VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI offered a word of encouragement Wednesday to the Legionaries of Christ order, which has been reeling since revelations that its revered founder was a fraud and pedophile.
The Legion ordained 49 new priests this week in Rome, and many Legionaries and their families attended the pope's general audience inside the Vatican.
In remarks at the end of the audience, Benedict said he was praying that God would support the new Legion priests "so that you can carry out with joy and loyalty your mission."
Benedict named an envoy to take over the Legion last year after the order admitted its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, had fathered three children and sexually abused his seminarians.
A subsequent Vatican investigation determined that Maciel had created a system of power based on silence and obedience to cater to his double life, and that the Legion itself had no clearly defined "charism," or essential spirit, guiding it.
The envoy, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, has been working to reform the movement from within, trying to get its superiors to correct what former priests and consecrated members have described as cult-like conditions where spiritual and psychological abuse was common.
Half of the 49 priests ordained Monday in St. John Lateran basilica come from Mexico and the United States, with a few others from Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Spain and one from Hungary.
In his homily, De Paolis noted that it was a difficult time for the Legion as it undergoes the process of reform. But he said: "These vocations open the way to hope and make us look to the future."
Last year, 61 priests were ordained. The Legion has seen priests, seminarians and consecrated members leave amid continued fallout from the revelations of Maciel's deception and concerns over the commitment to true reform among the Legion's superiors.
The revelations of Maciel's double life stained Pope John Paul II's legacy because the late pope had held up Maciel as a model who brought money and priests to the church.
Benedict named De Paolis to be his envoy in hopes of reforming the Legion so that its 900 priests and hundreds of consecrated members could continue serving the church.