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‘Unveiled’ shines a light on decades of alleged abuse within a mega-church

<i>HBO</i><br/>One of La Luz Del Mundo's many churches is pictured here
One of La Luz Del Mundo's many churches is pictured here

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Spanning decades, “Unveiled: Surviving La Luz Del Mundo” is another #MeToo story, this time on a disturbingly epic scale, exploring alleged sexual abuse that occurred across generations in a Guadalajara, Mexico-based mega-church, and the victims that eventually rose up to speak out. Viewers can debate whether justice was done, in a story that tore families apart and left scars that have yet to heal.

Founded in 1926, La Luz Del Mundo (Spanish for “The Light of the World”) says it has branches around the world, carrying the word of God from a designated apostle chosen from the ranks of its guiding family. An HBO description of the project states the church claims to have congregations in over 50 countries and operates “under the guise of the only true church offering eternal salvation.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the current holder of that title, Naasón Joaquín García, accepted a plea deal in June in which he was convicted on three counts of sexually abusing minors after a years-long battle, leaving those who risked speaking out — in some instances alienating family in the process — angry, confused and determined to fight onward.

The three-part HBO docuseries details the history of the church, and its pattern of enlisting young girls to “dance” for the Apostle, who were then allegedly forced to engage in sexual acts.

“What they take from the members is everything: Labor, time and money,” says ex-member Sochil Martin, who has helped lead the crusade.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of “Unveiled,” directed by Jennifer Tiexiera and produced by the prolific Alex Gibney, involves the machine-like way that the abuse was allegedly conducted, with secretaries identifying girls, some as young as 14, before bringing them to the Apostle and turning them into “sex slaves,” as then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra described it in the docuseries.

The project also points a finger at the media for being slow to cover the story, largely ignoring allegations that emerged in the late 1990s. The family, meanwhile, indulged in a lavish lifestyle that included yachts, cars and ranches, revelations that haven’t shaken the church leadership’s stance of professing faith in the Apostle’s innocence.

Church officials did not respond to the filmmakers requests, according to the producers. The church has stated that Joaquín Garcia pleaded guilty for the good of the church because he did not believe he could receive a fair trial.

CNN has reached out to La Luz Del Mundo for comment.

The most sobering portion of the docuseries comes during the final chapter, subtitled “A Fight for Justice,” with Judge Ronald Coen trying to ease the pain of victims while sentencing Garcia, saying “my hands are tied” in terms of the guidelines as quiet sobs can be heard in the courtroom.

Coming on the heels of the Hulu documentary “God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty,” “Unveiled” represents another example of how hard it can be to shake the loyalty that exists within such organizations.

“You have to be poor, and you have to be broken, for you to need somebody that’s telling you he has all the answers in the world,” Martin says, explaining the mentality that has allowed the church to flourish.

With a new civil suit filed in September, and another church member, Alondra Ocampo, sentenced to prison for her role in October, this story is far from over. While HBO’s poster for “Unveiled” features the line, “Bringing the truth into the light,” time will tell whether that light turns out to be the best disinfectant.

“Unveiled: Surviving La Luz Del Mundo” premieres December 6 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.

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