La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light of the World,” is a fundamentalist Christian church started in Mexico in the mid-1920s by Eusebio Joaquín González. And in recent years, the church’s influence has spread to California, where there’s a large Hispanic population. The church claims around 5 million followers worldwide.
On Wednesday, González’s grandson, Naasón Joaquín García, the current leader of the organization, was sentenced to prison for 16 years and eight months after pleading guilty last week to three sexual abuse counts of girls in his church.
His guilty plea came just three days before his trial was set to begin. It was also unexpected. This means that Naasón won’t face the other charges against him, and his trial will be dropped. His trial had initially been scheduled for Monday, where he faced a total of 19 felony counts of sex crimes against children, including multiple charges of rape, conspiracy to engage in human trafficking and child pornography, which he denied.
García’s father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, the previous head of the church, was also accused of child sex abuse in 1997, but the authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.
While some have said that this plea deal sent a message, others say it marks a dangerous precedent.
“Today’s conviction sends a clear message that sexual exploitation is never acceptable in California. We will hold you accountable if you break the law. As the leader of La Luz del Mundo, Naasón Joaquín García used his power to take advantage of children. He relied on those around him to groom congregants for the purposes of sexual assault. Today’s conviction can never undo the harm, but it will help protect future generations. I am incredibly grateful to our team at the California Department of Justice for their dedication to securing justice and fighting abuse on behalf of the people of California. We will always stand with Californians against injustice," said Attorney General Rob Bonta in a statement.
“There was no trial. The people didn’t get to hear what this man represents in society, and that’s what we need to understand," said Sochil Martin on Tuesday, a former member of the church who accuses García of abusing her over 17 years and is also suing the organization. “He deserves the maximum penalty possible."
La Luz del Mundo released a statement, saying the allegations were fabricated and that its “trust in him remains intact with the full knowledge of his integrity, his conduct and his work."