VATICAN CITY — After four years of drafts and adjustments, the Legion of Christ has announced that its new constitutions have been approved by Pope Francis.
The Pope’s approval of the final draft of the new constitutions brings the first phase of renewal and purification to a close, after it was discovered that the congregation's founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had been living a double life.
The new constitutions were drafted during the congregation’s Extraordinary General Chapter meetings, which began on Jan. 9 and were mandated by Pope Benedict XVI in the wake of the revelation that Father Maciel had sexually abused seminarians and had relationships with two women, which resulted in at least one child.
In 2006, with the approval of Pope Benedict, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Father Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry.” Due to his advanced age, it was decided not to subject him to a canonical process. He died in 2008.
From that point on, Benedict XVI carried out a process of reform for the Legionaries, and in 2010, the then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis was appointed as their papal delegate, thus initiating a three-year process of renewal.
All members of the Legionaries had the opportunity to participate and contribute during the last three years of consultation and reflection.
Father Eduardo Robles-Gil, appointed general director of the Legionaries of Christ during their January and February 2014 general chapter, announced the definitive approval of the constitution in a Nov. 1 letter to all the members of the Legionaries of Christ.
In the Vatican-approved letter, dated Oct. 16, he urged members to be “grateful for the paternal care with which Popes Francis and Benedict XVI and Cardinal De Paolis and his councilors have guided our congregation’s steps in these years.”
These represent the sixth edition that have been approved for the Legion by ecclesiastical authorities. Previous editions were approved in 1948, 1965, 1970, 1983 and 1994.
While the previous statutes consisted of 878 paragraphs, the new ones consist of 247 paragraphs.
The first part of the new statutes is dedicated to the charism and patrons saints of Legionaries of Christ, while the second part describes the four vows every Legionary must profess.
In addition, the constitutions lay out the steps for formation, the characteristics of suitable candidates to be Legionaries of Christ, the religious profession, the studies, the ordination and the management and administration of the order.
A key difference between the old and the new constitutions are that the old ones included many clauses regarding the application of the norms, while the new constitution focuses more on essential principles.
The initial draft of the statutes were given to an ad hoc commission established by the Congregation for Consecrated Life, whose results were presented by Cardinal Braz de Aviz to the government of the Legion on July 3.
It was also on that occasion that the appointment of Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda as pontifical adviser for the Legionaries of Christ was made public.
An expert in canon law, Father Ghirlanda has been among the consultants of the Legionaries of Christ since the very beginning of their renewal process.
Following the suggestion of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the constitutions include references to the documents of the Second Vatican Council as well as other official documents on consecrated life.
The congregation also asked that clear references to sacred Scripture and the Code of Canon Law be included.
It was also suggested that the relationship between the Regnum Christi movement and the Legionaries of Christ be clarified, which is a task that is currently under way.
At the end of the Legionaries’ 2014 chapter, Cardinal Velasio de Paolis declared the congregation to be “reconciled with themselves, with their history, with the world and the Church.”