Naason Garcia, who has led La Luz del Mundo as an “Apostle,” Enters Plea Deal With Prosecutors On Sex Crimes Charges After Years of Denying Allegations
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (June 4, 2022) – La Luz del Mundo church leader Naason Joaquin Garcia has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing girls from his congregation just days before a trial was to start.
Garcia was originally facing 36 charges, but opted to take a last minute plea deal that required him to plead guilty to three counts of sexual abuse. This includes two counts of forced oral copulation with a minor and one count of a lewd act upon a child 15 years old.
While his followers regarded him as an “apostle” from God, prosecutors said that Garcia used his authority within the church to groom children for sexual assault. The plea deal comes after years of Garcia maintaining his innocence.
La Luz del Mundo has operations in Guadalajara, Mexico as well as Los Angeles. Prosecutors have said that the church engaged in a cover-up of the sexual abuse.
Despite the charges, church followers have continue to support both Garcia and the church. The U.S. justice department became aware of the alleged crimes committed by Garcia as a result of a tip in 2018.
La Luz del Mundo, which translates to Light of the World, claims to have more than 5 million members. It is the largest evangelical church in Mexico and has branches in 50 countries.
Liability For Church Sexual Abuse
Church abuse is sadly far more common than many people realize. A report from National Public Radio estimated that around 216,000 children were abused by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2020. In some dioceses, more than 15 percent of priests were alleged to be perpetrators. Survivors and prosecutors have said that many factors contributed to the systemic abuse. For example, abuse claims were often rarely investigated. In other instances, priests who were suspected of abuse would be moved from one parish to another. But the Catholic church is not the only organization that has been plagued by sexual abuse. The same problem exists within evangelical churches such as La Luz del Mundo. But abuse within evangelical congregations has been much more difficult to study and prosecute for several reasons.
- There is a loose or nonexistent hierarchy within evangelicalism. There are thousands of different evangelical denominations and each denomination can have tens of thousands of independent member churches.
- Even large denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention have little to no authority to enforce sexual abuse policies and standards among member churches.
- Though some evangelical denominations have worked to prevent sexual harassment and abuse, many have not.
- A lack of hard data on evangelical sexual abuse makes it hard to diagnose the problem and create solutions.
It is a criminal act for any adult in California and the United States to have sexual contact with a minor. It does not matter whether or not the minor offered their “consent.” Our legal system deems children incapable of giving consent for sexual conduct. There is an inherent power difference between children and adults. This power difference is even greater when the adult is an authority figure such as a teacher or church leader. Children are raised to trust adults and to follow the direction of authority figures. But far too often this trust is abused.
- Pursuant to California Penal Code 288, it is a crime for a person to commit any lewd or lascivious act on a child under 16 years of age. This includes touching a child’s body for sexual purposes. The touching does not need to be on bare skin.
- Pursuant to California Penal Code 287, it is a crime to perform oral copulation with a minor under 18 years of age.
- Pursuant to California Penal Code 288.4, it is a crime for a person to arrange a meeting with a minor with the intent to engage in sexual contact with that minor.
In addition to criminal sanctions, a religious organization in California can face civil liability for the sexual abuse of children entrusted to their care. Religious institutions have a legal obligation to protect children from reasonably foreseeable sources of harm. If, for example, a church knew about a priest or religious leader who had a history of sexually abusing children, this could create a duty of care to protect vulnerable children from the abuse. Consider the case of Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles. The court of appeal held that a church has a duty to protect children from sexual abuse when those children are attending religious school or participating in church sponsored programs. A duty of care exists to protect children when sexual abuse is reasonably foreseeable. This is true even if a religious organization does not have knowledge of prior sexual misconduct by a specific priest or religious leader. There are a number of steps that should be taken after any instance of church sexual abuse.
- All evidence related to the misconduct should be well-preserved.
- A police report should be created.
- A thorough, independent investigation should be conducted.
- The victim should seek the legal guidance of a skilled attorney.
Any person that is the victim of sexual abuse within a religious organization may have the ability to seek some measure of justice through a civil claim. Damages can help cover lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering. Child sexual abuse is no small matter. Children who are sexually abused are more vulnerable to negative long-term health outcomes. They are also more likely to engage in self-harm or commit suicide. A church sexual abuse attorney can examine all of the facts of your case and let you know what your legal options are.
Getting Help After Clergy Sexual Abuse
We at Carrillo Law Firm extend our best wishes to all of the victims of sexual abuse at La Luz del Mundo. There needs to be a thorough investigation into all of the people who may have enabled Naason Joaquin Garcia or abused children themselves. It is deeply shameful that someone in a position of authority would abuse the trust and innocence of children.
Have you or someone that you care about been the victim of sexual abuse while attending La Luz del Mundo church. There are a number of laws designed to protect your rights. Our team of compassionate and experienced child sexual abuse attorneys are here to answer any questions that you may have. We care deeply that accident victims are aware of their rights and that abusers are held accountable. Whether you just have legal questions or need a free, confidential consultation about your situation we are here for you. You can reach out to us anytime at 626-799-9375. Se habla español.