’ work and dedication.
Genevieve Kineke, Catholic author and editor of life-after-rc.com, a discussion forum for former members of the Legionaries lay movement Regnum Christi, praised the statement and said it had “restored a small measure of faith even in the most cynical.”
“The founder has been exposed for what he was. Truth has prevailed,” she wrote on the blog. “The hierarchy has been indicted as unhealthy and unworkable; the abuse of conscience in particular has been noted and will end; the abuse of the victims has been acknowledged and affirmed; the good will of the members has been affirmed which they need.”
“All the elements necessary to carry on an elite cult of personality have been effectively dismantled. People are free to stay and rebuild … and they have a safe haven for as long as they need it before stepping back into the world (should they so choose). Whether or not the rank-and-file (Regnum Christis) understand it, every member of the hierarchy knows what this means.”
But Jose Barba, one of the men who filed the canon law case against Maciel, expressed disappointment that there was no apparent attempt to investigate complicity in the church beyond Maciel and the Legionaries.
“What about the system of protection that permitted this to happen in a church with hundreds of years of wisdom?” he said. “It seems like everything has been resolved but we have questions. Who is going to investigate the church? There were also accomplices within the church.”
While remarkable, the Vatican statement made no mention of any complicity on the part of the Legionaries’ leadership or of Vatican officials who had held up Maciel as a model for the faithful. Recent reports in the U.S. Catholic publication National Catholic Reporter have documented how the late pope’s secretary and No. 2 allegedly intervened to protect Maciel and accepted donations from him.
“Wasn’t there silence from the Vatican? Weren’t there cover-ups?” Barba said in calling for the creation of an independent commission for lay people to investigate the church’s actions in the case of Maciel.
“I think this is valuable,” he said of the Vatican statement. “But I insist that it is not just thanks to the Vatican because it never would have happened without the persistent pressure of international public opinion.”
The pope’s response to the Maciel scandal is being closely watched because the Vatican is facing mounting pressure to aggressively confront clerical abuse. The Maciel case has long been seen as emblematic of Vatican inaction on abuse complaints, since Maciel’s victims had tried in the 1990s to bring a canonical trial against him but were shut down by his supporters at the Vatican.
In the end, it was only in 2006 – a year into Benedict’s papacy – that the Vatican ordered Maciel to lead a “reserved life of penance and prayer,” making him a priest in name only. He died in 2008 at age 87.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Olson in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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