A leading scholar of the Mexican Church at the Colegio de Mexico, Robert Blancarte, said police, prosecutors and society still tend to regard sex crime victims as somehow culpable. He said victims know there is little chance their attacker will be punished and fear they will be shamed in their community. Sex crimes are rarely reported, especially not when they involve someone as revered as a priest.
In an interview with his 11 year-old cousin, Emanuel Ocequera 21, a Mexico City university student, stated a priest sexually abused his cousin several years ago in a Catholic school in the city of Morelia, 180 miles west of Mexico City. He said the family did not report the abuse because they were afraid people would think the boy was gay. “To attack priests is to damage the image of the church, and that’s why we avoid this subject,” Ocequera said. “Our faith blinds to reason.”
“It would be like going against ourselves, our beliefs,” said Laura Castaneda, 35, an office worker in Mexico City. “We can’t think of a priest as a liar or a rapist. When someone has been the victim of that they don’t discuss it because it is shameful. It is not easy for us to attack the church.”
The Catholic Church has been a dominant force in Mexico since Spanish Conquistadors introduced it 500 years ago. Because of the church’s tremendous influence under Spanish rule, reformers in the decades after Mexican independence in 1810 imposed strict constitutional restrictions on the church, which have since been lifted.
Citing the Channel 40 case, analysts said media companies fear enraging the church and it’s powerful friends. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s fear and it goes directly to economics,” said Raymundo Riva Palacio, a leading Mexican journalist. He said conservative catholic business leaders “supply most of the advertising to the Mexican media.” The channel 40 case was especially clear, Riva Palacio said, because the subject of the allegations was the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder and leader of the conservation order known as the Legion of Christ, which has about 500 priests working in more than twenty countries.
The program featured several former priests who alleged that Maciel had sexually abused each of them as early as age ten. Among these former priests were a lawyer, engineer and a university professor. They were students in schools run by the order. The men, who are now elderly, filed formal complaints with the Vatican, without comment. They repeated their allegations in interviews, expressing frustration that these issues get more public airing in the United States than in Mexico.
Their allegations were reported in the Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut and the National Catholic Reporter, a U.S. publication. Maciel, 82, lives in Rome. His supporters have repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations, calling them lies. They say the allegations are a conspiracy by disgruntled former priests to discredit Maciel. A spokesman for the Legion of Christ in Connecticut this week denied any impropriety by Maciel. He referred inquiries to a web site the group has created specifically to rebut the allegations. This web site contains letters from Maciel, Rivera, and half-dozen other priests defending and praising Maciel.
Pedro Tevino, a former Mexican consul general, discounts the allegations.
“I have known him for 14 years, and 99 percent of the people who know him speak well of him,” said Tevino. “He is a Saint.”
Jose Barba, a Harvard-educated professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, made allegations against Maciel. In an interview with him and his fellow former priests believe Maciel’s influence, including ties to the Pope, prevented an impartial investigation.
Juan Vaca, another former Legion of Christ priest who teaches psychology at the University in New York, and Barba express hope Mexican society would force the kind of discussion of sexual abuse issues now going on in the United States and elsewhere.
Many, including a Mexico City lawyer Jose Antonio Perez, another former priest who has made sexual abuse allegations against Maciel, said it will be slow in coming. “In Mexico,” he said, “It’s not a good idea to denounce a person who represents God.”