11 March 2020, The Tablet

Suppress Sodalitum, says Peru cardinal

Suppress Sodalitum, says Peru cardinal

Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno of Peru, pictured here in Rome in 2018.
andeville Eric/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

A Peruvian Cardinal has called for the suppression of a controversial religious movement, the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. The founder of the Sodalitium, Luis Fernando Figari, was expelled from the Peru-based community last year after a Vatican investigation found he had sexually and psychologically abused members, including children.

Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, current Archbishop of Huancayo, stated during a radio interview on March 10 that “this religious community should be dissolved, and those within it ... be helped, so that they can live authentic lives”. Although he emphasised that this was only his personal opinion, the Cardinal said that the other Bishops of Peru, including the president of the Bishop’s conference, were in agreement with him.

While “there are good people within the Sodalitium”, the Cardinal went on to say, “the underlying problem is..the founder”. Jimeno also indicated that the Vatican was considering the dissolution of the group as well, stating: “that is the point where we are on this road, and I know that the Holy See is on that road”

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, founded in 1971, is an all-male religious society composed of priests and religious brothers under vows of celibacy and obedience. Widely seen as a conservative alternative to liberation-theology associated "base communities", in 1997 the group was recognised as a Society of Pontifical Right.

Figari’s control over the organisation was described as “totalitarian” by ex-members, and condemned as “authoritarian” by the Vatican in recent years.

The Sodalitium’s lay affiliate, the Christian Life Movement, has also been subject to heavy criticism over cases of abuse within it.

In 2017 an internal investigation of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae found that Figari, who headed the organisation until 2010, and three other senior members abused 29 victims in total, 19 of whom were minors at the time of the abuse. The report concluded 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.”

In the aftermath of the report, the Vatican named Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark as an apostolic delegate to oversee Sodalitium. Although the Vatican ordered that Figari be barred from interacting with members of the Sodalitium or returning to Peru, victims' advocates criticised Church leaders at the time for not taking firmer or quicker action.

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