A.L. – Overcoming Sexual Abuse at the hands of a Legionary Priest
My name is A.L. I was born on the 13 of April, 1977, in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, diocese of Down and Connor.
I first met a vocational director from the Legion of Christ in September 1990. I was 13 years old. Having visited the Novitiate many times, including a six- week stay in ‘92 before, on the 15th of September ‘93 I received the cassock or ‘Legionary uniform’. I began to live the vows Chastity, Obedience, Poverty according to the Constitutions of the Legion of Christ with a view to my religious profess. I was also apprised of the ‘private’ Legionary vows not to criticize Superiors or to seek positions of authority within the Congregation. Thus prepared, I entered the Novitiate of the Legion of Christ, Leopardstown Rd., Dublin 18, at sixteen years of age.
My first Novice Master was a middle-aged Irish Legionary with whom I never had any problems. As is the Legion tradition, he was assigned to me as my Spiritual Director and Confessor. The following year, September 1994, he was replaced by the then deacon, ‘Father’ Eoghan [Gaelic version, pronounced ‘Owen’] Devlin, LC, and transferred to Mexico. With several other Novices, I went to Eoghan Devlin’s ordination in Mexico City in November 1994. He was duly appointed my Confessor and Spiritual Director.
I wanted to take my Religious Vows and the Private Vows of the Legion of Christ within a year, at the end of my two-year Novitiate. Under the guise of preparing me for this Fr. Devlin frequently probed me with personal questions of a sexual nature in spiritual direction.
He wanted to know about any “sexual experiences” I had as a child. He asked me about my brothers and sisters, other family and my friends, inquiring if I had seen any of them naked. He questioned me about any “sexual games” I might have played as a child. He inquired whether I had any sexual fantasies, and their content. He wanted to know to what extent I was “sexually aware”.
It was his duty to know this, as he was recommending me as a suitable candidate for religious life, and I answered his questions as openly and honestly as possible. Although I found them to be intrusive and uncomfortable. Besides, I had nothing to hide.
I did tell him, though, that I thought that I was attracted to men. He responded that homosexuality does not exist; that I oughtn’t to worry about it because I was in an all-male environment; that I was attracted to the more feminine qualities of other men around me, due to the lack of women to be attracted to. He assured me that when I was on the apostolate, and in “the world” this would no longer be the case.
I neither agreed nor disagreed with him, but decided that whatever the case, chastity was the same for all who desired to offer it to God. I also calmed my conscience knowing I wasn’t attracted to anyone in particular, male or female, and experienced no real obstacle to the living out chastity. In fact I saw chastity as a beautiful gift to God, and an expression of intimacy with Him.
Fr. Eoghan told me in Spiritual Direction that he noticed I had a “disorderly affection” towards another novice. I did not know exactly what he meant by that, and I was confused as to why he thought so. He asked me if in times of conversation I sought out the other Brother to talk to him, in preference to others. He asked me if I looked for this brother’s company and preferred his company. He stated I had a “crush” on that brother and encouraged me to confess this sin against chastity to him [Fr. Eoghan] anytime it manifested itself.
Individual, or “particular” friendships, are not permitted in the Legion. This particular novice, on whom I apparently had a crush, was a friendly and intelligent man. I found him to be good company and would describe my feelings towards him as those of friendship and appreciation. I liked him. I never had any sexual thoughts, desires or urges towards him. Nevertheless, I found myself continuously examining my conscience and questioning my “purity of intention”. second-guessing myself regarding why I was talking with him whenever I spoke to him. So I kept contact with him to a minimum, scared of ‘sinning’ if I laughed at his jokes. “Did others laugh? Was it just me, my disorderly affection?” I found it very hard to qualify this ‘sin’ against purity and confessed anything I thought might be ‘inappropriate’ or exclusive and thus contrary to ‘Legionary universal brotherly charity’. I constantly reflected on my purity of intention with the other novices, with my family and with my superiors, trying to avoid any disorderly affections.
One night, Fr. Eoghan entered my room after night prayers. I was in bed, but not yet asleep. He inquired whether I was ok. I told him that I was. He asked me if I was wearing any underwear under my pajamas. I said I was wearing underpants. He said it wasn’t normal for someone to wear underwear in bed, under pajamas. He instructed me not to do so in the future .
Fr. Eoghan and I spent many hours each week talking about chastity and he reinforced my efforts for purity. I kept a written correspondence with him almost daily, informing him of my day’s progress. He often gave me special chores to do for him, to “keep my mind busy”. I frequently accompanied him when he went outside the Novitiate. He made me his secretary and also appointed me community nurse ‘infirmarian’. He put me in charge of a large project of his redesigning the novitiate gardens.
One day in the spring of 1995 he was in bed ill. The Assistant to the Novice Instructor, another Irish LC Brother, asked me to help him bring lunch to Fr. Eoghan. I did so, and Fr. Eoghan thanked me. (I’m not exactly sure of when this was. I seem to think it was early in the month of May, as we spent that month working in the gardens and the weather seemed nice; in which case I had just turned 18. I know it was definitely before June. Indeed it may have been before my 18th birthday, as we also had some workdays in March and April.)
In the constitutions of the Legion of Christ, a legionary may not enter the bedroom of another legionary unless they are accompanied by a third person. That was why both the other Brother and I brought Fr. Eoghan lunch.
That night, after we were all asleep, Fr. Eoghan came to my room in his pajamas and woke me up. In the novitiate we were not allowed to close our bedroom doors except when we were getting changed.
He asked me to go with him. He seemed so urgent that I didn’t have time to put on my dressing gown, and I had to run to catch up with him as he went to his room. As is customary in the Legion, we all keep Absolute Silence after night prayers until after morning Mass the following day. Absolute Silence means not only not being allowed to speak, but also trying to make the least possible noise (closing doors very quietly, etc., and avoiding communication with others.
Fr. Eoghan lay on his bed and said he had very severe cramps in his stomach. He unbuttoned his pajama top and told me to kneel down. He poured oil onto his stomach and asked me to massage him. I had never done anything like this before, and he took both my hands and showed me how, placing my hands where his navel was and asking me to press down hard, massaging in a circular motion. He began to breathe deeply. Very soon he unbuttoned his pajama bottom and poured more oil. He asked me to “do it deeper” . I thought he meant harder, but he meant lower down. His penis was erect and I was embarrassed. I started to massage in the area between his navel and the pubic region. He took my hands and put them into his crotch. And I massaged him there. He asked me to do so more vigorously. I was shocked and confused, and I didn’t really know what was happening. I can remember my hands in his pubic hair, wet from the massage cream. I closed my eyes and prayed. His penis was erect and uncovered the whole time. It was wet and dripping.
I can remember clearly the thoughts running through my head:
1. Why were we alone? Where was the third person present that the Constitutions required? I answered to myself that it would be too embarrassing for anyone else to witness. One (1) was enough.
2. Why wasn’t his superior (the Rector, Fr. Eugene Gormley, L.C.) helping him then? Or even his assistant, Br. Patrick Conlon? If in need in the Legion, we asked our superiors for help or permissions, not our equals or subordinates.
3. What horrible illness was this for a priest? I thought his cramps were a terrible affliction, now he had just been ordained. It also entered my mind that he wanted me to masturbate him because he was a priest and I wasn’t, and he couldn’t control this illness. Therefore if I did it, if I brought him to release, the sin would be mine, not his: as such, the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, I knew that I couldn’t sin this way, and I did’t do it; although I fear and suspected he might ask me to.
He kept asking me to massage harder and deeper. In doing so, several times I inadvertently touched his erect penis, which was moving vigorously, corresponding to the movement of my hands. I kept my head down and kept my eyes closed as much I could.
He then asked me to wash my hands and get him a towel. I went to his sink and when I returned he was wiping himself with a tissue. He apologized to me for the “uncomfortable circumstances” of his illness. He was often ill like this, he said. He asked me if I had noticed that he had an erection when I had brought him lunch earlier. I shook my head “no”. He sent me to my room, and said I could sleep-in to recover my lost sleep. I went to the oratory and prayed to God that He cure him of this illness, and I offered a sacrifice to Him to help him through the night.
I was very puzzled by these events, but never doubted that Fr. Eoghan was suffering from some kind of illness. I speculated that because we had spoken about sexual things in Spiritual Direction he confided in me to not be embarrassed or to misjudge him in his unfortunate condition. Who else could he have turned to? I thought understandingly.
I never once spoke during the entire event. I didn’t want to break the Absolute Silence.
In the Legion of Christ, we are to obey the superior even in his whims, not solely in his mandates. It was explained to us in the Explanation of Rules that if a superior wanted a cup of tea, even if he just mentioned it as if thinking out loud, it would be the “Legionary Spirit” to go and make him one and bring it to him.
In the Legion of Christ we also take a Vow to never criticize the actions, deeds or person of a superior, and to report anyone who does so. If ever a criticism was to be made, it had to be made in a formal way to that superior’s superior, and in the spirit of Christian Charity.
I felt I had promised this obedience and non-criticism at the beginning of my novitiate and was presently in a period of discernment for acceptance to the Religious Vows.
In my heart and in my conscience I believed that I had acted that night like a true Legionary -putting my superior’s needs before my own- and I stuffed the unsavory thoughts and feelings to the back of my mind.
The next day I saw Fr. Eoghan and Fr. Eugene talking to each other and slowly walking up and down the novitiate corridor, as was usual during spiritual direction. I thought that Fr. Eoghan was informing the Rector about what happened.
After this, Fr. Eoghan had less time for me. He told me that I shouldn’t depend on him so much anymore, because I was to go to the Juniorate in Salamanca, Spain, and that it was a much bigger community and my superiors there wouldn’t have the same amount of time for me.
I noticed a change in him towards me. He was more indifferent and even seemed tired of me. At the end of the summer I took Religious Vows according to the Constitutions of the Legion of Christ, and the ‘Private Vows’ shortly afterwards.
I remember looking forward to reading the Constitutions of the Legion of Christ in their entirety after this. Only professed Religious and Legionary Priests can read them; as Novices we had a censored version.
OFF-LOADING [THE VICTIM]
I was transferred to Salamanca to study Humanities at the Centro de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Legion de Cristo, Avenida De la Merced, Salamanca. After one and a half years there, my Rector, Confessor and Spiritual Director, Fr. Jesus Maria Delgado, LC, told me he didn’t see me as a priest, and encouraged me to leave and “get married”. I didn’t agree with him but never found out why he wanted me to leave. His only explanation was that I wasn’t suitable (though he didn’t say why) and that I didn’t have the “makings of a priest”. When the period of Humanities was over, he wouldn’t recommend me for philosophy studies in Rome, but told me I had a “special mission”. I waited two months to find out what this was, and was eventually told to accompany a priest on the vocational recruitment drive in the North of Spain. I traveled with Fr. Luis Ignacio Nunez, LC, around different Spanish cities looking for vocations to the Legion, to the apostolic movement Regnum Christi, and for donations to the Legion, as well as trying to open a Legionary school in Bilbao.
When, one and a half years after, Fr. Jesus informed me of his certainty about my not having a vocation, I prayed and worked hard, trying to find God’s will. I never wavered in my heart and in the fulfillment of my Religious Commitments. God was calling me, not only to the Priesthood, but to the Legion of Christ; and that, as a matter of conscience, I had to and wanted to obey God’s call.
Eventually, and under a lot of pressure, I took it as a sign from God – manifested through my superiors- that I didn’t have a vocation to either the priesthood or to the Legion of Christ. I also received a letter from the General Director and fonder of the Congregation, Fr. Marcial Maciel, LC, who we called Nuestro Padre. In it he told me I could leave and return home in peace, without a troubled conscience. He assured me that God’s will was for me not to be a Priest. As an act of faith I left the legion, although I really didn’t want to, and still continued to hear God’s call.
From the moment I decided to leave, and the moment I was given a plane ticket, I was no longer considered a Legionary, a member of the community. I was not allowed to tell anyone, except my parents, that I was leaving.
To this day I still have to wrestle with my conscience about this. In the Legion we were continuously told that we were called from all Eternity, handpicked by God to Co-found the Legion of Christ, and that if we weren’t faithful to God’s call, He would spit us out of His mouth, and we would find damnation.
When people leave the Legion of Christ, be it of their own choice or “invited to” by a superior, they did so in secret. They simply disappeared overnight. It was forbidden to speak about anyone who was no longer present in the community. If superiors were asked in private, they would ‘invent’ that that Brother was sent on a “special mission to Mexico” or to some other country.
I was given a suitcase, told to leave all my notes, and only take my clothes and personal things with me. It would be better, they said, in the long run not to have too many reminders. I was given my passport -which the superior always kept-, a ticket from Madrid to Belfast, and a $50 viaticum. They instructed me that if I didn’t spend this emergency money during the trip to send it back to them in Salamanca.
So I returned home to my parents on August 20th, 1998. I told them that I had been living the Religious Vows for the past three years, and that with Renewal of the Vows approaching I had cometo the conclusion that I did not want to continue living that life style. This was a lie: I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that the Legion had rejected me, that I wasn’t suitable material for the Priesthood.
I was also inwardly confused because I had taken the vows for three years on September 15th, 1995. Thus I was still a Consecrated Religious therefore until the 15th September 1998; but I had left the Legion. I didn’t know how to live my Vows at home during that period; I wondered if I had to report to the Bishop or my Parish Priest. My parents gave me money to buy some clothes, but I didn’t know whether to accept it or not as I was still bound by the vow of poverty.
It was hard for me to adjust to normal life again, but I tried to do so as best I could and asked for God’s help in finding His will for me outside the Religious Life.
I enrolled in the university but gradually decompensated and had to leave. It happened this way. At the beginning of my second year I began to feel unwell, with nauseas and chronic fatigue; I was often confused and forgetful. My short-term memory decreased and I even got lost at times, not knowing where I was. I had trouble knowing what time of year it was, and was often disoriented. This, of course affected my university life. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I went to a counselor at university, where I admitted depression. I remember that in my first session I didn’t know why I was there or what I would talk about. I was surprised that I spent the whole time talking about my seminary experiences. I had no idea that I was still so dependent on the Legion of Christ. My whole psyche, my emotional framework, my psychological balance depended on the system of life within the Legion and for as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t function outside this system. Everything became a challenge to me. It is hard to describe this, I don’t mean that I desired to live like a Legionary, or that I got up early in the morning and had an hour’s meditation before Mass, etc., but that I had a sub-conscious dependency on the Legion. This sacred me a lot.
In a way I was like a lion bred in captivity and kept in a cage. After being “rescued” and released back into the wild, to my natural habitat, I could only pace up and down the length of my cage, even though the bars had been removed.
Since then I have been attending counseling, and it has helped me a lot; but it has taken and is still taking years to relearn the necessary and most basic elements of life in “normal society”.
Shortly after I started counseling, November 2000, I found an article on the Internet reporting alleged sex abuse by the founder, Marcial Maciel, LC. I did not want to believe it and felt disgusted. But when I read the detail of the accusations the memory of what Fr. Eoghan Devlin asked me to do when he was ill in the Novitiate came back to me, and I realized for the first time the truth of what had happened: that he had in fact sexually abused me. The similarity of what some of the early Legionaries said Maciel had made them do with what Fr. Eoghan asked me to do was astounding. I couldn’t believe it. I printed off the article, then wrote my own experience and printed it too. I showed them both to my father and to my counselor. I couldn’t say with words what had happened. I couldn’t talk about it. Yet needed immediate validation. I needed these important people to believe me, or maybe to tell me what I didn’t want to believe.
Since then I was often reluctant to clearly affirm that I was abused and wanted to ‘interpret’ the facts. I argued to myself that Fr. Eoghan was really ill, or that it was my fault. But now I can no longer deny to myself the truth about what he did: he groomed me and abused me for his own sexual gratification. My denial only served to mask my pain at the acceptance of this truth. I never denied the facts or was ever unclear about them happening.
In hindsight I remember that when I was a Humanities’ student in Salamanca all the communities in the house were called to a special meeting in the auditorium. The Rector, Fr. Jesus Maria Delgado, LC, told us that a newspaper in USA had published a damning and false accusation against Nuestro Padre, (Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Congregation). We received no further detail of this accusation.
We were informed that our personal mail was going to be double checked (all incoming and outgoing mail is habitually revised by superiors in the Legion) for anything that might contain details of this newspaper article. But we had to be careful, and if we found anything in our mail or elsewhere about the accusation, we were to refrain immediately from reading it and give it to our superior at once. We were also forbidden to talk about anything related to the accusation.
I later realized that the newspaper article we were kept in the dark about was the same article I read on the Internet, sparking off the memory of my own abuse. I was angry that the Legion had denied me access to this, and that if I had known sooner, I could have acted while still in the Legion. Maybe others, abused perhaps like me without knowing, were being denied a chance to find the truth.
In April 2001, I visited Monsignor Colm McCahon of the Down and Connor diocese and told him what had happened to me. He was shocked and concerned, to say the least. I thank him for his Priestly kindness and example to me. He informed me of my options as I was concerned that Fr. Eoghan might still be abusing his authority for his own personal satisfaction; I also felt Fr. Eoghan should at least be given a chance to help me recover.
On my behalf the monsignor wrote to the Vicar General of the Legion of Christ, Luis Garza. I warned Monsignor McCahon that the Legion was very secretive and protective of its members and of its image, and that I doubted that any superior in the Legion would believe me over another Legionary. I was scared that sending this letter would be only a fool’s errand. He told me that he didn’t think it would be so, and that that was the procedure of the Church. He suggested that at least we could try it to see what would happen. I agreed. I mentioned to him that I would be interested in speaking to Fr. Eoghan in person, to “clear things up”. I also let him know that I in no way wanted to cause scandal or harm for the Church.
Luis Garza replied, and I found his words hurtful. He was “satisfied that there was no problem with Fr. Eoghan, and that he (Fr. Eoghan) didn’t know how I could come up with such a story”. He offered me the opportunity to speak with Fr. Eoghan if I so wished, but only in the presence of witnesses. I felt intimidated by this, and, still in a period of much denial and confusion, I let it be. In a way I found some peace, because I had let Fr. Eoghan know that the power of his deception was over.
I decided no longer to think about this, and eventually my depression eased -or rather I learnt to accept it and live with its manifestations. I again tried to return to University, but found it hard once more to become part of another “system”. The depression soon returned and I left university studies after three months. I continued with my counseling.
But I cannot forget nor let go of this part of my past any longer. I so often worry that Fr. Eoghan is still abusing children or others under his authority. I have heard he is a Superior of a Legionary community in Colombia, and that he is also the Director of a Legionary High School there.
I feel it is my moral duty to report once more to Church and to the appropriate Civil Authorities what Fr. Eoghan Devlin did to me. In doing so I hope to find justice, to prevent further wrong and help other victims to heal.
I am requesting an external authority make a formal and thorough investigation. I do not trust any internal investigation by the Legion of Christ in this matter, and will not be satisfied by it.
I want Fr. Eoghan to be removed from ministry until a complete and satisfactory investigation be concluded. Specifically because he is at present Director of a Primary and Secondary School in Medellin, Columbia, and also National Director of the Regnum Christi Catholic Youth Movement in Columbia, as well as Superior of the Religious Community of the Legion of Christ in Medellin.
In this investigation I expect that anyone for whom he was Superior at any period of his Legionary Formation, not only as a Priest, but also as Novice Instructor in Dublin, be questioned about his sexual appropriateness during their training.
Note that I was unaware of this abuse for years due his deception and because the use of his position of authority were so effective. There may well be other Legionaries who still live unaware of their abuse.
I request that as a result of this investigation Fr. Eoghan Devlin be removed permanently from positions of authority in the Legion of Christ, and also be removed from ministry with children and young people. It may be necessary to question his suitability for the Priesthood and its demands.
I invite him to examine his behavior and address any problems he may have with his own sexuality.
I am scared. I am scared of the things the Legion will say about me: that I am bitter because I had to leave,; that I am not well; that my continued depression is evidence of mental imbalance, whence my telling grandiose but untrue tales, and so on. An acquaintance told me they had asked someone familiar with the Legion why I had left, and they were told that “A.L. wasn’t well in the head”. This only added to my pain.
I am also scared that coming forward be even more painful for me. But, as my Legionary experience has taught me, the truth may hurt, but lies hurt even more. May the truth lead me to freedom. It has taken a lot of courage, and yes, time, to come forward like this. I felt so lost and helpless. Will I be believed? What good will it do?
I hope that you, the reader, will want to help me find justice and healing.
May 7th, 2005
here is my original English version of the text which appears in Spanish in the “Documentos Secretos de los Legionarios de Cristo”*.
Do with it as you will. It is the letter which I wrote to the Irish Police and was the basis for my statement to them.
You may wish to let readers know that recently the Department of Public Prosecution in Ireland informed me it decided not to prosecute as they have not found sufficient evidence (my word against his etc). This will be the first public acknowledgment of the end of the police investigation.
The Legion is obliged to carry out its own investigation now as they were unable to do so while the Police were investigating.
The Legion not yet been in touch with me in this regard. I am currently (and rather frustratingly) trying to get an external investigation started, and am requesting this from both the CDF and the CCL (Cong. for Consecrated Life…)at the Vatican. I also continue in contact with my diocese.
*In Spanish: Los documentos secretos de los Legionarios de Cristo by José Martínez de Velasco, Ediciones B, Barcelona, Spain, pages 271-287
May 23, 2005
“Fr. Eoghan Devlin voluntarily stood aside from his position as Director of “El Cumbres” school in Medellin, Colombia, S.A., as soon as the police became involved. He returned to the Legionary Center in Rome where he remained until Christmas 2004 when he suddenly left the Legion of Christ.
I am not sure whether he remains a priest or not.
At the time of Fr. Eoghan’s departure from Medellin, Colombia, the directors of “El Cumbres” circulated a letter to all parents about how ‘enemies of the Legion had recently been spreading rumors and lies in the Medellin area to discredit the Legionaries good work.’