Victims say sanctions against lay founder don't go far enough

Victims say sanctions against lay founder don’t go far enough

Victims say sanctions against lay founder don’t go far enough

In this Oct. 31, 2015 file photo, the book "Half Monks, Half Soldiers" stands for sale at a bookstore in Lima, Peru. Victims of Latin America's latest charismatic Catholic leader-turned-sexual predator Luis Fernando Figari first complained to the Lima archdiocese in May 2011, but neither the local church nor the Holy See took concrete action until Pedro Salinas's book, "Half Monks, Half Soldiers," was published in 2015. (Credit: AP Photo/Martin Mejia.)

The Sodality of Christian Life has announced that the appeals of its founder against sex abuse charges have been definitively rejected, so 2017 restrictions against him stand.

ROME – Two years after being sanctioned by the Vatican for perpetrating various forms of abuse in the community he founded, Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari has lost a second appeal and will now be required to comply with orders that bar him from contact with the group’s members and prohibit him from living in the community.

Victims of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), a lay Catholic movement founded by Figari in 1971, have voiced disappointment that Figari was not expelled from the community.

“The Soldalitium will continue being the same. Nothing has changed,” Juan Bayas, a survivor of SCV abuse from Ecuador, told Crux following the announcement.

Bayas, who was abused by an SCV priest from 2006-2009, between the ages of 16 and 19, said his abuser would tie him up, blindfold him and electrocute him. Although his abuser was removed from the priesthood last year, prosecutors in Ecuador dismissed the criminal case due to a lack of evidence.

In the Ecuadorian capital of Guayaquil, “[the Sodalitium] had the same way of acting as in Peru,” Bayas said, adding that in Ecuador, the SCV “thinks neither of the victims nor of justice.”

He called for Figari to be extradited to Peru “so that victims feel repaired,” and said the founder must face justice, “but this isn’t happening.”

Rather, Bayas said Figari’s case “is going to end up like that of Marcial Maciel,” the founder of the Legionaries of Christ who, in 2006, was found guilty by the Vatican of various forms of sexual misconduct and abuse. However, while sentenced to a life of prayer and penance, Maciel was never subjected to a Church trial due to age and ill health.

Born in Lima in 1947, Figari is the founder of a men’s lay community, the SCV; a women’s lay community, the Marian Community of Reconciliation (MCR); a community of women religious, the Servants of the Plan of God; and an ecclesial movement, called the “Christian Life Movement,” all of which share the same spirituality.

The community rapidly attracted a swath of vocations, who were drawn to the SCV’s emphasis on a life of strict asceticism, intellectual formation and spiritual combat, believing their call was to fight as elite soldiers in God’s army.

However, Figari stepped down as superior general of the SCV for alleged health reasons in 2010, though by then allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse had already begun to surface in Peru.

A full investigation into the complaints against Figari was not opened until 2015, around the same time a book titled Half Monks, Half Soldiers was published by journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas, a former member of the community, chronicling years of alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse by members of the SCV.

In February 2017, a commission established by the SCV said in a report that “Figari sexually assaulted at least one child; manipulated, sexually abused, or harmed several other young people; and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others.”

The report ultimately concluded that between 1975 and 2000, and once in 2007, “five members of [the] Sodalitium, including Figari, sexually abused minors.”

That same month, the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life issued a decree forbidding Figari from any contact with the religious community and banning him from returning to Peru, where he faces civil charges for abuse, without permission from the superior general of the SCV, currently José David Correa.

Figari was also forbidden to make any public statements and he was forbidden from living in community with the SCV, though it was requested that one member of the group be tasked as an intermediary between the founder and the SCV.

After being sanctioned, Figari launched an appeal, which was rejected by the Vatican Jan. 31, 2018. He then launched a second appeal, which according to a Feb. 20 statement from the SCV, was struck down by the Vatican on Oct. 2, 2018.

During the SCV’s general assembly in Aparecida, Brazil, in January, Bishop Noel Londoño of Jerico, Colombia, who until recently served as commissioner for the SCV, informed the community that Figari’s second appeal had been rejected and as such, the 2017 sanctions would enter into full force.

According to the communique, Correa issued a Feb. 5 decree ordering that the sanctions be enforced, a copy of which has already been given to Figari.

With the issuing of the decree, the community in Rome Figari had been living in, called the “Mother of the Reconciler,” has been stripped of its SCV status. However, Figari will continue to live on the property until new arrangements can be made.

In comments to Crux, Salinas said “there is nothing new” in the SCV’s statement. The only novelty, he said, is the rejection of Figari’s second appeal.

“Everything remains the same. Figari has not been expelled from the Sodalitium,” he said, adding that even though Figari no longer lives in community, he is still a member and as such, “the institution must be attentive to his needs.”

“This is a punishment,” he said, saying Figari’s 2017 sentence “was a mockery at the time, and it continues to be one now after the appeal. They should have excommunicated him and dissolved the institution, but this has not happened.”

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