November 26, 2020

From victims to perpetrators: 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 in a school of the Legionaries of Christ in Cancun, she still did not know that he had also been the victim of abuse. Two months earlier, when Italian justice sentenced Mexican ex-priest Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two children, some of his former Legion companions learned that, before being a victim, he had been the victim of abuse. “It’s part of the Legion’s methodology: prepare for abuse, abuse you and become an accomplice,” says Erick Escobar, a former delegate who left that movement to start a fight against pedophilia cases.

At the end of December, the Legion of Christ, one of the most powerful congregations of the Catholic Church, surprised the world when it released a report in which he admitted 175 cases of abuse to minors within the order founded by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel in 1941, a large part of them committed by their own founder and from the moment of the foundation. However, the most telling thing was not the verification of the vexations that had been denounced by different victims over eight decades, but what the report suggested: that pederasty within the Legion was not the result of the perversion of some priests, but part of a founding dynamic that reached all levels and guaranteed spaces of power to those willing to participate or shut up.

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

111 of the abused minors were victims of Maciel, one of their victims or a victim of their 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 suffered abuse by him used to be rewarded with power charges. “There was a characteristic common to those victims of Maciel who did not speak, and it was that he placed them as superiors of the houses or seminars of the Legion,” 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 at a seminar in Rome.

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


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

Martinez was a victim and became an offender. The accusations of pedophilia that accumulated throughout its journey within the Legion (an internal investigation recognizes at least three complaints between 1969 and 1990 in different places in Mexico, one of them for abusing a child between four and six years old) 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 moved him to Salamanca, in Spain, after some mothers accused him of abusing his daughters.

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

“They knew that if they raped nothing happened to them because they had the support of the entire institution,” explains Ana Lucía Salazar, a Mexican radio presenter, 36, who in May of last year, almost three decades after the events , reported in networks that had been abused by Martinez when she was a student of the Cumbres Institute in Cancun. His indictment uncovered the case publicly, which until then had been handled internally in the congregation. When he tweeted the name and photo of the priest, Salazar learned from Martinez’s ex-companions that he had been too victim of child abuse. “Someone who experienced abuse by Maciel abuses me,” he said. “That appears in one of the letters of the first complainants. They are victims of the forties, we of the nineties ”.

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

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

Burgundy 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. Burgundy attributed the abuses that Reséndiz had suffered to the Spanish priest José María Sabín, who was rector for 17 years of the Anahuac Mayab University of Yucatan, one of the institutions of the congregation’s broad educational network, and which at the end of 2014 suddenly announced that left the Legion of Christ and the priesthood and returned to his native Spain without making known the reasons.

Seminar of Ajusco, in Mexico City.


Seminar of Ajusco, in Mexico City.

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

On Wednesday, January 8, the Italian justice confirmed the sentence against Mexican ex-legioner Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two minors in 2008, when he was director of a seminary of the Legion of Christ in northern Italy. “When an abused priest has a position of power, he repeats the same pattern and abuses those who are in charge as his superiors abused him,” Escobar says while reviewing 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 seminar in Mexico City went out, Bernardo – a fictional name – remembers that Father Antonio Rodríguez Sánchez walked among the teenagers’ beds. After a few laps, with a brush on his head he told 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 had access.

The memory of that night followed him to Salamanca, in 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 return was a ticket to Mexico and $ 100: the legionaries removed him from the order and sent him from return.

The anger of some victims before the report released by the Legion of Christ in December, which they consider insufficient and an attempt to wash their faces, has unleashed a flood of new complaints – such as Bernardo’s – that are coming to the Nunciature, according to The representative of the Vatican 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.

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