(Photo: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI)
The Legionaries of Christ Roman Catholic order officially apologized for the "reprehensible" behavior of its founder, who was found guilty of sexually abusing children, and announced new leadership with hopes of rebuilding the organization.
"Today we acknowledge with sadness the initial incapability of believing the testimonies of the persons who had been victims of Fr. Maciel, the long institutional silence and, later on, the hesitations and errors of judgment when setting out to inform the members of the congregation and others. We apologize for these shortcomings, which have increased the suffering and confusion of many," the Catholic organization said in a statement published on Thursday, which was approved in a plenary assembly last month.
The Catholic order also announced the election of Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil as their new general director, and Fr. Juan José Arrieta, as vicar general.
The order, which was formed in 1941 and is headquartered in Italy, apologized for the actions of its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was found to have been living a double-life of sexual immorality and abused minors, including a number of seminarians that were as young as 12 years old.
The order condemned his "reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior," and asked God to have mercy on him. Fr. Maciel died in 2008.
"We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr. Maciel. Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons."
Reuters pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI removed the Legionaries of Christ founder in 2006. Maciel had previously been supported by Pope John Paul II, despite the growing criticism and allegations against him over the years.
The order had previously been in high standing with the Vatican because it attracted many young Catholics to religious vocations, and contributed significant donations to the church.
"When we ponder the magnitude of the evil and scandal caused, we realize that we are under the merciful gaze of God who, with his providence, continues to guide our steps. United with Jesus Christ, we hope to be able to redeem our painful history and overcome with good the consequences of evil," the Legionaries reflected.
"Only in this way can we consider what has taken place in light of the Gospel and build our future on the solid foundations of trust in God, of fidelity to the Church, and of the truth."
The formal apology came just as the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized the Roman Catholic Church as a whole for systematically failing to report child abusing clergy to the authorities.
The U.N. committee claimed that church authorities, including some at the highest levels of the Holy See, have "shown reluctance and in some instances, refused to cooperate with judicial authorities and national commissions of inquiry" when it came to protecting children and punishing abusive clergy.
The Vatican responded to the claims, acknowledging that sexual abuse of a minor is both a sin and a crime, but argued that it has done "more than any other international organization" to tackle the problem.