ROME – In a recent interview Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto has said he believes the Soldalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), a controversial lay group founded in Peru, ought to be dissolved, and he suggested the Vatican feels the same way.

“My personal opinion, which I believe is shared by some, is that I insist that this religious organization should be dissolved and that those who are inside can be definitively helped to live with an authenticity of life,” Barreto said in a March 9 interview with Rosa Maria Palacios of Peruvian Radio Santa Rosa.

“This is an issue which we completely share (opinions on) as the presidency of the bishops’ conference,” he said, and, indicating that they have been in contact with the Vatican about the dissolution of the SCV, said they have found it difficult to make a move on the proposal.

“It’s not that they don’t want it, but they don’t see a way to require it,” he said, noting that there clear rules in canon law for dealing with clergy who abused, but almost nothing for lay people or lay movements.

One of the best-known and most controversial religious groups in Latin America, the SCV was established in Peru in the 1970s by Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, who is accused of physical, psychological and sexual abuse and was prohibited by the Vatican in 2017 from having further contact with members of the group.

Figari is currently living in Rome and has yet to return to Lima to face numerous legal charges that have been raised against him, leaving many victims and Peruvian Catholics claiming that Figari is getting off easy, and leaving victims without justice.

Archbishop of Huancayo and vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, Barreto got his red hat from Pope Francis in March 2019 and was hand-picked by the pope to help organize the October 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. He is widely viewed to have the pope’s ear.

In his interview, Barreto said that within the bishops’ conference, “many of us are speaking about” the proposal to dissolve the SCV, and “it’s not that Pope Francis and the organisms of the Holy See are in disagreement.”

He noted that when a priest commits a crime, whether it be sexual abuse or financial crimes, he can be defrocked, whereas with the laity “we don’t have this option. The only sanction is to excommunicate him.”

Barreto stressed that there are many good people within the SCV, “and we cannot put everyone into the same box.”

The problem, he said, is that Figari “is a perverted person, and a person like this cannot convey the sanctity of life that Pope Francis himself, in an apostolic exhortation, has encouraged.”

When it comes to an organization like the SCV, which has had accusations of sexual abuse and financial impropriety since before the Vatican gave it official recognition as a “society of apostolic life,” Barreto said his personal opinion is that “it must be dissolved,” adding that as bishops, “we are on this path, and I know that the Holy See is on this path.”

Barreto’s March 9 interview was made the same day Pope Francis met privately with the Archbishop of Lima, Carlos Castillo Mattasoglio, who is also president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, at the Vatican.

In an interview with Peruvian radio station RPP March 10, Castillo said he agreed with Barreto’s assessment of the SCV’s situation. Calling Barreto’s opinion “very opportune,” Castillo said that given the prevalence of sexual abuse and financial obscurities, “it’s necessary to dissolve it, but in a specific way,” and that the decision of how will be taken by everyone.

“The situation is complicated,” he said, adding that “there must be a clear, profound and firm measure” taken.

In the past, Barreto has taken issue with the SCV keeping its current name and has spoken out against one archbishop – who is a member of the SCV – for starting legal criminal proceedings against journalists reporting on the scandals.

In June 2018, Archbishop Jose Antonion Eguren Anselmi of Piura filed two complaints of criminal defamation against journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas, who are co-authors of the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers, detailing years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse inside the SCV.

Eguren Anselmi, who has continually insisted that his complaints against Salinas and Ugaz were related to other reporting and not the book they co-authored, eventually dropped charges after facing blowback from the leadership of the national bishops’ conference, which at the time indicated that Pope Francis shared their concerns regarding his actions.

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Since then, Ugaz has faced numerous legal threats and several other criminal defamation complaints from individuals and organizations associated with the SCV – cases she said are meant to dissuade her from publishing a second book she is writing on financial impropriety within the SCV.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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