AP Explains: Vatican to send abuse investigators to Mexico

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FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2017 file photo, a Mexican flag flies at half-mast on the Metropolitan Cathedral during three days of mourning following a deadly earthquake and hurricane, in Mexico City. The Vatican’s announcement that it is sending an investigative commission to Mexico in March 2020 to look into cases of clergy abuse could become a turning point in a country that’s home to the second largest number of Catholics in the world. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s announcement that it is sending an investigative commission to Mexico later in March to look into cases of clergy sex abuse could become a turning point in the country that’s home to the second largest number of Catholics in the world. That is, if the information gathered by investigators leads to concrete results within the church and the criminal justice system. With a strong connection to church, a history of abuse denial and a cultural reticence about discussing sexual abuse, Mexico has trailed other countries where far more abuse has been revealed.

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WHY IS THE VATICAN SENDING THIS MISSION TO MEXICO AND WHY NOW?

More victims, especially of the Legion of Christ religious order, came forward in Mexico and media attention mounted, putting more pressure on the church. Mexico’s Vatican representative Franco Coppola said the Catholic church’s large presence in Mexico means how the abuse cases are handled could serve as a good or bad example for other countries. He cited the “seriousness” of the situation in Mexico for the decision to send the mission now.

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HOW WILL THE MISSION WORK?

The investigators will speak with bishops, leaders of religious orders and victims, but the church emphasized they are willing to speak with anyone about alleged abuse. People will be given 30 minutes to meet with investigators so the church recommends arriving with written statements and documents that could serve as evidence.

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WHAT COULD THE MISSION FIND?

It will depend on how many victims meet with investigators, and whether church and judicial authorities pursue their cases. A Vatican mission led by the same church officials went to Chile in 2018 to investigate one case and returned with 2,600 pages of statements from more than 60 victims. In Mexico, there could be a couple of problems: speaking about sexual abuse in the church remains daunting in a strongly Catholic country. Furthermore, many victims who are willing to tell their stories have already reported the abuse and been disappointed by the lack of action. One of them, Ana Lucía Salazar, who was abused as a girl at a Legion of Christ school in Cancun sees the mission as another attempt at damage control by the church, though she does plan to meet the investigators.

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WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT CLERICAL ABUSE IN MEXICO SO FAR?

The Mexican Episcopal Conference said in January that it was investigating 271 priests for abuse in the past decade. In addition, there are multiple cases linked to the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order, based in Mexico. The group’s late founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel, was a drug addict who sexually abused at least 60 of his seminarians. The Legion has vowed to investigate confirmed cases of past abuse by 33 priests and 71 seminarians. A Mexican victims advocacy group SNAP, believes the problem is far more widespread, saying “the scope of clergy abuse in Mexico is largely hidden but almost certainly happening at staggering rates.” Coppola, the Vatican representative, says four Mexican bishops are under investigation for alleged cover-ups of cases.

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WHAT ARE MEXICAN AUTHORITIES DOING ABOUT THE ABUSE?

Mexican legislators are considering proposals to address clergy sex crimes. They include one that would remove any statute of limitations on prosecutions and another that would create an independent investigative panel relying on experts as well as the professed collaboration of the church. There have been a few prosecutions of clerical abuse in Mexico, though victims say authorities have done far too little. The first priest convicted was Carlos López Valdez in 2018. Jesús Romero Colín, a psychologist and director of Inscide, an organization supporting sexual abuse victims, said it took a decade of fighting to get his abuser, López Valdez, convicted and sentenced to 63 years in prison.

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