Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Pope Francis inherits the problems of the Legionaries

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 17, 2014

In his official debut as a columnist for the Boston Globe, John Allen, the longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, remarks that (to quote the headline) “Legionaries are Pope Francis’ problem now.”

It’s a fair point. The scandal within the Legion of Christ festered for many years, but the problem came to a head under Blessed John Paul II. It’s not clear how much the Pope knew, since the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, protected the order from serious scrutiny, but the beloved Pope John Paul is certainly vulnerable to criticism for his handling of the issue.

Pope Benedict unleashed the investigation shortly after his election, and appointed a personal representative to supervise the process of reform within the troubled order. Some observers (myself included) felt that real reform was improbable, and the Legionaries should have been disbanded. So Pope Benedict could be criticized, too.

But now those issues are moot. Pope Francis arrived on the scene in time to demand more vigorous investigations into the past history of Legionary leaders, and even to suppress the order, if that’s what he decided to do. If the Holy Father has now put his stamp of approval on the restructuring of the order, any future criticism of the Legionaries reflects on him. This is no longer just a problem that he inherited; if it's a problem, it's one that he accepted.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Thomas V. Mirus - Sep. 02, 2017 8:13 PM ET USA

    james-w-anderson8230: Odd, it allowed me to read it originally, but now I'm getting the same pop-up. Perhaps they changed something.

  • Posted by: dmva9806 - Sep. 02, 2017 1:06 PM ET USA

    And I thought "Innocent Smith" was a fictional character! GKC would be proud.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 02, 2017 12:31 AM ET USA

    The Spectator blocks non-subscribers from reading their articles.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Feb. 18, 2014 5:20 PM ET USA

    Also, the investigation into Maciel began while JPII was alive. There is no way Benedict could have ordered an investigation into Maciel and wrapped up an investigation between the time of his papal election and the sentencing of Maciel to a life of penance. In December of 2004, this very site ran a story of reports of an investigation into Maciel.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Feb. 18, 2014 5:17 PM ET USA

    Why is Blessed John Paul at fault concerning the Legion? Many, many famous Catholics and members of the Legion were duped by Maciel. Maybe some influential American lay Catholics serving in Rome helped muddy the waters for Blessed JPII on this matter?

  • Posted by: shrink - Feb. 18, 2014 4:39 PM ET USA

    Speaking of inheritance and the dissolution of institutions, one wonders if Francis ever contemplated giving the axe to the SJs. Jesuit damage to the Church over the last 75 years is orders of magnitude greater than that of the LCs. Not very likely that Francis will be the one to level scrutiny in that direction, and perhaps Francis would never see the SJs as a problem at all. Oh well, no one should expect life to be fair, least of all the LCs. In this life, the SJs always win, even the papacy!

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Feb. 18, 2014 7:13 AM ET USA

    You're so right. This is what disappointed me when I read that one of Marciel's "disciples" had taken over command with seemingly the blessing of the Vatican. I could be wrong, but this doesn't appear at first glance to resemble "reform" at all; instead it looks like SOP at Legion HQ. Given the history, it will be a miracle if this doesn't blow up in the pope's face eventually.