ROME — The Legion of Christ has expressed its “deep sorrow” after internal investigations revealed that a Legionary priest has been found guilty of sexually abusing a minor.
The charges against Legionary Father William Izquierdo involve a novice when Father Izquierdo served as instructor of novices in Cheshire, Conn., between 1982 and 1994.
Legionary Father Luis Garza, North American territorial director of the congregation, was informed of the case in July 2012, the Legion said, and added that a third party and independent investigation of the allegation then took place that concluded in August of this year, ruling that the allegation was true.
In a Dec. 5 statement, Father Garza said the health of 85-year-old Father Izquierdo has “declined greatly,” and he is now “in an advanced state of dementia.” He added that the priest has not exercised his ministry since 2008 and has been unable to respond to questions about the allegations.
“Father Izquierdo is in the process of being moved to an assisted living facility, where he will receive proper treatment,” Father Garza said.
An abuse allegation against Father Izquierdo first came to light in 2005, Legionary spokesman Father Benjamin Clariond told the Register, but this was not with a minor. After the allegation came to light, his ministry was “restricted,” and in view of his failing health, he did not exercise his ministry after 2008, the spokesman said.
“As territorial director, I want to express my deep sorrow for the suffering endured by anyone as a result of Father Izquierdo’s actions,” Father Garza said. “My prayers are with them, as well as our every effort to provide healing for the psychological and spiritual wounds endured.”
Father Garza said that “significant evidence of sexual abuse” was uncovered after the Legion commissioned an independent investigation by the company Praesidium. That investigation concluded in August 2013 and was “carefully analyzed” by the Legion’s North American review board in October.
The news comes at a time when the Legion is preparing for its general chapter meeting next month. The meeting will determine the future of the congregation after the disclosure of sexual abuse and other grave misconduct committed by its founder, Father Marcial Maciel.
As part of those preparations, the Legion has said it is implementing a series of measures geared towards greater openness and transparency in the area of sexual abuse and “aggressively addressing” such allegations.
Letter About Abuse Cases
One of these measures — a lengthy letter on abuse cases in the Legion — was issued today to all members of the congregation by Legionary Father Sylvester Heereman, the Legion’s acting general director. It was timed to coincide with the Father Izquierdo revelations.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by the Register, Father Heereman wrote that it is intended to show the Legion’s commitment to “openly and aggressively addressing allegations of sexual abuse,” and it covers past and current abuse cases, including those of Father Maciel.
The letter offers an overview of the Legion’s efforts aimed at preventing and eradicating any risk of sexual abuse of minors. It also includes an analysis of the seriousness of sexual abuse and the suffering of victims, actions undertaken by the authorities of the congregation and principles and recommendations on how to deal with future cases.
Father Heereman makes a point of thanking those who have “broken the silence that usually surrounds sexual abuse.” Their voices, he said, “have prompted us to seek the truth about what happened in order to help the victims and to renew our determination to prevent this from happening in the future.”
He also invites anyone who witnesses “imprudent behavior or boundary violations not to remain silent, so that appropriate action can be taken.”
“We deeply regret the pain that we have caused [victims],” Father Heereman wrote. “Like the rest of the Church and society, today we better understand that care for victims of sexual abuse is a priority. We are committed to continue to welcome them with compassion and offer to accompany them on a path of healing and reconciliation.”
A total of 35 Legionary priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors throughout the congregation’s history, the Legion has revealed, although Father Clariond told the Register he expected more to emerge in the future. Of these 35, nine have been found guilty (including the founder) and punished canonically (two were laicized, and seven had sanctions imposed on their life and ministry), 14 have been acquitted (10 priests were found innocent after an investigation was made, according to Canon 1717 of the Code of Canon Law; the other four cases involved imprudent behavior, but not crimes that would require sanctions), and two had already left the ministry when the allegations were presented, and, therefore, no canonical procedures were initiated against them. Ten other cases are still under review.
Of six accused Legionary of Christ superiors and formators, three have been found guilty of sexually abusing adults under their authority, one of whom includes Maciel. The other three have been acquitted. Two cases were judged to have been imprudent behavior that did not warrant restrictions on ministry. The other case allegedly occurred 40 years ago, but the accusation was made recently. Even though the investigation pointed to his innocence, by common consent, restrictions were imposed on the priest, “in an abundance of caution,” the Legion said. The spokesman didn't clarify how many acquittals were civil or canonical in nature, but said they were a combination of the two.
The Legion points out that those found guilty of abuse are less than 1% of the 1,133 priests ordained in the history of the congregation and that less than 4% of Legionary priests have been accused of sexual impropriety.
In his letter, Father Heereman also offers a summary of the work done by the Outreach Commission that was instituted by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the apostolic delegate appointed by Benedict XVI to reform the congregation.
The commission’s task was to care for those demanding a response from the Legionaries of Christ because of Father Maciel’s misconduct. Father Heereman said that all victims of Father Maciel who approached the commission have been “visited, listened to and attended to.”
“The commission has considered with each one how the Legion could help them overcome their wounds and face the difficulties of their present life,” he said, adding that “none of these cases remains open.”
Father Heereman stressed that the Legion has undertaken a “thorough diagnosis” of abuse within the Legion and how the cases have been handled.
Said Father Heereman, “With this, we wanted to ensure that all charges of sexual abuse against Legionaries have been adequately addressed and to verify that no one who in the past has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors currently has ministerial contact with children or adolescents.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.