ROME — The Legion of Christ has elected a new general director, issued multiple apologies and published conclusions of investigations into the congregation founded by the disgraced Mexican priest Father Marcial Maciel.
The congregation, whose leaders are currently meeting in an extraordinary general chapter in Rome, has elected 61-year-old Mexican priest Father Eduardo Robles Gil as its new general director.
The election took place during the meeting on Jan. 20 and was subsequently confirmed Feb. 6 by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Father Robles Gil, who has spent much of his priestly life in Latin America, takes over from Father Sylvester Heereman, who becomes one of the Legion’s general councilors.
The Vatican has also taken the unusual step of making two appointments itself: that of the vicar general, Father Juan José Arrieta, and one of the general councilors, Father Juan Sabadell.
The Legion of Christ was thrown into turmoil in the late 2000s after the extent of Father Maciel’s corruption and sexual abuse came to light. The congregation has also had to deal with historical cases of sexual abuse by some other Legionary priests, as well as trenchant criticisms of the way the Legion has been run.
The Legion begins by saying it wishes to express its “deep sorrow” over Father Maciel’s sexual abuse, immoral acts and corruption, saying it found the “incongruity” of his being a priest while hiding his immoral behavior “incomprehensible.”
“We firmly condemn this,” the communiqué stated. “We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Father Maciel. Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons.”
The communiqué contains various other apologies: first, to the “many victims” of Father Maciel, who have “waited so long in vain” for an apology and to whom the Legion now expresses “solidarity.” It then acknowledges “with sadness the initial incapability of believing” the testimonies of Father Maciel’s victims and the “long institutional silence” and “errors of judgment” that followed. “We apologize for these shortcomings, which have increased the suffering and confusion of many,” the communiqué says.
The Legion then apologizes to “our brothers, religious and priests” who have left the congregation, saying it is sorry for the times “we have not listened to you or been there for you in the spirit of the Gospel.”
Lastly, the Legion apologizes to, and desires to reconcile with, “all those who in one way or another were hurt by the sad events of these years and our shortcomings.”
The Legion admits giving “undue, universal value” to Father Maciel because of an “inadequate understanding of the concept of founder” and an “excessive exaltation and uncritical way of considering his person.” The communiqué goes on to say that a religious congregation does not have its origins in the person of the founder, but sees the congregation as a “gift of God” that the Church “accepts and approves.”
Concerning the Legion’s charism, the congregation stresses it has revised its constitutions, ensuring conformity of governance with the universal norms of the Church.
A “prolonged examination of conscience” has led to a discovery and purification of those elements “not proper to religious life,” the communiqué states, including “insufficient collaboration” with the local Church, “a striving for prestige” and an “indiscriminate fulfilling of minute norms.” All of this, the Legion says, demands “not only a change in legislative texts, but also a continual conversion of mind and heart.”
The Legion says it has tackled problems regarding authority by, among other things, creating “active councils” and implementing “formal consultations” prior to naming superiors. By suppressing one of its vows (the communiqué doesn’t specify which one, but most probably the fourth, which forbade criticism of superiors), it says the congregation is “learning how to share reflections and suggestions with our brothers and freely debate about any issue that affects the life and mission of the congregation.” It also acknowledges “shortcomings” in formation, which will be “one of the priorities” of the next government.
Turning to the Outreach Commission — a body established in 2011 by pontifical delegate Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to attend to those affected by Father Maciel’s abuses — the Legion says it has “completed its task.”
“No case pertaining to its area of responsibility remains open,” it says, and the congregation has acted “in accord” with the commission’s proposals, which have helped “relieve [victims’] wounds and foster reconciliation.”
The communiqué also offers a summary of the conclusions of the Economic Affairs Commission. Also established by Cardinal De Paolis in 2011, its task was to examine “the handling of funds and the financial situation of the congregation.”
The commission “underlined that they did not find embezzlements of money or other irregularities in the fiscal actions that were reviewed,” the communiqué says. But it said an urgent task is to reduce the congregation’s debt caused by the congregation’s “rapid expansion,” the world economic crisis and the falloff in donations. In some countries, the debt is “very high” but “manageable,” according to the communiqué, although it says the “administrative structure” needs adapting and simplifying.
Finally, the communiqué says the chapter fathers “repeatedly express” their awareness that there is still “much to be done” before the conclusion of “this process of renewal and conversion.”
“The consideration of all of these issues has led us to conclude that the journey towards an ‘authentic and profound renewal,’ confirmed by Pope Francis, has advanced, but has not yet ended,” the Legion says.
The Legion’s New Leader
In a separate statement, Father Robles Gil said that he hoped his election and the results of the general chapter marked “a new beginning” for the Legionaries of Christ. But in order for it to be so, he said it is “necessary to put the challenges of the past in their place.”
“We can’t erase the past,” he said. “We have to learn the lessons, mourn what occurred, trust in God’s mercy and, like St. Paul, run forward in pursuit of the goal of reaching Christ.”
Born in Mexico City on Sept. 18, 1952, Eduardo Robles Gil received a degree in industrial engineering before becoming a member of Regnum Christi in 1975. He joined the Legion of Christ in 1977, made his perpetual profession in Rome in 1981 and was ordained a priest on Aug. 20, 1983. He holds a licentiate in philosophy from the Gregorian University.
The Mexican priest has been a superior of Legionary communities in Brazil and Chile, as well as a territorial administrator for two years in Mexico and a section director of Regnum Christi. He helped found the Legion and Regnum Christi’s presence in Brazil in the 1980s.
In 2011, he was named to the Outreach Commission to work with Father Maciel’s abuse victims. He began to serve as a major superior in the Legion in August 2013, when he assumed the post of territorial director of Mexico.
Along with his election, two other new senior Legion of Christ leaders — its vicar general, Father Juan José Arrieta, and one of the general councilors, Father Juan Sabadell — were named by the Holy See. Two more general councilors, Father Sylvester Heereman and Father Jesús Villagrasa, were elected by the chapter members.
Father José Gerardo Cárdenas and Father Clemens Gutberlet were elected general administrator and general procurator, respectively.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.