In February of 2017, a team of independent investigators commissioned by the Sodalitium reported 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."
The Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life issued a decree the same month forbidding Figari from any contact with the religious community, and banning him from returning to Peru without permission from the current superior of the Sodalitium. Figari was also forbidden to make any public statements.
However, Figari has maintained his innocence, and following the decision of the Vatican's congregation for religious institutes in 2017, made an appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, which is the Vatican's supreme court.
In his comments, Francis said the initial trial and investigation were "the trigger for other victims of this person to make civil and ecclesial claims."
"If the Apostolic Signature decides in favor of the appeal, it will not make sense," he said, "because many, many serious cases are accumulating."
Francis said that in addition to sexual and psychological abuse, Cardinal Tobin also found financial irregularities during his investigation that were linked to Figari, prompting him to name an official commissioner to oversee the order alongside Cardinal Tobin as they work to carry out reform.
Shortly before traveling to Peru, on Jan. 10, Francis named Colombian Bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago C.Ss.R. as papal commissioner for the Sodalitium.
In his role, Londoño, Bishop of Jericó, will oversee the community as they continue a process of reform. He will carry out his work alongside Cardinal Tobin, who will continue to be the group's liaison with the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and will focus primarily on reforming economic matters.
Pope Francis said the steps he is taking in the Sodalitium case are similar "to that of the Legionaries, which were carried out by Benedict XVI. And in this he was very strong. He didn't tolerate these things, and I understood from him not to tolerate them."
"The legal status is [that they are] under a custodian and the apostolic visit continues," he said.
The case of the Legionaries to which Pope Francis referred involved a charismatic founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, who was revealed to have lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children.
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In 2006, with the approval of the Pope Benedict, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Maciel "a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry." Due to his advanced age, Maciel was not the subject of a formal canonical trial.
From that point on, Benedict XVI carried out a process of reform for the Legionaries, and in 2010 named then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis as papal delegate to serve in a role similar to what Londoño will have for the SVC.
After his appointment, De Paolis formed a commission charged with drafting new constitutions for the Legionaries. He completed his mandate in 2014 when the new constitutions were approved by Pope Francis. The cardinal died in September 2017.
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.