ROME — Pedro Salinas, author of the 2015 blockbuster book Half Monks, Half Soldiers, detailing years of allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse by members of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), is being sued by an archbishop that belongs to the group, who is charging the journalist with defamation.
Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, was the subject of a Jan. 20 article on the website La Mula by Salinas titled “the Peruvian Juan Barros,” in which Salinas notes that Eguren Anselmi was a member of the “foundational generation” of the SCV, whose founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of abuses of power, conscience and sexuality.
Barros was the bishop of the Chilean Diocese of Osorno until June 11, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation following an investigation by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna into clerical abuse in Chile, where Barros was accused of covering up the sexual abuse of Chilean priest Father Fernando Karadima.
In his January article, Salinas, himself a former member of the SCV, compares Eguren Anselmi to Barros, saying the archbishop was a close disciple of Figari, and as a member of the “foundational generation” – which included German Doig, who died in 2001 and was found guilty of sexual abuse – “knew everything” about their founder and what he did.
Salinas asserts that the first accusation against the SCV was made in the year 2000 by a journalist named Jose Enrique Escardo, and that the complaint was directed at Eguren Anselmi.
Eguren Anselmi – who offered the formal public greeting for Francis at his meeting with priests, religious and seminarians during a visit to Peru in January – was also named by Salinas as being part of an alleged land trafficking scandal in Piura linked to a criminal organization called La Gran Cruz.
After the article’s publication, Eguren Anselmi in March sent Salinas a notarized letter asking him to correct the information in the letter. Specifically, he took issue with Salinas’s mention of the complaint in 2000, the description of the “foundational generation” of SCV members, and the accusations of land trafficking.
In the letter, Eguren Anselmi said the complaint from 2000 was only formally brought forward in 2016 for conspiracy to commit crimes, psychological manipulation and mental injury. This complaint, he said, “was studied by the Public Prosecutor and archived in double instance; that is, both the prosecutor and the chief prosecutor indicated that there was no support for the allegations.”
This decision, Eguren Anselmi said, means that “a constitutionally autonomous body such as the Public Prosecutor…has decided that I do not have any connection with the abuse reported.”
On the charges of land trafficking, Eguren Anselmi stressed that “there has never existed and there does not exist in Piura any investigation for land trafficking for which I am being investigated.”
Salinas did not change the article, and on July 31 he received a criminal complaint for aggravated defamation from the First Criminal Court of Piura, overseen by Justice Judith Cueva Calle. As part of the penalties, Eguren Anselmi requested that Salinas spend three years in prison and pay a fine amounting to about $68.
In an Aug. 15 press briefing on the accusations, Salinas said the decision to launch a legal process against him was “symptomatic,” and is an assault on the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
“In the end it reveals something I thought had been overcome, that the Sodalitium had changed,” Salinas said, but stressed that Eguren Anselmi’s attitude “only reveals that the Sodalitium has not changed, at least [not] in its use of legal methods to intimidate.”
Salinas said the 40-page complaint against him does not clearly define what he wrote that was defamatory.
He reiterated that Eguren Anselmi was part of the foundational generation of the SCV, established by Figari in 1971, and accused the archbishop of trying to dodge responsibility for his participation in Figari’s physical and psychological abuse.
Salinas noted how Eguren Anselmi joined the SCV around the same time as other abusive members, such as Doig, who all would have known about Figari’s abuses. “He cannot tell me that he was not there, because I also was part of the Sodalitium,” Salinas said, explaining that he believes Eguren Anselmi is trying to intimidate him or “retaliate” for the article.
In comments to Crux, the communications director for the Archdiocese of Piura, Cesar Augusto Sánchez Valladares, said that for the time being, “the archbishop is not going to intervene immediately” in the case in any further way, and has left it “in the hands of justice.”
“It will have to go to court” and wait for the judgement when the time comes, Sánchez Valladares said, but the archbishop “is not pursuing this topic further…we have left it so that justice is in charge of determining whether it proceeds or not.”
When asked what the specific charges against Salinas were, Sánchez Valladares did not offer an immediate response, but said the archdiocese will be organizing a press conference next week to provide more specific information on the case.
In his comments Aug. 15, Salinas also noted how the decision to press charges against him comes after he claimed that a Peruvian bishop currently faces serious accusations at the Vatican, something he allegedly was told by Juan Carlos Cruz, an outspoken survivor of Karadima’s abuse. The Peruvian bishop in question is not believed to be associated with the SCV.
The legal process against Salinas, though launched under the jurisdiction of the First Criminal Court of Piura, is expected to take place in Lima, and falls just ahead of an Aug. 23 hearing to determine whether Peruvian courts will pursue legal action against several members of the SCV.
Members of the SCV facing charges are Figari himself and six other members and ex-members: Virgilio Levaggi Vega, Father Jaime Baertl, José Ambrozic, Erwin Scheuch, Eduardo Regal and Óscar Tokumura, who have each been accused of conspiracy, mental manipulation and serious injuries, both physical and psychological.
Salinas brought the charges forward to Peruvian authorities alongside four other ex-members of the SCV: Óscar Osterling, brothers Martín and Vicente López de Romaña and José Enrique Escardó. None of the men were abused sexually by members of the SCV, however, they claim to have suffered other damages.
Figari, Levaggi Vega and two other former members of the SCV – Jeffrey Stewart Daniels Valderrama and Daniel Bernardo Murguia Award – are also facing an investigation into a separate set of allegations of sexual and psychological abuse of minors.
In 2016, Peruvian prosecutor Carlos Villalta ordered that a preliminary investigation also be opened into accusations of cover-up for the SCV to determine whether the Church knew about the crimes before the scandals broke.
Those being investigated include Cardinal Luis Cipriani, archbishop of Lima; Victor Huapaya, judicial vicar of the ecclesial tribunal in the diocese; Enrique Elias, procurator/lawyer for the SCV, and Alessandro Moroni, the group’s current superior general.
The decision to investigate allegations of cover-up was made after a Peruvian NGO, the Institute of the Defense of the Rights of the Child, in 2015 charged that Cipriani, in his role as moderator of the ecclesial tribunal at the time, was informed of the victim’s complaints, but did nothing about it.
Three victims who had been sexually abused by Figari as minors came forward to the Archdiocese of Lima in 2011 and were referred directly to the Holy See, rather than the civil prosecutor. To this day, at least one victim claims that he has yet to receive a response to his complaint.