EUGENIA JIMÉNEZ Y NOTIMEX
The Legionaries of Christ are beginning to feel the crisis caused by their founder, Marcial Maciel, who committed acts of pedasty in their own ranks. The statistics for 2014 show an historic drop in the number of members, taking into account priests, seminarians and aspirants.
“The institutional crisis that we have gone through has contributed to some priests leaving the congregation. The majority continue to live their ministry in some diocese, and we are sure that they will do much good,” Benjamin Clairond, the spokesman for the order in Rome, admitted in an interview with Notimex.
The grand total of Legionaries of Christ (aspirants and religious) went from 2,739 in 2013 to 2,463 in 2014, with a net drop of 276; this means that the congregation has shrunk 10% in just 12 months. But the real number of those who have left is greater, since new members entered (both the seminary high schools and novitiates), and for that reason, the totals above do not reflect all of the desertions. “The drop in the number of priest does not surprise us, but it always hurts when a brother leaves, even when in many cases they may continue united to us by a profound friendship,” the Legion spokesperson added.
Clariond admitted that crisis caused by the Maciel case, a man guilty of sexual abuse of minors among other crimes, “has had and important impact” in this situation, together with other factors, such as the increase in the average age of priests to 46 and to 36 for all members.
Those who have left
This report explains the drop by counting those who left the congregation by leaving the path of priestly formation, those who have asked for a dispensation from vows, and those those who have passed to another statistical category upon ordination.
There were nine priests and one transitory deacon who asked for dispensation from celibacy and the obligations related to ordination, through which they left religious life. Another 29 priests renounced the Legion of Christ, but not consecrated life, and they have been incarnated into various dioceses.
“The majority of them already had permission for a legitimate leave from the community with plans of incarnation, and in 2014 they concluded their probationary periods established by the diocesan bishops,” the report reveals.
The rest of the drop in number of priests is the seven who died last year. “The fact that the acts of government and these statistics are being sent to all Legionaries is part of the lesson that we have learned during this path of renovation,” Clairond emphasized.
The countries of origin of those who have left the Legion of Christ include Mexico, Italy, Venezuela, Australia, Spain, Brazil, the United States, and Colombia, although the report does not reveal how many from each nation decided to leave the congregation.
Those in the process of leaving
Among those who remain in the order, but who may very well leave, there are 17 exclaustrated priests who are reflecting upon their future under Canon 686 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that “for a grave reason, an indult of exclaustration can be granted, but not for more than a three year period."
Additionally, among those who still belong to the congregation, there are a dozen priests who are in an “irregular situation;” that is, the period of their permission of absence or exclaustration has expired and they have not returned nor has the Vatican granted an indult to leave the order.
There are also 23 priests, who for reasons of apostolic work, studies or illness, are temporarily living outside of legionary communities. Right now, there are 734 students in seminary high schools who are not officially counted as members of the congregation, but last year, there were 945, a 22% drop among aspirants. Mexico is the country of origin of the majority of the members with 690, followed by the United States with 282; Spain 187; Brazil 109; Colombia 102.
Even though the numbers are not positive, the congregation decided to make them public because “the information and transparency help to foment greater co-responsibility among all Legionaries and a more participative government. There is still much to be done, but we are taking solid steps.”