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

In may of 2019, when Ana Lucia Salazar he publicly denounced the mexican priest Fernando Martinez for having abused of her in a school of the Legionaries of Chr

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

In may of 2019, when Ana Lucia Salazar he publicly denounced the mexican priest Fernando Martinez for having abused of her in a school of the Legionaries of Christ in Cancun, I did not yet know that he had also been the victim of abuse. Two months before, when the Italian justice sentenced the former priest mexican Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two children, some of his former comrades of the Legion learned that, prior offender, he had been the victim of abuse. “It is part of the methodology of the Legion: get ready for the abuse, abusarte and become an accomplice”, says Erick Escobar, a exlegionario that it was this movement to start a fight against the cases of pedophilia.

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At the end of December, the Legion of Christ, one of the congregations most powerful of the catholic Church, surprised the world when he published a report that claimed 175 cases of child abuse within the order founded by mexican priest Marcial Maciel in 1941, much of it committed by its own founder and from the very moment of the foundation. However, most revealing was not the finding of the harassment that had been reported by different victims over eight decades, but what the report suggested to him: that paedophilia within the Legion was not the result of the perversion of a few priests, but a part of a dynamic foundation that reached out to all levels and to ensure spaces of power to those willing to participate or to remain silent.

“Is emblematic 111 of the abused children were victims of Maciel, of one of his victims, or a victim of his victims,” the report says of the Legion, which speaks explicitly of “chains of abuse”. In order to understand the links of these chains that date back mostly to the founder, the exlegionario Escobar speaks of the victims of abuse in terms of generations. “There are victims of the first generation, second and third,” he says.

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

José Antonio Pérez Olvera, a mexican lawyer of 80 years that he was among the first legionnaires to speak openly Maciel (1997), explains that those who had suffered abuse by him were often rewarded with positions of power. “There was one feature common to those victims of Maciel who did not speak, and was that he put as superiors of the houses, or seminaries of the Legion,” he says. That was the case of Fernando Martinez, whom Pérez Olvera remembered for the “excessive” abuse he suffered in the hands of the founder of the order during the 50 years 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. Tony Gentile, REUTERS

Martinez was a victim and became a victimizer. The accusations of paedophilia that had accumulated along his journey within the Legion, (an internal investigation recognizes at least three complaints between 1969 and 1990 in various parts of Mexico, one of them for abusing a child between the ages of four and six years) did not prevent to continue to occupy positions of power. His last post was at the Instituto Cumbres in Cancun, where he was appointed as a director in 1991. Two years after, the Legion moved to Salamanca, in Spain, after some mothers accuse of abusing their daughters.

"Was a feature common to the victims of Maciel: he put them as superiors of the houses, or seminaries of the Legion"

“They knew that if they violated them not passing anything, because they had the backing of the institution as a whole”, explains Ana Lucia Salazar, a presenter of radio mexicana, 36, who in may of last year, nearly three decades after the fact, denounced in networks that had been abused by Martinez when he was a student at the Instituto Cumbres in Cancun. His indictment revealed the case publicly, which until then had been handled internally in the congregation. When you tweeted the name and the photo of the priest, Salazar learned by former teammate of Martinez that he had also been a victim of pedophilia. “I abused someone who lived through abuse by Maciel,” he said. “That figure in one of the letters of the first whistleblowers. They are the victims of the forties, us of the of the nineties”.

The psychologist mexican Amaya Tower, specializing in sexual abuse, explains that the child abuse may be transgenerational, especially when it occurs in certain conditions. “Is repeated from generation to generation because the adult is abused, not cared for 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, says: “If you don't speak, the victim normalizes, believes that the way the world works, and when it grows back does the same thing”. So the world really worked, literally, within the Legion, which until a few years ago forced its members to make vows, they promised to “never criticize outward acts of government or the person of any director or above through the word, written or any other means”, explains the sociologist specializing in religions Bernardo Barranco in an article published in 2007.

The breaking of this silence in the last few years has allowed exlegionarios can go to unravel the chains of abuse and complicity within the congregation. That happened in march of last year, when the Italian justice sentenced the mexican priest Vladimir Reséndiz to seven years in prison for abusing two children. Cristian Burgundian, a exlegionario that he was ordained a priest along with him, recalls that after the judgment some former colleagues told him that Reséndiz had also been the victim of abuse by a superior when I was studying in the workshop of the Ajusco, in Mexico City, at the beginning of the nineties.

Burgundian is one of the founders of Legioleaks, a group of Facebook created by exlegionarios to report cases of sexual abuse within the congregation and discuss the pedophilia clerical. Burgundian attributed to the abuses that he had suffered Reséndiz the Spanish priest José María Sabín, who was rector for 17 years of the University Anahuac Mayab in the Yucatan, one of the institutions of the vast educational network of the congregation, and by the end of 2014 announced suddenly that abandonaba the Legion of Christ and the priesthood and returning to his native Spain, without disclosing the reasons.

Workshop of the Ajusco, in Mexico City. LEGIOLEAKS

The explanation may perhaps be found in the righteousness of another country. In 2016, a exseminarista filed in the united States a claim for sexual abuse against José María Sabín, Marcial Maciel and Luis Garza Medina, a mexican priest who was considered the right-hand side of Maciel and the architect of the powerful financial structure of the Legion of Christ. The abuse complaint in the u.s. demand, which had access to THE COUNTRY, stood on the same stage and at the same time that would have been abused Reséndiz, according to his former colleagues: the workshop of the Ajusco at the beginning of the decade of the nineties. According to the document, before turning to the justice, the plaintiff reported what happened to the Legion in 2014: the same year that Sabín abandoned everything and left to his country. The Legionaries were consulted by this newspaper about the allegations against their former and current service members, but did not respond to the request.

on Wednesday, 8 January, the Italian justice confirmed the sentence against the exlegionario mexican Vladimir Reséndiz for abusing two minors in 2008, when he was director of a seminary of the Legion of Christ in the north of Italy. “When a priest abused has a position of power, repeats the same pattern and abuse of those who have to charge as abused him to his superiors,” says Escobar while he reviews the faces of seminarians in old photographs. “In the Legion you prepare to be abused”.

A barrage of new complaints

Every night when the lights of the workshop of the Ajusco in Mexico City went down, Bernard —her real name— remember that the father Antonio Rodriguez Sanchez strolled among the beds of teenagers. After a few turns, with a rub on the head he indicated to the chosen follow him up to his room. Bernardo looked around from his bed, but didn't know what was going on after, until the night that he felt he knocked on the head. It was 1996 and I was 12 years old when the rector of the institute he'd been abused, according to the scene described in a complaint that he sent to the authorities of the mexican Church last December, to which he has had access to THE COUNTRY.

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 alienated him from the order and sent it back.

The anger of some victims to the report released by the Legion of Christ in December, which they consider insufficient, and an attempt to wash face, has unleashed a barrage of new complaints —like that of Bernardo— that are coming to the Nunciature, confirmed to this newspaper the representative of the Vatican in Mexico, Franco Coppola. The names of Rodriguez Sanchez and Brock, according to Coppola, are two of a list of priests to investigate.

Updated Date: 13 January 2020, 13:00

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