HARTFORD, Conn. — A former top official for the scandal-plagued Legion of Christ sexually abused a teenage boy in the early 1990s, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses a priest who served as second-in-command to a man who founded the conservative religious order and molested his own seminarians. It’s said to include the first such accusation against Father Luis Garza, who’s believed to be living in the Philippines.
A Legion of Christ spokesman said Garza denies the allegations.
Garza “categorially denies his involvement in this or any other abuse, and has said he will cooperate fully in any inquiry regarding this matter,” spokesman Jim Fair said.
The plaintiff, whose name was not made public, says he was abused by Garza; the order’s founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel; and a third priest at a Legion boarding school in Mexico beginning in 1990 or 1991, when he was about 13 or 14 years old.
Over a couple years, the plaintiff was abused several times by each of the priests, according to J. Michael Reck, one of his attorneys. The plaintiff fled the school because of the abuse, made his way back across the Mexico-U.S. border and finished high school in the United States, Reck said.
The plaintiff grew up in California in a devoutly Catholic family with a reverence for priests. The boarding school, outside Mexico City, was one of the Legion’s training grounds for clerics, according to the complaint.
Fair said the Legion is committed to providing “a safe environment for young people in all its institutions and operations.”
The lawsuit names the Legion of Christ as the defendant and was filed in Waterbury Superior Court in Connecticut, the home state of the order’s U.S. headquarters.
Garza, a 58-year-old native of Mexico, was the order’s territorial director for Latin America and Mexico when the plaintiff says the abuse began. In November 1992, he was named Maciel’s No. 2 as vicar general, a position he held until 2011.
During his tenure, the Legion vigorously defended Maciel against sex abuse allegations by his former seminarians, which were first lodged at the Vatican in 1998 but were shelved amid a campaign by Garza and the Legion to denounce the accusations as libelous gossip and discredit the accusers.
The Legion, which was founded by Maciel decades ago in Mexico, was taken over by the Vatican in 2010 after a church investigation determined Maciel, who died in 2008, had molested several boys and fathered at least three children out of wedlock.
According to a 2011 deposition in a contested will case, Garza testified he confronted Maciel’s mistress and daughter, starting in 2006, after he became suspicious while visiting Maciel in Florida and seeing the women there.
Yet Garza said he never confronted Maciel about his double life and didn’t think it was necessary to share the news with the broader membership of the Legion or its lay movement Regnum Christi. He said he told only the Legion’s superior and two other priests.
The deposition was unsealed after a successful petition by The Associated Press and other news organizations.
The plaintiff’s complaint says he reported the sexual abuse to two leaders of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, first Cardinal Roger Mahony when he was archbishop and then Archbishop Jose Gomez.
A spokesman for the archdiocese said a search of correspondence files for Mahony and Gomez did not turn up anything concerning Garza. He said Mahony has no memory of speaking with anybody claiming abuse by Garza, and there’s no indication of any appointment with the archbishop or call to his office about the matter.
The complaint also alleges the plaintiff reported the abuse to Legion officials in 2014. Reck said the Legion sent a representative to the plaintiff’s home but he never heard anything further.