On board the papal flight from Lima to Rome, Pope Francis said a final Vatican verdict on the founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, accused of serial sexual and psychological abuse, will soon be available, and likely won't be in the founder’s favor.
Speaking to the 70-some journalists on board his Jan. 21 LATAM flight, the Pope said the case of the founder, Luis Fernando Figari, is currently before the court of appeals in the Apostolic Signatura, and “will be released in less than a month.”
“I am not very informed, but the thing is very unfavorable for the founder,” he said.
Francis spoke during an inflight press conference on his return flight to Rome following a Jan. 15-21 trip to Chile and Peru.
Although the crisis in the Sodalitium did not come up in any of the Pope's public speeches or audiences in Peru, it has had an enormous impact on the Church in the country since scandals involving Figari became publicly known in 2015.
When asked by a journalist about corruption in the Church, Pope Francis admitted that there are cases, saying “this has always been so. Men and women of the Church have engaged in the game of corruption.”
Regarding the Sodalitium in particular, the Pope noted that the group, a Catholic society of apostolic life, first began to experience scandals when it was discovered that German Doig, a prominent member of the community who died and whose cause for canonization had been opened, had been leading a double life.
“This is the first chaos of the Sodalitium that I know of,” Francis said, explaining that scandals involving the founder came later with allegations “not only sexual, but of manipulation of the conscience.”
The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae was established by Figari in 1971 in Peru, and was granted pontifical recognition in 1997. Alejandro Berm√∫dez, executive director of CNA, is a member of the community.
In addition to founding the SCV, a community of men, Figari also founded the Marian Community of Reconciliation and the Servants of the Plan of God, a community of women and an order of women religious, respectively. In 2002, he was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and served in subsequent consultative roles at the Vatican.
Figari stepped down as superior general of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae in 2010, after allegations of abuse surfaced in Peru. The current superior general is Alessandro Moroni Llabres.
The community gained attention after the publication of a 2015 book by journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas, chronicling years of alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse by members of the SCV.
In May 2016 the Pope named Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Newark as the pontifical delegate charged with overseeing the community's handling of the investigation and their process of reform.
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 Londo√±o Buitrago C.Ss.R. as papal commissioner for the Sodalitium.
In his role, Londo√±o, 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.
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 Londo√±o 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.