Legionaries Begin First General Chapter to Revise Constitutions
The meeting will also elect a new governing body for the religious order.
VATICAN CITY — Earlier this morning, the Legionaries of Christ began their first meeting to draft and approve their new constitutions, after which they will elect their new leadership.
Opening with a Jan. 8 Mass celebrated by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the chapter, which will be held behind closed doors throughout its duration, began its official meetings the morning of Jan. 9 and is slated to last roughly 20 days.
The general chapter was mandated by Benedict XVI in the wake of the revelation of the double life led by the congregation’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who is since deceased.
An official investigation into the life and conduct of Father Maciel was launched by the Vatican, and in 2006, Benedict XVI stripped him of his duties and role of leadership within the congregation, ordering him to a life of prayer and penance.
After his death in 2008, it was disclosed that he had fathered at least one child as a result of a sexual relationship with a woman.
In his homily for the opening Mass, Cardinal De Paolis, papal delegate to the Legion of Christ, stated that, after three and a half years of preparation, the chapter is “an event of faith,” which can only be undergone with “the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
“It has been repeatedly stressed,” stated the cardinal, “that the revision of the constitutions cannot simply be considered a technical effort, but should be accompanied by a process of examination of life, of review and of spiritual renewal for the institute.”
Highlighting how the constitutions which will be drafted are not “simply a code of laws” for external discipline, he explained that they “will be an expression of a common vocation, a common ideal, a common mission.”
“The heart of the constitutions,” Cardinal De Paolis continued, “is the charism, or spiritual patrimony, of the institute,” which “should be examined in depth.”
“The constitutions must contain the vocation and identity of the institute.”
Shifting to the second task of the chapter, the cardinal noted the importance of electing a governing body whose superiors will “preserve and promote” the institution’s charism, which “is only guaranteed when authority is exercised as service, in the spirit of the Gospel and in fidelity to the norms of the Church.”
“It is a point which should always be given special attention, especially for you, who have a history of suffering in this regard,” he added.
Emphasizing that although “well-made laws are important,” the cardinal stated that they are “not enough” if they do not also have “a new spirit.”
“It is this new spirit that you are called to foster and cultivate inside of you when you are called upon to give yourselves new superiors,” continued the cardinal, explaining that they must also “have a new heart, both on the part of those electing and those elected.”
“To the degree that it depends on you,” he said, “have present only God and the good of the Church and the Legion and choose those whom you deem most worthy and suitable for the ministry of authority.”
Although there has been suffering, “both internally and externally” in the past few years, Cardinal De Paolis observed that the future of the Legion “looks rather calm and hopeful.”
Highlighting how this suffering has purified and matured the members of the congregation, the cardinal stated the time of preparation for the meeting “is like the memory to which you are called to return, so as to regain confidence, serenity and hope.”
“Hope in the Lord, who has preserved your vocation; hope in the Legion, which, thanks to you, presents itself to this chapter with new strength and new horizons; and hope in the Church, which has accompanied you.”
Cardinal De Paolis concluded his homily by offering special thanks to all those who have worked for the “salvation” of the Legionaries and encouraging the “participation, solidarity and love that enters into sin and sorrow, so as to redeem them from the inside,” of all attending the general chapter.
Regnum Christi Representatives
In addition to the 61 priests from varying nations who are participating in the meetings, representatives of the consecrated men, women and laity of the associated Regnum Christi movement have also been invited.
The Legionaries have 950 priest-members and close to 1,000 seminarians at various levels of formation. With the help of their once 30,000-strong lay organization, Regnum Christi, the Legion operates schools and other works of social and charitable service in more than 20 countries around the world.
Once the Legionaries approve their new constitutions and elect a new government during this first phase of the chapter, a second phase will address various issues in regard to the life of the congregation.