By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order's late founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.
The announcement of the unusual investigation was posted on the Web site of the Legionaries of Christ March 31, along with the text of a letter informing the Legionaries of the pope's decision.
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.
Apostolic visitation is a form of internal church investigation ordered by a pope and undertaken by his delegate or delegates. The pope sets the jurisdiction and powers of the visitation, which usually ends with the submission of a report to the Holy See.
In February, Legionaries of Christ officials in Rome disclosed that Father 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, Father Maciel had been accused of sexually abusing young seminarians in the order. After investigating those allegations, the Vatican in 2006 told Father 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.
Father Maciel died Jan. 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.
Details of the visitation were not made public in the announcement. Jim Fair, the order's U.S. spokesman, said the order knew little more than what the letter stated.
"We know they're going to be visiting. We'll cooperate and prepare. But all we know is what's on the site," Fair told
They lied before. Will they lie again?