Vatican to investigate Sodalitium Christianae Vitae lay society in Peru

Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu and Archbishop Charles Scicluna Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu (left) and Archbishop Charles Scicluna in Chile. | Credit: Giselle Vargas/ACI Prensa

The Vatican has commissioned a new investigation of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (Sodality of Christian Life), a lay society of apostolic life founded in Peru.

The investigation will be led by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, assistant secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and an expert on sexual abuse, the Peruvian newspaper La República reported on July 20.

Scicluna will be accompanied by Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The visit could begin Tuesday, July 25, according to the report. The Crux news outlet also reported on July 21 that a Vatican inquiry was underway.

Years ago, both Vatican officials were sent by Pope Francis to deal with the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church in Chile. Bertomeu was recently commissioned to study the progress being made in Bolivia in the prevention of clerical sexual abuse in the midst of complaints against Jesuit priests such as the late Father Alfonso Pedrajas, known as “Padre Pica,” whose diary indicated he sexually abused as many as 85 minors.

Sources close to the case told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that the specific assignment of the Vatican envoys is unknown as well as whether they will arrive with any decision from the Holy See.

Daniel Calderón, assistant general for Sodalitium communications, sent a statement July 21 to ACI Prensa to clarify that the institution has not yet received official notification from the Holy See regarding the details of the investigation.

“First of all, we want to clarify that, although the apostolic nunciature in Peru yesterday extended an invitation to some members of our institution for a meeting, to date we have not received any official notification about the initiation of an investigation, as mentioned in said news,” he said.

Calderón noted that its members are “attentive to any official communication in this regard and, as soon as it is received,” they will act “responsibly and openly to cooperate in whatever may be necessary.”

Calderón also expressed “respect and a cordial welcome to the persons sent to Peru by the Holy Father.”

“As has been our constant disposition, we welcome with the greatest availability and willingness to cooperate [with] any initiative that comes from the Holy See. Our institution maintains a constant commitment to the Catholic Church,” he assured.

Calderón reaffirmed that the members of the Sodalitium “deeply value the closeness of the Holy See, which is accompanying them “in the renewal process” that the community has “been working on for so many years together with the papal delegates appointed by the Holy See.”

Throughout this process, “we have been transparent in our actions and have sincerely sought to correct the mistakes of the past,” he stressed.

“Our commitment to truth and justice has led us to face the problems of the past and to continue working for an institutional transformation for the benefit of our community and society in general,” he concluded.

The Sodalitium case

Founded in 1971 by the Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, and with pontifical approval since 1997, the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) has been involved in various accusations of sexual abuse and and the abuse of power.

In 2011, the SCV confirmed that its late vicar general, Germán Doig, Figari’s right-hand man, had engaged in sexual misconduct.

In November 2015, the book “Half Monks, Half Soldiers,” by Peruvian journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz, made allegations of abuses committed by Figari himself.

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The Holy See investigated the case and in February 2017 determined that Figari had adopted “an excessively or inappropriately authoritarian style of government, aimed at imposing one’s own will” and “used inappropriate strategies and methods of persuasion, that is, underhanded, arrogant, and in any case violent and disrespectful of the right to the inviolability of one’s own interiority and discretion.”

In addition, it concluded that Figari “in some cases has committed acts contrary to the Sixth Commandment” (sexual morality) to manipulate, make dependent, and “control rather than direct consciences, especially of young people in formation.”

The sanctions imposed by the Vatican include that Figari not return to Peru, except for serious reasons, and that he be permanently assigned to a residence where there is no Sodalitium community, whose members he is prohibited from contacting.

In January 2018, the Vatican appointed an apostolic commissioner for the SCV. This is the highest level of intervention carried out by the Holy See on a Catholic institution because it entails the cessation of all authority in that institution.

This process culminated a year later with the election of new authorities in the Sodalitium, including its new superior general, the Colombian José David Correa González.

Currently, the Sodalitium is accompanied by papal delegates appointed by the Vatican: Friar Guillermo Rodríguez, delegate “ad nutum,” whose role is to advise and support the superior general and the general government; Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, consultant for the Process of Revision of the Sodalitium Constitutions and delegate for formation, and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, delegate to address financial issues.

Various accusations against Figari and other members of the Sodalitium have been addressed by the prosecutor’s office in Peru. In some cases they have been dismissed, while in others appeals have been filed and remain in the hands of the judiciary.

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ACI Prensa is a Catholic news agency founded in 1980 by the late Comboni missionary Father Adalberto María Mohn. The agency’s next director was Alejandro Bermúdez, a consecrated layman of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae who retired at the end of 2022 and was succeeded by Kelsey Wicks earlier this year. Since 2014, ACI Prensa has been part of EWTN through its EWTN News division, which maintains and directs its operations.

ACI Prensa Editor-in-Chief David Ramos also contributed to this article.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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