This is the second installment of a two-part interview with Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, who serves as vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference and who sits on a committee organizing the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. Part one can be found here.
ROME – Peruvian Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno has said recent scandals upsetting the local church, including revelations of sexual abuse within a prominent lay group and a very public case of an archbishop launching criminal complaints against two journalists, have been harmful to Catholics.
Referring to the case of Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, who recently retracted complaints against two journalists after raising criminal charges of defamation against them last year, Barreto said the fiasco has been “a wound for the Church in Peru.”
Eguren Anselmi is one of the early members of the troubled Sodalitium Cristianae Vitae (SCV) lay group, whose founder, Luis Fernando Figari, was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2017 after being accused of sexually abusing minors and manipulating young men in the community.
Last summer Eguren Anselmi launched criminal charges of aggravated defamation against journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz, who co-authored the 2015 book, Half Monks, Half Soldiers revealing years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in the community. However, Eguren Anselmi has insisted his complaints had nothing to do with the book but were based on other publications linking him to land trafficking scandals in Piura and alleging that he knew of Figari’s abuse, and at times participated.
In April the criminal court in Piura found Salinas guilty, however, after facing intense backlash from both media and the leadership of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, which includes Barreto, Eguren Anselmi retracted his complaints against Salinas and Ugaz, saying the decision was for the unity of the Church.
Speaking to Crux in a sit-down interview, Barretto, who serves as archbishop of Huancayo and is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, said the launching of the criminal charges and the ruling in Eguren Anselmi’s favor “was very, very negative” for the Catholic Church in Peru.
He said the presidency of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, who after Salinas’s guilty verdict issued a statement implying that both they and Pope Francis were on the journalists’ side, has spoken to the pope about the situation “many times,” and that Francis is “very concerned” about it “because this situation is affecting the Church, because it’s a movement of the Church and an archbishop.”
Even the retraction of the complaint against Salinas and Ugaz “has been questioned a lot” by Catholics in Peru, Barreto said, and questioned Eguren Anselmi’s knowledge of Figari’s abuses, given that he had been one of the initial members of the SCV.
“You cannot prove it, but it’s very difficult to accept that he did not know about these things,” Barreto said.
Speaking of the reform process the SCV has been undergoing since scandals in the group went public in 2015, Barreto said the Vatican is monitoring the group, which has “many good people, with good intentions, who want to live their consecration to God.”
However, from a pastoral perspective, he voiced concern about the group continuing their activities under the same name, saying it could be confusing or harmful for young men who enter in the future.
“It doesn’t seem right to me that they continue calling themselves the Sodalitium Cristianae Vitae,” he said. “Why? Because the people who are going to enter this community are going to ask, who is the founder?” and they won’t be able to answer.
“I am a Jesuit, and since my novitiate they taught me that the founder is Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He certainly lived a life very far from God, but he converted and became a saint,” he said, noting that many other saints have taken the same path.
Yet in the case of Figari, there was no conversion, Barreto said, adding that in his view, “a person who sexually abuses, is a person who is internally unbalanced. It’s not normal.”
Problems within the SCV, he said, have nothing to do with the young men who entered “with goodwill” and a desire to follow God’s call, but they arose from a founder “who took advantage of that goodwill of his children, of his young people, for his own disordered, ill necessity.”
“In this sense, I think that unfortunately, they can’t go that direction anymore,” he said, referring to the group’s name. However, he also noted that the same thing happened with the Legionaries of Christ order, which maintained its name after scandals involving their founder went public, “and they have continued.”
Asked whether Figari, who is still a member of the SCV but is barred from living in community, might face civil prosecution, Barreto voiced doubt, saying the statute of limitations in Peruvian law is just 20 years, and since Figari’s crimes did not become public until after that time period, he will likely never face civil justice.
Barreto voiced sorrow for what victims of abuse, particularly in the SCV, have suffered, saying the presidency of the Peruvian bishops’ conference has held several meetings with survivors, “and the truth is that, it’s very painful to see people who are 40, 45 years old who are very wounded, and some who have left the Church.”
Although the scandals are not the only face of the Church, he said “there is a lot of pain, a lot of suffering,” and while the Church seems more open to listening to victims than in the past, “the damage has already been done.”
Referring to the Feb. 21-24 summit on the protection of minors called for by Francis, and which was attended by the presidents of all bishops’ conferences worldwide, Barreto said that although he did not attend, he believes Francis is moving in the right direction.
“The effort being made by Pope Francis is very big, but he wants to count on episcopal conferences,” he said, noting that while there have been some critiques of the meeting, with some saying it was not effective, he thinks the pope’s recent motu proprio, a legal document issued on the pope’s authority, outlining global norms for the handling of abuse cases was an important move.
Titled Vos estis lux mundi, “You are the light of the world,” the motu proprio “is very strong, very clear, in regards to zero tolerance,” he said, defining the term as an echo of when Jesus in the Gospels told his disciples, “say yes to that which you need to say yes, say no to that which you have to say no.”
“This is what has always been: yes is yes, no is no…there is no middle ground,” he said, voicing his belief that until now, there has been “a lot of permissiveness” in the Church’s handling of abuse cases, and “it has been wrong.”
However, Barreto said the scandals are a small part of the Church’s life in Peru, which is characterized by veneration of the cross, devotion to Jesus Christ and love for the Virgin Mary.
This faith is seen in popular devotions such as the Lord of the Miracles and veneration of Mary under numerous different names and devotions, he said, noting that there are divisions in the local ecclesial scene, but apart from these divisions and scandals, “the Church is fulfilling a very important role.”
“There is a lot of participation from children, youth, adults in Masses,” he said, adding, “I don’t say the bishops or cardinals, but the people are keeping the faith alive.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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