Pope Francis has appointed a Colombian bishop to take over the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.
The SCV, which includes consecrated laywomen as well as priests, is governed by a group of celibate laymen known as “sodalits.” Founded in 1971 and approved by the Vatican in 1997, the group has around 20,000 members mostly in Latin America, but also in the United States and Italy.
Considered to be theologically and politically conservative, the group came out of the opposition to the left-wing liberation theology movement which swept through the region after the Second Vatican Council.
The founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of psychological and sexual abuse.
A criminal investigation into Figari and several other high-ranking men in the organization began at the beginning of 2017, and Peruvian prosecutors in December requested they be incarcerated by court order.
The SCV commissioned its own investigation, which reported last year that “Figari sexually assaulted at least one child, manipulated, sexually abused, or harmed several other young people; and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others.”
According to the report, he “used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits.”
A communique issued by the Vatican press office on Wednesday said Francis has been following the news “with concern.”
“The pope has shown to be particularly attentive to the gravity of the information about the internal governance, formation and the management of economic-financial affairs, to which he urged the [Vatican Congregation for Consecrated Life] to pay particular attention,” the statement said.
The pontiff appointed Colombian Bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago as the “commissioner” of the SCV, but Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, will continue in his role as papal delegate for the organization, especially concerning economic matters.
Figari’s sexual abuse was first reported officially to Lima’s interdiocesan tribunal in 2011, which forwarded the complaint to the Vatican.
The then-superior general of the Sodalits, Eduardo Regal Villa, directed Figari to withdraw from public life, but the reasons for his retirement were not made known publicly.
In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the community, and the following year, Tobin was appointed the Vatican’s delegate to oversee ongoing reform of the SCV.
The Vatican said an analysis of the situation, including the criminal case against Figari, has led to the latest action against the SCV.
A similar process took place in the Legion of Christ, a religious order founded by Father Marcial Maciel.
In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry,” after accusations he had sexually abused minors, used drugs, and fathered several children.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Italian Archbishop Velasio de Paolis as a papal delegate to the order. New constitutions for the Legion of Christ were approved by Francis in 2014.
Francis is scheduled to visit Chile and Peru Jan. 15-21.