Tuesday, October 19

From victims to victimizers: the chains of sexual abuse in the Legionaries of Christ | Society


In May 2019, when Ana Lucía Salazar publicly denounced the Mexican priest Fernando Martínez for having abused her at a Legionaries of Christ school in Cancun, she still did not know that he had also been a victim of abuse. Two months earlier, when the Italian justice sentenced former Mexican priest Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two children, some of his former Legion colleagues learned that, before he was the perpetrator, he had been a victim of abuse. “It is part of the Legion’s methodology: prepare yourself for abuse, abuse yourself and become an accomplice,” says Erick Escobar, a former legionary who left that movement to start a fight against cases of pedophilia.

In late December, the Legion of Christ, one of the most powerful congregations in the Catholic Church, shocked the world when it released a report in which it admitted 175 cases of abuse of minors within the order founded by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel in 1941, most of them committed by its own founder and from the moment of its foundation. However, the most revealing thing was not the verification of the harassment that had been denounced by different victims over eight decades, but what the report hinted at: that pedophilia within the Legion was not the result of the perversion of some priests, but part of a founding dynamic that reached all levels and that guaranteed spaces of power to those willing to participate or remain silent.

“It is emblematic that 111 of the abused minors were victims of Maciel, one of his victims or a victim of his victims,” ​​says the Legion report, which explicitly speaks of “chains of abuse.” In order to understand the links in these chains that go back mostly to the founder, the former Legionnaire Escobar speaks of the victims of abuse in terms of generations. “There are first-generation, second, and third-generation victims,” ​​he says.

111 of the abused minors were victims of Maciel, one of his victims or a victim of his victims

José Antonio Pérez Olvera, an 80-year-old Mexican lawyer who was among the first legionaries to openly denounce Maciel (in 1997), explains that those who had been abused by him were often awarded positions of power. “There was a common characteristic of those Maciel victims who did not speak, and it was that he placed them as superiors of the Legion houses or seminaries,” he says. That was the case of Fernando Martínez, whom Pérez Olvera remembers for the “excessive” abuses he suffered at the hands of the founder of the order during the 1950s in a seminary in Rome.

Pope John Paul II takes a picture with Marcial Maciel and priests of the Legion of Christ, at the Vatican in 2004.
Pope John Paul II takes a picture with Marcial Maciel and priests of the Legion of Christ, at the Vatican in 2004. REUTERS

Martínez was a victim and became a perpetrator. The accusations of pedophilia that he accumulated throughout his journey within the Legion (an internal investigation recognizes at least three complaints between 1969 and 1990 in different parts of Mexico, one of them for abusing a child between four and six years old) they did not prevent him from continuing to hold positions of power. His last position was at the Cumbres Institute in Cancun, where he was appointed as director in 1991. Two years later, the Legion transferred him to Salamanca, Spain, after some mothers accused him of abusing their daughters.

“There was a characteristic common to Maciel’s victims: he placed them as superiors of the Legion’s houses or seminaries”

“They knew that if they raped nothing would happen to them because they had the support of the entire institution,” explains Ana Lucía Salazar, a 36-year-old Mexican radio presenter, who in May of last year, almost three decades after the events , she denounced in networks that she had been abused by Martínez when she was a student at the Cumbres Institute in Cancun. His accusation exposed the case publicly, which until then had been handled internally in the congregation. When he tweeted the priest’s name and photo, Salazar learned from Martinez’s former colleagues that he had been as well victim of child abuse. “I am abused by someone who experienced abuse by Maciel,” he said. “That appears in one of the letters of the first complainants. They are victims of the 1940s, we of the 1990s.

The Mexican psychologist Amaya Torre, who specializes in sexual abuse, explains that pedophilia can be transgenerational, especially when it occurs under certain conditions. “It is repeated from generation to generation because the adult is abused, they did not take care of him and he does not know how to take care of others,” he says. Among the factors that lead to reproduce this behavior, the “great cancer” is the secret, the silence, he says: “If it is not spoken, the victim normalizes it, believes that this is how the world works and when he grows up he does the same”. This is how the world worked literally within the Legion, which until a few years ago forced its members to make vows in which they promised to “never criticize externally acts of government or the person of any director or superior through the word , written or any other means ”, according to the sociologist specialized in religions Bernardo Barranco explains in an article published in 2007.

The breaking of this silence in recent years has allowed ex-legionaries to unravel the chains of abuse and complicity within the congregation. That happened in March last year, when the Italian justice sentenced Mexican priest Vladimir Reséndiz to seven years in prison for abusing two children. Cristian Borgoño, a former legionary who was ordained a priest along with him, recalls that after the sentence, some former colleagues told him that Reséndiz had also been the victim of abuse by a superior when he was studying at the Ajusco seminary, in Mexico City, at early nineties.

Borgoño is one of the founders of Legioleaks, a Facebook group created by ex-legionaries to report cases of sexual abuse within the congregation and discuss clerical pedophilia. Borgoño attributed the abuses that Reséndiz had suffered to the Spanish priest José María Sabín, who was rector for 17 years of the Anáhuac Mayab University of Yucatán, one of the institutions of the congregation’s extensive educational network, and who at the end of 2014 suddenly announced that he left the Legion of Christ and the priesthood and returned to his native Spain without giving any reason.

Seminario del Ajusco, in Mexico City.
Seminario del Ajusco, in Mexico City.

The explanation may be found in the courts of another country. In 2016, a former seminarian in the United States filed a lawsuit for sexual abuse against José María Sabín, Marcial Maciel and Luis Garza Medina, a Mexican priest who was considered Maciel’s right-hand man and architect of the powerful financial structure of the Legion of Christ. The abuse reported in the US lawsuit, to which EL PAÍS had access, is situated in the same scenario and at the same time that Reséndiz would have been abused, according to his former colleagues: the Ajusco seminary at the beginning of the decade of the nineties. According to the document, before going to court, the plaintiff reported what happened to the Legion in 2014: the same year that Sabín abandoned everything and went to his country. The Legionaries were consulted by this newspaper about the complaints against their former and current members, but they did not respond to the request.

On Wednesday, January 8, the Italian justice confirmed the sentence against former Mexican legionary Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two minors in 2008, when he was director of a Legion of Christ seminary in northern Italy. “When an abused priest has a position of power, he repeats the same pattern and abuses those in charge as his superiors abused him,” Escobar says as he reviews the faces of seminarians in old photographs. “In the Legion they prepare you to be abused.”

A barrage of new complaints

Every night, when the lights of the Ajusco seminary in Mexico City went out, Bernardo — a fictitious name — remembers that Father Antonio Rodríguez Sánchez walked among the teenagers’ beds. After going around a few times, with a touch on the head he indicated to the chosen one to follow him to his room. Bernardo saw everything from his bed but did not know what happened next, until the night he felt his head touched. It was 1996 and he was 12 years old when the rector of the institute abused him, according to the scene he describes in a complaint he sent to the authorities of the Mexican Church last December, to which EL PAÍS has had access.

The memory of that night followed him to Salamanca, Spain, where he continued his studies. There, according to his complaint, he revealed what had happened to his superior, the then novice William Brock, but what he received in exchange was a ticket to Mexico and $ 100: the legionaries removed him from the order and sent him away. return.

The anger of some victims at the report released by the Legion of Christ in December, which they consider insufficient and an attempt to facelift, has unleashed a barrage of new complaints – such as Bernardo’s – that are reaching the Nunciature, according to The Vatican representative in Mexico, Franco Coppola, confirmed to this newspaper. The names of Rodríguez Sánchez and Brock, according to Coppola, are two of a list of priests to investigate. The whistleblower Bernardo has subsequently made clarifications, in which he pointed out that the abuse of which he was a victim occurred in the mid-1980s, and that Brock was a superior humanist.


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