ROME – After yesterday’s decision to withdraw his legal complaint against Peruvian journalist Pedro Salinas, Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura has decided to retract a second complaint against journalist Paola Ugaz on grounds that both cases disrupted the unity of the local church.
“Given that the renunciation of my right to defend my honor cannot make distinctions, I inform public opinion that I will proceed to withdraw the complaint for aggravated defamation imposed against Ms. Paola Margot Ugaz Cruz,” read an April 25 statement from the Archdiocese of Piura.
The announcement follows Eguren Anselmi’s decision a day prior to drop the case against Salinas, even though he had already been convicted and sentenced with a suspended jail term and a hefty fine.
Ugaz co-authored the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers, with Salinas in 2015, detailing years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse inside the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), a controversial Catholic organization that originated in Peru. Its founder, layman Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of physical, psychological and sexual abuses and was prohibited by the Vatican in 2017 of having further contact with members of the group.
Eguren Anselmi issued a criminal defamation complaint against Ugaz last summer for her role in a documentary series by Al-Jazeera she helped to produce which named Eguren Anselmi as part of a land trafficking scandal in Piura.
She was also charged for her coverage of Salinas’s case and for a series of tweets that 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.
Ugaz recently won an appeal to have her case transferred from Piura to Lima, where she lives. Salinas had also sought to move his case to Lima on grounds that the trial would be more objective, but his appeal was rejected.
After announcing the withdrawal of the complaint against Salinas, Eguren Anselmi’s lawyer, Percy Garcia Cavero, told Crux that the sentence Salinas received no longer applies since the legal basis for it has been withdrawn.
Garcia Cavero said that under Peruvian law, the party who launches the complaint, at least in defamation cases, can retract that complaint at any point “without giving a juridical explanation.”
Ugaz had not yet reached the conclusion of her legal process, so Eguren Anselmi’s decision to withdraw his complaint against her has brought proceedings to a close.
However, she still faces other possible legal threats from several organizations and institutions affiliated with the SCV, including the prestigious San Pedro Catholic boys’ school in Lima, who sent Ugaz a notarized letter earlier this year asking her to retract investigative reports she had published detailing scandals involving former members of the SCV who ran the school.
In his statement, Eguren Anselmi said he decided to retract his complaint against Ugaz for the same reasons he retracted the complaint against Salinas. In an April 24 communique, the archdiocese said it was because the case had caused “a series of unjustified reactions, including inside of the Church, which I consider to have an impact on a greater good, which is the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.”
“As a bishop, my first responsibility is to watch over the portion of the People of God entrusted to me,” he said, explaining that this is the reason he decided “without prejudice to the outcome of the judicial process” to renounce his right “to defend my reputation and my good name.”
In his statement on Ugaz’s case, Eguren Anselmi said he decided to make separate announcements of his withdrawal of each complaint in order to “respect the particularities of each process.” He also clarified that he currently has no other legal complaints pending against anyone.