A two-part report made public on Tuesday last detailed sexual, physical and psychological abuses committed by members of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, both those who have left the community and those who remain in it.
In addition to the movement’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, four
other Sodalits were reported to have sexually abused minors. The report
named the other offenders, none of whom are still part of the community.
Seven of the Sodalits “who were identified as having physically or
psychologically abused” another member or a person in formation are
still in the community and performing external ministry.
They have had
administrative actions taken against them and are receiving training.
The report did not give their names.
The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which
was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in
1997. CNA's executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, and its global
director of operations, Ryan Thomas, are both members of the community.
The first report released Tuesday detailed the acts of sexual,
physical, and psychological abuse reported to have been committed by
Figari, as well as reported sexual abuse by four former Sodalits.
current members of the Sodalitium except for Figari, who has been barred from community life and contact with other members, have been reported to have committed sexual abuse of minors.
The second report discussed other kinds of abuse perpetrated by
Sodalits, the harm done, the community's responses to the allegations,
accountability measures and its ongoing work to prevent future abuse. It
also described some of the causes of the abuse, the difficulties in
reporting it, and the past and present culture of the Sodalitium.
“We again ask forgiveness from each person that has been hurt by a
member or a former member of the Sodalitium,” said Superior General
Alessandro Moroni Llabres upon the release of the report. “We are
committed to a process of self-examination and of change.”
The reports were authored by Kathleen McChesney of Kinsale Management Consulting; Monica Applewhite of Confianza, LLC; and Ian Elliott of Ian Elliott Safeguarding.
“It is the professional opinion of the reviewers that the incidents
of abuse described in this report occurred,” the text noted. “However,
this opinion does not represent an investigatory conclusion, nor does it
constitute the findings of a legal or canonical proceeding.”
Figari, in addition to being the founder and long-time superior
general of the Sodalits, was also spiritual director to many of the
members. According to the report, he “used his leadership status to have
authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits,” and he was able
“to abuse some young members and aspirants of the SCV community.”
“It is clear that Figari 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,” the report stated, adding that he knew of three
other Sodalits who sexually abused minors.
In addition to sexual abuse, Figari sexually manipulated several
young men – he used his authority to cause the victims to act in a
sexual manner, but in a way that did not rise to the level of sexual
Figari's sexual abuse and manipulation at times “occurred under the
auspices of Figari’s providing spiritual advice to the victims,” the
report said, and he sometimes told the victims the acts “were part of
his mystical powers.”
It began as early as 1975, when Figari molested a 15 year old boy,
who “was afraid to report his abuse to the SCV or civil authorities
because Figari, as the founder of the SCV, was the most powerful person
in the SCV community.”
Figari also committed physical abuse; he has been widely described as
“appearing to enjoy observing the younger aspirants and brothers
experience pain, discomfort and fear.” He reportedly burned an
individual with a candle, and menaced members with his dog, allowing it
to bite them at times.
As superior general until 2010, Figari was also responsible for the
formation of Sodalits, which was extremely physically demanding.
“Numerous witnesses described the formation program that Figari
developed as being modeled after military training techniques depicted
in movies that he regularly watched,” read the report.
Formatees were thus “subjected to continuous, strenuous, unnecessary
and, often, unrealistic physical requirements,” such as swimming in cold
ocean waters for several hours at a time, running long distances in
inclement weather, and performing difficult exercises for extended
periods of time.
Physical abuse was also used as a disciplinary measure: those in
formation were made to sleep on stairways for many nights at a time, to
stay awake all night in chapel, or were denied food or water.
Furthermore, Figari committed psychological abuse, the report said –
while some Sodalits regarded him as kind and paternal, he was also
“frequently described by both former and current Sodalits as
narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative,
racist, sexist, elitist, and obsessed with sexual issues” and sexual
He was also described “as an arrogant man who treated many of the
Sodalits as his servants.” His closest aids “typically worked 12-14
hours each day,” and if they “did not anticipate or respond quickly to
his requests, or if they made even the smallest mistake, Figari would
criticize and berate them in front of each other.”
In addition to Figari, four other (now former) Sodalits committed
reported sexual abuse of minors: Germán Doig Klinge, Virgilio Levaggi
Vega, Jeffrey Daniels Valderrama, and Daniel Murguía Ward. This occurred
between 1975 and 2007. Three of these offenders, including Figari, also
sexually abused adults. No conspiracy among the alleged abusers was
Other types of abuse
The second report discussed abuse by Sodalits which was not sexual
abuse of minors, but which victimized Sodalits, members of the
Sodalitium family, and young people who participated in youth groups
associated with the community.
“Physical and psychological abuse of aspirants and Sodalits was more
prevalent than sexual abuse,” the report noted, and it occurred most
often during “aspirance” or formation.
One testimony included in the report described an older Sodalit
holding a small knife to a younger member’s throat, and forcing him to
eat bowls of salt and ketchup until he became physically ill. Several
others recalled members being instructed to hit one another.
Not every member experienced abuse, but many of those who did have
suffered continuing psychological and spiritual harm, and some have
suffered financially after leaving the community, failing to find steady
employment because “their superiors prevented them from receiving a
professional education.” Some even lost their belief in God.
The majority of Sodalits “were, and are, pious and of good, moral
character, and attracted by the Gospel and the positive aspects of the
SCV’s culture,” the report said, and “it was not the SCV’s culture that
caused the offenders to commit acts of abuse,” although some authorities
in the organization permitted or encouraged these abuses.
But while the organization’s original goals were admirable, it said,
many members “reported a significant measure of the organization’s focus
and energies shifted from these goals to increasing its power and
influence in the Catholic Church.”
This resulted in practices which “overemphasized vocations,
cultivating relationships with influential members of the Catholic
hierarchy and influential members of the communities they served, and
protection of the SCV’s reputation.”
“Many former Sodalits felt pressured to join or stay in the SCV, not
because they had a true vocation but, rather, to increase the size of
the SCV and to impress the Catholic hierarchy in South America and the
The report described a culture of secrecy where “new members were
directed to distance themselves from their families,” as well as
promises of “total obedience,” by which “some Sodalits felt pressured to
obey their superiors in all matters, even when they were directed to
treat their brothers in ways that were destructive to their physical or
In 1998, Figari demanded that formation become more rigorous, and a
new superior installed at this time is the subject of most reports of
severe physical and psychological abuse. Formators continued to make
“unnecessary physical demands and put psychological pressures on the
students” until 2010, according to the report.
The report attributed the lack of training and formal requirements
for formators to be at the root of much of the physical and
psychological abuse, noting that the superiors and formators “were
mostly young, inexperienced and immature.”
Victims – often young adults – were afraid to come forward, the
report said, “especially because their offenders were in more senior,
powerful positions, or were their spiritual directors.”
“Until 2016, there was no formal, confidential, neutral process for
addressing allegations and when victims did report abuse, the SCV’s lack
of policies and protocols in these matters resulted in inconsistent
responses from the authorities.”
It noted that “a few subordinates are still fearful of complaining to
SCV authorities, even confidentially” and that there is currently “no
formal complaint or conflict resolution process within the SCV to manage
grievances and disagreements.”
“Until such a process is in place, personnel management problems are
likely to disrupt some of the work of the SCV,” the report said.
In total, sexual abuse or manipulation against adults was committed
by seven Sodalits, the report said: 14 men and three women were sexually
abused, and 14 men were sexually manipulated. These acts occurred
between 1975 and 2009. Only two remain in community life: one has been
removed from all external ministry, and one performs restricted
Another Sodalit who has demonstrated inappropriate behavior with
adults and minors is not allowed to have external ministry, is
prohibited from being alone or working with minors, and is being
monitored by persons of authority.
Physical and psychological abuse by Sodalits occurred between 1971
and 2010, the report said. At least 18 Sodalits and aspirants have
reported they were physically and/or psychologically abused by 11
Sodalits – though this figure “does not include one brother who was
reported to have verbally harassed several persons. This brother has
acknowledged his anger issues and is being assisted and closely
monitored by SCV authorities.”
Two of those who committed physical or psychological abuse have left
the Sodalitium. Of the nine who remain in the community, four were
superiors or formators but have been removed from those position; two of
the nine do not currently perform external ministry.
Sodalit authorities “have taken administrative actions against them
that are appropriate to their offenses with the goal of preventing
future abuse and ensuring that the men are held responsible for their
abusive behavior. Each offender has been, or will be provided with,
specific training regarding the conduct expected of a Sodalit.”
While this abuse largely occurred in the 1980s and '90s, “there are a
few current members who feel that some senior Sodalits still do not
treat them with respect or have anger management problems,” the report
said. The community’s superiors are addressing these matters.
The Sodalitium’s response
Figari's sexual abuse was first reported to another Sodalit authority
in 2002, and other victims first submitted formal complaints to
ecclesial or civil authorities in 2011.
The victim who reported his
abuse in 2002 did not want to provide a written testimony or begin a
formal canonical process against Figari, according to the report.
The allegation made in May 2011 was made to Lima's interdiocesan
tribunal, which forwarded it to the Congregation for Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Two other allegations
were forwarded to the congregation by September 2011.
The then-superior general of the Sodalits, Eduardo Regal Villa, heard
of allegations and became concerned about Figari's behavior and
actions. Regal directed Figari to withdraw from public life, but “the
other members of the community did not know of these measures and
thought that Figari retired because of health issues.”
Regal visited Rome to meet with the Congregation for Institutes of
Consecrated Life in November 2011 and October 2012 to discuss the
canonical case against Figari, and also pursued the issue with the
archdiocese and tribunal of Lima.
Much of the Sodalits' handling of the allegations of Figari's sexual
abuse has occurred under the leadership of Moroni, who was elected
superior general in December 2012.
In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the community, and an ethics commission was created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding the accusations of abuse against Figari.
The following year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark was appointed the Vatican's delegate
to oversee ongoing reform of the Sodalits. Tobin had been secretary of
the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life from August 2010
until Oct 2012.
In January the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae announced that 66 persons
can be considered victims of abuse of mistreatment by members of the
community, and that it has set aside more than $2.8 million in reparations and assistance for victims. Figari was also barred from contacting members of the community.
The report found that the Sodalitium had sometimes offered an
“ineffective or non-existent response” to allegations, which allowed
abuses to continue. The community lacked procedures for responding to
allegations until 2016.
Some Sodalits “would try to convince the victims
that what they had experienced was not abuse, or they would accuse the
victims of lying,” the report said, noting that some members believed
the community’s response to be driven by a desire to protect its own
In 2016, a review team made 35 recommendations to promote a safer
environment in the Sodalitium, all of which have been accepted by the
community. Several have already been completed.
Ongoing recommendations including providing Sodalit authorities with
training to respond to abuse allegations; better records and reports;
screening of new members; reviewing the formation process; offering
abuse awareness and prevention training; determining the role that
leaders who failed to respond to reports of abuse have in the future of
the congregation; enhancing communication and transparency; and allowing
Recommendations whose implementation are pending are the
establishment of a review board to evaluate abuse allegations;
establishing a policy regarding social media, texting, and other
communications with minors, aspirants, and formatees; establishing and
publishing a code of conduct for members and consequences for
misconduct; developing guidelines for suitability for ministry;
designating an ombudsman to assist members in dealing with grievances;
establishing a policy to communicate with various audiences regarding
The Sodalits’ Superior Council has also accepted the review team’s 14
recommendations for current members who have harmed others in the past.
Consistent with best practices and canonical guidelines,
recommendations regarding specific individuals are confidential, the
Turning to the future of the Sodalitium, the report said that most
victims interviewed “hope to see the community fundamentally changed for
the better and recognize that some constructive changes have taken
place in the discernment and formation process,” though some would
prefer to see the institution “suppressed or disbanded … they continue
to distrust the community and seriously doubt that it has the ability to
According to the report, the Sodalitium's culture “has evolved in
positive ways in the past decade,” and that the militaristic emphasis
and that on impressing the hierarchy “are no longer evident” in its
daily works. Discernment is now a more free process.
encouraged to finish college before entering formation, and “today's
formators and superiors treat the students with respect and dignity.”