ROME – It was Oct. 27, 2007, when police in Lima gathered at the city’s famed Plaza San Martin after receiving a tip saying a fair-looking man was hanging around the area talking to minors and then taking them to a hotel.  According to the tip, the man would give the minors money to undress, be photographed, and then be groped and/or engage in sexual activity.

That man eventually was identified as Daniel Bernardo Murguía Ward, a member of the Sodalitium Christinae Vitae (SCV), a society of apostolic life founded by Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari in the 1970s.

Murguía was detained that day after enticing a minor to join him at a nearby hotel, where police burst into the room he had rented and found the child half naked with their pants down while Murguía was holding a digital camera, which contained explicit photos of the minor as well as two others.

Upon questioning by the police, the minor claimed Murguía had tricked them into undressing, and had performed oral sex. Murguía was arrested on the spot.

He was acquitted a year and a half later, however, by Justice Javier Villa Stein, who is the relative of one of Murguía’s superiors within the SCV, Eduardo Regal Villa. The result came in part because the accuser changed an aspect of the story, saying there had been no genital contact as originally suggested, although there was no alteration of the claims of nudity and taking photos.

Despite the possibility of pursuing charges against Murguía for child pornography, the case was archived by Villa Stein, a high-ranking judge in Peru’s legal system who is also Regal’s maternal uncle.

While Murguía’s case largely faded into the background after the case was shelved, public uproar erupted anew when scandals involving Figari and other members of the SCV exploded in 2015 with the publication of the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers by Peruvian journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas, himself a former member of the SCV.

The Vatican launched a probe into the community shortly after, and Figari was found guilty of physical, psychological, and sexual abuses within the community, including the sexual abuse of minors, and was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2017 and prohibited from having further contact with members of the group, and he is currently living in exile.

Reform of the SCV and its leadership has been a tumultuous process, and currently the Vatican’s top two investigators, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, are in Lima conducting an official inquiry into the group.  They will then submit a report on their findings to Pope Francis, who will decide the fate of the SCV, including the possibility of its dissolution.

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Their visit comes mere weeks after a Peruvian Parliamentary Investigatory Commission on the Sexual Abuse of Minors in Organizations published a lengthy report on the SCV, which examined various aspects of the group and the allegations against it, including the Murguía case.

What the parliamentary inquest found, based on testimony from former members, was not only that Murguía had a history of pedophilia and a seemingly vast archive of child pornography, but also what they determined were systematic efforts on the part of SCV authorities to cover up for Murguía.

According to the commission’s report, once Murguía was arrested in 2007, SCV authorities immediately wanted to expel him. Figari disagreed and fought to have Murguía kept within the SCV, in order to maintain “the [good name] of the organization.”

Murguía was only ousted when a media report ran reporting of his arrest and his ties to the SCV. He was expelled the same day the report went public.

At the time, Murguía was residing in Chile, but had been traveling to Lima.

In the commission’s report, an SCV priest named Father Jean Pierre Teullet, who was temporarily in charge of the community house in Lima where Murguía had been staying as the regular superior was traveling, but who has since left the SCV, was quoted as saying that after Murguía’s arrest he received a call from Regal, who was vicar general of the SCV at the time, during which Regal asked him to gather Murguía’s things and bring them to him.

Teullet said that among the items he found in Murguía’s room were a computer, a USB stick, and the memory card of a camera. He checked the contents of the memory card before handing it over, saying it contained “very, very complicated stuff” for which Murguía probably should be sanctioned.

Teullet said he contemplated making a copy of the contents of the memory card but discarded it without doing so before delivering Murguía’s computer to Regal, with a warning about its contents. When Murguía’s family came to collect his belongings, the computer was not among them.

A former member of the SCV who lived in Chile at the time, but who has since left, told Crux that when the Murguía case exploded in 2007, he was already contemplating leaving the group, but was asked to wait a few months for the Murguía scandals to blow over by Father Jaime Baertl, a high-ranking member of the SCV who has been accused of various financial misdeeds within the group. He has denied the allegations.

According to this former member, he agreed to Baertl’s request to wait a few months before leaving but asked Baertl to clarify what exactly happened to Murguía.

Baertl’s response, the former member said, was that Regal and another high-ranking member of the SCV at the time, Father Gonzalo Len, had checked the personal affects Murguía had with him in Lima, and that these had “enough material that Daniel Murguía will never again see the light of the sun in his life.”

In their report, the commission also included witness testimony stating that after Murguía was expelled from the group, Regal spoke to other SCV authorities – including priests Baertl and Len, and the superiors of community houses in Chile – about what to do with Murguía’s belongings there.

The report states that Regal at the time called the superiors voicing fear that Murguía was in possession of child pornography and asked that his belongings there also be gathered.

The former member of the SCV who lived in Chile told Crux that several years after leaving, he was in touch with one of the superiors that Regal had called, Jose Salazar, who has also left the SCV. According to the former member, Salazar said that Regal called his community house in Chile “and gave the order to enter into Daniel Murguía’s room and destroy all digital and informational material.”

The former member said he told Salazar that what happened was “a crime, that is, destroying the evidence of a crime,” and he put Salazar in touch with the ethics commission that the SCV had established in 2015 in the wake of the allegations against Figari to investigate and submit proposals regarding the accusations.

Salazar spoke with the ethics commission and told them everything about the Murguía affair.

In text conversations with the former member, Salazar accused Regal, whose nickname was Walo, of coverup, calling him an “accessory after the fact” and saying he was glad to have spoken up.

After Murguía’s arrest, his sister put out a video on YouTube in which she accused the SCV of confiscating Murguía’s things, handing only a few items over after some time had passed.

She also said that before returning Murguía’s things to the family, the community had used his ATM card to withdraw cash from the family’s account, and that they hired a lawyer to defend her brother but sent the legal bills to their mother’s address.

Several SCV authorities interviewed as part of the commission’s inquest denied allegations of coverup.

Regal himself was questioned in the Office of the Twenty-sixth Provincial Prosecutor of Lima in July 2016 in relation to a civil case against him, Figari and other members. He never spoke with the parliamentary commission, however, despite repeated requests.

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In his 2016 statement, when asked what happened to Murguía’s computer after his arrest, Regal’s immediate response was, “I never gave the order to destroy it,” insisting that he wanted it given to the family rather than the prosecutor.

Regal was initially summoned by the parliamentary commission in March 2019. The current SCV superior general, José David Correa González, who had been elected to the position two months prior, sent a letter to the commission saying Regal, who by then had moved to Denver, CO, was living abroad and that his regional superior should be contacted.

However, the commission stated that Correa in his response never provided the address of the community where Regal was living.

The commission said they wrote to the SCV again in April 2019 requesting Regal’s address but received no response. They wrote again in June with a formal request from a lawyer, receiving a response almost two weeks later, two days after the investigative stage of their proceedings had ended.

In its conclusions, the commission’s report found that in the Murguía case there was “a clear deliberate inaction on the part of the authorities to put the contents of Murguía’s digital archives at the disposition of the authorities, despite the fact that it was known that it could contain delinquent material.”

There was also “a clear intention to eliminate any proof about the other crimes that Murguía could have committed, such as possessing child pornography or sexual abuse,” the commission said, saying they also found no indication that the SCV had made efforts to assist or make reparations toward the minor with whom Murguía was found when he was arrested.

The former member of the SCV who lived in Chile told Crux that after complying with Baertl’s request to wait a few months before leaving the group, he moved to Lima and lived with Regal for the remainder of his time in the SCV.

“Murguía’s case fell into the hands of Eduardo Regal’s uncle, and instead of investigating [Murguía] and sending him to prison, he archived it, and after the case was archived, [Murguía] was let out and now he’s free,” the former member said, calling the Murguía case the “most important and emblematic” illustration of their systematic criminal behavior.

Currently, Regal is superior of an SCV community house in Denver, CO, which is attached to a large parish distinguished by the presence of many large families, most of whom have young children.

Regal formerly served as superior general of the SCV from 2011-2012, and after moving to Denver, he was named superior contrary to advice from an ethics commission the SCV established in 2015, which counseled against having the SCV’s former leadership hold positions of authority.

In addition to his position as superior of the Denver community, Regal is also director of one of the SCV’s largest apostolic projects in Denver, “Christ in the City,” in which young adults serve as missionaries assisting the local homeless population.

In a statement to Crux, the SCV denied allegations of coverup on the part of Regal, saying that when Murguía’s abuse was known, he was “immediately expelled from the Sodalicio, following the provisions of our internal relations.”

Murguía, the SCV said, was put on trial and “served the sentence imposed by the corresponding judicial system.”

They also noted that Regal in his 2016 statement to regional prosecutors in Lima regarding his civil case had maintained that “he never gave the order to destroy Mr. Murguía’s computer.”

The SCV noted that the civil case against Regal and several other members of the SCV, including Figari, for various abuses and “mental kidnapping” was archived, saying authorities did not find enough evidence to convict him or the others of a crime.

A separate inquiry conducted by international experts in 2017 “also did not indicate any type of cover-up regarding Mr. Eduardo Regal,” the SCV said, saying no investigation thus far has found Regal guilty of “any kind of cover-up or abuses.”

“If they covered up, we would make timely decisions against any member of the Sodalicio,” the SCV said, insisting that they see no “legal or moral problem in Mr. Eduardo Regal continuing to maintain all his positions, attributions, and pastoral ministries that his superiors entrust to him.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen