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Scandal-rocked Legionaries start reform meetings at Vatican

Seen as key test of Francis' ability to rebuild

09 January, 14:48
Scandal-rocked Legionaries start reform meetings at Vatican (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. 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 up by his friendship with Maciel. The meetings, which will go on for six weeks, are being watched as an important chapter in the reform drive of Pope 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'".

(photo: Pontifical Delegate to the Legion Cardinal Velasio De Paolis)