Report Details Culture of ‘Absolute Obedience’ at Sodalitium Christianae Vitae
An ethics commission investigated the allegations of abuses committed by Luis Fernando Figari, who founded the Catholic society in Peru in 1971.
LIMA, Peru — An ethics commission created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding accusations of abuse against the founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae has released its report, which detailed an internal culture of extreme “discipline and obedience to the founder.”
This culture was “forged on the basis of extreme physical demands, as well as physical punishments, constituting abuses which violated the fundamental rights of persons,” the commission wrote in its April 16 report.
The Ethics Commission for Justice and Reconciliation was formed in November 2015 at the request of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. It is formed of two lawyers, a bishop, a psychiatrist, and a journalist.
The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life that was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. Alejandro Bermúdez, executive director of CNA, is a member of the community.
An apostolic visitor from the Vatican is currently investigating allegations of sexual abuse, mistreatment, and abuse of power against Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the community.
The Sodalitium responded to Saturday’s report, voicing gratitude for “the effort made by all the commissioners in listening to and ministering to the people who came forth to give their testimony.”
The society also noted that it is waiting for the official Vatican evaluation of the situation and said that the independent commission’s findings cannot be “taken in a total and absolute way.”
Figari stepped down as superior general of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae in 2010. The current superior general, Alessandro Moroni Llabres, confirmed Figari’s guilt earlier in the month.
Responding to the new report, Moroni said that “despite the pain it caused me at first, I believe it describes with great clarity, the experience of suffering of the persons we have hurt.”
Dependence and Submission
The report of the ethics commission indicated that young people were recruited to be Sodalits, and that in their houses of formation “many of those in formation were victims of physical assaults, harassment, and even abuse of a sexual nature. This has impressed on them profound psychological harm, in some cases disabling their reincorporation” into life outside the community.
The “absolute obedience” of those in formation “was accomplished by the practice of extreme discipline” which “minimized or annulled the will of those in formation,” the report read.
“This psychological and physical ‘relationship of subjection’ imposed within the SCV is incompatible with the institutional purpose which it is supposed to have encouraged in those in formation in the organization to accomplish: their vocational discernment and spiritual growth.”
Dependence and submission were only increased as one progressed through formation, the report said.
“Notwithstanding that these acts were denounced within the SCV, the then-superiors did not adopt corrective measures and, on the contrary, they concealed them, thereby encouraging the practice of new and greater abuses, under a mantle of impunity.”
Several members of the community were designated to personally serve Figari, whose behavior was characterized by “giving orders that could not be questioned, the use of vulgar and profane language,” and “control of all the activities within the institution and the personal lives of its members.” Figari’s arbitrary use of authority led to “an organizational culture based on the cult of personality.”
The report suggested that some individuals might have been reduced to “servitude” at the hands of Figari, who denied them formation while they rendered unpaid services to him — in some cases, as long as 20 years.
Those in leadership within the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were in “complicit silence” about Figari’s behavior, the report found. “They did not answer to the delicate task of forming young people who had placed their confidence and trust in the SCV, and who were finally frustrated in their expectations of a full life in the Christian faith.”
The ethics commission reported that vocational discernment was not accomplished through “individual freedom.” In some cases, those who demonstrated they did not have that vocation “were conditioned to effect a consecration which they really did not desire.”
Those who discerned out of the community were hindered from doing so, and were treated as if they were “treasonous,” the report suggested: “In many cases, this has led to grave psychological effects and even the rejection of the Catholic faith, even after being incorporated into life outside the community, obliging them to suffer unmerited spiritual conflicts.”
Furthermore, the commission reported a culture in which transparency was impeded, finances were not always accounted for, and members were treated differently based on their socio-economic class and race: “those in leadership had an evident preference for youth who were white and/or came from an affluent socio-economic class.”
Members of the community have suffered physical, psychological, spiritual, and moral damage, the ethics commission reported.
It concluded by recommending several measures be taken, including a public repudiation of Figari’s conduct; the greatest possible sanctions on Figari; care and compensation for the victims; and barring anyone from representing the organization who held any position in the Sodalitium during the years that the abuses were permitted.
In addition to Peru, the community operates in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, the United States and Italy.