VATICAN CITY — Advocates and survivors of abuse perpetrated by priests of the Legionaries of Christ say that the religious order has no hope of authentic reform without wholesale replacement of the Legion’s leadership figures.
“As long as the same people are in power, there will continue to be manipulation, authoritarianism and cover up,” Adriana Lozano, a consecrated lay woman in the Legion's Regnum Christi apostolate, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.
She told ACI Prensa that although she reported for years to Legionaries leadership abuse allegations about a now laicized priest, Fernando Martínez, her allegations went unheard, even by current leaders of the religious institute.
“Nevertheless, I continued to inform each director in turn about the case, without getting a response,” she said.
“As for the Legion. most of the time they ignored my messages or told me 'thanks, we'll take action on the matter,' because I began to inform them about other cases or situations that I saw,” she added.
Martinez abused at least six girls, ages 6 to 11, between 1991 and 1993 when he directed the Cumbres Institute in Cancún, Mexico. He is also accused of other acts of abuse, including that of a boy between the ages of 4 and 6 at the Cumbres Lomas Institute in Mexico City in 1969.
The priest was dismissed from the clerical state earlier this month. While the Legion of Christ had received allegations against him at least as early as 2014, it did not act to investigate them until May 2019, after Ana Lucía Salazar, a Mexican television personality, went public with accusations of sexual abuse and cover-up involving the now-laiciized priest.
One woman abused by the priest when she was a child, Belén Márquez, told ACI Prensa that the Legionaries of Christ neglected their responsibilities for years.
In particular she said that one priest in the religious order, Fr. Eloy Bedia, knew about abuse allegations against Martinez Suarez as early as 1993, and did nothing.
Marquez also criticized the current superior of the religious community, Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil, noting “he acknowledged that in 2014 he knew about it and did nothing.”
“There hardly can be a renewal of the congregation with the same people” in leadership, she said.
Asked by ACI Prensa why allegations against Martinez were seemingly ignored until 2019, a spokesman for the order referred to a letter written to victims by Robles-Gil.
'The inadequate attention given when your parents presented their complaints also pains me...I could have remedied it, beginning in 2014, but I followed the decisions that had been made in past decades and we did not re-examine the case. Today I am sorry I did not do it,’' Robles-Gil wrote in that letter.
In 2014, Robles-Gil was directed to implement changes in the group's formation process and to implement safe environment policies for the care and protection of minors.
The spokesman explained that recent reforms to the Legionaries of Christ religious order are intended to build a structure of accountability, and avoid the centralization of authority that characterized the Legion’s early years, although those reforms did not lead to a change in the way allegations against Martinez were handled.
The Legion of Christ, founded in 1941 by Fr. Marcial Macial, was the subject of controversy in the Church long before it was rocked by the Vatican’s acknowledgment that its charismatic founder lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children.
In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith removed Fr. Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis as the papal delegate to the Legion of Christ to oversee its reform. Archbishop De Paolis, who died in 2017, has been accused of refusing to punish or even investigate Martinez or the superiors who covered up his crimes, according to reporting from the Associated Press.
Martinez had himself been abused by Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, in Ontaneda and Rome in 1954, when Martinez was 15.
The Legionaries of Christ order is now meeting in its general chapter. The meeting is the first such chapter since Pope Francis approved new constitutions for the troubled congregation in Nov. 2014, following an extraordinary general chapter earlier that year. At that meeting, Robles-Gil was entrusted with implementing reform measures. The priest has since admitted initiating no new no process to recieve or review allegations of abuse.
In addition to assessing the last six years, the 2020 General Chapter will elect the new general director, six councilors, and a general administrator.