ARCHIVI: Tra segretezza, messianismo e istituzionalizzazione dell’abuso sessuale su minori: il caso della setta religiosa messicana “La Luz del Mundo”


Secrecy and the Institutionalization of Sexual Abuse:

The Case of La Luz del Mundo in México

Dr. Jorge Erdely
Co-editor, Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones

Dr. Lourdes Arguelles
Professor, Claremont Graduate University, California


This paper explores the relationship between secrecy, messianism, and the institutionalization of sexual abuse in La Luz del Mundo (“The Light of the World”), a Mexican religious sect quickly expanding to the United States. The first part presents an introductory historical overview of the origins, beliefs, practices, and ideological forces that helped shape the organization, an organization that may be viewed as a “total institution,” according to the theoretical model of Erving Goffman. The second part explores the creation of an elite group within La Luz del Mundo, known as “The unconditionals” (“los incondicionales”). Inspired and fashioned after paramilitary models, this force of hard-core loyalists is used to repress dissent and control and manipulate information in order to further expand the power of main leader Samuel Joaquin over his followers. Samuel is deemed by his faithful to be the embodiment of the divinity. It is argued that the structure of The unconditionals — with its vow of unquestionable obedience, an atmosphere of secrecy, and fanatic loyalty to the leadership figure — has been crucial in institutionalizing what appears to be the ceremonial sexual abuse of minors as a theologically valid liturgical feature to venerate Samuel. The medical and social impact of reported cases of this practice is discussed. The wealth and publicly known political connections of the sect with Mexico’s most powerful political party help explain the impunity with which this and other alleged human rights violations have occurred for decades in a country where corruption in the judicial system is widespread.

Introduction. Origins of LLDM: An Overview

Using a theoretical framework pioneered several decades ago by Erving Goffman[1], Mexican anthropologist Fernando González and sociologist Renée de la Torre have published research on the church La Luz del Mundo as a “total” institution[2]“. Translated into English, the name of this religious group, founded and based in Mexico, means “The Light of the World.” Although the group has some theological similarities to a mainstream Unitarian Pentecostal denomination, it is better known for its theocratic agenda and liturgical particularities that appropriate both Jewish symbols and fascist ideas. La Luz del Mundo(LLDM), which clearly complies with Lifton’s recently reviewed criteria for labeling an organization a cult[3], is also a wealthy organization with a transnational project. It has a theocratic agenda and political arms, one of them is the Federación Nacional de Colonos en Provincia, which is structurally and historically linked to the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), one of Mexico’s oldest and most powerful political parties.

La Luz del Mundo emerged as an organization in an unlikely setting and historical period. It originated in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, during the late 1920s, a period leading up to the War of Los Cristeros.Guadalajara is located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, a state well known in those times for its staunch Roman Catholicism and marked intolerance of any religious minorities. The War of Los Cristeros, or la Cristiada (1926–1929), was a bloody struggle between the Mexican federal government and groups of pro-clergy Catholics for possession of areas of influence and power[4]. Oddly enough, it was in this location and during this time of strong intolerance of non-Catholic options that La Luz del Mundo began to flourish[5]. That such an unlikely process could take place was largely due to the inherent bond between the incipient religious organization and military and government officials opposed to the Catholic Church. This bond was embodied in the relationship between the founder of LLDM, Eusebio Joaquín González, a former soldier in the army, and his previous commanding officer, General Marcelino García Barragán[6]. García Barragán was elected governor of Jalisco (1943–1947) under the banner of the PRI and would eventually be appointed to the position of National Secretary of Defense[7]. Eusebio Joaquín, or Hermano Aarón (Brother Aaron, as he later came to be called), had become his close and valued aide[8]. During his governorship, the former General favored his faithful soldier by supporting the establishment in Guadalajara of La Luz del Mundowhich, under the General’s protection, flourished and developed a discourse that was markedly nationalistic, anti-clerical, and very much aligned with the politics of the PRI in the post-Cristero era[9]. This was, incidentally, the same García Barragán who would attain international notoriety years later in October 1968, as Defense Secretary of the army in the infamous student massacre in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas de Tlatelolco, in Mexico City[10].

Aarón Joaquín: The Foundations

In 1926, Eusebio Joaquín came under the influence of two itinerant mystic preachers connected with the Iglesia Apostólica de la Fe en Cristo Jesús. The two called themselves Saulo and Silas, after the New Testament prophetic figures of the Book of Acts. That same year, Eusebio Joaquín abandoned the army and followed Saulo and Silas to the city of Monterrey, Mexico, where he claimed to have received his famous calling, an audible message from God, with obvious Abrahamic overtones, which said, “Your name shall be Aaron, and I will make it known around the world, and you will be a blessing, and your seed shall be like the stars of heaven.” A few days later, he claimed to have received another divine message. This time he was reportedly told, “Next Thursday I want you to go to the land that I will show to you.” After this last message, Eusebio Joaquín embarked upon a long journey on foot, which took him to the distant city of Guadalajara. According to LLDM’s version, he arrived there on December 12, 1926, a day that is still officially celebrated by members of the organization he eventually founded[11].

In the years that followed, Eusebio Joaquín would syncretize some military and nationalistic ideologies with a variety of seemingly mystical and ascetic beliefs and rituals that he had learned from Saulo and Silas and the above-mentioned Iglesia Apostolica[12]. Though Joaquín continued to revere that organization, at least for a time, he eventually separated completely from it and pursued an independent path[13].

This was a crucial period for the crafting of the general theological framework of what would eventually become LLDM. To this day, the diverse ideas that shaped Eusebio’s mindset at that time can be seen reflected—albeit some in rather mutant fashions—in liturgy, creed, and theological praxis in the communities. Therefore, temple rituals do resemble to a degree early twentieth-century Unitarian Pentecostal services, although mandatory attendance at public prayer meetings several times a week is enforced with military-like discipline. The same is true of the aggressive focus on planting missions and lay preaching, anti-religious establishment rhetoric, strong emphasis on baptism by water immersion, mystical revelations and visions, and glossolaliaAll these elements are embedded in a pyramidal structure of government in which obedience, strict discipline, loyalty, and secrecy—all of these characteristics of military bodies—are strongly emphasized. Politically, LLDM’s members have been indoctrinated for several decades—indeed, sometimes induced and even commanded—to vote for the same political party, the PRI, and to lend support,en masse, to key government officials in public gatherings when those officials are campaigning for office.

On December 31 1934, the first official temple of La Luz del Mundo was built on two lots of Calle 46 in the Reforma Sector of Guadalajara[14]. Since then, temples, and eventually the current main temple in the neighborhood called Hermosa Provincia in Guadalajara, have played key roles in the lives of the faithful and in proselytizing, publicity, and public-relations strategies.

Much of the adepts’ time revolves around heavily structured temple activities ranging from worship services to political indoctrination gatherings, and, in some cases, paramilitary training and land-claim issues. Temples—usually at least one per important city is rather conspicuous and not infrequently luxurious—are regarded by followers, and often proclaimed by leaders, as visual attestations of God’s favor upon LLDM’s mission in this world. That mission includes proclaiming the only path of salvation for humanity, a path that, according to LLDM beliefs, was lost since apostolic times, but was revealed again to its founder, Aaron.

Although the New Testament is often quoted at length by pastors and parishioners to try to sustain this position, great emphasis is also placed on believing in Eusebio and his son Samuel Joaquin, the current leader, and on the necessity of belonging to the organization as the only plausible alternative to eternal damnation. Significant parallelisms between Jesus and Eusebio and Samuel as portrayed in LLDM’s hymnology and liturgical praxis have been well documented[15].

A great deal of the Hebrew Scriptures is also used to support the position that LLDM is the new Israel, and several ad hoc metaphors have been incorporated for many generations, both in the leadership’s discourse and in the hymnology of the organization. It is safe to say that this perspective has also been assimilated by the core of the sect.

Some Jewish sacred and identity symbols are also common. The Star of David has been used as part of the uniform of paramilitary security personnel at the group’s headquarters. Samuel Joaquin has sold pictures and postcards of himself preaching to packed auditoriums from the middle of a life-size replica of the Ark of the Covenant, golden Cherubs prostrated before him. In architecture and decoration, symbols such as the Golden Menorah, among others, are not uncommon.

There is not, properly speaking, a formal LLDM written creed, only different and rather general statements of faith that may resemble superficially those of some mainstream Pentecostal denominations. These are short, somewhat fluid statements that change depending on whatever public controversies or political scenarios the sect is going thorough. Most of the core and conspicuous controversial doctrines of the sect seem to be transmitted and preserved mainly orally and shared according to the level of commitment of the followers. Literature from different historical periods, though, preserves some of these doctrines.

Official biographies[16] are not very helpful either for gaining insights into the group’s beliefs, and representatives of the organization have been known to give partial or misleading information when asked specifically about key doctrines. Faced with this state of affairs, the researcher can, among other things, focus on studying the rich hymnology of LLDM and follow the praxis of its communities through ethnographic studies. Lex orandi, lex credendi reads an ancient theological axiom: Few things reflect the real beliefs of a religious community as its liturgical life.

Along with other elements that will be mentioned later, the imagery about ancient Israel is a powerful theme in the construction of the identity of LLDM as a distinct people or nation, and this imagery is used by the main leader to justify his claim to kingship. All this has obvious implications for the subject matter of this article, for as will be seen, this notion is tied to a real theocratic agenda that has allowed the leadership to concentrate power and concomitant impunity by utilizing the group’s strong cohesion. The claim to kingship has also allegedly been used by Samuel Joaquin to engage periodically in orgiastic heterosexual practices involving minors, under the pretense of a “Solomonic” right to recruit to his harem as many of his subjects as he pleases. This, of course, is one of the teachings not taught to the public on Sunday services, nor is it readily acknowledged by the main hierarchy.

Method and Data Collection

Doing research to elucidate not only historical facts, but also the reasons behind certain types of human and institutional behaviors in organizations—religious or otherwise—that are secretive in nature, have political connections, and engage in alleged large-scale cover-ups is complex and presents particular challenges. In such cases, carefully selecting the most appropriate research methods is crucial and frequently calls for using multimethod approaches to gather valuable data. Proper analysis to test hypotheses and attain objective conclusions is also important. The primary method used for this study is classical qualitative research. This requires the collection and analysis of extensive narrative data in order to gain insights into phenomena, insights not possible using other types of research. The significance of narrative analysis in qualitative research has been well established by contemporary sociologists such as Arthur W. Frank.[17]Ethnographic observation in naturalistic settings and discourse analysis are other appropriate research tools for multitask qualitative studies. Using ethnographic methods, personal interviews, and field research over an extended period of time and according to standard procedures, we have gathered multiple narratives and extensive data on the internal life of La Luz del Mundo (LLDM).[18] Quoting research methodology expert L. R. Gay:

The rationale behind the use of qualitative inquiry is the research-based belief that behavior is significantly influenced by the environment in which it occurs. In other words, behavior occurs in a context and a more complete understanding of the behavior requires understanding of the context in which it occurs.[19]

Therefore, in contrast with mainly descriptive studies, classic qualitative research seeks “answers to questions related to how things got to be the way they are.”[20] The goal of such approach, simply put, is to gain in-depth understanding of the phenomena studied. It is also standard to utilize historical research methods whenever extensive document collection and concomitant analysis take place in a study. Archival and library research that included perusing relevant works quoted within this paper was key to get a deeper grasp of context. This research, along with personal interviews and the cross-checking of information with authors of relevant works on LLDM, helped ensure that crucial data included in this study is as accurate as possible.

Interviews with key primary sources, such as members and ex-members of LLDM, both leaders and followers, were conducted using mainly open-ended questions. All interviews were extensive and were conducted more than one time —often, several times— over a period of at least two years. This process helped further expand upon topics of interest. At the same time, it allowed to cross-check information with social scientists from different universities who were conducting research on LLDM. All narratives were duly recorded and remained fairly consistent over time. Furthermore, three anthropologists from Mexico City’s National School of Anthropology and History[21] also conducted extensive interviews with key sources. Following that, Escalante and Masferrer published their research on LLDM and found the narratives to be relevant and accurate accounts of historical importance, provided by authentic primary sources. A well-known gender psychologist and social anthropologist, and two medical doctors well trained in research (a psychiatry professor, and a candidate for a Ph.D. in psychology) also had prolonged access to most of the primary sources after our first interviews. All of these authorities have published independent papers validating the authenticity and relevance of the accounts.[22] It goes without saying that all the above-mentioned researchers applied suitable methods of inquiry according to their respective disciplines. Their articles and book chapters were peer reviewed before being published. Along with the oral sources, these academicians, including us, had access to a vast archive of internal LLDM documents, which was not available to researchers before 1997-98. A valuable portion of the information came to us via Professor Fernando Flores Gonzales, who, at one time, was personally commissioned by Samuel Joaquín to compile materials to write an official biography of Joaquín and the history of LLDM. Other relevant documents were provided to us and other researchers by different LLDM members and ex-members over a period of more than ten years, starting in 1990.[23]

Because relevant documents and narratives are key to qualitative research, it is important to state that, to this date, there are not, to our knowledge, any published scientific papers that challenge either the identity, positions of authority held inside the LLDM organization, or substantive accounts of the primary sources used in this study. The same goes for all quoted and cited new documents in this paper.[24] For example, the authenticity of a letter signed by Samuel Joaquín explaining the nature of the elite group of theincondicionales (unconditionals) has never been questioned. The same is true for notarized documents that assert that 13-year-old Magdalena Padilla was handed over to Samuel Joaquín in conditions that resemble slavery, and that she was part of a host of prepubescent and adolescent girls whom he took on supposedly “missionary trips” to the United States. Regarding the sexual abuse of Moisés Padilla by LLDM’s main leader back in the mid-1980s, there is documentary proof that around that time Moisés sought counseling and help regarding that very issue. A handwritten letter of then-Auxiliary Bishop of Guadalajara, Ramón Godínez, attests to that information. The original letter, dated April 23, 1985, is written on official paper and bears Godinez’ personal signature.[25] Incidentally, LLDM archives with these and many other revealing new documents have been open to social scientists and the academic community at large for almost a decade now for purposes of research.

As of today, not one document has been deemed unauthentic. A keen interest in the hidden dimension of the LLDM’s main leadership’s sexual activities has been sparked by the existence of this data, and a whole new wave of published research from several authors has helped to fill in many obscure gaps that, until nine years ago, existed regarding the organization’s secretive structures, well-crafted theocratic agenda, paramilitary units for social control, and continuing violation of women’s and children’s human rights. Of these issues, the ongoing ceremonial sexual abuse of minors in a religious context has been only one area of study.[26]Current historical data indicates sufficient prima facie evidence that these behaviors have been going on for decades at the highest level inside the religious group.

The initial research hypothesis of this article is that the main leader’s illegal behaviors and impunity are inextricably linked to a well-crafted manipulative discourse that creates a perception among his followers that Samuel is a divine figure who is above human laws and social accountability. This view has lead to a de facto institutionalization of diverse types of sexual abuse by Joaquín of mainly female LLDM minors, utilizing religious justifications. Fear of diverse retaliatory measures by the fanatical elite known as theincondicionales for noncompliance and speaking out was included as an important factor. Collected data and its analysis support the main hypothesis. At the same time, the study allows us to further expand our understanding of this phenomenon by providing insights into the important role political alliances with mainstream parties have played to reinforce an atmosphere of secrecy, human rights violations and impunity.

Concentrating Power

In spite of a flurry of negative publicity in the local press, the late 1940s and the 1950s were very positive years for LLDM, which began to attract large numbers of followers from the poorer strata of the population. One attraction may have been the organization’s strongly nationalist and anti-clerical discourse, but Eusebio Joaquín’s offers of material support and his ability to garner governmental favors for potential followers were even stronger magnets. Strongest of all, perhaps, was his acquisition in 1952 of a 34-acre (14 hectáreas) parcel of land on the outskirts of Guadalajara, which he named Colonia Hermosa Provincia, a phrase used in the Hebrew Psalter to describe Jerusalem (Psalm 48:2)In sharp contrast with surrounding neighborhoods, Hermosa Provincia was quickly provided with water, electricity, and other municipal services. The opportunity for landless and economically desperate families to settle there in the new LLDMcolonia was a key factor in quickly swelling the membership to several thousand. Joaquín’s supporters in the Jalisco (PRI) government were compensated with corporate electoral votes from LLDM members. The state and federal government were also pleased by the challenge to the Catholic hegemony among the poor in Guadalajara that the new organization posed[27].

During this early phase of LLDM, Hermano Aarón developed a liturgy focused upon himself as the chosen apostle and prophet of God for mankind. The liturgy and his teachings were promoted among his closest associates, men of humble origins with little or no formal education, who were by then functioning as pastors. For Joaquín’s purposes, being an unlearned person was a positive value[28]. He traveled throughout Mexico to establish new temples and draw in new members, and he exhibited great interest in the border cities. He also traveled to Los Angeles and began to conceptualize a modest transnational missionary agenda with a focus on the United States and Central America.

During this same time period, Hermano Aarón developed a set of strict behavioral regulations and a military-like disciplinary code to be adhered to by all members of LLDM. One mandatory requirement was prayer three times a day. Among the many restrictions embedded in this code were prohibitions against going to a doctor when ill, even to the extent that women were prohibited from getting medical assistance for childbirth. It was also forbidden to bathe with aromatic soap, or to use jewelry. Women were required to dress in long skirts and were forbidden to use any type of cosmetics. It was forbidden to be photographed. Children were to receive only minimal education. Advanced education, in the mind of Eusebio Joaquín, was the work of the devil. Close scrutiny of the faithful and enforcement of this regulation was implemented. To this very day, in Hermosa Provincia, guards at control posts register everyone who enters or leaves the neighborhood. Special permits granted by the pastors are necessary for members to go away for vacation[29].

Today LLDM has a strong following among Latino immigrants in the US and has an international presence, especially in Central and South America. The leaders have claimed for years to have a worldwide membership of five millions, three million of those in Mexico. This number has been repeated uncritically by media and a few scholars but in 1997 professor of anthropology Elio Masferrer concluded, based on ethnographic studies and government documents, that membership in Mexico could not be above 250,000 adherents[30].

In the past decade, however, Samuel Joaquín, Aaron’s heir, has focused his transnational agenda upon the United States. He has established temples and residential enclaves in Florida, California, Texas, New York, Illinois, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico, among others. In 1995, LLDM reported 21 temples in California alone. By 1999, there were 14 temples in Texas. Preliminary research done in California by Claremont Graduate University scholar Lourdes Arguelles[31] estimated active membership in The United States to be approximately 5,000 adults and rapidly growing. For a more detailed and updated account of the geographical distribution of temples in the U.S. and abroad, see endnote[32].

An important strategy of La Luz del Mundo for establishing temples and developing enclaves in the U.S. seems to follow a modified version of the model of Hermosa Provincia. This model calls for the purchasing of property and almost immediately beginning to build a temple or to convert an existing structure into a temple. Sites selected must have easy visibility and accessibility and must be located in areas of population judged to contain a pool of potential recruits. LLDM then relocates selected members from already-established enclaves into the newly developing one. That membership is augmented by new recruits from the area as well as recent immigrants whom LLDM allegedly has assisted in illegally crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Initially, these new immigrants tend to be housed in squalid safe houses located near the developing temple. They usually work in menial labor jobs, and, when off work, they are conscripted into the work of building or renovating the temple. Before completion of the temple, religious ceremonies are conducted in the safe houses.

This strategy is made possible by the large amounts of capital and labor available to LLDM. This development model, built around the transplantation of reliable existing members, enables LLDM to transfer into new locations its beliefs, norms, and overall lifestyle. Then the organization can begin the process of exerting influence (or pressure) on local governments to gain political footing.

De la Torre, in discussing the repeated pattern of LLDM’s original community model in various locations, says:

The Hermosa Provincia community model has incorporated organizational forms traditional in rural areas (of Mexico) analogous to the model of the feudal style traditional hacienda. Thus, the social resources that guarantee urban survival are centrally produced, controlled, and distributed. This type of community becomes possible in an urban setting, assuming that the population is concentrated in a common space and that its members contribute to the accumulation of goods, resources, and services for bargaining with the larger government[33].

This is the basic structural model that the LLDM has utilized to concentrate power. De la Torre continues with an analysis of the discourse and the hegemonic projections with regard to the population of Hispanic origin in the United States:

We could also observe how two elements of identity—“Chosen People” and “Cosmic Race”—have become components of the discourse in the development of La Luz del Mundo and have facilitated its spread beyond the borders of Mexico. By using a frame of reference of spiritual identity embedded in a matrix of a broader religious culture, La Luz del Mundo has succeeded in putting together a discourse geared to the unification of populations of different nations. Throughout its history, by means of a combination of manipulations both verbal and instrumental, this church has been appropriating values and personalities leaning toward a Latin American integration and constructing a form of identity for persons of Latin American origins[34].

Until the end of his life, Eusebio Joaquín was venerated by his followers as an apostle who derived his power and vocation directly from God. His closest adepts created a series of myths that exerted considerable influence among economically and socially marginalized elements of the population. One of the most important myths revolved around his having been chosen and spoken to directly by God, and another around his purported ability to perform miracles. Joaquín’s humble origins, his military background, and his creativity in constructing a desperately needed social net for the poor sectors of the population also contributed to his great popularity among his followers[35].

The Formation of “The Unconditionals”: An Elite Group

In 1964, founder Aarón died under rather mysterious circumstances after having been reported ill for several weeks. Panic enveloped the flourishing organization for Joaquín had never actually designated a successor. However, only one day after the death of Aarón, his youngest son, 27 year old Samuel, who was described by many insiders as having less than the desirable characteristics of a prophet, was ceremoniously presented as successor, and his late father’s ring was placed on his finger by his sister, Ana Joaquín[36]. The abrupt designation of Samuel Joaquín as his father’s successor generated considerable doubt and debate about his spiritual legitimacy, resulting in dissension within LLDM. Visibly disturbed by the questioning of whether he should succeed his father, Samuel Joaquín immediately initiated strategies to establish the legitimate and messianic nature of his leadership by continuously emphasizing the different means by which his selection had been divinely ordained, and that he was the embodiment of the Divinity.

The issue of legitimacy and fear of a possible attempt at a coup by some of the “old guard” ministers who had been close to his father and who were still popular among the membership prompted Samuel Joaquín to create an elite inner group within LLDM called the “unconditionals.” The unconditionals quickly became a powerful, repressive force within the organization[37]. Leading psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Professor Jorge Mascareñas, has shown in a lucid and well documented paper the intense messianic nature of Samuel Joaquín’s leadership, the manipulative strategies he has utilized to direct, change, and expand the scope and power of his organization, and how those processes have been utilized to facilitate allegedly criminal activities within Mexico[38].

The Vow: Secrecy and Unconditional Obedience

When Samuel Joaquín organized the elite inner circle of men and women whom he called los incondiconales (the unconditionals), members were required to take irrevocable vows of unconditional obedience to the leader. In a letter dated September 19, 1972, signed in Guadalajara by Samuel, he expands on the meaning of the vow; it means unequivocally unconditional obedience to him “a) In spiritual matters. b) In moral matters. c) In material issues[39]”.

The unconditionals eventually grew to become a group of 600 to 800 individuals, not including the 60 armed persons who formed Samuel Joaquín’s personal bodyguard team[40]. Various methods have been used to inspire and motivate aspiring unconditionals, among them the bestowing of expensive gifts such as jewels and clothing. The chosen undergo an intense training program that includes both paramilitary and missionary training to work in different parts of Mexico and other countries. Members of this group also perform surveillance and administrative work in Hermosa Provincia. Once accepted into this group, men and women are put in charge of monitoring the financial affairs, the adherence to strict religious practices, and the movements of other members of the organization. Another major responsibility is that of repressing dissent. The marriages of the unconditionals are prearranged by Samuel Joaquín and their personal lives closely scrutinized. Spouses are expected to have first loyalty to Samuel Joaquín and secondary loyalty to their husbands or wives; they are sworn to inform against their spouses if the loyalty of the latter to the leader is seen to falter[41].

The Repression of Dissent and the Ritualization of Sexual Abuse

According to former member reports, the unconditionals also receive training in paramilitary training, and, in some cases, sophisticated torture techniques. Such techniques have been employed in the suppression of, and punishment for, dissent or for revealing sensitive information about the leader and key teachings. One ex-member reporting torture treatment in LLDM is Moisés Padilla, a young dissident member who in 1997 and 1998 was interviewed by several Latin American anthropologists and psychologists. Among a wealth of valuable data he provided was a detailed account of having been drugged and sexually abused as a minor by Samuel Joaquín[42]. Padilla also says that his 13-year-old sister had been victimized.

After part of this information was published in several scholarly articles, Moisés was kidnapped and tortured on February 9, 1998, allegedly by unconditionals aided by state police in Jalisco[43]. He was later found naked in the outskirts of Guadalajara and was taken to the Antiguo Hospital Civil with 69 knife wounds that left permanent damage to nerves and muscles in his back. During the ordeal, Moisés lost two liters of blood; he barely survived the assault[44]. To this day, however, Padilla’s mother and most of his siblings remain staunch members of LLDM.

Moisés Padilla’s painful childhood experiences are consistent with other reports claiming that among Samuel Joaquin’s liturgical innovations is the institutionalization of sexual abuse against minors, which allegedly had been practiced rather sporadically and discretely by key leaders within the organization since his father’s time. In this new stage, according to ex-member accounts, Samuel restricted participation in these rituals to the unconditionals, thereby further guaranteeing their loyalty[45]. Today, the alleged ceremonial sexual abuse of young girls and some boys often appears to entail the blessing of the victim’s parents. Family members are usually made complicit in the event. For example, Moises Padilla says that his sister Magdalena was “donated” by her parents to Samuel Joaquín and became his sexual slave at the age of 13[46]. In relinquishing Magdalena, the parents agreed, in a signed document, to terms very much resembling absolute slavery. One part of the agreement states that Samuel Joaquín now had custody of the girl “for the time and under the circumstances and type of service that he (Joaquín) might deem fit without (the obligation) to provide any type of monetary compensation[47]”. Other notarized documents signed by Samuel Joaquín and Magdalena’s parents specify that the 13-year-old girl was given special permission to accompany LLDM’s leader on supposed missionary trips to the United States[48]. Magdalena, according to Padilla, was forced by Samuel Joaquín to have sex with him that same year. She later became one of the most loyal of the unconditionals[49]. According to her brother, Moisés Padilla, their mother knew all along that Magdalena was being sexually abused by Samuel and considered that to be a religious privilege[50].

Also at age 13, Amparo Aguilar, according to her own testimony, was enticed by members of the unconditionals to give herself sexually to Samuel Joaquín. Amparo, along with other sources, identifies a then-grown Magdalena Padilla Íñiguez as the woman who assisted Samuel in brutally raping her[51]. The female unconditionals who prepared Amparo for her sexual ordeal kept emphasizing the gift of virginity that she was about to give to the “Servant of God[52]”; I quote Amparo: “Ana Medina was in charge of the girls, and I was one of them …. Her task was to prepare us for this … she asked me if I had anything valuable to give [as a religious offering] to God’s Servant.” Amparo answered, “I only have a desk that my father gave me as a present; that’s the most valuable thing I own.”

According to Amparo, Ana Medina replied, “No, you have something better. You have your purity, your virginity. And you can give that to Samuel.” Amparo didn’t quite get what was meant, and she was later invited to Samuel’s house along with other girls. There were six of them, and some were already engaged in bathing Samuel Joaquín. Amparo reported that he got out of the tub, and while she was held by Medina and Magdalena Padilla, Samuel raped her. She resisted, bled profusely, and was never invited again because she had not been compliant enough.

Karem Leon’s self-reported experience was different. On February 14th, 1985, on Samuel’s birthday, she and two other hand-picked girls were instructed to prepare a special poem, a song performance and a dance to honor the apostle. She ended up being violently abused and even filmed while being naked. An attempt to provide her with biblical justification was made with vague references to King David[53].

Moisés Padilla, alternatively, reports that he was forced into a homosexual relationship with Samuel when Moisés was 16. Riddled with guilt and shame, he respectfully questioned the leader after the event. Samuel responded that he was a kind of loving Angel, and because of his divine condition, he incurred no sin when engaging in such activities. He also assured Moisés of forgiveness through his vicarious intercession[54].

There are several other well-researched cases that have provided important data. Dr. Sylvia Marcos, Professor of Gender and Mesoamerican Religions at Claremont Graduate University, has documented, as have other scholars, a number of personal accounts concerning the ritualistic nature of Samuel Joaquín’s abuse of minors[55].

Data Analysis

The earliest recorded reference of sex abuse by leaders of LLDM dates from 1942. In that year, Guadalajara’s leading newspaper, El Occidental, reported that entire families in the city’s main sect enclave were being persecuted for not complying with financial and sexual demands from Aaron, the founder of LLDM[56].

According to the reports, underage women were being exploited by Aarón Joaquín and high-ranking pastors. The founder of LLDM was later sued by the mother of Guadalupe Avelar, a minor who claimed to be pregnant by the apostle[57]. In 1997, I interviewed Guadalupe Avelar, who told me that she had a son who was indeed fathered by the founder of LLDM.  To try to settle the inner rift, the sect’s founder, Aarón Joaquín, eventually recognized the infant and registered him as his own son. Mr. Abel Joaquín Avelar, now a grown man, has corroborated this account. He does not belong to LLDM and keeps a low profile out of fear for his life since he fled LLDM after his father’s death in 1964. His mother, Guadalupe, still belonged to LLDM in 1997[58].

Personal interviews with nine persons who claim to be victims of sexual abuse by Samuel Joaquín, and key witnesses[59], coupled with analysis of relevant contemporary research and literature that covers several cases[60], have been evaluated and suggest the following:

       • Sexual activity between the current leader of LLDM and minors has allegedly usually taken place at his father’s house, known as “La Casa Grande,” and in his own house, the renowned “House of Jericho.” Both mansions have important symbolic value for the faithful. They represent respectively the residences of the only two contemporary men who have embodied the sacred offices of High Priest Messianic Kingship and true prophet for mankind. The constructions are located in front of the most important temple of LLDM, the one in the sect-owned neighborhood of La Hermosa Provincia in Guadalajara. For believers from all over the world, to flock once a year to that temple in a pilgrimage type of event is mandatory, to partake of the bread and wine blessed by Samuel himself. This is the main religious celebration of LLDM, and it takes place on August 14.

      • Minors allegedly selected for sexual activities appear to be, without exception, virgins and always daughters of second -or third- generation members of the sect. Those criteria also hold true for one alleged case of ephebophile homosexual abuse. The candidates appear to belong to families that are either living in property owned by Samuel and/or are well known by Samuel’s network of recruiters for their extreme loyalty to the institution. Since 1942, this latter group, according to reports, has been called Las Vestales (The Vestals) and is composed only of women, young and old, who allegedly search for and prepare suitable minors according to Samuel’s sexual mood and preferences.

       • The mood of the leader is important. Dr. Sylvia Marcos has reported[61], that her sources allege that the leader of LLDM engages minors in non-voluntary sadistic practices, which call for a special psychological preparation for those who would thus be initiated. This training is provided mainly by Las Vestales. Karem Leon, whose father, incidentally, has been a sworn member of the armed guard that guards the sacred tomb of the sect’s founder, has recounted several such episodes in an extended interview[62]. Karem has expressed to me her concern about her safety for sharing this information with researchers, and she had to change residency shortly after the interview. She fears her own father may kill her for having dared to be disloyal to God’s Servant by sharing her experience with “outsiders.” Karem has been shunned by her parents, siblings, and extended family since she decided to leave LLDM decades ago.

       • An important comment in a variety of reports is that the sexual ritual initiation usually occurs around or on the very day of an important religious festivity of LLDM, mainly, but not limited to, Samuel Joaquín’s birthday celebration. This event is one of the main religious festivities of the church calendar, held every February 14. According to LLDM mythology, Samuel was born dead and was miraculously resurrected that very day after his father fervently prayed.

       • Sexual activity between Samuel and minors includes, according to interviewees, a variety of forms and settings, including one-time forceful rape, long-lasting, (up to several years) non-coital activities that include oral sex, masturbation, and sadism that causes bodily harm to third parties, and simultaneous sex with multiple girls in a male-centered gratification milieu. Dr. Sylvia Marcos[63] completes the full spectrum of behaviors, stating that voyeurism, exhibitionism, and anal penetration also appear to be present.

       • According to interviewees, the girls who are eventually chosen to continue having intercourse with Samuel, have basically two options: One is to remain unmarried for the rest of their lives for the purpose of dedicating their bodies to satisfy The Apostle, while at the same time they recruit and prepare others for the same purpose. Their other option is to get married and be automatically excluded from Las Vestales. In the latter case, marriages are personally arranged by Samuel Joaquín. He hand-picks the male who will marry any of The Vestals. Because the male counterpart is always chosen from the unconditionals, this arrangement helps to perpetuate the cycle of complicity and silence.

This does not mean, however, that things go smoothly in the marriages when patriarchal-minded husbands find out that their spouses are not virgins. On the contrary, according to interviewees, a lot of stress is caused to marital relationships, whether or not the women eventually decide to share their experience as part of Samuel Joaquin’s private harem. The truth, when known, is often unbearable and has resulted in prominent male unconditionals suddenly defecting from the Church[64]. Depression, continued blame-shifting, and dysfunctional family relationships are also natural by-products of this type of marital arrangement.

Over the course of several decades, some LLDM families have found out about the abuse of their children. Two main responses have been documented: One is to consider this an honor and a sacred privilege. Such appears to be the case with Magdalena Padilla’s mother, who, according to her son, not only knew but actually enticed her daughter at 13 to join Samuel’s harem, fully aware of the consequences. Other families, however, including extended family members belonging to the sect, fall consistently into a classic pattern of denial. A study in progress shows that, out of 16 cases, only 3 parents from different families decided to take a stand for their abused offspring. “Taking a stand” in the referred study means, minimally, to not pressure their kids to continue to assist the church. These 3 cases stand out conspicuously in contrast to the remaining 13. Two of the parents, the father of Magdalena Padilla and the mother of Amparo Aguilar, eventually divorced their spouses on account of their decision to remain in LLDM in spite of the abuse. The other parent, a single mother of two girls, whom she says were raped and abused, reported the case to the authorities in the early ‘80s. Police were suspiciously reluctant to investigate, and the file of the case eventually went missing.

Health and Social impact

In 1997 and 1998, a follow-up study of ex-members by medical researchers showed the health impact of these ex-members’ experiences in the cult[65]. Even though several years had elapsed, the majority exhibited signs and symptoms that fall within the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Following are some graphic examples of damage:

       • Karem says she attempted suicide after telling her parents about her sexual experiences with The Holy One of Israel, as he was usually called. She had to undergo psychotherapy for five years afterward and was never believed by her mother. Because of her defection from LLDM, she is to this day completely cut off from contact with her family.

       • According to Moisés Padilla he fell into a major bout of depression immediately after being abused. This condition interfered with his education and, consequently, he dropped out of school. As stated above, Moisés says he had been kidnapped and tortured on February 9, 1998 for daring to share information about the inner circle of Samuel Joaquín with a multidisciplinary team of Latin American scholars.

       • Amparo says she ran away from home at 14 because she refused to go to the temple for Sunday services anymore. Her parents found out the true reason for her decision months later. The mother in this case decided to side with her daughter. The parents then divorced because the father opted to stay in the church. Amparo, however, struggled with anguish and guilt over the divorce for several years, blaming herself for having spoken about what had happened to her.

Conclusions: Impunity and Political Protection

Despite the lack of formal legal convictions (which is not surprising, given LLDM’s political connections,) contemporary research suggests that ceremonial child sexual abuse within the elite of the incondicionales in LLDM exists and is institutionalized. The abuse seems to be a pattern of behavior that began early on in the foundation of the sect. Besides reported cases of polygamist practices by the late founder Aarón Joaquín, there is at least one well-documented case of child sexual abuse.[66]

Research suggests, moreover, that the present leader of the cult, Samuel Joaquìn Flores, has taken this practice to greater and greater extremes. A key factor that has contributed to the institutionalization of these activities is the alleged divine status of Samuel Joaquín, and his development of a manipulative discourse that, in the eyes of many of his followers, puts him above all laws—particularly of the strict, Taliban-like code of behavior that he enforces upon most of his female followers. Other crucial elements are the sect’s strong identification with its main leader, the organization’s strategy of discouraging dissent by owning and controlling whole neighborhoods inhabited by LLDM members and their families, and the secretive nature of the incondicionales.

The legendary wealth and political connections of the organization, with powerful political allies at the federal and state levels, embody another prominent factor. Particularly important has been the agreement between the PRI and LLDM to exchange political protection for the corporate vote of the faithful, who favor PRI in state elections. Although historical research has unequivocally linked LLDM with this particular political party, that connection does not mean that the sect has not courted other political groups. This behavior has been better documented since Mexico’s relatively recent process of democratization, which has led to the end of a 70-plus-year one-party rule. Political pluralism has reshaped a good portion of the Mexican electoral landscape, and diverse religious undercurrents have adapted accordingly to preserve or expand their scope of power.La Luz del Mundo has been a forerunner in this survival process. This trend has been observed since the PRI lost the governorship of the key state of Jalisco to the pro-Catholic PAN[67] back in the late 1990s.

The pragmatic and chameleonic nature of the hierarchy of LLDM expressed itself by launching an effective lobbying and PR campaign. An example of that effectiveness was the well-publicized donation of a new ambulance to PAN authorities shortly after they took office. This act was followed by a series of formal and informal meetings to court and praise local public servants at different levels. This political elasticity—a fact that decades ago would have been not only unthinkable, but even “sinful” to the faithful—began to yield fruits immediately. LLDM incondicionales were allowed, not only to keep their share of local political power, such as control of the famous Mercado de San Juan, but also to retain key people in Municipal dependencies such as Prevención Social.[68]

However, lack of judicial accountability for alleged crimes continued to be the most conspicuous concession to the leaders of the religious group. No example illustrates this point better than the above-mentioned case of Moisés Padilla. As stated, this LLDM ex-member was kidnapped and tortured in the city of Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, after he denounced grave violations to human rights inside LLDM. Both entities were, at the time, governed by the PAN; even though specific members of the State Police and Samuel Joaquín were pointed to as suspects, the State Attorney’s Office decided to “freeze” the case and refused to investigate the crime, with no explanation.[69]

During the period from 1998 to 2000, impunity continued to be the hallmark of LLDM’s alleged crimes, even if those crimes were committed under the rule of a different—and seemingly ideologically antagonistic—political force. The following years would see a parade of important local PAN politicians show up at LLDM’s main religious celebrations, such as the sect leader’s birthday.[70] Guadalajara’s city mayor, for example, attended a special meal with Samuel Joaquín as recently as June 14, 2004. City Mayor Emilio González Márquez sat as guest of honor at Samuel’s table, together with local congressman Jorge Aristóteles and former PRI state governor Carlos Rivera Aceves, to commemorate the 67th birthday of the religious leader. Meanwhile, a multitude of followers wept and shouted praises to “God’s Anointed One” outside the same house where several young female victims claim to have been brutally sexually assaulted for years by the self-proclaimed apostle.

The yearly parade of politicians and authorities from main parties attending various religious festivities of LLDM in Guadalajara, where the center of attention is the exalted figure of a local cacique who claims to be divine, has paid off handsomely. At the local level, these associations have lent much-needed legitimacy to Samuel Joaquín’s figure in the view of many followers who have heard about their main leader’s alleged sexual crimes. After all, authorities, whether elected or appointed, do not usually dine with child rapists, and even less so at the very place of the alleged crime scene. Or do they? Both the public display of seeming validation of Samuel’s character by a multiplicity of political figures, and the Jalisco state PAN authorities’ suspicious negligence to investigate the kidnapping of Moisés Padilla sent a strong, discouraging message to other LLDM ex-members, especially women, who were hopeful that the change of political rule would allow them to safely go public with their cases or seek justice through the justice system. Instead of relying on the justice system, many have opted to hand over relevant information and share their stories with local and international scholars and human rights organizations.

A bolder move by LLDM to recuperate ground that was lost as a result of the 1997-98 national public scandals that accused Samuel Joaquín of sanctifying the raping of minors happened after the federal elections of July 2000, when the country’s presidency also went to the PAN. Intense media coverage of the structural links between sectors of the PRI and the LLDM organization eventually hurt, to an extent, the public image of the then-embattled political institute. Some PRI politicians who knew nothing of those links were deeply embarrassed. Pressure began to build inside the party to take some healthy distance, at least in public, from the controversial sect that had been a faithful cash-and-votes factory. That now belonged to a bygone era: the hegemony of the one-party rule. That pressure, in turn, weighted heavily on the leadership of LLDM to show the faithful that Samuel Joaquín—in keeping with his self-proclaimed status of divine messiah and earthly king—was still an important political player at the national level.

The strategy to repair Samuel’s political public image had a two-fold approach. The first tactic was mainly symbolic and included a very visible and expensive campaign to build prominent—although quite often more than half-empty—temples in major cities all over Mexico. At the same time, intense negotiations began with different political parties to try to reposition Samuel Joaquín as a visible power-broker on the national scene. The culmination of more than ten years of intense lobbying and courting of authorities was the creation of a new, small political party led by Samuel’s trusted member of the elite incondicionales: ex-congressman Rogelio Zamora Barradas. In a most unusual and controversial move, LLDM’s newly named political arm,Expresion Ciudadana,[71] became publicly linked to an internal sector of the PRD,[72] the center-left political party that has won Mexico City by a landslide in the last three elections. The event took place in the capital of the country, at the famous National Auditorium, on June 14, 2004, when ten thousand LLDM faithful gathered to celebrate the “apostle’s” birthday. Instead of the traditional row of well-known PRI old timers, the main personalities invited this time were PRD high officials and governors. However, most of the dignitaries did not personally attend the celebration, but they did send representatives. Media coverage was limited, and that helped create the impression that, indeed, some prominent figures, such as then-governor of Michoacán Làzaro Càrdenas Batel, had attended. This belief was created mainly by the publication of an ambiguously worded paid insertion in newspapers such as Milenio Diario, in which Rogelio Zamora Barradas thanked by name a list of prominent PRD politicians for their “expression of openness” and stated “appreciation for all those who had recognized the work of Master Samuel Joaquín” given that “his labor had excelled in results worthy of admiration.”[73] The deceitful full-page ad ended by reproducing a short, politically charged public speech that Samuel Joaquín had delivered that day. On this occasion, however, the contents of his speech were, quite predictably, center-left leaning. The paid insertion, published on June 21, 2004, deliberately did not clarify which authorities of the PRD had actually attended. In fact, most did not. One person who did attended, though, was Joel Ortega, who participated as the official representative of Mexico City’s Mayor. At the time, Joel Ortega headed the powerful Secretariat of Public Safety, the main entity in charge of the police and public safety issues in the capital of Mexico. During the ceremony, Samuel Joaquín was heralded by the government of Mexico City as an “outstanding citizen for his service to the community.” At the same time, it was publicized that a formal alliance had been formed at this political-religious celebration—Samuel Joaquìn’s birthday commemoration— between Expresión Ciudadana, the revamped political arm of the sect, and the PRD, hence seemingly linking both entities in some sort of structural affiliation. This move created some political upheaval, and some PRD authorities denied that there had ever been such a formal agreement. Both the public record and data provided by government sources, though, suggest that a sector of the PRD was infiltrated by people very closely linked to Samuel Joaquín, in order to either redirect his theocratic agenda, or at least to diversify his political connections. According to this information, the two main liaisons between the Mexico City PRD government and La Luz del Mundo were prominent politician Manuel Camacho Solìs and the above-mentioned Joel Ortega.

A former Mexico City mayor himself, Manuel Camacho Solìs has also been, in a sense, a former presidential pre-candidate who happened to have a falling out with his former party, the PRI, in 1995. He eventually became an independent contender and established alliances with diverse democratic organizations, with little success. Interestingly, it was Camacho Solis who helped to formally incorporate the late Federación Nacional de Colonos en Provincia into the PRI decades ago. The formal setting for this union happened to be, in fact, the same National Auditorium.[74]

Before becoming Secretary of Public Safety, Joel Ortega, on the other hand, had been granted the equivalent of an assistant mayorship (Delegado) by the PRD. He was in charge of an important Mexico City district known as Delegación Gustavo A. Madero from 2000 to 2003. This jurisdiction has more than one million people and is precisely where one of LLDM’s main temples is currently located. In spite of serious accusations that link Rogelio Zamora Barradas to the traffic of immigrants and grave constitutional violations, Joel Ortega appointed the two-time former PRI congressman as Territorial Director. Zamora Barradas was also allowed to hold posts in the Justice Ministry in the same precinct, under the PRD. In a website updated in March of 2004, Zamora Barradas, one of Samuel Joaquín’s closest political operators, was postulated as a candidate for Member of Congress by the PRD.[75] No disclaimers were made. Zamora Barradas, the signer of the above-mentioned paid newspaper insertion is the visible head of LLDM’s new political party, which is now linked to the PRD.

At the end of the day, the political shrewdness and wealth of LLDM’s hierarchy seems to allow its leaders to have their cake and eat it, too. At the state level in Jalisco, votes continue to flow en masse to LLDM’s historical ally, the PRI. At the same time, intense lobbying, PR campaigns, and traditional ways to corrupt public officials keep the pro-Catholic PAN authorities off the sect’s back, hence guaranteeing impunity and boosting Samuel Joaquín’s image among his flock as a model citizen and an untouchable cacique, whichever works best to keep things quiet inside the sect. At the federal level, LLDM’s political arm has been able to infiltrate a sector of the PRD, Mexico’s second most important political party, which has possibilities of winning the next presidential and federal elections.

As long as Joaquín continues to have all his political bases covered, the impunity of LLDM’s main leader is seemingly guaranteed. The sexual abuse of minors is solidly institutionalized. But in the case of La Luz del Mundo, the variables are hardly restricted to political power and corruption, as many could think. The intrinsic structure of the religious group, as is the case with many other sects, has much to do with its culture of human-rights violations. Secrecy, and a rigid patriarchal system of belief, coupled with an authoritarian and narcissistic hierarchy in which a system of checks and balances does not exist, also help to explain how such an outrageous space for impunity has made it all the way to the twenty-first century—a space that has in fact widened as time goes by, endangering and harming the lives of many women and children in the process.

[1] Goffman, Erving (1961). Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Anchor.

Goffman, Erving (1967). Interaction ritual. New York: Anchor.

[2] González, Fernando M. (1997, Enero/Marzo). “El amor al Censor en La Luz del Mundo.” Revista Mexicana de Sociología, 59(1), pp. 237-245.

De la Torre, Renée (1995). Los Hijos de La Luzdiscurso, identidad y poder en la Luz del Mundo. México DF-Guadalajara : ITESO/CIESAS/ Universidad de Guadalajara.

González, Fernando M. (1998). Los motivos de La Luz del Mundo: Una institución total que Muestra Algunas Fisuras. In E. Masferrer (Ed.). Sectas o Iglesias: Viejos o Nuevos Movimientos Religiosos (pp. 283-299). México, D.F.: Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones/Plaza y Valdés.

De la Torre, Renée. (1995). Los Hijos de La LuzDiscurso, identidad y poder en la Luz del Mundoop cit.

[3] Lifton says, “…groups that display three characteristics: totalistic or thought-reform-like practices, a shift from worship of spiritual principles to worship of the person of the guru or leader, and a combination of spiritual quest from below and exploitation, usually economic or sexual, from above”. See Lifton, Robert Jay (1999). Destroying the world to save it: Aum Shinrikyo, apocalyptic violence and the new global terrorism. New York: Metropolitan Books, p. 11.

[4] For a brief overview, see “La Cristiada, en un programa de television de Nicolás Echevarría,” La Jornada, December 13, 1998. Available online at

[5] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit., pp. 277-278.

[6] Ibid., pp. 54-66.

[7] Ibid., p. 54.

[8] Ibid., See also Ibarra, Araceli & Lanczymer Elisa (1972). “La Hermosa Provincia: Nacimiento y Vida de una Secta Cristiana en Guadalajara.” Tesis de Maestría. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Universidad de Guadalajara, p. 7.

[9] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit.

De la Torre, Renée. “Una Iglesia Mexicana con Proyección Internacional: La Luz del Mundo.” In Elio Masferrer (Ed.). Sectas o Iglesias: Viejos o Nuevos Movimientos Religiosos. Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones-Plaza Valdés (1998). pp. 268-270.

[10] “La Libertad Seguirá Imperando.” Periódico Excélsior. October 3, 1968. Sección 1, p.1. General Marcelino García Barragán in a news conference the day after the masacre of Tlatelolco.

[11] De la Torre, Renée. “Una Iglesia Mexicana con Proyección Internacional: La Luz del Mundo,” op. cit., pp. 262-264.

De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit., pp. 56-57.

[12] Rentería Solís, René. (1998) (2nd Ed.) La Luz del Mundo. Historia de la Iglesia Cristiana: Vida y Obra del Apóstol Aarón Joaquín, pp. 35-117. Published by Iglesia La Luz del Mundo, A.R. México.

See also De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit., pp. 54-55.

See also De la Torre, Renée. “Una Iglesia Mexicana con Proyección Internacional: La Luz del Mundo,” op. cit, pp. 262-266.

[13] The name of the congregation of Silas and Saulo was Iglesia Cristiana Espiritual (Spiritual Christian Church). “Brother Aaron,” although now separated from that church, continued to use its name for his new organization. It was only after officially establishing the first temple that he modified the name to Iglesia Cristiana Espiritual La Luz del Mundo (Spiritual Christian Church, The Light of the World).

See Rentería Solís, René. (1998) (2nd ed.). La Luz del Mundo. Historia de la Iglesia Cristiana: Vida y Obra del Apóstol Aarón Joaquín, pp. 170-180. Published by Iglesia La Luz del Mundo, A.R. México.

Currently the complete official name of the organization is Iglesia del Dios Vivo Columna y Apoyo de la Verdad, La Luz del Mundo. See Dirección General de Asuntos Religiosos, Secretaría de Gobernación, México (The General Directorate for Religious Matters of the Mexican State Department), File No. AR-03/6146/97, signed on July 24, 1997 by the director at that time, Jaime Almazán.

[14] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de La Luz, op cit., p. 264.

[15] There is a good example in César Mascareñas de los Santos and Jorge Mascareñas Ruiz, Un Estudio Psicoanalítico de la Relación Líder-Feligresía en la Iglesia La Luz del Mundo”, Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones, Vol. I, 1997, pp. 97 and 117-118.

[16] Rentería Solís, René, op. cit.

[17] Arthur W. Frank. “Why study people’s stories? The dialogical ethics of narrative analysis.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1 (1), Article 6, 2002. Retrieved June 5, 2004, from

[18] For a basic overview on methodology, see the work of L. R. Gay, Educational Research: Competencies for Analysis and Application. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. For a more technical and in-depth theoretical discussion, see J. M. Morse, “Emerging from the data: Cognitive processes of analysis in qualitative inquiry.” In J. M. Morse (Editor). Critical Issues in Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994.

[19] L. R. Gay. Ibid., p. 209.

[20] Idem.

[21] Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH), México City. Laura Collin, Elio Masferrer, and Paloma Escalante. Masferrer published one journal article, a chapter for a doctoral thesis, and later, a chapter for a book on anthropological models. Escalante published one journal article and in 2004 a book chapter dealing with the same topic.

[22] See Sylvia Marcos and Mascareñas and Mascareñas, cited elsewhere in this study.

[23] Relevant documents of these archives are referred to throughout this article, mainly in the footnotes; however, all archives were carefully reviewed to corroborate data and better contextualize all cited information.

[24] It must be stated that all key narratives were collected directly from the primary sources by me in an appropriate setting before the persons involved decided to go public with their stories. This article cites only a number of relevant testimonials, not all of them.

[25] Letter from Bishop Ramón Godínez to Mariano Jimenez. April 23,1985. Guadalajara, Jalisco. CIICM Archives.

[26] Elio Masferrer, ¿Es del césar o es de Dios?:Un modelo antropológico del campo religioso. México D.F.: UNAM-Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades/ Plaza y Valdez, 2004, pp. 151-177; Paloma Escalante, “El abuso Sexual y el Uso Simbólico del Concepto Religioso de ‘Padre’” Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones. Vol. I, 1997, pp. 123-137; and “Vergüenza, Dolor y Poder en Casos de Abuso Sexual.” Unpublished manuscript. México City, 2002. Also, Sylvia Marcos in La Luz del Mundo: El Abuso Sexual como Rito, Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones. Vol. III, 1999 – 2000. pp. 207-212.

[27] De la Torre, Renée. “Una Iglesia Mexicana con Proyección Internacional: La Luz del Mundo,” op. cit., pp. 268-270. Also De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos deLa Luz, op. cit., pp. 152-153 and 279-281.

[28] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit., pp. 60-62; Ibid., Note 7.

[29] Personal interviews with Fernando Flores, former director of the Ministry of Culture and Education of LLDM and biographer of the Church. May 15-18, 1997, Guadalajara and Mexico City, Mexico.

[30] According to anthropologist Elio Masferrer, in 1997 La Luz del Mundo had approximately 250,000 members in Mexico. His studies were based on field research, as well as official documents of the Dirección General de Asuntos Religiosos de la Secretaría de Gobernación de México (General Directorate for Religious Affairs of the Mexican State Department) as contained in File No. AR-03/6146/97, issued on July 24, 1997.

[31] Lourdes Arguelles. “La Luz del Mundo: Origins, Development, and Transnationalization Processes”, 2001 American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado, November 19, 2001.

[32] In one of its Web pages,, La Luz del Mundo in 2001 reported temples in the following locations: In California: East Los Angeles, Redlands, Long Beach, North Hollywood, Palm Springs, Coachella, Huntington Park, Pasadena, Escondido, San Diego, Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco, Stockton, Gilroy, Santa Ana, Bakersfield, Oxnard, South-Central Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria. In Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson. In Colorado: Denver. In Florida: Miami and Orlando. In Georgia: Marietta. In Illinois: Chicago and Cicero. In Kansas: Goodland and Bowling Green. In Texas: Dallas, Houston (two), San Antonio, Brownsville, Harlingen, Raymonville, Uvalde, Lubbock, Laredo, El Paso, Puerto Arturo, and Austin. In Minnesota: Shakopee. In Nevada: Las Vegas. In New Mexico: Deming and Roswell. In New York: Brooklyn and Queens. In Oregon: Portland and Canby. In Pennsylvania: Canby. In South Carolina: Wahalla. In Utah: Salt Lake City. Also, in Washington, D.C. The organization also reports temples in Puerto Rico, Canada, El Salvador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Australia.

[33] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de La Luz, op. cit., p.152.

[34] Ibid., p. 153.

[35] De la Torre, Renée. Los Hijos de la Luz, op. cit., pp. 278-279.

[36] The most comprehensive and accurate information about this event is contained in César Mascareñas de los Santos and Jorge Mascareñas Ruiz,Un Estudio Psicoanalítico de la Relación Líder-Feligresía en la Iglesia La Luz del Mundo,” Revista Academica para el Estudio de las Religiones, Vol. I, 1997, Notes 14 and 17 (b); pp. 89-92.

[37] Personal interview with Fernando Flores, op. cit., May 18, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico.

Personal interview with Francisco Méndez, former pastor of LLDM and an early spiritual mentor of Samuel Joaquin. May 30, 1997, Naucalpan, Mexico.

Regarding the existence of the unconditionals, see also González, Fernando M. “Los Motivos de La Luz del Mundo: Una Institución Total que Muestra Algunas Fisuras,” op. cit., pp. 296-297.

[38] Mascareñas & Mascareñas, op. cit., pp. 85-122.

[39] Personal letter from Samuel Joaquín to his collaborators. September 19,1972, Guadalajara, Jalisco. Archives of the Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos. Naucalpan, Mexico.

[40] Flores, Fernando. Personal communication. May 18, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico.

[41] Peña, Carmen. Personal communication. May 18, 1997, Mexico City. Mexico.

Flores, Fernando, op. cit.

Méndez, Francisco, op. cit.

[42] Video interview with Moisés Padilla, May 22, 1997,  Guadalajara, Jalisco. Archivos del Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos.Naucalpan, Mexico. Moises Padilla personal interview July 12,1997, with anthropologists Laura Collin and Masferrer.

See also “Interview with Moisés Padilla,” Detrás de la Noticia television program on Channel 2 of the national network Televisa. August 17, 1997.

Flores, Fernando, op. cit.

[43] Television program Detrás de la Noticia, op. cit.

Television program Detrás de la Noticia, February 14, 1998, report of the kidnapping of Moisés Padilla.

Averiguación Previa, 2984/98. State Delegation of Justice for the State of Jalisco (Procuraduría Estatal de Justicia del Estado de Jalisco), against Samuel Joaquín Flores for kidnapping, illegally depriving a person of his freedom, and inflicting life-threatening injuries.

[44] Medical report of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Service of the Antiguo Hospital Civil de Guadalajara, February 16, 1998, signed by Dr. Alfonso Ruiz Velasco.

Also see the forensic opinion of the State Delegation of Justice for the State of Jalisco, File 54272, signed by medical expert Dr. Jesús Serrano Mendoza.

[45] Peña, Carmen, op. cit. Flores, Fernando, op. cit. Also León, Karem. Personal communication, May 18, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico.

[46] Video interview with Moisés Padilla, May 22, 1997,  Guadalajara, Jalisco. Archivos del Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos.Naucalpan, Mexico. See also: Formal complaint to the Department of Religious Affairs, Secretaria de Gobernacion (Ministry of the Interior), filed by Primitivo Padilla Haro, father of Magdalena. July 25, 1983.

[47] Letter signed by Primitivo Padilla Haro and María Íñiguez on November 1, 1975, Guadalajara, Jalisco. Archivo, Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos (Archives of the Department of Investigation of Religious Abuse), Naucalpan, Mexico. Primitivo would eventually clarify that he ignored the true nature of the activities that his daughter was to engage in, and that he was deceived by Samuel’s religious doctrine and ideals in order to sign the document.

[48] For example, see the letter signed on November 16, 1974, and notarized by the (then) Notary Public No. 58 of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Attorney Salvador Guerrero Gómez. CICIM Archives, Mexico City, Mexico.

[49] Padilla, Moisés. Personal interview with Lawyer Raymundo Meza. May 22, 1997, Guadalajara, Jalisco.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Aguilar, Amparo. Personal communication, May 18, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico. Peña, Carmen, op. cit.,León, Karem, op. cit. Padilla, Moisés. Interview published in Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones Vol I, 1997. pp. 171-184. Video interview with Silvia Martínez Meléndez, Socorro Meléndez Banda, and Carmen Martínez. May 22, 1997, Guadalajara, Jalisco. Archives of the Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos, Naucalpan, Mexico.

[52] Aguilar, Amparo. Interview published in Revista Academica para el Estudio de las Religiones, Vol I, 1997. pp 166-171.

[53] León, Karem. Personal communication, May 18, 1997. Mexico City, Mexico. Audio tape. CICIM Archives, Mexico City, Mexico.

[54] Padilla, Moisés. Personal interview with Lawyer Raymundo Meza. May 22, 1997, Guadalajara, Jalisco. See also the interview with Moisés Padilla for the TV program

Detrás de la Noticia”  Channel 2 of the national network Televisa. August 17, 1997. Videotape.

[55] Marcos, Sylvia. “La Luz del Mundo: El Abuso Sexual como Rito,” Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones. Vol III, 1999 – 2000. pp. 207-212.  Also: Mascareñas & Mascareñas, op. cit.

[56] El Occidental, Guadalajara. November 20, 1942.  Primera sección, p. 8.

Ibid. November 24,1942. Primera sección, p. 6.

Ibid. November 30,1942. Segunda sección, p.8.

See also Dr. Fernando Gonzalez’s sociological analysis on a report published on December 26, 1942, by the same newspaper El Occidental .González, F.M.  “El amor al Censor en La Luz del Mundo”.  Revista Mexicana de Sociología, 59(1), January/March, 1997, pp; 237-245.

[57] Idem.

[58] Meza Aceves, Raymundo. “Abel Joaquín Avelar y el fundador de la Luz del Mundo”. Reporte de investigación. 29 de Diciembre de 1997. Archivo ,Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos (Archives of the Department of Investigation of Religious Abuse), Naucalpan, México.

[59] Aguilar, Amparo. op.cit. Peña, Carmen, op. cit. León, Karem, op. cit. Padilla, Moisés,op.cit. Silvia Martínez Meléndez,op.cit. Socorro Meléndez Banda,op.cit. Carmen Martínez, op.cit. Fernando Flores Gonzales op.cit. Also, interview with  Martha Padilla, Guadalajara, México,  August 4th , 1997.Departamento de Investigaciones sobre Abusos Religiosos, Archivos (Archives of the Department of Investigation of Religious Abuse), Naucalpan, México.

See also the federal lawsuit and criminal complaint against Samuel Joaquin for child rape and corruption of minors between 1980 and 1997, filed by Martha Leticia Ramirez: Document DGAR/DN/SNS/014/97, filed July 21, 1997 before the Ministry of the Interior.  For the criminal complaint: Averiguación Previa 17587/97. 13ª  Agencia del Ministerio Publico. Procuraduría General de Justicia en Guadalajara, Jalisco.

There is consensus among most scholars that these accounts surfaced independently during a period of approximately two decades. For example, when Primitivo Padilla Haro found about the alleged sexual abuse of his son and two daughters by means of religious indoctrination, he filed a complaint against Samuel Joaquin with the Federal Government (Primitivo Padilla, op cit.). Karem, on the other hand, told her story to her family and eventually to her husband. Amparo related the incidents to her parents at 14, before running away from home, while Carmen kept silent for a long period of time.

[60] See mexican anthropolgist and sexual abuse specialist,  Paloma Escalante:  “El abuso Sexual y el Uso Simbólico del Concepto Religioso de ‘Padre’” Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones. Vol I, 1997. pp.123-137, and “Vergüenza, Dolor y Poder en Casos de Abuso Sexual”.Unpublished manuscript. México City, 2002.  Also: Sylvia Marcos in La Luz del Mundo: El Abuso Sexual como Rito, Revista Académica para el Estudio de las Religiones. Vol. III, 1999 – 2000. pp. 207-212.   Mascareñas & Mascareñas, op. cit.  González, F.M.  “El amor al Censor en La Luz del Mundo”.op cit.  Lourdes Arguelles. “La Luz del Mundo: Origins, Development, and Transnationalization Processes”, 2001 American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado, November 19, 2001. Lara Klahr M. Días de Furia: Memorial de violencia, crimen e impunidad. México D. F.: Plaza y Janés, 2001. See also Elio Masferrer’s remarks on the section entitled: Religión, Poder, Sexualidad, of his doctoral dissertation. Masferrer, Elio. ¿Es de César o es de Dios?: Religión y Política en el México Contemporáneo. Doctoral Dissertation, 2000. Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México City.

[61] See Sylvia Marcos, psychologist, anthropologist and Claremont Graduate University Visiting Professor of Gender and Mesoamerican Religions, inLa Luz del Mundo: El Abuso Sexual como Rito, op. cit.

[62] Karem Leon, op. cit.

[63] Sylvia, Marcos, op. cit.

[64] Fernando Flores Gonzáles, op.cit.

[65] Mascareñas de los Santos, César. Mascareñas Ruiz, Jorge. Efectos Traumáticos en miembros de La Luz del Mundo: Cinco Estudio de Caso.Unpublished paper, 1998. Mexico City.  The research consists of clinical case studies of five subjects, two males and three females, during a period of approximately one year and a half. The methodological approach included extended medical interviews and periodical clinical assessments.

[66]Meza Aceves, Raymundo. “Abel Joaquín Avelar y el fundador de la Luz del Mundo,” op cit.

[67] In Spanish, PAN stands for National Action Party.

[68] For example, noted incondicional Samuel García Hernández was allowed to keep his post as sub-director of that municipal dependency and was not investigated, even though a police report was filed against him for abuse of authority to intimidate ex members of LLDM (see Averiguación Previa17588/97-B. Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Jalisco, July 19,1997)

[69] Averiguación Previa, 2984/98. State Delegation of Justice for the State of Jalisco (Procuraduría Estatal de Justicia del Estado de Jalisco), against Samuel Joaquín Flores for kidnapping, illegally depriving a person of his freedom, and inflicting life-threatening injuries.

[70] A noted example was the visit of then-City Mayor Fernando Garza Martínez to one of LLDM’s main religious festivities. On August 10, 2001, he and other politicians sat in the balcony of Samuel Joaquín’s house, among invited speakers, for a special event that included a religious parade.

[71] Expresión Ciudadana was formally granted registry as a political party on April 9, 1999. In reality, the organization is only a reconfiguration of the previously cited Federación Nacional de Colonos en Provincia, which was affiliated for decades with the CNOP (Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Populares) of the PRI. There is no conclusive proof at this time that the latter organization has replaced the former. It is functionally possible that it may in reality be one organization with two different public faces that cater to two rival political clients.

[72] In Spanish, PRD stands for Democratic Revolutionary Party.

[73] Milenio Diario, full-page, paid ad, signed by Rogelio Zamora Barradas. Page 11, June 21, 2004.

[74] Personal interview with Fernando Flores, former director of the Ministry of Culture and Education of LLDM and biographer of the Church. May 16-18, 1997, México City, México.

[75] The English equivalent of Diputado is an elected Congressman. See, retrieved December 20, 2004.




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