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Pope keeps close watch on Legionaries' reform drive

Movement still marred by founder's child sex abuse

09 January, 18:31
Pope keeps close watch on Legionaries' reform drive (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, January 9 - A scandal-rocked Catholic movement close to Pope John Paul II whose founder was a child sex abuser began reform meetings at the Vatican on Thursday with Pope Francis said to be paying close attention in his ongoing bid to rebuild dysfunctional elements of the Church. The meetings, known as an Extraordinary General Chapter, are the first since the Legionaries of Christ were put under Vatican oversight in 2010 after its founder, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, was removed from leadership for inflicting decades of sexual abuse on boys and fathering several children, two of whom he also abused. The scandal tainted the pontificate of John Paul, a friend of the charismatic founder who publicly endorsed the Legionaries, sparking accusations of ignoring public reports as early as the 1990s of abuse that began in the 1980s. Maciel was stripped of his leadership role and ordered to a life of prayer and penitence by John Paul's successor Benedict XVI in 2006 and died two years later in disgrace. Church probes have since confirmed nine other priests sexually abused children and at least 10 more are still under investigation.

Some Vatican watchers have suggested John Paul's canonisation, scheduled for the spring this year, may have been held even earlier had he aggressively addressed the Maciel affair during his papacy.

The meetings, which will go on for six weeks, are being watched as an important chapter in the reform drive of Francis, who has called for a major reworking of the group's internal structure, said to be very secretive in order to prevent whistle-blowing, according to internal probes.

Known to encourage joining the priesthood and recruit new followers, the Legionaries count over 950 priests and 70,000 lay members worldwide, primarily in Latin America, the Argentine pope's home.

The Chapter is being overseen by Pontifical Delegate to the Legion Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, under Francis's close watch. "The Pope has been very attentive, very close, and he rightly wants to follow the journey we are undertaking," said De Paolis in an interview with Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi for Vatican Radio.

"Because - and these are (the pope's) words - 'he feels a great responsibility, as the Successor of Peter, to accompany religious and consecrated life'".

Since his election in March, Francis has made reforming elements of the Church a priority, ranging from making the Vatican bank more transparent to creating a more "collegial" power structure outside the Vatican bureaucracy that includes dioceses from around the world. However advocacy groups for victims of sex abuse have largely been unimpressed by his actions to restore the Church's credibility in the wake of a worldwide clergy sex-abuse scandal involving untold victims, putting the Church on the defensive for more than a decade.

Last month the Vatican rebuffed a request from the United Nations to provide information on alleged child sex abuse by priests, nuns or monks, arguing the cases fell under the auspices of the judicial authorities in countries where abuse happened. Days later the Vatican announced Francis was setting up a special commission to advise him on how the Catholic Church should protect children and help victims of clergy sexual abuse., an online archive documenting the abuse crisis, "cautiously welcomed" the initiative but said the scope made "crucial omissions" in not indicating it would discipline religious superiors who enable child rape and molestation, nor that it would study the Vatican's own culpability.