January 22, 2020
Dear Regnum Christi members,
I write to you from Rome where I am one of 66 Legionary priests who have gathered here for the Legionaries of Christ Ordinary General Chapter. We have much work to do here including addressing the history of abuse in the Legion and setting a path toward a zero-abuse culture. Both the past and the present will be addressed during our time here, keeping the experiences suffered by the victims of abuse at the heart of the discussion so that we may not forget the important work that must still be done.
Earlier this week we were reminded once more of the magnitude of evil when many of us read the detailed accounts from a victim of Fernando Martínez Suárez, a Mexican Legionary recently released from the clerical state, who made her story known last May in Mexico. I believe that we can never apologize enough to the victims who have suffered abuse at the hands of one of my Legionary brothers. I am sorry for the actions of my fellow priests, the suffering inflicted upon victims and for our poor handling of abuse allegations throughout our history.
The victim who has bravely shared her story again with U.S. media this past week has reminded us all just how horrible abuse is. She gives testimony of the deeply disturbing and evil ways that she, as a little girl in the 90’s, experienced abuse. She puts a face to abuse. She puts a voice to abuse. She defines the word abuse as she has felt it. As difficult as it was to read, receiving her public testimony at this moment in the history of the Legion is perhaps providential in helping us put in place next steps for how we support victims of abuse from years past and continue to work toward a culture of zero abuse of minors. Testimonies like this one keep our attention where it should be, on the victims, and maintains our resolve to do whatever is necessary to stop this from ever happening again to anyone.
The article also highlights how poorly the Legion responded to putting measures in place to ensure the safety of the public after originally learning of the abuse. The Legion recognizes it has not handled past allegations well, common praxis then was wrong. I read the report the Legion released in Spanish back in November, which details all the ways this case was mishandled—from assigning a known offender to work with children, to moving him to another assignment after a recurrence of abuse, to not putting the victims first, and many other failures.
We can surely find more failures in the handling of this case, and it is my sincere hope that the investigation into the mishandling reveals all the details necessary for the continued healing of the victims of Fernando Martínez and for the Legion to continue to be purified. What I do know is that in general we did not handle these cases well in decades past and we must do better. Victims of sexual abuse, the greater Church, all those we serve, and those who support us and trust in the Legionaries of Christ deserve better from us.
Back in 1993 when Fernando Martinez’s abuse was reported in Mexico, we did not have the standards and procedures that we have in place today. Thanks to the courage of victims who have been public about their abuse and to the media that gave them voice, the Church has changed its practices and been much more transparent about abuse than ever before. There is still a long way to go.
Sadly, this is the way so many situations in the Church were handled in this period. Some of you have asked what would happen if we received an allegation of sexual abuse today here in the United States. We have a policy on how to respond when abuse allegations arise, which we call our Rapid Response Plan. We also have a code of conduct that outlines how our priests should behave. I include links to both for you here and encourage you to read through them.
A situation like this would never be handled this way today. In the United States and Canada, once we receive an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, we inform the civil authorities and do a preliminary investigation. If there is a reasonable possibility the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, we remove the priest from ministry and launch a full canonical investigation by a third party.
Some have asked about why we are communicating this now. In this case, in May the Congregation published that it would do an investigation of the case and in November 2019 made a public report of its findings. Since it was a case that took place in Mexico, and after looking into whether Fernando Martínez was ever in our territory and learning that he had not ever been assigned to ministry here I felt, at the time, that this situation was a regional issue, affecting the Congregation and those that they minister to in Mexico. This case was included in the statistics given in the report on the history of abuse in the Legionaries of Christ published on December 21st. However, now that information has been released in U.S. media regarding concerns about the mishandling of this case, I felt I needed to communicate with you directly and personally about this. In retrospect, I should have communicated it back in November, since nothing stays regional anymore. News travels and people travel. You should have been told. As information regarding other cases come to light and I have enough certainty about that information to truthfully share it, I will make it available to you.
My hope is that this letter reassures you of our commitment to a safe environment for all those we serve through our ministries. Please pray that the Lord show us the next steps in our effort to care for victims and our flock.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Fr. John Connor, LC