Rome -- In a message to the Legionaries of Christ, Pope John Paul II has conveyed his regards to the founder of that movement, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, and to his successor.
Father Maciel stepped down last week as head of the Legionaries, declining re-election at the meeting of the group's chapter general. Father Alvaro Corcuera was selected to replace him. The Pope's message, issued January 31, acknowledged the change in leadership, but said that the Legionaries should continue on the same path. The Legionaries, the Pontiff said, should continue to provide intellectual and spiritual formation for young people, while respecting their freedom and personal responsibility.
The decision by Father Maciel to remove himself from leadership came at a sensitive time, shortly after reports that Vatican officials were re-examining sexual abuse charges against the Mexican priest. Father Maciel and the Legionaries have denied the charges, and the Legionaries said that their founder stepped down because of age. Father Maciel is now 84, and another 12-year term as head of the congregation would make him 96 years old before the next scheduled meeting of the chapter general.
The Legionaries of Christ, founded in Mexico in 1941, now have 600 priests and 2,800 seminaries, spread across 18 countries in Europe and the Americas. An affiliated lay group, Regnum Christi, claims 65,000 members; the statutes of Regnum Christi earned final approval from the Vatican in November 2004.