Legion of Christ Acknowledges Abuse of Minor by Priest in Cheshire
By Kelly Glista
December 5, 2013
The Legionaries of Christ, a religious order plagued in the late 1990s and early 2000s by allegations of sexual abuse against its founder, announced on Thursday that an independent investigation had revealed "significant evidence" of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest who served at the order's Cheshire seminary.
The allegation against Fr. William Izquierdo surfaced in July 2012, and involved abuse that took place while Izquierdo served as an instructor of novices in the Cheshire seminary, a position he held from 1982 to 1994, according to a letter from the Legion's North American territorial director Fr. Luis Garza.
The Legion commissioned Praesidium Inc., a firm that specializes in abuse risk management, to do an independent investigation of the allegations, the letter states. That investigation concluded in August and was reviewed by the Legion's North American review board in October.
"We have no reason to doubt that sexual abuse with a minor actually occurred," Garza wrote in his letter.
The allegations were also immediately reported to local authorities, according to Garza's letter. The state's judicial records show no sign of any criminal charges against Izquierdo.
Jim Fair, communications director for the Legion, said that if Izquierdo were still physically able to minister he would not be allowed to do so, given the results of the investigation. But Izquierdo is now 85 and has been diagnosed with advanced dementia.
According to Garza's letter, Izquierdo has not ministered since 2008 and was unable to respond to questions about the allegations.
A second allegation of abuse against Izquierdo was recently reported to the order and is awaiting investigation, Garza's letter states.
The Legion also released a "Summary of Actions" on Thursday, along with a letter from the order's acting general director, addressing the problem of sexual abuse within the order and how the allegations were handled. According to the summary, a total of 41 Legionaries, including the order's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, have been accused of some type of sexual abuse.
Thirty-five of the allegations involved minor victims and six involved adults, according to the summary.
The letter from the Legion's general director, Fr. Sylvester Heereman, states that of the 35 cases involving minors, investigations done under the Code of Canon Law found 10 of the priests innocent and nine guilty. Four of the other cases involved "imprudent behavior" that was not a crime, two cases involved priests who had already left the ministry, and 10 cases remain under review.
Jason Berry, author of the book "Render Unto Rome," who with former Courant reporter Gerald Renner broke the story 1997 story detailing the accusations against Maciel, said that the structural dynamic of the order under Maciel left abuse "unacknowledged, unpoliced and unreported."
"It's frankly not a great surprise to me," Berry said of the allegations against other Legionaries.
Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in 1941. In 1997, nine former members of the group accused Maciel of abusing them when they were boys, ages 10 to 16, in seminaries in Spain and Italy. Maciel and the Legionaries vigorously denied the allegations until 2005, when church officials, under the direction of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, reopened a canon law investigation that had stopped in 1999.
Maciel resigned in 2005 and was censured by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. He died two years later at the age of 87.