ROME – Chilean clerical abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz has written a formal complaint to the rector of the private Catholic school he attended in Santiago over the appointment of a member of scandal-ridden lay group to a prominent leadership role.
In his letter Father David Halm, rector of Saint George’s school, dated Oct. 1, Cruz said he decided to write “to publicly express something to you that I cannot in conscience not say.”
“A few months ago, it came to my attention from people at the school, many teachers, parents, and students, that the new person in charge of pastoral work is part of the Marian Community of Reconciliation (MCR), a branch of the Sodalits,” he said.
He was referring to the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), a Peruvian-born Society of Apostolic Life which for years was one of the most prominent religious groups in Latin America.
Cruz, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and a founder of an organization that assists victims of clerical abuse, is a member of Saint George’s class of 1981.
In April Cruz was named “Best Old Georgian 2020,” largely due to his work with abuse survivors and his appointment to the pontifical commission, however, in his letter Cruz said he considered renouncing this award after reading that a member of the MCR had been appointed to the school’s leadership.
“After talking with my classmates and peers, I understand that this tremendous honor is given by alumni and people who have nothing to do with running the school,” he said, indicating his decision not to renounce his award, “Yet despite that, I cannot keep quiet about this situation, which I believe is extremely worrying and serious.”
Earlier this year, Florencia Silva, a member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation (MCR), was appointed head of pastoral activities at Saint George’s school in Santiago, which is run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
Silva, who has a background in youth ministry and psychology, has not had any personal accusations made against her.
The MCR is a community of consecrated women attached to the SCV.
The SCV was established in Peru in the 1970s by layman Luis Fernando Figari, who is accused of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse against members, including minors. The MCR was established by Figari in 1991. He was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2017 and is now exiled and prohibited from having further contact with members of the group.
Scandals involving the SCV, and its various branches first erupted publicly in Peru in 2015 when Peruvian journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas – himself a former member of the SCV and an alleged victim of their mistreatment – co-authored the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers detailing years of abuse inside the SCV.
Most of the book focused on abuse inside of the SCV, and while scandals inside the MCR, which is its female branch, are less severe, numerous former members have complained about psychological abuse, and abuses of power and authority inside of the community.
In his letter, Cruz said he personally knows victims of the SCV, which is currently undergoing an in-depth reform, and that the organization has not taken their reform seriously, and is “persecuting and using their power and allies to harass anyone who stands up to them.”
Pointing to his organization, the Trust Foundation, Cruz said lawyers attached to his foundation are currently assisting some 20 women from different countries who formerly belonged to both of the SCV’s female branches – the MCR and the Servants of the Plan of God – in order to bring justice for “the abuses they were subjected to in what they call ‘The Sodalite family.’”
Cruz insisted that he did not write his letter “out of a personal whim,” but was prompted to “because of the tremendous pain I see in the victims caused by the SCV family.”
He referred to a private conversation he had with Halm earlier this year about Silva’s appointment, in which Halm reportedly asked Cruz to speak with the school council about his concerns.
Cruz said that he did this, expressing his concern “about having someone inside the school and in such an important position that belongs to what is currently a criminal organization.”
In his letter Cruz said he spoke “thinking that in the face of such an atrocity some serious measure would be taken,” but was later told by the superior of the Holy Cross community at the school, Father Pepe Ahumada, that Silva would stay.
The reason Ahumada gave for this, Cruz said, was because the scandals inside the MCR were less severe, and the congregation’s position is that they “will never blame anyone for the mistakes, or in this case, the crimes of others.”
An investigation into Silva was apparently made by the school, yet nothing of concern was uncovered.
While acknowledging the validity of this point, Cruz said this is of no consolation to victims who, after their trauma, see “a member of the Sodalit family in such an important position.”
By appointing someone attached to the SCV, the school, Cruz said, “endorses an institution which causes enormous damage to many men and women who have seen their lives destroyed.”
“There should at least be a bit of caution,” he said, noting that while there are numerous congregations and communities who have undergone real change and sought to provide justice to victims, “the Sodalite family is not one of those.”
Although Silva herself appears to have no stains on her record, Cruz said the decision to keep her on staff is one “that I lament,” and while he respects his alma mater, “I cannot in conscience remain silent in the face of this serious situation.”
Saint George’s school did not immediately respond to a Crux request for comment.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen