The Vatican has ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order's late founder, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, the organisation has announced.
The announcement of the unusual investigation was posted along with the text of a letter informing the Legionaries of the pope's decision, Catholic News Service reports.
The letter, written by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope wanted to help the Legionaries of Christ deal with its present problems with "truth and transparency." It said the visitation would be carried out by "a team of prelates," who were not identified.
In February, Legionaries of Christ officials in Rome disclosed that Fr Maciel had fathered a child. Sources in Rome said the order was also looking into accusations of financial irregularities by Father Maciel.
In the past, Fr Maciel had been accused of sexually abusing young seminarians in the order. After investigating those allegations, the Vatican in 2006 told Fr Maciel to renounce public ministry as a priest and spend the rest of his life in prayer and penitence; the Vatican did not, however, confirm that sexual abuse had occurred.
Fr Maciel died January 30, 2008, at the age of 87.
Cardinal Bertone's one page letter, dated March 10, was addressed to Father Alvaro Corcuera, director general of the Legionaries and its lay association, Regnum Christi.
"The Holy Father is aware of the noble ideals that inspire you and the fortitude and prayerful spirit with which you are facing the current vicissitudes, and he encourages you to continue seeking the good of the Church and society by means of your own distinctive initiatives and institutions," the cardinal's letter said.
"In this regard, you can always count on the help of the Holy See, so that with truth and transparency, in a climate of fraternal and constructive dialogue, you will overcome the present difficulties. In this respect, the Holy Father has decided to carry out an apostolic visitation to the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ through a team of prelates," it said.
Circulating the letter to the Legionaries General Director, Fr Alvaro Corcuera wrote: "I have thanked the Holy Father from my heart for offering us this additional help to face our present vicissitudes related to the grave facts in our father founder's life that already were the object of the investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which were concluded in May of 2006, and those which have come to light more recently.
"We are deeply saddened and sorry, and we sincerely ask for forgiveness from God and from those who have been hurt through this.
"Full of confidence in divine Providence and in our Mother the Church, guardian of the authentic good of her children, we are now preparing to receive the Apostolic Visitors who, over the next months, will visit us to familiarise themselves closely with the life and apostolate of the Legion of Christ," Fr Corcuera wrote.
Vatican orders apostolic visitation of Legionaries of Christ (Catholic News Service)
Pope sends Apostolic Visitors to the Legionaries of Christ (Legionaries of Christ)
Legionaries of Christ