VATICAN CITY — The Legionaries of Christ vowed to cooperate with an investigation after a report stated that the congregation failed to address sexual abuse and cover-ups at one of its prestigious schools in Mexico.
The Associated Press reported Jan. 20 that the Legionaries failed to investigate abuses committed by Father Fernando Martinez Suarez at its elite Cumbres School in Cancun despite reforms established nearly a decade ago after it was revealed that the congregation’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, abused dozens of children.
In a statement released by the religious congregation Jan. 20, the Legionaries said they would work with the Vatican as well as civil authorities to “identify the persons responsible for negligence or cover-up in this case.”
In 2010, the Vatican announced that Father Maciel was guilty of “seriously and objectively immoral behavior” and “real crimes,” and had lived a “life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious meaning.”
That same year, Pope Benedict XVI named the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to supervise the Legionaries’ reform.
However, an investigation conducted by the congregation and published in late November revealed that although Cardinal De Paolis and then-superior general German Father Sylvester Heereman were made aware of the abuse allegations against Father Martinez, they “did not consider a canonical investigation nor sending out a written restriction necessary.”
The article, which included several survivors’ horrifying accounts of the abuse, was published the same day the Legionaries of Christ began its weeklong general chapter in Rome. Revelations of the abuses and cover-up caused one member of the congregation to withdraw as a member of the general chapter.
According to the AP’s report, Beatriz Sanchez, an English teacher at the school in the 1990s, said she was fired after reporting the abuses committed by Father Martinez to his superior at the time, Father Eloy Bedia.
Two days before the report was published, Father Bedia released a statement saying that he would not attend the Rome chapter meeting and that he understood how survivors and their families would “experience my presence in the general chapter as a new wound.”
However, despite Sanchez’s allegation, Father Bedia denied “before God” that he covered up the abuses and insisted he was not responsible for personnel changes.
“I became territorial director in 1992,” he said. “I had no awareness of (Father) Fernando Martinez Suarez’s history. As everyone knows, in those years, the general director (Father Maciel) made the decisions regarding processes and movements of personnel.”
In an interview with Mexican news agency Notimex Jan. 20, Archbishop Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio to Mexico, said the “cursed inheritance” left by Father Maciel and other members of the Legionaries of Christ who have abused children are a source of shame for the church.
“It gives us much sorrow and shame that this has happened; we are trying to make it so that this does not happen ever again,” Archbishop Coppola said.
Addressing the fact that Father Martinez continues as a member of the Legionaries of Christ despite the abuses he committed, Archbishop Coppola explained that in some cases of abuse, those dismissed from the clerical state and/or from their religious orders became fugitives and disappeared after authorities attempted to arrest them.
“The fact that (Father) Fernando Martinez continues to be a Legionary means that, if any civil authority is looking for him, they know where to find him and can force the Legionaries to make him physically available to civil justice,” he said.