A.L. – Seeking Redress of Sexual Abuse by the Legion of Christ

This thoughtful and insightful testimony from long term ReGAIN friend A.L. was recently published on Life-After-RC Blog in response to a poster’s question about why abuse victims don’t just go ahead and sue the offenders.

A.L. had previously shared testimony regarding details of his sexual abuse on Regain Click Here and his letter to Alvaro Corcuera Click Here

(A.L. first tried to work through the Church and trusted that they would seek justice)

Thanks for your kind words – no it isn’t easy, I have tried very hard to be subjective, if that is even possible, and most of all to not speak hastily. It certainly is cathartic for me to have this freedom, this outlet, and of course it helps me to think that I may help others in any way in this sorry mess.

I have been feeling angry over the past month or so, and that is an unusual thing for me, but I suppose it is natural, its just not a nice feeling to have and it can cloud judgment.

Someone asked why victims haven’t sued the Legion.

I can answer how I have thought and acted about this, and thankfully I have had the support and advice, brotherly concern from Maciel’s victims at every stage of my recovery process.

My first concern was that the LC superiors should know what happened to me, and that the priest who hurt me should be dealt with accordingly. I didn’t know what that meant really, but I thought the Legion should know or be able to know. First in my mind was that he shouldn’t be working with children anymore.

I had left the Legion just over two years before I started speaking about this with a counselor, a few months later I took the step to contact the Legion, in 2001. Even at that stage I still had great love for the Legion, but it was the start of the end of that love story.

Apart from love of the Legion, I believed by then that Maciel was an abuser and I was aware that he was still the general director.

I took advice from my diocese, and they offered to intercede for me with the Legion. This was a great relief for me, and I am really grateful to the vicar general of the diocese, who was pastoral but also very critical of the LC in their response to me.

At that stage, I was only really beginning to understand how much the abuse was affecting me, and indeed it took years for me to understand a lot, and I am still working on that.

So recovery, long term and short term, was – is – on-going.

(A.L. wanted to ensure that the abuser would not do further harm to others)

Apart from recovery I had my concerns about that priest being a danger to others. In spite of that initial accusation against him, the Legion wondered how I came up with such a story and that was the end of that. The priest was still allowed to continue (he was never stopped) to be director of primary and secondary school in Medellin Colombia, and head of RC youth section at national level, and superior of his community.

Did I ever think of suing the Legion? At that stage, I don’t know why I would have done that. What would that achieve? Justice? Revenge? Responsibility? Those were things that certainly were not a priority for me at that time.
I will say as well that I fully believed that the church should know what to do – it is a moral compass after all. To involve police, or courts, seems and seemed antagonistic – who would want that in their lives? Above all, I had full faith that due process would be carried out, and that the Church should know what to do. Of course regarding the Legion, the Legion was its own investigator and judge in the matter of accusations against priests.
(The Legion ignores A.L.?s claims and allow his abuser to continue working with children)

I kept going to counseling, and I thought that there was not much else I could do. A few years later, in 2004, I took more advice – again from my diocese and from the Dublin Archdiocese. I wondered if there was a body outside of the Legion that I could have recourse to. It really bothered me that that priest was still working with children and youth in Colombia.

(Cardinal Rode?s secretary refuses to provide any investigation and suggests A.L. meet face to face with his abuser)

The Dublin Archdiocese told me that I should tell the police immediately. They offered me the greatest support and help I could get; they told me how to get funding for my counseling and even told me how to get in touch with the police. To me, this seemed the only recourse I had. Simultaneously I wrote to Cardinal Rode as my diocese suggested that it might be in his competence to look into the matter as I had a lack of faith in the LC investigation – I requested an external investigation, perhaps by a bishop or other religious. Rode’s secretary answered saying I should sort it out face to face with my abuser.

(Following Archdiocese?s advice A.L. reluctantly contacts police)

I really had no choice but to tell the police and also I reported it to the Dublin Archdiocese. They had an obligation therefore to involve the Legion. In that way the Dublin Archdiocese was able to get involved and they basically told the Legion what they were expected to do: remove the priest from active ministry during the investigation until it was concluded and cooperate fully with the police.
I can say that not once did I ever want to have to testify in court. I initially wrote to the police a detailed account of what happened. I then had an interview with two officers in Dublin, and they asked questions. They were friendly and considerate, but it was very difficult for me. Afterwards I remember walking around Dublin and feeling that I had betrayed my superior. I was upset, I knew I had not betrayed anyone, but my heart did not say that. I knew it was a Legion hold on me still.

(A.L. shares his inner feelings and suffering as he strived to do what was right)

I think it is also important to say that I did not ever want the priest to be punished. I never looked for him to be put in jail, and I don’t know if that would have helped me at all. I really wanted him to admit it and hoped that he would, so that there might be a reconciliation of sorts (well not a friendship of course) and above
all that he would have the ability to change, to heal.
During these years I suffered bad depression and anxiety, sometimes I was really incapacitated by this, and certainly it was a horrible time in my life. I was suffering, and I was struggling to recover and to also do good – I could not stand it that he was still working with children, that the Legion knew about him and did nothing.

Those were my concerns. To sue the Legion? What would that have achieved? An external judgment on the Legion, forcing them to take responsibility? perhaps, but that would never amount to the Legion ACCEPTING responsibility. Would it prove to the world that I was speaking the truth? We believe what we want to, or what we need to. Would it make them pay for what happened? I don’t know the answer to that. I know that many victims struggle with the concept of accepting money from the enemy, and some reject it outright. I can say at that stage, it was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to heal and get better, and I wanted no one else to be hurt. It weighed on my conscience that I could not stop him.

(A.L.?s abuser is removed from ministry)

When he was removed from ministry, (the school in Colombia sent a letter to all the families telling them not to believe rumours and that they should seek the truth from the school’s directors instead of the internet etc) he returned to Rome and Ireland, and a few months later he left the Legion and the priesthood. He always denied the events. I have no idea what he has ever said about it, nor what he said to the police.

(No charges pressed because of lack of strong enough evidence)

It was a real relief to me when I learnt about this, that he was no longer a priest. I believed, believe (hopefully not naively) that he is not in a position, or environment, to harm others like that.
The police did not press charges against him as there was not enough evidence. Simply it was my word against his. It seems that this was a common occurrence at that time – I read about another victim (not of the LC) who committed suicide very shortly after the police in Dublin told him the same thing.

But I had achieved what I had set out to do. I continued with counseling and thought that I just had to try and sort my life out as best I could. There was a sense of finality there, but also still a sense of frustration – was there anything else I could do? I worry that there were other victims, before me, at the same time or afterwards. Was there anything else I could do at that time for myself?

(A.L. considers pros and cons of lawsuit)

Would suing the Legion do me any good?

The only people who ever disbelieved me were RC and LC people, though I don’t think any said it to my face. Some really took issue with my subsequent “attitude” against the LC, that I should get a life etc etc. I had a real bee in my bonnet to stop others getting hurt, because I was truly hurt and for such a long time.

I certainly feel that I have lost part of my life, apart from the years as a Legionary, to the Legion. I have real losses, the depression was awful, but it also had a real effect on my day to day life, in finding work and keeping it etc etc

I think by this stage, I had was coming out of depression and turning a corner in my recovery: the Legion was scrutinized externally, the priest was no longer in a position to abuse, and I just had to try and get on.

And then Maciel was sentenced, then he died, and then the scandal, the visitation and so on and so on. I made sure that the visitators knew about me – all of them. I was careful to explain that the abuser had been moved around Europe, to USA and then to Colombia so the different territories should be aware of him.

(A.L. seeks an apology from Legion head, Alvaro Corcuera)

Then I heard about Alvaro apologizing to victims individually. I wondered if I would get that apology, I thought about that a great deal. Would it mean something to me? I thought that it would, yet I was cynical. There were plenty that he was not approaching. Who were these victims?
That is why I wrote to him, December 2009 – to make sure he had my address, and to make sure he had a copy and account of what happened to me and of the difficulties I had reporting him, as well as presenting solutions, or what I think they could do to help me. It was the first time I ever mentioned financial restitution. I think that I had more awareness of the effect of it all in my life – the abuse happened in 1995 and only now, in my early 30s am I beginning to make any progress at all – I graduated in 2009 and was so proud to have achieved something for myself. Yet still I go to counseling, still my relationships are severely affected and I wonder if I will indeed be able to have a career or steady job and be able to own a house etc etc.
In May 2010 Alvaro replied to me and we began a correspondence by email. He invited me to visit him in Rome.

(Alvaro offers a token vague apology by email)

In an email in June, he said I apologise for all that has happened to you.
I can say that these words were unexpected and while on the one hand they were ambiguous, on the other they were unmistakable. Alvaro Corcuera, the Director General, apologized to me. It took a while for this to sink in, and of course I had to remind myself to be careful and not be hasty.
I told him that his words were very positive, and he said he looked forward to apologizing to me face to face in Rome.

(A.L. meets with Alvaro but meeting is cut short and without apology)

I went to Rome, and the apology never happened. This visit coincided with the naming of the papal delegate so it was perhaps bad timing. In his email Alvaro told me that we could spend as much time as we wanted to talk. Fr. Carlos Skertchly would also want to talk with me, to follow up the practical aspects of the visit. I accepted this and suggested that he be present for the whole meeting.

The meeting started at 11 A.M. in a hotel near the LC centres. After an hour or so, Alvaro informed me that he had to go to lunch with the papal delegate at 1.30 so the meeting would not be as long as we thought. I think I was shocked. I didn’t have time to get tell him all that I wanted to. Fr. Skertchly would stay for as long as I needed, but I didn’t travel to Rome to speak to him. He wasn’t the general director, he wasn’t even a superior nor did he have any authority.

This angers me now, that the meeting was cut short – and that I was notified of this at the last minute.

Alvaro and Carlos were amiable with me, and they listened well and expressed concern and sorrow and certainly belief. They asked questions, respectfully, and their tone was the right tone. The meeting was not an emotional one, but it was not threatening or challenging. Yet, Alvaro never apologized to me. I waited to hear him say it, because I had it clear in my mind that he needed to say what he was sorry for – specifically. I never got the chance.

(A.L. raises the issue of financial redress to Fr Skertchly and is encouraged to avoid speaking legalistically)

When Alvaro left, I continued to talk a bit with Fr. Carlos. I think he cried at one point, but he was not inappropriate. I brought up the point about financial redress and he listened. I explained why I thought I could ask for it, that there were real losses. I explained that it is difficult to be objective in a matter like this, and that I expected fairness for all concerned, that I was aware that no amount of money would change how I felt or heal me, but it could offer me some chances and give me some peace of mind. Above all, I was aware of real loss, which was quantifiable. I had taken advice about this before the meeting, and started using terms like loss of amenity etc. Fr. Carlos told me that we didn’t need to speak like lawyers, that it wasn’t necessary – it would be okay.

(A.L. makes specific requests)

Finally, I requested that there not be any delays in the following through of my requests, which were:

– a written apology for what had happened
– a written acknowledgment that the Legion itself had acted badly towards me when I made the accusations
– donations to certain charities that had helped me
– a fair financial redress.

I was told the letter could be written in a week, but that the other considerations may take a little longer. I gave him four weeks; he agreed that that should be reasonable.

I explained that if they needed more time, then they should tell me promptly and inform me why they needed this time. Since I wrote the letter to Alvaro 8 months previously, I really got anxious waiting and waiting for replies, and after the initial reply, anxious about replies to emails etc I did not want this anxiety.

(The Legion delays and makes token offer to make charitable donation)

The first letter came two and a half months later. Initially they kept in touch advising me (at my insistence) of the progress and informing me of delays. The main delay was meetings with solicitors in Ireland during the month of August. It didn’t occur to me that Carlos Skertchly had said that there was no need for legalistic talk, yet they were meeting solicitors. But I suppose it was necessary for them to consult solicitors, I understand that.
After the meetings were over, I heard nothing from them and I enquired why not. I explained my anxiety as deadlines went past unfulfilled. Eventually they did not even reply to my asking when I would get a response – they knew exactly how anxious I was, but they didn’t really care.

At the end of September, Alvaro Corcuera sent me a letter by DHL. It was written on his private stationery, not Director General stationery. This would indicate that he was writing to me personally, not in his position as director general, which for me seemed important. Any priest can write me a letter. Also, it was pointed out to me, that this meant that it did not have to be officially recorded, as an act of office you might say. The letter, according to Alvaro, was approved by the council and the papal delegate.
In the letter, Alvaro thanked me for meeting with him in Rome, he said that the experience was a good experience for him. He said that he found my story credible and he accepted that I was not satisfied with the Legion’s handling of my case in 2001 and that things had changed since then.

In 2004 they cooperated fully with the police but they know now that because of my mistrust of the Legion, I chose to not engage with their attempts to use an independent person for the information gathering process as part of their own investigation.

They offered to make a donation, as a sign of solidarity, to the principal charity which I mentioned to them, who had funded my counseling. They did not mention how much they were donating.

And that was it.

It took a while for it to sink in what it all meant? What does it mean that Alvaro finds my story credible? Does that mean he believes me? I know how LCs write – they try to say things without using words to say it, hoping that we read between lines… Yet I know his attitude in Rome, his apology in an email, and now this letter saying my story was credible were certainly the tone of someone who believes me.

And the rest of the letter… I don’t know.

(A.L. questions the Legion?s confusing tactics and lack of action)

I think that overall, there has been some change in me, yet increasingly I feel disappointed (was I expecting too much) and I certainly feel that they were in control of the whole process over this past year. I have been feeling angry recently too, but perhaps it is good to feel that. Perhaps it means I am closer to the end. Yet, I wonder – was Alvaro playing the same tricks again? Conjuring with words? Have I been played?

I started this post trying to explain about why victims aren’t suing the Legion. You may notice that in the letter from Alvaro, there was no mention whatsoever about financial redress.

I emailed Fr. Carlos, saying that I had received the letter, and I wondered why financial redress was ignored in the letter. A week or two later, Fr. Carlos sent me a letter by DHL. The letter appears to be a photocopy – the original signature looks like a photocopy, and it was not on headed paper. The address was printed with the text of the letter onto blank photocopier paper.

It had a puzzling paragraph about the Legion giving money to the charity that provided me with counseling, expect that the Legion thought it still gives me counseling, (and so thinking it is paying for my current counseling, which it isn’t, but another charity is) and then Fr. Carlos said some along the lines of this: I believe that financial redress would be on the foot of a legal liability towards you, which we understand is not the case.

Then he continued to talk about the charity. This letter is very confusing. It gives the impression that the Legion was using the charity as an intermediary to help me financially, but that is not the case at all.

When I phoned the charity they explained that they could never talk about any person or group that donated to them so could neither confirm nor deny any LC donation. They also assured me that they would never confirm or deny any knowledge of myself etc etc. I read the letter to them and they said that it made no sense to them, that that is now what they doi.e. they don’t act as a mediary in any way, and certainly not financially.

(A.L. considers options including legal action)

So, I have been faced with these thoughts since October. What would help me now in recovery? What have I achieved so far? Is this the end or do I have other options. I don’t know all the answers to that, but for the first time I am aware that the endgame has pretty much been played, that the Legion has no intention of offering me financial redress what so ever, and it pretty much seems that my case is closed.

But I have an option; I have an option to sue the Legion. This is my only and final option, apart from accepting that it is over, there is nothing more that can be done.

Do I want to sue the Legion? Do I need to? First of all, who on earth would want that in their lives? Testifying, worrying, incurring great expenses at a risk? And why should I have to go through that?

I wonder, over the past ten years since I first reported this to them, what have I achieved, what have I needed and really can anything else be done? Today, I have the feeling that they got off with it, they have escaped, they have won.

And that is why it is now a real option for me to sue the Legion – because it is the only thing I have left to do, to try and hold them accountable, responsible. I know that the moral battle has already been won – Maciel has been uncovered, the chain of abuse through generations has been uncovered, but I believe that the Legion should be accountable for what happened.

(A.L. shares hesitation about resorting to lawsuit realizing it won’t bring true justice)

I think that that is fair but yes I wrestle with myself about it: I should do what is right for me, I am told. Suing them won’t bring the reconciliatory healing I want, but it may give them a kick in the purse and open their eyes with how to deal properly with victims and understand truly what they have gone through, including the very real losses.
Yet it seems aggressive of me to sue them, vindictive even…
Does suing mean getting revenge? If that is so, then that is why the victims don’t want to sue. The moral victory wants justice – justice which is much more human than a cheque.

I am reminded of the story in the New Testament, letter from St. Paul? where he says that it is hypocritical to pass a beggar in the street and say God bless you and walk away – the blessing won’t feed him or keep him warm.

Their words, in the letters, sound so empty to me, so calculated and managed.

I know I am speaking for myself here, but perhaps I have given an insight about why victims don’t sue (and I haven’t even mentioned the statute of limitations…).

If you understand what a victim might want to achieve or where their immediate priorities are – and how these change with time, then that might give an answer, or my answer anyway.

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