VATICAN CITY, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Pope Francis granted a formal reprieve Thursday to the controversial Legionaries of Christ -- a Catholic order attempting to reform itself after years of child sex abuse accusations.
The pope granted plenary indulgence to the group Thursday in observance of the order's 75th anniversary, its jubilee year, in response to an official request by Legion leader Father Eduardo Robles Gil Orvañanos, Vatican News reported.
The group may receive indulgence during the solemnity of Christ the King in 2015 and the solemnity of the Sacred Heart in 2016, the report said, if they "profess or devotionally renew the promises or vows which bind them to the Movement or the Legion" and "dedicate a sufficient amount of time to the corporal or spiritual works of mercy."
The Legion of Christ has for years been attempting to get back in the pontiff's good graces following revelations of alleged child sex abuse by its founder, Marcial Maciel, over decades with alleged abuses dating back to the 1940s.
John Paul II, who led the Catholic Church between 1978 and 2005, never formally disciplined Maciel when the allegations first surfaced in the late 1990s -- because, critics believe, the two were close friends. In 2006, Benedict XVI disciplined Maciel and banished him from ministry service, but Benedict refused a canonical trial due to Maciel's advanced age and declining health. Maciel died in 2008.
It was alleged that Maciel repeatedly sexually abused young men studying the priesthood at the Legion under his leadership, fathered several children and carried on sexual relationships with various women -- in addition to their criminal repercussions, the abuses constituted violations of the church's pledge of celibacy.
Francis' granting of plenary indulgence Thursday follows Vatican approval last year of the Legion's constitutional reforms, a third-party evaluation of the group, and an apology from the seminary group to the victims.
"I encourage you to make the most of this grace that the Holy Father has granted us to renew our gratitude to the Lord for the gift of the Movement and to increase our desire to be apostles and credible witnesses of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ," Orvañanos said in response to the pope's granting of indulgence.