By Eduardo Campos Lima, OSV News
SÃO PAULO (OSV News) – A New Zealand-based theologian has expressed hope in a high-level investigation by papal envoys of abuse in a lay organisation in Peru, of which she was once a member.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Spanish Msgr Jordi Bertomeu are visiting Peru to investigate the lay organisation Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.
Once a powerful lay institution with massive membership, not only in Peru but in several other countries, the Sodalitium was accused of promoting systemic spiritual, physical and sexual abuse against dozens of members for decades, as well as financial corruption.
The Sodalitium was founded by lay Catholic Luis Fernando Figari in 1971, and was acknowledged as a society of apostolic life, approved by Pope John Paul II in 1997. With a reputation of being a conservative and elitist organisation, it has male and female branches, besides lay movements.
Despite Church interventions on different occasions in past years, “nothing was done to hold the abusers responsible”, and they “kept perpetrating crimes”, said theologian Dr Rocio Figueroa, a lecturer at Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College in New Zealand, and a former member of the group, in which she spent 22 years.
“At times we emphasise only the theme of the abuse, but we forget to talk about the structure that allows it, which involves coercion, brainwashing, spiritual and psychological manipulation,” she told OSV News, adding that she interviewed former members, who left the Sodalitium only two years ago, and reported that such practices still continue.
Dr Figueroa, who joined the organisation when she was 18, was herself a victim of sexual abuse. She became a central figure in the denunciations against the group and, as a scholar, has researched and authored works about its procedures.
“I trust in (Archbishop) Scicluna and (Msgr) Bertomeu, because they played a decisive role in the Chilean case,” she said, alluding to the inquiry they conducted in the South American country in 2018, which investigated the crimes perpetrated by paedophile Fernando Karadima, a priest who ended up being laicised. Their report on the cover-up operation carried out by the Chilean church led Pope Francis to apologise to the Chilean people. All Chilean bishops offered their resignation to the pontiff afterward.
Archbishop Scicluna, who is the adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Msgr Bertomeu – who is also a member of the Dicastery – are set to talk to victims and leaders of the Sodalitium, as well as journalists who investigated the organisation. Archbishop Scicluna is known as a top Vatican prosecutor in sexual abuse cases, having investigated the case of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, Legionaries of Christ founder, in 2005.
An apostolic visitor was first sent to inspect the Sodalitium in 2015, a few years after the first denouncements against Figari, the founder, emerged. Two years later, the organisation acknowledged that 66 persons were abused, and pledged to compensate them. The report indicated that Figari, along with three other former members, committed sexual abuse involving 19 minors and 10 adults.
Figari was sent to Rome, impeded from returning to Peru and to have contact with the Sodalitium, and he now lives in exile. Commissioners were appointed to take control of the group, and its statutes have been reformed. But no further steps have been taken until now.
“I think it is excellent that this matter is investigated in depth, that the people involved are heard, and I am sure that the report will be fair and objective for the good of all,” Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, said in a statement on July 22. Archbishop Cabrejos is expected to meet with the envoys of Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Lima.
The journalists responsible for uncovering the Sodalitium scandal met with papal envoys on July 26. Reporter Pedro Salinas told Spanish newspaper ABC that he trusts “the Scicluna-Bertomeu mission, and I hope they dissolve the Sodalicio (Sodalitium); a toxic, sectarian, mafia and corrupt organisation with a religious facade”.