Luis Figari accused of homosexual abuse and psychological torment of group members
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LIMA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Only days before the pope's trip to Peru, the Vatican seized control of a traditional Peruvian Catholic movement owing to complaints of sexual and psychological abuse.
On Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke released a statement that the founder of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), layman Luis Figari, is "not to return to Peru ... in order to block any contact of Figari with Sodalitium. The Vatican will in no way oppose Peruvian efforts to detain Figari."
On January 10, the Vatican announced that Colombian bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago, C.Ss.R. has been appointed the apostolic commissioner for SCV: "The Pope has shown himself to be particularly attentive to the seriousness of the information concerning the internal regime, formation and economic and financial management," the statement declared, the Holy Father instructing the Congregation "to pay particular attention" to this case.
It comes a month after Peruvian prosecutors announced plans to arrest Figari, who denies the claims and has been living in Rome since the Vatican confirmed many of the accusations against him. He had been ordered to cut off all contact with the organization. The Vatican also forbade him from returning to Peru without the permission of the current superior of the SCV and outlawed him from speaking publicly.
The Vatican also mentioned American Cdl. Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, will serve as the delegate to the Holy See for the SCV. Known for holding progressive theological views, Tobin advocates for female cardinals and officially approved an LGBT pilgrimage and Mass at his Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Victims of Figari have criticized the Vatican for their mishandling of the case, which took six years, while Figari lived in Rome.
Figari founded the SCV in 1971 as a lay community to recruit "soldiers for God," one of a number of societies founded in the wake of the liberation theology movement popular throughout Latin America in the 1960s. Ther organization was approved by the Vatican in 1997 and has around 20,000 priests, celibate laymen, "sodalits," and consecrated laywomen around the world.
Figari's sexual abuse was first reported in 2011 to Lima's interdiocesan tribunal, which shared it with the Vatican. The then-Superior General of the SCV, Eduardo Regal Villa, separated Figari from community life, forcing him into retirement. In 2014, Alessandro Moroni Llabrés, current superior general of the SCV, relocated Figari from Lima to the SCV community in Rome.
Peruvian prosecutors opened an investigation into Figari in 2015 after the book, Half Monks, Half Soldiers, was published by Peruvian journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz, who detailed the allegations of abuse. They described Figari as a cult leader who psychologically and physically abused boys and young men, including sodomizing and humiliating them.
In 2015, Moroni and the Superior Council set up an Ethics Commission for Justice and Reconciliation, along with an Office of Integrity and Ethics and a Reparations and Redress Program, to help gather information from victims and provide assistance and compensation.
Tobin was chosen as the Vatican's delegate for the SCV in 2016. His primary responsibilities include assisting Moroni and the Superior Council in their duties and managing the fall-out from Figari and the SCV's financial assets. The same year, Figari was sent to another religious community in Rome.
We reaffirm once again our absolute obedience to the Holy Father and Holy Mother Church.
The SCV began its own investigation into the allegations in 2017, claiming Figari "sexually assaulted at least one child, manipulated, sexually abused, or harmed several other young people; and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others."
He "used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits," stated the report. "Figari was frequently described by both former and current Sodalits as narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, racist, sexist, elitist, and obsessed with sexual issues and the sexual orientation of the SCV members — especially the aspirants."
Both the criminal and the SCV investigation resulted in the appointment of Buitrago as the apostolic commissioner for the SCV. Some are comparing the case to that of notorious child abuser Fr. Marciel Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Legal proceedings also resulted in the removal of Fr. Maciel, accused of sexually abusing minors, using drugs and fathering three children.
It took years before the Vatican disciplined Maciel, imposing "a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry." In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Italian archbishop Velasio de Paolis as the Vatican's delegate for the Legionaries of Christ. Pope Francis approved new constitutions for the order in 2014 and offered a plenary indulgence for the movement in 2015.
On Wednesday, the SCV thanked the Pope, declaring its fidelity to the Church "for following the life of our community with concern. We reiterate our willingness to accept all that is available for the development of our Society. We reaffirm once again our absolute obedience to the Holy Father and Holy Mother Church."