Vatican weighs in on cult-like group in Legion

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has proposed giving hundreds of women who live like nuns within the troubled Legion of Christ order greater autonomy after a Holy See investigation found serious problems in their regimented communities.

The pope’s delegate running the Legion, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, said in a letter published Monday that the problems of the consecrated women of the Legion’s lay branch were “many and challenging.” Of particular concern is that they have no legal status in the church.

In a 2010 Associated Press expose, former consecrated women spoke of the cult-like conditions they lived in, with rules dictating nearly every minute of their day — from how they ate to what they watched on TV — all in the name of God’s will.

The women described emotional and spiritual abuse they suffered if they questioned their vocation, and of how they would be cast aside if their spiritual directors no longer had any need for them.

The Vatican ordered the investigation after word of the abuses emerged during a broader Vatican probe into the Legion.

The members, who at their height numbered about 900 women and a few dozen men, make promises of poverty, chastity and obedience like nuns do, though they enjoy none of the legal protections nuns have that make it difficult for their orders to kick them out.

Legion officials have repeatedly declined to provide statistics on how many remain in the movement. Former members say many women have either left amidst earlier scandals or are taking time to discern whether they still have a vocation.

In his letter, De Paolis said those who remain are happy and providing a valuable service to the church.

“However, the issues regarding personal and community life that have emerged from this same visitation on an institutional level initially appear to be many and challenging,” he wrote.

He said the women should have greater autonomy from the Legion in their personal and community lives and that they need a legal status that corresponds to canon law.

They would, however, maintain a “link of participation” with the Legion.

De Paolis said the women would have to rewrite their norms, but that for now the statutes guiding their life that were approved by the Vatican in 2004 remain intact.

Printed on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 as: Vatican investigates cult-like conditions