VATICAN CITY – The Legion of Christ religious order has suffered another blow with the announcement Thursday that its training center for consecrated women in the U.S. is closing because of poor enrollment.
The Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, Rhode Island, had catered to women who were deciding whether they wanted to live like nuns within the Legion's Regnum Christi lay movement.
The consecrated branch of the Legion was plagued by serious spiritual and psychological abuses, requiring a Vatican-mandated overhaul just as the Legion itself was taken over by Pope Benedict XVI after revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, had fathered children and sexually abused his seminarians.
In a letter Thursday, the head of consecrated women in North America, Nancy Nohrden, said that the "difficulties and institutional changes" of the past few years had resulted in fewer vocations and lower college enrollment. She said the school would close at the end of the academic year.
The Legion spokesman, Jim Fair, said there were currently 12 full-time students at the school, down from about 90 at its peak a decade ago. Another 30 women are in part-time programs.
It's the latest school that the Legion has closed or sold off amid a steep drop in donations and vocations following the revelations about its founder's misdeeds and problems within the order itself.
Once one of the fastest-growing orders in the church, the Mexican-based order was greatly favored by St. John Paul II because of its orthodoxy and ability to bring money and new priests into the church.
The Legion went through a three-year reform process that culminated earlier this year with the election of new leadership and adoption of new constitutions that were aimed at heralding a new start. But in a sign that the Vatican still wanted to keep tabs on the order, it named two members of the central administration and appointed an outside assistant to help the Legion continue the reforms.
Despite the initiatives, disillusioned priests have continued to leave.
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