Since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to a report of an internal commission released Saturday.
“The commission did not address the issue of abuse of power and conscience, nor has it delved into the shortcomings of the actions of some superiors to analyze where there may have been cover-up, negligence or omissions. The commission is aware that this is an important pending task,” the report states.
Fr. Marcial Maciel, who founded the order, abused at least 60 minors.
In addition, 74 of the order’s seminarians abused minors. Of these, 14 went on to be ordained. Three of those 14 were ordained after 2005 and “the superiors admitted them to ordination without knowledge of the facts.”
The investigation was taken with a view to the Legion’s general chapter, which will begin Jan. 20, 2020.
Citing the secrecy of abuse, the report also notes that “there are likely more abuse cases than are reported here and the statistics will have to be updated periodically.”
The report does not name the priests who abused minors, citing “differences in national legislation and … the ethical considerations at play,” though the order’s US province has published its own list of offending priests.
The vast majority of the victims were boys between the ages of 11 and 16, the report states.
The 33 priests who abused minors constitute 2.44 per cent of the order’s priests. Of those 33, six have died, eight have left the priesthood, one has left the Legionaries, and 18 remain in the congregation.
Of those 18, 14 have no public priestly ministry, while four “have a restricted ministry that excludes pastoral work with minors (schools, youth groups, etc.).” Those four also “have a personal safety plan,” according to the report.
Fourteen Legion priests who committed abuse of minors were themselves victims of abuse in the order.
“It is worth noting that 111 of the victims were either victims of Father Maciel, or were victims of his victims or of a victim of one of his victims. This represents 63.43% of the 175 victims of priests in the Congregation.”
“The minor seminaries of the Congregation, where over 10,000 students resided, were the most vulnerable environment for sexual abuse in previous decades,” the report stated.
“This is due, first of all, to the associated risks of a boarding school. In addition, various other factors converged, such as the little time that students spent with their families at that time, the insufficient formation and oversight of young directors, deficiencies in affective-sexual formation and a pedagogy that over emphasized discipline.”
Aside from Fr. Maciel’s victims, 65 minors were abused at the Legion’s minor seminaries.
No known sexual abuse in a minor seminary of the Legion has taken place since 2012, and its minor seminaries underwent reform in 2015.
In the order’s schools, 33 minors were victimized; three in parishes; and one in youth ministry.
“We deplore and condemn the abuses committed in our history, as well as those institutional or personal practices that may have favored or encouraged any form of abuse or re-victimization,” the report says. “We acknowledge with honesty and shame the reality of the crimes of sexual abuse of minors in the Legion’s history, sincerely desiring a continued personal and institutional conversion.”
The Legion of Christ was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children.
In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age.
From that point, Benedict XVI carried on a process of reform for the Legion of Christ, a process continued under Pope Francis.