Sex Abuse Case Shadows Pope Francis’ Visit to Peru

On Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said in a statement: “The directive not to return to Peru was issued in order to block any contact of Figari with Sodalitium. The Vatican will in no way oppose Peruvian efforts to detain Figari.”

The scandal has nonetheless cast a pall over Pope Francis’ arrival in Peru on Thursday. Francis offered an apology to sexual abuse victims This specific week in Chile, nevertheless many Peruvians are asking: If the pope wants to be tough on such crimes, how could the Vatican protect one of its alleged perpetrators?

“of which’s how the church operates, they bring their own ‘home’ as of which were, in addition to then there are no consequences,” said Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor who was suspended in 2016 coming from a commission of which Francis announced in 2013, to much fanfare, to establish guidelines for sex-abuse cases. Mr. Saunders resigned coming from the commission last month.

Mr. Figari, a layman, stepped down as the leader of Sodalitium in 2010, nevertheless he remains a member of the group.

of which was one of several communities in Latin America — like the Rev. Fernando Karadima’s El Bosque in Chile — allegedly headed by abusive leaders who experts say operated with impunity because the Vatican, under Pope John Paul II, ignored reports of problems. His successors have been accused of moving too slowly to address the issue.

Last week, before his trip to Latin America, Francis ordered a Vatican takeover of Sodalitium, saying he had concerns about its management in addition to finances. nevertheless his announcement did not explicitly address victims or abuses.

“This specific announced intervention does not take care of us, the victims,” said a former member, who said of which when he was 15, Mr. Figari had anal sex with him many times.

The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment.

nevertheless Sodalitium, which commissioned its own investigation in 2016, has laid out chilling details of abuse in a report of which of which released. The report says of which Mr. Figari in addition to additional members sexually abused at least 19 minors in addition to 17 adults starting in 1975.

The report said Mr. Figari had engaged in “multiple acts of sodomy of a minor male,” instructed a man to kiss his penis in addition to touched in addition to hugged members while naked. Mr. Figari also knew of three adult members who sexually abused minors, the report said.

“Figari told some of his victims the indecent acts were part of his mystical powers, yoga exercises, or an energy generating technique,” Sodalitium investigators found.

Peruvian prosecutors say too much time has elapsed to bring sex-crime charges. Instead, they say Mr. Figari ran a “criminal organization” of which preyed on young men, in addition to have asked a judge to approve his arrest. of which would likely allow them to seek his extradition.

In October 2016, Mr. Figari, who is actually currently 70, said he was “not aware of which there are any victims.” The Vatican later barred him coming from speaking to the press, the Vatican documents show.

Armando Lengua Balbi, a lawyer for Mr. Figari, said his client denied the allegations. He said of which Mr. Figari was undergoing cancer treatment in addition to of which he was “exercising his right to resist” the Peruvian authorities.

“If he comes back, people will lynch him,” Mr. Lengua Balbi said.

He said the encounter with Mr. Osterling might not even be considered abuse at all.

“This specific could lead you to think, ‘Well, This specific man is actually weird, This specific is actually wrong, I shouldn’t have acquiesced, I should have pushed back,’” Mr. Lengua Balbi said. “nevertheless to accuse someone under the label of a sexual crime or sexual abuse? Asking someone to drop their pants is actually not a crime. of which’s not a crime anywhere within the planet.”

Photo

The former Sodalitium members Oscar Osterling, center, Vicente López de Romaña, left, in addition to Jose Enrique Escardó at a prosecutor’s office in Lima in 2016.

Credit
Fotoholica Press/LightRocket, via Getty Images

He also said the accusations involving the 15-year-old would likely be impossible to prove in court. “He should have gotten medically examined,” Mr. Lengua Balbi said.

Mr. Figari was known to his followers as a foul-mouthed, larger-than-life figure.

He founded Sodalitium within the early 1970s on deeply conservative values in addition to the promise of a life of obedience. One of the group’s principles said of which “an independent spirit means the death of our community.” Another said “the only thing a Sodalite cannot do is actually give birth.”

Members occasionally sang “Facing the Sun,” the anthem of the Spanish Falange, a fascist party, recalled Pedro Salinas, a member during the 1980s who in 2015 wrote a book with the journalist Paola Ugaz about the organization.

Like Mr. Figari, most members are laymen, nevertheless they live together in monastery-like community houses. The group gained a foothold among well-heeled Peruvian families, spreading through Latin America in addition to even to an outpost in Denver. When Francis was still a cardinal, he invited Sodalitium to set up a community in Argentina.

Members recall of which during Mr. Figari’s heyday, Sodalitium focused on discipline in addition to obedience. Recruits were young, usually 14 to 16.

“When you lived in community, you couldn’t go out on the streets if you didn’t have permission coming from a superior,” said Martin Scheuch, who was a member for 15 years.

Mr. Osterling, who left Sodalitium in 2011, recalls being asked to send Mr. Figari photos in addition to videos of young men who were potential recruits saluting him. “Figari supposedly would likely review the film, look into the kids’ eyes in addition to was able to see their souls,” he said.

Mr. Figari would likely then choose which boys to invite to Sodalitium retreats, where he would likely send them cryptic messages. “I’ve heard much about you,” he might say, according to a legal complaint filed with prosecutors by former members of the group.

Obedience in addition to abuse were often intertwined. Mr. Scheuch recalled a night when Mr. Figari suddenly told him to put his hands in addition to knees on the floor in addition to lift up his shirt.

“No one could tell him, ‘I’m not going to do of which,’” Mr. Scheuch said. “of which was unthinkable. So I did of which, in addition to he called another Sodalite to start whipping my bare back. The Sodalite doubted, so Mr. Figari repeated his order in addition to he whipped me with his belt.”

Mr. Salinas recalled Mr. Figari once came in having a prospective applicant in addition to made a strange request. He asked for a candle in addition to matches, then asked Mr. Salinas to pull up his sleeve in addition to extend his arm.

Mr. Figari proceeded to burn him, he said.

“I had my poker face on because I understood implicitly of which the point was to impress the prospective applicant,” Mr. Salinas said. “I ended up having a big red blister in addition to a bandaged arm for a few days.”

At least 18 people were victims of physical abuse, according to the group’s report.

Mr. Figari served as Sodalitium’s superior general until his resignation in 2010. Sodalitium’s internal investigation found of which he had left over the abuse revelations.

Victims say of which took far too long for the allegations to come to light, in addition to say of which in many cases their accounts were not believed.

“I’ve given my testimony to countless people in search of justice since 1978,” said the man who accused Mr. Figari of sexually abusing him as a teenager. He asked not to be named.

In May 2011, the man filed a complaint with Peru’s ecclesiastical court of which was forwarded to the Vatican. More complaints were filed in 2013 in addition to 2014, according to Sodalitium’s internal investigation.

The Vatican finally acted in April 2015, sending a Peruvian bishop to investigate. nevertheless of which was not until six months later of which Sodalitium publicly confronted Mr. Figari, when Mr. Salinas in addition to Ms. Ugaz published their book. By then, Mr. Figari had left the country.

In January 2017, the Vatican investigators concluded of which Mr. Figari had engaged in sexual activity “with some young men,” at least one of whom was under 16, who were being trained by the group.

Still, the documents say, the allegations contained “inconsistent timelines, contradictions in addition to some aspects were not very clear.” in addition to of which said of which investigators were “perplexed by the notable, anomalous in addition to not entirely comprehensive echo” the abuse allegations had generated in Peru.

Mr. Lengua Balbi said Mr. Figari was appealing the ruling, in addition to had hired two canon lawyers.

The man who says Mr. Figari abused him when he was 15 said the Vatican’s investigation was a whitewash.

“The church has never contacted me,” he said. “Never.”

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