May 11, 2021

The Mexican Church faces the Pope's summit on pedophilia away from the victims of Maciel | Society

The Mexican Church faces the Pope's summit on pedophilia away from the victims of Maciel | Society


José Barba, former member of Christ and victim of Marcial Maciel, sexual predator and founder of the order, spent several years without going to Communion. A few months ago, in full whirlwind for the abuses in the Chilean Church, returned to attend a mass in Mexico City and left indignant: "The priest did not say a word about cases of pedophilia." A fortnight ago he returned to that same church and this time the priest did mention something about the subject: "He said it was just a black granite inside the rice," he recalls.

The long shadow of Maciel (1920-2008) continues to weigh on the Mexican Church, still reluctant to recognize and speak of the scourge of pedophilia. Eleven years after the death of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, some of his victims they demand justice, while others negotiate directly with the congregation to repair the damage. The appearance of new denunciations in the country confirms, according to the consulted voices, the structural character of the abuse and the existence of a system of concealment for at least six decades. A month and a half after it is celebrated the summit on pedophilia convened by Pope Francis, the victims criticize the distance of the Mexican Church.

After the declarations of the prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, on the concealment of Maciel's crimes by the Vatican, victims and scholars in the field ask for concrete actions, not just blunt words, to tackle the problem. Even though Francisco himself asked the world's hierarchy to approach the victims in preparation for the February meeting, the victims of Maciel consulted assure that the Mexican Church has not communicated directly with them – this newspaper tried Without success, contact the Episcopate.

José Barba, one of eight ex-members who publicly denounced Maciel in 1997, is awaiting a meeting with the new cardinal of Mexico, appointed a year ago to replace Norberto Rivera, stalked by accusations of having protected to several pedophile priests. "Last March a lawyer came to see me from the new cardinal and he asked me if I was willing to talk to him, but he did not give a date or place and I still have not met," he says. "There has been no will."

Maciel, during an audience with Juan Pablo II.
Maciel, during an audience with Juan Pablo II. CUARTOSCURO

Faced with this apparent passivity, six victims reported in October to the Legionaries of Christ for moral damages, the first demand of these characteristics. Although the abuses are prescribed, Sergio Méndez Silva, the whistleblower's lawyer, claims that his defendants suffered torture, an offense classified as a violation of human rights by the different international treaties signed by Mexico. When dealing with a transgression of a fundamental right, the lawyer argues that the Mexican justice should admit the complaint. Three other former members, including Barba, have opted to negotiate directly with the congregation without resorting to legal channels. The negotiations are still open, so Barba prefers not to give details for reasons of "discretion and respect."

"When I denounced Maciel for the first time, I was accused of plotting to be an enemy of the Church," says former priest Alberto Athié, one of the first to denounce the abuses of the founder of the Legion of Christ before the now archbishop emeritus. of Mexico, Norberto Rivera. Athié assures that, after presenting him with nine cases of pedophilia in 1997, Rivera wanted to silence him and offered to name him bishop in exchange for his silence. He did not accept, which earned him his subsequent transfer to Chicago, in the United States.

The former priest estimates that in Mexico alone there are at least 40 victims of Maciel and insists that hiding abuses within the Church was a systemic issue. "There was a cloaking protocol, under which the bishops acted. Clerical pedophilia is not an accident, it is a structural issue, "says Athié. Although Pope Francis forgave the Legion in 2015, the wound is still not closed. "They feel forgiven as an institution, but inside there are still legionaries who defended Maciel," says Barba.

The case of the founder of the Legionaries is just the tip of the iceberg. In Mexico, the Network of Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Priests (SNAP) claims to have treated about 550 cases in the last 11 years, most of them in the 80s. Despite the magnitude of this scourge, in Mexico it has only there were three convictions of priests for sexual crimes, according to SNAP. To explain this contradiction, the director of the network, Joaquín Aguilar, points to the prescription of crimes, the silence of the victims and the legal vacuum almost half of the Mexican states do not have the crime of pedophilia. Aguilar himself was abused when he was 13 years old, at the beginning of the 90s. His denunciation prescribed and the priest who abused him has never been convicted.

Despite the reluctance, the media attention that cases of pedophilia have received in recent years yes it has forced the Mexican Church to move file. Last November the first forum on clerical pedophilia took place in Mexico and the auxiliary bishop of Monterrey was one of the speakers. In parallel, SNAP is working together with the Archdiocese of Mexico in a protocol to treat victims of abuse. "Many times when you interrogate minors who are victims of abuse you do not have sensitivity," explains Aguilar. "Instead of encouraging them to talk, they are intimidated." It remains to be seen if the Mexican Episcopal Conference, the assembly that brings together all the bishops of the country, adopts the protocol.

Without deluding themselves, the February meeting opens an opportunity, according to experts and victims, to put an end to the silence of so many years and, finally, to action. "There is no reconciliation without reparation," Barba closes.

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