ROME (Dec. 5) – The Legion of Christ is committed to openly and aggressively addressing allegations of sexual abuse.
This was the primary message in a letter sent today by Fr. Sylvester Heereman LC, the Legion’s acting general director, to all members of the congregation. He said that the Legion has created an environment that will not tolerate abuse and that in the event of an allegation the response will be thorough. And anyone found guilty will face legal and ecclesial consequences.
The letter includes a report on the Legion’s handling of past and current abuse cases, whether by the Legion’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, or other members of the congregation. This is the most thorough report the Legion has issued on its past abuse cases.
“When we confront the reality of sexual abuse, it is helpful to keep certain complementary values in mind: compassion and solidarity with the victims, the responsibility to protect people who are under our pastoral care, the right of the accused to a due process, the promotion and defense of justice, and – keeping in mind that sexual abuse is a behavior that will never be tolerated – mercy and support of our brothers who are guilty of this crime,” Fr. Heereman said.
Principles that guide the actions of Legion authorities in responding to allegations
Fr. Heereman outlined the principles that guide the Legion in addressing abuse:
Each of the congregation’s territories is responsible for the prevention and handling of abuse in its area of jurisdiction, strictly aligned with civil and ecclesial authorities.Each territory will implement a code of conduct, carefully select those who enter the order and provide proper training.Each territory will have clear procedures in place for dealing with allegations, respecting the needs of the victim and the accused.Our highest priority will be for the welfare of the victim and prevention of future crimes.The person accused shall have the presumption of innocence until proven guilty – but we will not compromise.If a Legionary still in formation is found to have engaged in abuse, he will not go forward to ordination – in addition to the legal penalties. If a priest is found guilty, civil and ecclesial penalties will apply. If not laicized, he will be excluded from any access to minors and, where appropriate, excluded from all public ministry.
Caring for the victims of Fr. Maciel
Fr. Heereman also offers a summary of the work done by the Outreach Commission which Cardinal De Paolis instituted “with the mission of caring for those who were requesting a response from the Legionaries of Christ because of Fr. Maciel or in relation to him.” Fr. Heereman assures that “All victims of Fr. 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. Afterwards the commission submitted personalized proposals to the papal delegate and the general directorate. We have acted accordingly and at this time none of these cases remains open.”
Legion’s responses to accusations
“We have also done a thorough diagnosis of the dimensions of this problem within the Legion and the manner in which allegations have been handled,” Fr. Heereman said. “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.”
Summary of the cases involving Legionaries:
35 LC priests accused of sexual abuse of minors
14 acquitted (imprudent behavior or unfounded accusations)
9 found guilty (including the founder)
2 ineligible for canonical investigation when the allegation was presented
10 still under review
5 LC superiors (6 if founder is included) accused of sexually abusing adults under their authority
3 acquitted (imprudent behavior, not crimes; 1 freely accepted restrictions on ministry as a precaution)
2 found guilty (3 if founder is included)
These numbers indicate that less than 1% of the 1,133 priests ordained in the history of the congregation have been found guilty of sexual abuse (11 guilty verdicts in all). Less than 4% of Legionary priests have been accused of sexual impropriety.
Context of this letter
The publication of Fr. Heereman’s letter coincides with the announcement by Fr. Luis Garza, LC, the Legion’s territorial director of North America, that there is no reason to doubt the truth of an allegation that Fr. William Izquierdo, LC, former instructor of novices at the Legion’s novitiate in Cheshire, CT, from 1982 – 1994, sexually abused a novice under his care. It was in keeping with the safe environment policies that were already in force and are outlined in Fr. Heereman’s letter, that Fr. Garza informed the members of his territory of this sexual abuse case.
In his letter, Fr. Heereman explains why it can be necessary, at times, to publish the result of an investigation: “The prevention of future occurrences and the healing of victims (known and possibly unknown) are a priority. For this reason, at times it may be necessary for the superiors of the congregation to disclose the fact that an allegation has been received and, as well, the results of an investigation. This may at times be a duty of justice for the victims and the persons entrusted to our pastoral care, even though it may entail the toleration of undesired effects such as scandal and the damage to the reputation of the priest.”
For more information:
Information about the territory of North America’s policies regarding protection of children and youth can be found here.
The Code of Conduct for the territory of North America can be found here.