Rome, Italy, Jan 10, 2014 / 02:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Legionaries meet in Rome for their General Chapter, spokesman Fr. Benjamin Clariond voiced the congregation's hopes for a stronger apostolate with a more keen awareness of their challenges.
“After this period of renewal and purification, we would like to continue serving the Church and offering our ministries with a renewed enthusiasm, and also with a greater awareness of our limitations,” the spokesman said in his Jan. 10 interview with CNA.
Fr. Clariond also expressed the importance of recognizing “the beautiful reality of working together in a spirit of communion in the local and universal Church.”
However, he emphasized that “we also have to be realistic,” explaining that “the process of reform, renewal, etc. is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing effort to confront and, with God’s grace, configure ourselves with the Gospel and our mission.”
On Jan. 8 the Legionaries of Christ opened their first Extraordinary General Chapter with a Mass celebrated by the congregation's Delegate from the Vatican, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis.
The Chapter, which aims specifically to approve the Legion's new constitutions and to elect a new governing body, began its official meetings the morning of Jan. 9, and will continue for the next six weeks.
Retired pontiff Benedict XVI originally mandated the Chapter in wake of the revelation of the double-life led by the congregation’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, who is since deceased.
An official investigation into the life and conduct of Fr. Maciel was launched by the Vatican, and in 2006 Benedict XVI stripped him of his duties and role of leadership within the congregation, ordering him to a life of prayer and penance.
The goal of the Papal Delegate, appointed by Benedict in June of 2010, “was to walk a path of renewal and revision of our charism, our way of life,” Fr. Clariond noted, highlighting how “this process entailed the main task of writing our new constitutions which are set to express, protect and help develop the charism of any religious congregation.”
During their meetings, “the constitutions,” observed the spokesman, “will be approved by the General Chapter and subsequently submitted for the approval of Pope Francis.”
Along with the primary tasks of approving their constitutions and electing new leadership, the Chapter will also make an analysis of “the Legion’s path of renewal, our opportunities, our frailties,” he revealed, “and discern together, in a spirit of prayer and communion, what the Holy Spirit is asking of us in this moment.”
“It is the Chapter itself which will mark the guidelines and priorities for the new leadership.”
The Chapter began “with a draft of the Constitutions in which every Legionary has had a chance to speak his opinions,” Fr. Clarion explained, noting that he was the secretary of the Central Commission for the Review of the Constitutions last year.
Explaining the process of writing of the constitutions, the priest recalled that the Central Commission issued an initial proposal, which was read, studied, discussed and voted on by all the Legionaries.
“It implied a lot of work,” the spokesman noted, emphasizing that “the Central Commission would read every single suggestion,” some of the texts including over 500 recommendations, “and identify the different consensus as well as divergences.”
Fr. Clarion also voiced his belief that the Chapter will address “the issue of the founder,” which “in a sense” has already been addressed, “but is likely that it will be revisited.”
“It will also set the guidelines and priorities for the new leadership,” he said, emphasizing that although these are his thoughts, “as spokesman of the Legion of Christ,” he is “not in a position” to determine the topics that will be discussed.
The spokesman also expressed his appreciation of the appointment the Delegate by Benedict XVI, because “had to do with a future” that the retired pontiff “considered possible for the Legion.”
“Trust in the voice of Peter’s successor, which comes from faith, has been a source of hope and confidence for the future,” he expressed.
In a Jan. 9 interview with Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Legion-Delegate Cardinal De Paolis emphasized that his duties have not been “not the beginning of the story of the Legion and Regnum Christi, but it is one stage of it.”
“The first stage is the story of the Founder; the second is the visitation by the five bishops sent by the Holy Father to get to know this reality; and the third stage, in fact, is the appointment of the papal delegate.”
When Benedict issued the delegation, the cardinal explained, “he had already issued a severe judgment” regarding the founder’s actions, but “this judgment was not so severe as to destroy the congregation.”
“If the Pope appoints a Delegate,” he explained, “he is implicitly denying that a substantially negative judgment of the Legion itself should be made.”
Benedict XVI’s goal, observed Cardinal De Paolis, was to “restart the journey alongside the Legionaries, so as to guide them through a period of reflection and renewal, which was also penitential.”
This was done in hopes of reviewing “their charism, to rewrite their Constitutions and then to resume their positive position within the Church.”
In addition to his work within the Legionaries of Christ and their leadership, the cardinal also spoke of the congregation’s lay movement, Regnum Christi, explaining that it will not be discussed during the Chapter, but that “a new path” must be traced.
“Before,” Cardinal De Paolis noted, “Regnum Christi was like an extension of the Legion. Instead, we have come to realize that each group has its own autonomy, identity and discipline.”
“However, together they form a ‘movement,’” and “therefore, there is a great unity among laity, consecrated lay persons and religious priests, who are dedicated to working together closely.”
“These are things that still have to be defined further,” he said, noting that it is “important to point out that that what has, in a way, overwhelmed the Legion regarding its scandals not touched this great Regnum Christi Movement.”
“Thus, there is a big ‘slice,’ a great ecclesiastical reality that remains intact and has been serving the Church, especially in the area of religious education and Catholic and Pontifical universities. That is promising.”
Cardinal De Paolis also emphasized the interest of Pope Francis in the current state of the Legion, recalling that once Benedict had resigned, he presented a new report on the Chapter’s preparation once Francis was elected, stating that the pontiff “immediately called me.”
“After a few days he wrote me a letter, in which he confirmed me in my work and approved the program I presented,” the cardinal continued, adding that Pope Francis has been “very attentive, very close, and he rightly wants to follow the journey we are undertaking taking.”
Using the pontiff's own words, Cardinal De Paolis stated that “he feels a great responsibility, as the Successor of Peter, to accompany religious and consecrated life.”
Although there was no specific time limit set for the Vatican’s delegation to the Legionaries of Christ, the cardinal explained that the “term was linked to the celebration of the Extraordinary General Chapter.”
Thus, “once the Extraordinary Chapter has been celebrated, the mandate will be over.”