(Vatican Radio) “The experience of the mercy of the Church and the caring that the Church has had for us, is something that we want to proclaim to the world”, says Fr. Benjamin Clariond, spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ (LC) in an interview with Emer McCarthy on the day the Congregation published its newly approved Constitutions.
The body of norms governing the global movement has been dramatically reduced from 802 articles to 235 and is the result of the Apostolic Vistitation mandated by Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 led by Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, following the revelations of sexual abuse of minors by the Congregation’s Founder Marcial Maciel Degollado.
The Holy See gave its seal of approval on October 16th last, following three years of discussion which involved the input of every single member of Legionaries of Christ, according to Fr. Clariond.
What this basically means is that the Holy Father Pope Francis has approved the Congregation’s charism, its new system of government and major changes in formation of its clergy, among other things.
“It is the authority in the Church which decides if a charism is authentic and how it should be exercised”, points out Fr. Clariond. In the case of the Legionaries, they find the seeds of their charism in the Third Luminous Mystery – the preaching of the Kingdom. “So what we really strive to do is help all the baptized encounter Christ so that he personally will transform them into apostles”. They do this primarily through parishes, schools and colleges in 22 countries worldwide.
However one of the key points overhauled in the new Constitutions is the structure of authority in the Congregation. Fr. Clariond says “the new Constitutions state the fact and the practice – which we have acquired over the past few years – of the importance of councils to moderate authority but also to help people in authority a) to be accountable and b) to make more prudent and wiser decisions taking other points of view into account”.
One essential aspect is the limiting of terms spent in positions of authority. “The terms for people being superiors are set so that nobody would perpetuate himself in a period of being superior on a local or territorial level”, says Fr. Clariond.
In the effort to further ensure transparency, openness and accountability one key element included in the new norms regards Freedom of Conscience especially in formation. “Having spiritual directors who do not have a position of authority especially for people in formation is so important because that guarantees the freedom for discernment, openness for transparency”, notes the spokesman. Given that the Congregation – despite the blow dealt by the scandal of their founder – is still a source of vocations to the priesthood, this is particularly relevant.
In publishing the new Constitutions (currently only available in Spanish) the LC highlighted that their codes governing the safeguarding and protection of minors are not included.
“Child abuse is a terrible crime and no child should have to suffer that, from anybody we are fully committed with prevention and with a prompt response to any allegation that will come forward” says Fr. Clariond. “There are safe environment coordinators in the different countries and in the General Chapter [January 2014 –ed] issued a statement saying we should continue on in this process and in the places where there are no external accreditation agencies like Presidium in the US, especially in the developing world, the General Directorate is setting up minimum standards that must be applied”. However he adds, the codes are drawn up nationally to adhere to the norms enforced by civil authorities and local bishops conferences.
But now that the guidelines for the future of the Legionaries are in place, how will the Congregation move forward from the pain and scandal of its past. Where do they go from here?
“I would have to ask the Holy Spirit what he has in store”, concludes Fr. Clariond. “I’m not very keen on reading tea leaves. You see, when you have a broken father in a family its usually the mother that brings the kids forward. That’s what happened to the Legonaries of Christ. We had a broken father and our mom, the Church, picked us up, got us together, set us straight and said, ok there’s a lot to do, keep on going”.
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