ROME – A troubled Peruvian lay group has received two new Vatican-appointed representatives to help oversee institutional reform as questions over the group’s identity and stability continue to hang in the air following public scandals involving high-ranking members.

Earlier this month the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life named Franciscan Father Guillermo Rodríguez as delegate ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, or “at the behest of the Holy See,” to the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) to help implement reforms, and Jesuit Father GianFranco Ghirlanda to revamp the group’s formation process.

In 2017 the SCV’s founder, Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, was sanctioned by the Vatican for abuses of power, conscience and sexuality within the community.

In 2018 the Vatican congregation tapped Colombian Bishop Noel Londoño of Jerico to serve as a “commissioner” for the group, essentially taking the reins and guiding the community as they sought to implement their reform.

When the SCV held its fifth general assembly in Aparecida, Brazil in January, Londoño voiced his conviction that his role was no longer needed, and that the SCV could move forward with its own leadership guiding the reform.

During the meeting Londoño also announced that a special Vatican-appointed delegate would be named in the following months to serve as a point of reference with the Vatican to assist the SCV government in continuing to implement changes.

In their roles, Rodríguez will advise SCV leadership on key decisions while Ghirlanda will assist in the revision of the rules guiding the group’s formation process and community life, help to ensure formators are well-prepared for the task, and that new members have the support they need, and develop plans for initial and ongoing formation.

Daniel Caledron, communications representative for the SCV, told Crux that since their nomination is ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, the assignment has no timeline, and for now is “indefinite.”

However, despite the positive review from Londoño, many have voiced skepticism over the depth of the SCV’s reform, with some victims arguing that Londoño’s tenure was ineffective given the fact that he oversees a diocese in Colombia, while the SCV is headquartered in Peru, making it difficult to keep track of the SCV’s progress.

Many victims complained that during his year as commissioner, Londoño never scheduled meetings with them, including those who were former members of the organization and could have offered advice for renewal.

Victims in November 2018 met with the leadership of the Peruvian bishops’ conference and subsequently sent Pope Francis a letter, which Crux obtained, asking him to resolve the situation, saying reform efforts had been poorly handled.

In the letter – which was signed by some 15 victims of the SCV, most of whom were former members of the group – the signatories said the diocesan and pontifical approvals of the community were obtained by means of political and lobbyist maneuvers without regard to the real charisms of the movement.

The letter insisted that none of the reforms attempted by the Vatican or Londoño have been effective, charging that SCV members who were part of the culture of power in the organization for decades are still at large and hold authority within the group.

Victims asked for an in-depth investigation similar to the one carried out by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu in Chile last year in the case of Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused of covering up the abuse committed by former priest Fernando Karadima.

The letter also suggested the possible dissolution of the SCV, saying there is still widespread distrust of the group over the fact that radical changes have not yet been implemented, calling reform efforts so far purely cosmetic.

There has also been controversy over the recent case of Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, who is a member of the SCV and who recently retracted complaints against two journalists after raising criminal charges of defamation against them last year.

He dropped both complaints after the leadership of the Peruvian bishops’ conference issued a statement supporting the journalists.

In a recent conversation with Crux, Cardinal Pedro Barreto, archbishop of Huancayo and vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, said the episode has been “a wound for the Church in Peru.”

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He said the presidency of the bishops’ conference 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.”

Barreto also urged the SCV to change its name, saying the community has “many good people, with good intentions, who want to live their consecration to God,” but keeping the same name given by a corrupt founder could be confusing or harmful for young men who enter in the future.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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