Legion of Christ unveils plan to tackle abuse by members
Investigation reports evidence of abuse at seminary
- Tom Roberts for National Catholic Reporter
- United States
- December 9, 2013
The Legion of Christ, a religious order of priests still dealing with the fallout from revelations of sexual abuse by its disgraced founder, announced Thursday that a recent investigation has uncovered "significant evidence of sexual abuse" by another Legion official who served as the order's novice master at its Cheshire, Conn., seminary.
At the same time, the order issued a summary of actions it has taken in addressing other cases of alleged sexual abuse by its priests, as well as a long letter from Fr. Sylvester Heereman, the order's acting general director, detailing the Legion's approach to dealing with the issue of sexual abuse.
The announcements come just ahead of an extraordinary general chapter at which the Legion will elect new leaders and approve a new constitution. The general chapter is to open in Rome Jan. 8 and is expected to run about a month.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to govern the order as it and Regnum Christi, its lay branch, underwent reform and reorganization. The January general chapter is the culmination of that reformation processes.
Fr. William Izquierdo was accused of sexual abuse of a minor while serving as novice master, a position he held from 1982 to 1994. Fr. Luis Garza, territorial director of the Legion for North America, said he received the accusation in July 2012.
"In addition to immediately reporting to local authorities, the Legion commissioned Praesidium Inc., to provide a thorough, independent investigation" that concluded in August, Garza said. In a letter addressed to all Legionaries in North American, he said the investigation "revealed significant evidence of sexual abuse." The findings were analyzed in October by the Legion's North American Review Board.
Praesidium is a Texas-based firm that specializes in what it calls "abuse risk management." It is the company that the U.S. Conference of Major Superiors of Men recommends to its members needing assistance with matters of sex abuse.
The information volunteered about Izquierdo is evidence of a degree of transparency new to the Legion, which operated with great secrecy and for years defended its founder, Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado, against an increasing chorus of accusations of sexual abuse by former seminarians and priests of the order.
Maciel, a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II, who celebrated the native of Mexico as exemplary of the priestly vocation and, on one occasion, as "an efficacious guide to youth," denied any wrongdoing. He had powerful friends in the Vatican and among the Curia who protected him from investigation and church juridical processes.
It was only at the end of John Paul's life and in the early months of Benedict XVI's tenure that a Vatican investigation gathered evidence confirming the extent of his abusive behavior. Maciel was disciplined in 2006 and died two years later.
Source: National Catholic Reporter