ROME — Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura, Peru, who is currently embroiled in a legal battle against a journalist for defamation who published a book revealing scandals surrounding the founder of his community, met with Pope Francis yesterday at the Vatican.
Eguren Anselmi’s audience with Francis appeared on Monday’s official list of papal appointments published daily by the Vatican Press Office. Spokesman Greg Burke declined to comment on the nature of the meeting, saying only that it was “private.”
The Archdiocese of Piura did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In July, Eguren Anselmi, a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), filed a criminal complaint for defamation against Peruvian journalist Pedro Salinas, author of the 2015 book Half Monks, Half Soldiers detailing years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse by the group’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari.
The archbishop’s complaint was in relation to a Jan. 20 article published by Salinas on the website La Mula and titled “the Peruvian Juan Barros.”
Barros was the bishop of the Chilean Diocese of Osorno until June 11, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation following an investigation by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna into clerical abuse in Chile, where Barros was accused of covering up the sexual abuse of Chilean priest Father Fernando Karadima.
In his article, Salinas noted that Eguren Anselmi was a member of the “foundational generation” of the SCV, whose founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of abuses of power, conscience and sexuality.
Himself a former member of the SCV, Salinas drew comparisons between Barros and Eguren Anselmi, saying the latter was a close disciple of Figari, and as a member of the “foundational generation” – which included German Doig, who died in 2001 and was found guilty of sexual abuse – “knew everything” about their founder and what he did.
Among other things, Salinas asserted that the first accusation against the SCV was made in the year 2000 by a journalist named Jose Enrique Escardo, and that the complaint was directed at Eguren Anselmi. He also named the archbishop as being part of an alleged land trafficking scandal in Piura linked to a criminal organization called La Gran Cruz.
In March, Eguren Anselmi responded to the article with a notarized letter asking Salinas to retract his claims, saying they were false. Salinas refused, and in July received a criminal complaint for defamation and requesting that Salinas spend three years in prison and pay a fine amounting to about $60,000.
In a press briefing last month, Salinas said the 40-page complaint against him does not clearly define what he wrote that was defamatory.
In comments to Crux last month, the communications director for the Archdiocese of Piura, Cesar Augusto Sánchez Valladares, said that for the moment, Eguren Anselmi “is not going to intervene immediately” in the case in any further way, and has left it “in the hands of justice.”
“It will have to go to court” and wait for the judgement when the time comes, he said. “We have left it so that justice is in charge of determining whether it proceeds or not.”