On December 21, 2019, the Connecticut-based Legion of Christ (LC) released a 25-page report. The report documented the results of an internal investigation into sexual abuse. The LC commissioned the report following accusations of abuse committed by Catholic priests from the conservative order.
The report verified 175 victims of child sexual assault by 33 LC priests. At least 60 of these minors were direct victims of the Rev. Marcial Maciel — the original founder of the LC.
Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado established the LC in 1941 in Mexico. At the time, he was a 20-year-old seminarian. He led the order for decades, acting as the general director until the early 2000s. Maciel spent years denying the sexual abuse charges before he died in 2008.
The report found that Maciel was responsible for victimizing as many as 111 children. This figure includes his direct victims and those victimized by his direct victims. This is known as a “chain of abuse.” Victims of this “chain of abuse” were mostly boys between 11 and 16 years of age.
Despite the number of victims listed in the report, the authors acknowledge there may be other victims. This discrepancy can be credited to the secretive nature of child sexual abuse.
Of the 33 priests the report “credibly accused” of sexual abuse, 18 are still LC members. However, LC officials note these 18 individuals are prohibited from working with minors. Of the other 15 priests, six died, eight left the priesthood and one left the LC.
Despite shedding light on the abuse, there are some who criticize the LC report. Critics cite several failures in the report:
- The report fails to name many of the priests and the seminarians accused of sexual abuse.
- The report fails to identify individuals who helped cover up the abuses.
- The report underreported the number of victims. Critics believe the number of victims to be much higher than the report acknowledged.
The Vatican’s Response
For years the Vatican defended Maciel against accusations of abuse. Pope John Paul II was particularly supportive of the LC founder.
In 2006, a Vatican investigation confirmed the abuse allegations against Maciel were true. Pope Benedict XVI subsequently removed Maciel from his leadership role in the order. Maciel was ordered to live out the rest of life in “prayer and penitence.”
In 2010, two years after Maciel’s death, the Vatican announced a plan to take over the LC. The LC also later denounced their late founder for leading a double life. The order accused Maciel of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior.”
Source: The New York Times
Maciel Victims Seek Legal Justice
Two victims of Maciel filed lawsuits against the LC. Attorney Joel Faxon represents both victims. According to the Hartford Courant, Faxon claims the LC’s report confirms “rampant pedophilia” was permitted to continue for years within the order. Additionally, he believes the LC ignored Maciel’s decades-long history of abuse because, “he was a vital source of international funding for the sect.”
One of the victims represented by Faxon is Maciel’s own child, Raul Gonzalez Lara. According to the lawsuit filed in 2010 by Lara, Maciel sexually abused him repeatedly for years. Lara was ten years old when the abuse began. Lara’s mother, Blanca Gutierrez Lara, gave birth to two children with Maciel. Maciel kept his identity a secret from the family, using the alias Raul Rivas. Maciel is known to have secretly fathered at least one additional child outside of the Lara family.
The Hartford Courant reports a second civil suit was filed by John Roe in Waterbury Superior Court in 2016. The complaint alleged Roe was molested by Maciel and two other priests — Father Luis Garza, who once led the LC’s North American chapter, and Father Jose Sabin.
According to the complaint, John Roe enrolled in a LC seminary school in 1989. He was 12 years old. He was supposed to attend a school in New Hampshire. However, he found himself at a LC school in Mexico. There, Roe claims he was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions in 1990 and 1991 by the three priests. Roe soon escaped to California where his mother lived at the time.
In California, Roe made a verbal and a written account of the alleged abuse to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 2014, he made another full account directly to LC officials. His lawsuit claims he never received a response from either entity. Roe’s lawsuit was withdrawn in early 2019. Faxon says he plans to refile it.
How this Report Affects Victims of Clergy Abuse
Regardless of criticisms, the LC report has important implications for the victims of Maciel and other LC priests. The 2019 report has brought the allegations of abuse to the forefront once again. Because of this continued spotlight on the systemic abuse in the LC, more victims may choose to follow in the footsteps of Lara and Roe and seek legal justice.
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