ROME – Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, Peru, has responded to a Feb. 5 Crux report by senior correspondent Elise Harris regarding lawsuits for charges of aggravated defamation he filed against two Peruvian journalists.
In his letter to Crux, Eguren Anselmi said he said he wanted to correct “false or inaccurate” statements on the “prestigious” Crux news site. In general, he believes Crux misrepresented the motives for his lawsuit and also omitted the point that he’s not seeking a jail sentence.
The journalists, Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz, co-authored a 2015 bombshell book “Half Monks, Half Soldiers,” which details years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse inside the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV). A controversial Catholic organization, the SCV originated in Peru and its founder, layman Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of physical, psychological and sexual abuses.
Figari was prohibited by the Vatican in 2017 of having further contact with members of the group.
Eguren Anselmi, who is part of the SCV, filed the complaints separately but at the same time in July 2018. If the journalists are found guilty, theoretically they could be subject to a fine of $60,000 dollars and a 3-year jail sentence.
The archbishop’s complaints against Salinas, who is a former member of the SCV, were made in relation to a series of articles comparing Eguren Anselmi to Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who recently resigned after facing accusations that he helped cover up the abuse of his longtime friend and Chile’s most notorious abuser priest, Fernando Karadima, as well as allegations that Eguren Anselmi could be involved in a land trafficking scandal in Piura.
Ugaz is being sued for her role in a documentary series by Al-Jazeera she helped to produce, which also named Eguren Anselmi as potentially being part of the land trafficking scandal, and for a series of tweets she sent ahead of Pope Francis’s January 2018 visit to Peru in which she described Eguren Anselmi’s history with the SCV, saying he knew of the founder’s abuses and did nothing.
In his response to the Crux report, Eguren Anselmi stressed that his lawsuits against Salinas and Ugaz “were not motivated by the investigation they did together, nor for any of the affirmations contained in their book, ‘Half Monks, Half Soldiers.’”
Rather, Eguren Anselmi said he made the complaint against Salinas for two reasons, the first being that he believes Salinas accused him of creating “a system of physical, psychological and sexual abuses” inside the SCV, and second, the charge that he’s a key person in a land trafficking scandal associated with a criminal organization.
For Ugaz, Eguren Anselmi said he sued her for the same allegation that he was involved in the land trafficking scandal, and for seven tweets about him. Both legal complaints were filed after Salinas and Ugaz ignored a March 20, 2018 notarized letter about their publications asking them to take down their respective articles and tweets.
Eguren Anselmi said that in the letters, he recalled how Salinas on May 10, 2016, made a formal complaint against him at the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office of Lima for crimes of mental manipulation, aggravated assault and conspiracy, charging that the archbishop helped to create “a criminal organization to recruit minors, eliminate their will and submit them to various humiliating practices.”
The complaint, Eguren Anselmi said, “was filed in a double instance by the prosecution, indicating that the acts that were attributed to me were not considered crimes and that an accusation cannot be sustained with mere insinuations without evidence.”
Regarding the land trafficking, Eguren Anselmi said that in notarized letters he made a point to tell both Salinas and Ugaz that “there does not exist, and there hasn’t existed in Piura, any investigation against me for land trafficking.”
“The journalistic investigations on which the accusations are based, including the documentary Ugaz helped to produce,” he said, “are not only based on the sole declaration of a convict of dubious credibility,” but they were denied by the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, Father Joseph Uhen.
Additionally, Eguren Anselmi said that his lawyer asked that the three-year prison sentence for his accusation of aggravated defamation be tossed so that if either Salinas or Ugaz are found guilty, “they won’t go to jail under any circumstance.”
“All I want is for the judge, as an impartial third party, to determine whether both journalists have defamed me or not,” he wrote.
Eguren Anselmi also said that regarding the fee Salinas and Ugaz had to pay, he had agreed to donate it to a center for needy and disabled persons run by the order of Saint John of God.
Responding to accusations by some that he opted to hold the proceedings in Piura where the deck is stacked in his favor, Eguren Anselmi denied the allegation, saying that “I have done nothing more than follow Peruvian law,” as article five of the criminal code states that the place of the crime “is where its effects take place.”
“Given that Mr. Salinas and Ms. Ugaz spread their publications and granted interviews on the internet and other media at the national level, the harmful effects to my honor have occurred in the city of Piura, where I reside and carry out my pastoral activity,” he said.
Eguren Anselmi also hit back at complaints that Salinas’s legal process, which is expected to be ruled on in March, is going suspiciously fast, saying there is nothing “suspicious” about the pace given that a new code in Peruvian criminal procedure requires every case to hold hearings no more than eight days apart with both parties present, and that both parties must accept the schedule.
Eguren Anselmi said complaints by former members of the SCV that he never condemned Figari or other members of the community who perpetrated abuses are false, and that once the scandals were made public by Salinas and Ugaz in 2015, he publicly declared “that the abusers should be identified so as to sanction them, and victims must be accompanied and properly repaid.”
He stressed that his complaints “are of a personal nature,” and have nothing to do with the SCV as an institution.