"If the Vatican closed it, they'd lose some income," said Jason Berry, an investigative journalist who broke the news of molestation allegations against Maciel in the 1990s and has also directed a documentary about the Legion called "Vows of Silence." "But it's debatable how much largess the Legion can give the Vatican because they are clearly retrenching. People who trusted the Legion for many years are pulling back and they've lost their fundraiser in chief."
But if the Vatican were to take direct action against the Legion, he said, it would do so cautiously.
"It would be a very dicey move for the Vatican to make," Berry said. "The idea of preserving the name brand has to be weighed against what they don't know about the operation. My suspicion is there is a lot the Vatican does not know."
"Many of the Legionaries are decent, hard-working, very conservative priests, but they've all been trained to think of a world in which there is the Legion and there are the enemies of the Legion," he said.
Appointing a commissioner may allow the Pope to chart a compromise between taking no action against the Legion and destroying it outright, Berry said. The anonymous leaks about appointing a commissioner may be a trial balloon the Vatican is floating to measure public sentiment, Berry added.
"This could be a tea leaves thing. The Vatican could be thinking: 'Let's see how people respond and decide if that's what we're going to do,'" he said.
The Legion remains enmeshed in the scandals left to it by Maciel. There are pending lawsuits both by his alleged heirs and those who contributed money to the Legion. On Monday it was announced the order would sell its 10-acre U.S. headquarters in Orange, Conn.