The Vatican has officially launched an investigation of the Legionaries of Christ, the controversial, scandal-ridden order whose late founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, was last year found to have fathered a child out of wedlock. He is also suspected of sexually abusing seminarians and financial misdeeds and various other sins, all of which have profoundly tarnished what was once one of the most powerful “brands” in ultra-orthodox Catholicism.

The news emerged on the Legion’s own site, which posts the letter from Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

John Thavis of CNS writes from Rome:

The announcement of the unusual investigation was posted on the Web site of the Legionaries of Christ March 31, along with the text of a letter informing the Legionaries of the pope’s decision.

The letter, written by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope wanted to help the Legionaries of Christ deal with its present problems with “truth and transparency.” It said the visitation would be carried out by “a team of prelates,” who were not identified.

Apostolic visitation is a form of internal church investigation ordered by a pope and undertaken by his delegate or delegates. The pope sets the jurisdiction and powers of the visitation, which usually ends with the submission of a report to the Holy See.

Many have urged such a step, among them some of the Legion’s erstwhile fans on the right, such as George Weigel here, who foresaw a takeover along the lines of Obama’s plan for General Motors–now there’s irony:

“To take an image from corporate law, the Legion of Christ must be immediately put into receivership: A personal delegate, appointed by the pope, must be empowered to take over the governance of the Legion of Christ and to conduct the moral and institutional audit required. The papal delegate would be instructed to report his findings, both interim and final, to the pope alone, and he would be instructed to make recommendations (again, to the pope alone) addressing the possible futures, including dissolution or dissolution-and-reconstitution, of the Legion.”


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