ROME — Facing accusations of sexual abuse by its founder, a lay Catholic movement based in Peru called the Sodalitium of Christian Life has apologized to victims and pledged to cooperate with police and prosecutors.
The accusations against Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari came from one of the movement’s former members, Pedro Salinas, who recently published a book called “Half Monks, Half Soldiers” (Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados).
In it, Salinas quoted witnesses who described Figari as a “sexual abuser, a sexual predator.”
The group now apparently has acknowledged that at least some of the charges against Figari have merit.
“We express our deep sorrow and closeness to all those who have suffered and suffer for the actions or omissions committed by some members of our community,” said a statement released in Peru Monday by the Sodalitium. “To them, we ask forgiveness and offer our willingness to listen and help. We firmly reject all these actions.”
Founded in 1971, Sodalitium was recognized as a lay movement by the Vatican in 1997. It’s composed of priests and consecrated laymen who live in communities as brothers. The laymen make perpetual commitments of celibacy and obedience.
In general, it has a reputation for being fairly conservative both theologically and politically, and over the years, it’s received backing from some prominent members of the Catholic hierarchy, especially in Latin America.
The organization also operates in the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Spain, Italy, and several other countries.
The statement said that Figari, the accused, has been in Rome since 2010 and has been living a life of solitude, with no governing power within the organization. It said that since 2014, when the first allegations were raised, Figari “has intensified his life of retirement.”
However, press reports date the first allegations to 2011, with no action on the accusations by the organization, the Vatican, or the Peruvian justice system.
In the 1990s, some community members publicly denounced what they described as psychological abuse and mistreatment, saying it was the product of an excessive, almost military rigidity enforced in the community homes of the consecrated members.
Figari is not the first member of the Sodalitium to be accused of sexual impropriety with younger members of the group.
In 2010, as they were promoting a sainthood cause for Germán Doig, a former vicar general of the movement, an internal review concluded that he had led a “double life,” including sexual relationships with at least two young male members of the organization.
Signed by Fernando Vidal Castellanos, the organization’s Communications General Assistant, the statement released this week also said that Figari is available for any civil or ecclesiastical investigations, “as is any member of the organization.”