[Editor’s note: The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (“Sodality of Christian Life”) is a lay movement in the Catholic Church founded in Peru in 1971, which has since spread to several other countries, including the United States. Recently a scandal erupted around the group’s founder, Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, featuring charges of sexual, physical and psychological abuse of members.
As the story developed, some alleged victims charged that Church authorities in Peru may have ignored or tried to conceal the charges. In this May 17, 2016, letter, the lead of the local Church court in Lima, the national capital, argues that all of the complaints against Figari were relayed quickly to the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the department in Rome that oversees religious orders and societies, and that action against Figari was urgently recommended but was slow in coming.
The following is a Crux translation of the letter, which was written in Spanish.]
Lima, May 17, 2016
Dear Archbishops and Bishops
Members of the Coetus of the Interdiocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Lima
Continued news and comments in some media relating to the complaints filed at this court against Mr. Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, have misled the public with biased and often false stories. They imply that this court has not acted in a fair and transparent way and even claim, slanderously, that we sought to cover up the four complaints we received.
To assist your understanding of the events, I feel bound to address to you, member bishops of the coetus of the Tribunal, some facts relating to the proceeding of these cases that will help you better understand the situation.
I. History and brief description of how and when the four complaints that were received by this court were dealt with.
- First complaint: On May 16, 2011, at noon the complainant came to the court (today he is identified as “Santiago”), accompanied by a relative, to present a written allegation against Mr. Luis Fernando Figari. On May 24, 2011, I sent the allegation together with my accompanying letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
- Second complaint: From the Archdiocese of Cologne, we received a complaint against Mr. Luis Fernando Figari dated May 24, 2011. On September 9, 2011, the complaint was sent to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life and Societies of Apostolic life.
On September 14, 2011, I received a letter from Bishop Kevin Randall of the Apostolic Nunciature in Peru, in which he acknowledged receipt of the documents I had sent him thus far, including the aforementioned two letters.
- Third complaint: Mr. Pedro Salinas delivered in this court an allegation dated September 13, 2011, which I sent to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on October 10, 2011.
- Fourth complaint: On October 25, 2013, a priest presented a petition along with three members of the Sodalitium of Christian Life for an investigation into the conduct of Mr. Luis Fernando Figari. On December 2, 2013, I forwarded the documentation to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
As will be clear from this first part of the proceedings, the allegations were sent on immediately [to Rome] and thus wholly contradict any suspicion of negligence, and even less of cover-up, on the part of this Tribunal.
II. Account of how and when I requested that the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life give urgent attention to these four complaints.
- On January 4, 2012, I wrote to the congregation Prefect requesting a prompt response and intervention of the congregation regarding the complaints submitted, being the competence of his dicastery.
- On April 25, 2012, I received the sole response from the congregation, from Father Sebastiano Paciolla O.Cist., undersecretary of the congregation, in which they acknowledged receipt of the letters and complaints.
- On September 16, 2013, I traveled to Rome and was received in the congregation by Father Waldemar Barszcz TOR. He informed me they had received the documentation of the allegations. I expressed to him my deep concern over the lack of action by the dicastery in respect of the complaints, and the consequent suffering of the victims.
- On December 2, 2013, in my letter to the Prefect attaching the fourth complaint, I insisted that given the facts disclosed to his congregation this showed a lack of respect for the victims and I reiterated to him the urgent need for action by the dicastery, since these were cases within its jurisdiction, as I had made clear from the first moment.
- On July 2, 2014, the nuncio called me to the nunciature and asked me to report on the case of Mr. Luis Fernando Figari. On July 9, 2014, I sent the documentation referring to the allegations against Mr. Luis Fernando Figari with an accompanying letter from me, and reiterated the need for direct and urgent action by the congregation.
III. Other events of particular interest related to this topic.
- On October 21, 2015, this Tribunal issued a statement detailing the autonomy and jurisdiction of the Tribunal and making clear that the complaints received had been made known to the Vatican authorities with immediate effect, as can be verified from the dates of my letters as outlined above.
- On November 18, 2015, I sent a letter to the president of the [Peruvian] bishops’ conference, and to all of you members of the coetus, respectfully expressing my remarks in response to a statement by the leadership of the CEP [Peruvian Bishops’ Conference] and referring to the “Circular Letter to Assist the Episcopal Conferences in Developing Guidelines for Dealing with Cases of Sexual Abuses of Minors Perpetrated by Clerics (16 May 2011).” [Editor’s note: The reference is to a 2011 document issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, directing bishops’ conferences around the world to adopt guidelines for responding to abuse allegations.]
So far I have received no reply to that letter, nor have the guidelines been approved or distributed for the use of bishops in Peru, despite the urgency of this issue, and despite being urged by the Holy See.
Latest decisions of the Holy See in this regard.
- On April 22, 2015, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in a decree signed by the Archbishop Secretary, appointed Bishop Fortunato Pablo Urcey, OHR, of Chota, as Apostolic Visitor ad inquirendum et referendumfor all the houses and members of the Sodalitium of Christian Life.
The decree stipulates that, given the information received and the allegations of improper conduct directed at the founder, Mr. Luis Fernando Figari, [Bishop Urcey] is tasked with verifying the truth of all charges, both recent and those made in the past.
- On May 4, 2016, the Holy See appointed Archbishop Joseph Tobin CSSR as delegate ad nutumof the Congregation for Religious for the Sodalitium.
I have deliberately avoided addressing the content of the reports, due to the confidentiality which is proper to this Tribunal, and which we have scrupulously respected at all times.
Let me also emphasize that the Tribunal under my authority lacks the competence to deal with these complaints, as the Holy See has clearly demonstrated by naming an apostolic visitor first and now a delegate ad nutum.
I appreciate the time and attention you have devoted to this letter, which was necessary to address to you for the duty we have to respect the honor of each and every person, especially the victims, and also of the institutions of the Church.
I remain at your disposal for any clarification or query that you wish to address to me personally, and ask God to enlighten and accompany you in your delicate task as shepherds of your local churches.
I also ask that you too pray for this servant who humbly seeks to serve all of you members of of the coetus of this Interdiocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
Yours Faithfully in the Lord,
Fr. Victor Quispe Luis Huapaya
President of the Interdiocesan Tribunal
Copy members of the coetus:
Salvador Piñeiro, Archbishop of Ayacucho (President of CEP); Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima; Pedro Barreto S.J., Archbishop of Huancayo; José Luis del Palacio, Archbishop of Callao; Lino Paniza OFM cap., Archbishop of Carabayllo; Norberto Strotman MSC, Bishop of Chosica; Carlos García, Bishop of Lurín; Ricardo García, Bishop of Cañete-Yauyos; Héctor Vera, Bishop of Ica; Isidro Barrio, Bishop of Huancavelica; Antonio Santarsiero OSJ, Bishop of Huacho; Ivo Baldi, Bishop of Huari; Miguel Olartua OSA, Bishop of Iquitos; Juan Carlos Vera MSC, Military Ordinary; Gaetano Galbuser SDB, Bishop of Pucallpa; Tomás Oliver OFM, Bishop of the Requena Vicariate; Javier Travieso CMF, Bishop of the San José del Amazonas Vicariate; Anton Zerdin OFM, Bishop of the Vicariate of San Ramón; Father Felipe Ochante, Diocesan Administrator of Tarma; Neri Menor Vargas, Bishop-elect of Huánuco.