Sainthood Cause Delayed for Legion of Mary Founder

DUBLIN—The British secret service, MI5, and Irish civil service red tape may delay for decades the cause of Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary.

Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin Jan. 12 swore in the tribunal team that will examine Duff's life to examine if he is a proper candidate for canonization. If the tribunal, led by vice-postulator Father Bede MacGregor, finds that Duff led a life of heroic virtue, he will be declared “venerable” and will have passed the first of three stages on the way to being recognized as an official saint of the Catholic Church.

Duff was one of the few lay people to address the Second Vatican Council where he received a standing ovation from the world's bishops in recognition of his contribution to the understanding and implementation of the lay calling of all lay Christians to promote the Gospel in the world. He founded the Legion of Mary in 1921 and the organization now has branches in almost every diocese in the world.

Father MacGregor's investigation has one advantage over similar tribunals: Duff died fairly recently—at age 91 in 1980—and many of those who knew him well are still alive. Father MacGregor plans to call “about 40” witnesses, two of whom knew Duff for more than 50 years, to give evidence to the tribunal.

The investigation's main difficulty will be gaining access to British and Irish government archives relating to Duff's life. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will reject any case presented to it which has not examined any “known significant archives.”

A spokesman for the British embassy in Dublin admitted to the Register that Duff was “probably” the subject of a British secret service file in 1920 when he acted as manager of the nationalist delegation to London that negotiated the Treaty of Independence for Ireland. While Duff is said to be the only one among the delegation not to carry a firearm for his own protection, he did travel under a pseudonym, F.S. Mitchell, which he later used as a pen name. However, British intelligence reports are covered by a 100-year rule that would prevent any material held on Duff from being released before 2020.

“The British are paranoid about releasing any of their security files,” said Caitriona Crowe of the National Archive of Ireland. “They have yet to release material relating to the Easter Rising in 1916, never mind material relating to the Treaty.”

Father MacGregor says the evidence he has collected so far is “highly laudatory.” Among those he wishes to talk to are Dublin women whom Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary helped save from a life of prostitution, as well as the now adult children of those women. (Cian Molloy)