Peru’s attorney general has agreed to investigate a Catholic group known as Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana after a media storm revealed new accusations of sexual abuse against its founder, Luis Fernando Figari.
The recent book Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados, by the Peruvian journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz, contains dozens of testimonies from young people claiming sexual or psychological abuse at the hands of Sodalicio’s leadership.
Founded in 1971, Sodalicio is a society of apostolic life – similar to Opus Dei – whose members, known as sodalits, include both priests and lay Catholics. It is active in nine countries.
Membership in Sodalicio requires a period of formation at a spiritual retreat. It was at these retreats that many of the abuses are said to have taken place.
Some of the testimonies describe bizarre, quasi-mystical practices, and a cult of personality surrounding Figari in the early days of the organization.
In an extract published by Peruvian news site Utero.pe, a former Sodalicio member named Santiago describes how Figari created an exclusive circle of pupils and taught them tantric yoga techniques designed to unleash their spiritual energy.
As Santiago was drawn further into Figari’s confidence, the leader sodomized and ejaculated on him over several occasions, always as part of a religious ritual.
This is far from the first time that a Sodalicio leader has been accused of sexual abuse.
Earlier abuse claims
In 2007, Sodalicio secretary Daniel Murguía was detained in the process of photographing a naked 11 year-old boy in a Lima hotel. Murguía was expelled from the organization.
Germán Doig, Sodalicio’s second-in-command from its beginnings until his death in 2001, was being considered for sainthood when accusations of child sex abuse surfaced. In 2011, the organization publically withdrew his candidacy.
As for Figari, he gave up leadership of Sodalicio in 2010, citing failing health. He is now in religious withdrawal in Rome. In an interview Monday with El Comercio, Alessandro Moroni, the current superior general of Sodalicio, said, “I confronted Luis (Figari). He denied everything. While the authorities investigate, I have isolated him in a community specifically for this type of situation in Rome.”
Last Wednesday, Sodalicio published a long Facebook post expressing its regret over the testimonies. Moroni says that he is prepared to expel Figari if his guilt is proven.
Compounding the sexual abuse accusations is a litany of complaints from ex-sodalits about militancy within the organization.
“In a process of radical change,”
In a testimony published last Friday, a former student at a Sodalicio seminary in Brazil described a rigid hierarchy that inflicted arbitrary punishments and subjected students to a grueling regimen of exercise and physical abuse.
In one example, the student and two classmates mistakenly served the wrong drink to a superior. As punishment, they were ordered to clear and reset the table 100 times without stopping to eat or drink. Other former sodalits say they were ordered to sleep in stairwells, drink soup from a shoe, and eat arroz con leche (rice pudding) topped with ketchup.
Talking to El Comercio, present superior general Moroni acknowledged, “Sodalicio has committed many errors. As a result of its hierarchical structure the organization has sometimes been a breeding ground for many types of abuse…We are in a process of radical change.”
As the story has evolved, many are raising questions as to why it has taken so long for the Catholic Church to turn evidence over to legal authorities.
Cardinal Juan Cipriani was accused on Monday of obstruction of justice for failing to inform authorities when first confronted with sex abuse accusations in 2011. Cipirani heads the ecclesiastical tribunal in Lima.
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