Peru: Pope Shows Support For Investigation Into Sodalicio

LIMA (AP) — Pope Francis expressed his support for the investigation into sexual abuse attributed to the Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana Catholic community in Peru, when meeting with a journalist who is investigating the case at a time when it is intended to give new impetus to the search for justice. The brotherhood, present in various parts of South America and the United States, was intervened by the Holy See and the Peruvian prosecutor’s office is investigating its leaders.

The pontiff met last Thursday in the Vatican with the Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz, who publishes complaints of sexual, physical and psychological abuse and patrimonial crimes accused of Sodalicio. The meeting adds to the new steps to advance in the case, pending a decision from the prosecution and the effect of a report from Congress in Peru.

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“The mere gesture of the meeting demonstrates their solidarity with journalists who are investigating an issue such as abuse by members of the Catholic Church,” Ugaz told The Associated Press on Sunday after returning to Peru.

“He sent me a message of solidarity to the survivors of the Sodalicio, like José Enrique Escardó, the first complainant, to the dozens of survivors who live in Peru, in the United States and in Europe, and who are still waiting for answers to this day; and to the community members dispossessed of land in Piura (region of northern Peru) by companies of the Sodalicio”, said the reporter.

The case is awaiting the decision of the Peruvian prosecutor Eduardo Castañeda Garay, who will determine if the investigation goes to the formalization phase after years of investigation.

“You have to continue investigating and the only way is to move on to the next stage. If it is archived, it would generate incredible impunity,” declared Raiza Arroyo, lawyer for the victims.

Peruvian congresswoman Susel Paredes will release a Parliamentary report on the Sodalicio on Tuesday, which had been on file and will now provide more evidence.

“It concludes that there was sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, and an institutional structure that allowed it, that generated an idea of ​​absolute obedience and the violation of human rights, and reveals an institutional structure to protect abusers,” says Paredes.

“I will hand it over to the prosecutor’s office, which does not have it, and to the ecclesiastical authorities,” he added.

At the same event, Escardó – the first victim to denounce the Sodalicio – will launch the Red de Sobrevivientes, an organization to support victims of sexual abuse.

Francisco’s gesture acquires greater meaning in this context.

“It sends a message to the prosecutor that the Catholic Church is keeping an eye on this, that it pays attention to the investigation, so that it can continue and not fall apart,” considers lawyer Arroyo.

“Although I do not believe that the meeting with the Pope will have a practical effect on ecclesial justice, it does have a very important media and social effect. Also in the perpetrators and their allies because they see that the Pope is with the one who investigates them and who they attack”, declared Escardó.

Founded in 1971, the Sodalicio is in schools and churches, runs retirement centers and has affiliates in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Italy and the United States. Most of its members are secular, but there are also clergy and a Peruvian bishop.

Its founder, Luis Fernando Figari, lives in Rome but in Peru faces allegations of sexual abuse, serious injuries, kidnapping and illicit association. In 2017, the Holy See sanctioned him to live in isolation, without contact with the brothers, but on behalf of the Sodalicio.

“We hope that he will be extradited. Before, a prosecutor requested a preventive detention for him. It may not be surprising that the new prosecutor is going along the same lines,” said Arroyo.

The investigations escalated in 2015 with the book “Half monks, half soldiers”, by the former member of the Sodalicio Pedro Salinas with the collaboration of Ugaz. The book brings together 30 testimonies of alleged psychological, physical and sexual abuse in the community over almost three decades.

The Vatican intervened in the Sodalicio between 2015 and 2017, when it decreed to isolate Figari and proposed that “justice be restored and repaired, or at least significantly contribute to repairing it.” The brotherhood removed leaders involved in the case from its leadership.

The scandal recalled similar cases such as those of the priest Fernando Karadima in Chile and of the Legion of Christ and the cleric Marcial Maciel in Mexico, who during the papacy of John Paul II did not receive sufficient attention from the Holy See despite the complaints.

The Peruvian cardinal Pedro Barreto was in favor of the dissolution of the Sodalicio two years ago. However, this controversial Catholic society continues to operate.

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