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ROME – At the same time it is conducting a canonical investigation of a Peruvian religious order accused of abuse, the Archdiocese of Lima has come under fire from an oversight body for failing to respond to complaints about the same order sent their way.
In December, Lima Archbishop Carlos Castillo ordered that a canonical visitation be made into the Peru-based Siervas del Plan de Dios (SPD), or Servants of the Plan of God – a group of lay consecrated women founded in Peru in 1998 by layman Luis Fernando Figari, and known colloquially as the Siervas, or “Servants.”
Figari is also the founder of two other Peruvian lay communities: The men’s Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), and the women’s Marian Community of Reconciliation (MCR), known in Spanish as the Fraternidad Mariana de la Reconciliación (FMR).
In 2015 Peruvian journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas published coauthored the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers containing the testimonies of former members of the SCV who accused Figari of various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including against minors, as well as abuses of power, authority, and conscience.
Figari was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2017 and barred from having any contact with the communities he founded. He subsequently made two failed appeals to the Vatican tribunal and was formally expelled from the SCV in 2019.
The SCV is currently undergoing an in-depth reform involving the re-drafting of their governing constitutions under the guidance of three different Vatican-appointed delegates.
However, while the SCV has received most of the media spotlight after the scandals surrounding Figari went public, members of the group’s women’s branches have also told similar stories of abuses of power and conscience influenced by Figari’s authoritarian style of governance.
Between 2016 and July 2021, nearly 30 former members of the Servants, some of whom left as recently as 2020, have made complaints to ecclesial authorities in Peru, in Chile, and in the Vatican.
In 2018, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, then-Archbishop of Lima, launched a canonical investigation into the SPD after receiving numerous complaints from former members.
However, the visitation ended abruptly without concluding its work shortly after Castillo came to office in March 2019. Sisters in the order were told at the time that the reason for this was the change in ecclesial authority in Lima, however, some former members told Crux that church officials in Lima said an additional reason was a lack of transparency from SPD members and authorities during the interviews. No further action was taken.
In November 2021, Crux reported on the contents of formal complaints made by seven different ex-members of the community in June of that year who recounted a toxic and militant internal culture in which authority was unquestioned and members were routinely criticized, belittled, publicly humiliated, and pushed to their physical and mental limits for the sake of being “tough enough” to meet the challenges of responding to God’s call.
In December, Castillo ordered a second canonical investigation of the order. He established a Listening Commission last spring to hear the stories of victims and former members who claim to have undergone physical and psychological abuse, as well as abuses of power and conscience.
This visitation, which began in December, is being conducted by Jesuit Father Ernesto Cavassa and Sister Pilar Cardó Franco, while the Listening Commission is being led by a theologian named Veronique Lecaros.
The communications team for the SPD declined a Crux request for comment on the visitation and who is being interviewed as part of the process.
One former member who submitted a complain through Chile’s Pastoral Office for Complaints (OPADE) office last June told Crux that none of those who submitted complaints were informed of the new canonical visitation, but that they got the information second-hand.
This former member said she was only able to make contact with one of the delegates, Cardó, by phone recently after several attempts, that Cardó informed her that none of the former members who submitted complaints would be interviewed as part of the visitation.
Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of Lima faced backlash from Chile’s OPADE office for failure to respond to complaints about the SPD submitted on behalf of the seven former members who made the complaints last June.
In a letter dated Jan. 2022 and addressed to Castillo, and which was printed on letterhead for the Archdiocese of Santiago, OPADE Episcopal Delegate for Truth and Peace Andrea Idalsoaga Montoya reminded Castillo of the seven complaints about the SPD made through OPADE in June 2021.
The letter, which Crux has seen, spells out OPADE’s actions once the complaints were made. They were submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and one was sent to the Congregation for Bishops.
Once OPADE confirmed with the Vatican that the SPD was an Association of Faithful of diocesan rite, Montoya said an email was sent to Castillo’s secretary, who acknowledged that the complaints had been received.
On Nov. 12, 2021, a psychologist by the name of Patricia Ríos, who receives the complaints made to OPADE, sent a follow-up email asking for a status update on the complaints and any action that had been taken. This email, Montoya said, never received a response.
Speaking of the Archdiocese of Santiago’s Delegation for Truth and Peace, Montoya told Castillo that it was created in September 2018 to coordinate incoming complaints of sexual abuse and abuses of power and authority, and to help facilitate “the psychological, psychiatric, and spiritual reparation of the victims/survivors of clerical perpetrators in this Archdiocese.”
It is also tasked with training and the promotion of healthy environments “in order to make progress and thus, with great humility, to try to ensure that these horrible events that embarrass us so much do not happen again,” Montoya said.
“All of us who are baptized are co-responsible for creating these healthy environments within our Church,” she said, noting that over time, the OPADE office and its Delegation for Truth and Peace have become a point of reference where members of other dioceses, Societies of Apostolic Life, Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Associations of Faithful can submit their complaints, and where “the deep pain of those who have suffered so much cannot leave us immobile.”
“Not to act would be to go against the Gospel,” Montoya said, insisting that “It is for this reason that we are surprised that you have not been kind enough to respond to the complaints we have sent you, nor to the request made to Patricia.”
Montoya then noted that it was the former members of the SPD who informed OPADE, and not the archdiocese that a new canonical investigation of the community was taking place.
“It seems to us that for this to have a real effect, that is, to reveal the Truth that is Christ, the only path to follow, and for the good of all, each of the complainants must be interviewed, for justice,” Montoya said.
She told Castillo that the seven former members of the SPD had also requested a meeting with him, saying, “it is just and necessary, for their healing, that they be heard by the corresponding authority.”
“I beg you, for what is most sacred, that contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan, you do not miss this opportunity that the good God gives you to be the shepherd that our wounded Church today needs and carries over his shoulders to these sheep who need him more than ever,” Montoya said, closing the letter.
According to former SPD members, there has not yet been a response to Montoya’s letter or their request for a meeting with Castillo.
The Archdiocese of Lima has not responded to a Crux request for comment.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen