LIMA, Peru — Victims of Latin America’s latest charismatic Catholic leader-turned-sexual predator are denouncing the Vatican’s handling of the case, saying the six-year delay and final resolution are anything but satisfactory for survivors of his sexual, psychological and physical violence.
“It’s really shameful,” said Pedro Salinas, who blew the whistle in 2015 on the twisted practices of the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, and was himself a victim of Luis Fernando Figari’s psychological abuse.
Figari founded the SCV, or Sodalitium of Christian Life, in 1971 as a lay community to recruit “soldiers for God.” It was one of several Catholic societies born as a conservative reaction to the left-leaning liberation theology movement that swept through Latin America starting in the 1960s.
The group counts some 20,000 members across South America and the U.S.
Figari was a charismatic intellectual, but he was also “narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, racist, sexist, elitist and obsessed with sexual issues and the sexual orientation of SCV members,” according to a Feb. 10 investigative report commissioned by the SCV’s leadership.
The report, by two Americans and an Irish expert in abuse, found that Figari sodomized his recruits and forced them to fondle him and one another. He liked to watch them “experience pain, discomfort and fear,” and humiliated them in front of others to enhance his control over them, the report found.
Victims first complained to the Lima archdiocese in May 2011. The archdiocese says it turned the case over to the Vatican immediately, but neither the local church nor the Holy See took concrete action until Salinas’s book, Half Monks, Half Soldiers, was published in 2015.
That year, the Vatican appointed an investigator for the group, then a “delegate” to the community. And on Jan. 30, the Vatican ordered Figari to live apart from the community in Rome and cease all contact with it, declining the SCV’s request to expel him outright.
The sanctions, Salinas said, amount to a “golden exile, where he can live comfortably with all his needs taken care of.”
As a layman, Figari was not subject to the same defrocking punishment used to sanction abusive priests.
In the decree, the Vatican’s congregation for religious orders defended the six-year delay in acting by saying the information it received had gaps and was inconsistent.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the initial complaints were anonymous, “no small matter with such serious charges.”
But Rocio Figueroa, a former SCV member, said if Vatican or Peruvian church authorities had really cared to investigate or help the victims, they could have followed up.
Figueroa, who worked in the Vatican’s office for laity and recently wrote an academic paper on the trauma SCV victims endured, said abuse doesn’t end when the actual violence stops.
“The abuse continues when the ones who have to respond with compassion, pastoral care and justice don’t care,” she said. In the case of the SCV, “They didn’t answer.”
The SCV scandal parallels that of the Mexico-based Legion of Christ religious order, whose charismatic founder was a favorite of St. John Paul II. He was found to be a serial pedophile who sexually abused his seminarians, fathered three children and built a secretive, cult-like organization to hide his double life. The Vatican sanctioned him in 2006 after documentation about his abuse languished for decades in the same congregation that received the SCV complaints.
The SCV case also echoes the scandal in the El Bosque community in Chile, where local church authorities for years refused to believe victims of a charismatic priest, Father Fernando Karadima, who was ultimately sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 to live a lifetime of penance and prayer for his crimes.
Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.