Vatican names Jesuit canon lawyer adviser to Legionaries of Christ

Vatican City — Although the Legionaries of Christ have returned to a normal form of self-governance, the Vatican named a top canon lawyer as a special adviser to the religious community.

Jesuit Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a former rector of Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University and canon law consultant to various offices of the Roman Curia, will support the Legionaries "in overcoming the institutional crisis that has taken place in the last few years," according to an announcement from the Legionaries' headquarters Thursday.

The new leadership of the Legionaries of Christ, elected in February, was informed of Ghirlanda's appointment by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

In a letter to members, Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, general director of the Legionaries, said Ghirlanda "will counsel us especially in the search for an adequate canonical configuration" for the relationship between the Legionaries of Christ and the related Regnum Christi movement. The movement includes consecrated women, consecrated men and laypeople.

Both the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi were founded by the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was condemned by the Vatican for having sexually abused boys in his seminaries and fathering children. Pope Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi in 2009 and appointed a papal delegate to oversee the groups as they prepared to rewrite their constitutions and reform their communities.

Part of the process was to spell out how the branches of Regnum Christi relate to one another and, particularly, how to give the consecrated men and women greater autonomy from the priests of the Legionaries of Christ in their daily lives and apostolic work while still promoting cooperation.

Ghirlanda, 72, had served as the canonical adviser to the papal delegate throughout the process. He presided over the general chapter of the consecrated men's branch of Regnum Christi in November 2013 and served as vice president of the Legionaries of Christ general chapter in January and February.

The general chapter ended in February with delegates approving the text of new constitutions for the Legionaries of Christ, which must be approved by the pope.

During the meeting Thursday at the Legionaries' headquarters in Rome, Aviz and Rodriguez Carballo presented the findings of a commission they set up to study the proposed constitutions, Robles Gil said in his letter to members.

The Vatican asked that references to canons of the Code of Canon Law be made more explicit in the constitutions "so that it will be easier to make reference to concrete canons when it is necessary to interpret the text," the general director wrote.

"They also pointed out -- and this is the fundamental observation -- that it is necessary to clarify the relationship of the Regnum Christi movement with the religious institute of the Legionaries of Christ," Robles Gil said.

In addition, he said, the Vatican also asked for "some 40 small textual modifications of different kinds such as the reorganization of some of the numbers, changing a few terms that can lead to misunderstandings, or the simplification of some procedures in the section that addresses the government of the congregation."

One of the key Vatican criticisms of the old constitutions of the Legionaries was that it attempted to control every aspect of the members' lives. Legionaries Fr. Benjamin Clariond, spokesman for the order, said the old constitutions had "872 articles; there are 241 in the new constitutions."

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