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Why has the Vatican taken over the Sodalitium movement?

Pope Francis (CNS)

What is the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae movement?

Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) was founded as a community of laymen in Lima, Peru, in 1971.

Its statutes as a private association of the faithful were approved in 1977 and in 1997 it gained pontifical approval as a Society of Apostolic Life for consecrated lay men and priests.

The “Sodalit family” also includes groups for consecrated lay women which were founded later.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae has members in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Italy and the United States.

Its founder, Luis Fernando Figari, was an influential figure in the South American Church. He was invited to two synods of bishops: one on the Eucharist in 2005 and another on the Bible in 2008. He was made a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 2002.

What are the accusations against its founder?

An investigation made public by the Sodalitium last year concluded that Figaro had committed sexual, physical and psychological abuse against its members.

The report, written by three safeguarding experts and commissioned by the society’s new leadership, said that he had “sexually abused at least one minor male, sexually abused or sexually manipulated several other young men, and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others, including those he sexually abused”. It said he “used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits”.

The report said four other former members of the movement had also carried out sexual abuse.

The 2017 report found that Figari’s abuse “occurred under the auspices of Figari’s providing spiritual advice to the victims”. Physical abuse was used as a way to discipline members. Those in formation could be denied food and water, made to sleep in stairwells, or forced to stay awake all night. Military-style training techniques were used, including swimming in the ocean for hours at a time.

Several members reported that Figari appeared to enjoy other people’s pain, burning an individual with a candle or menacing members with his dog, which bit people several times.

Most members of the movement, the report said, “were, and are, pious and of good, moral character, and attracted by the Gospel and the positive aspects of the SCV’s culture”.

Why has the Vatican acted now?

Two years ago the then Archbishop of Indianapolis, Joseph Tobin, was appointed papal delegate to oversee the order’s reforms. (He was then appointed Archbishop of Newark and made a cardinal.) He was charged with advising and supporting the society’s new leadership.

Now a Colombian bishop, Bishop Noel Londoño Buitrago of Jerico, has been named papal commissioner and will assume control of the Sodalitium.

Pope Francis obviously decided that a more robust intervention was needed. The Vatican statement said that the Pope had followed the matter with concern and was “particularly attentive to the gravity of the information regarding the [movement’s] internal regime, the formation” that members went through and the financial operations of the group.

The statement said that another factor was a Peruvian court’s request that Figari be jailed pending a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Figari is currently living in Rome and has been barred from contact with Sodalitium members.

The Vatican said that Cardinal Tobin of Newark would remain the Vatican’s delegate in its relationship with the Sodalitium, particularly regarding economic questions.