Lima: A secretive Roman Catholic society with chapters across South America and in the US has revealed under pressure that a Vatican investigator is looking into allegations that its founder sexually molested young recruits.
The scandal at the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, or Sodalitium of Christian Life, has close parallels to other recent cases of charismatic Catholic leaders in Latin America being accused of sex abuse as well as the church dragging its feet on investigating claims and trying to keep scandals quiet.
This week, Sodalitium's general secretary disclosed the Vatican investigation after two journalists published a book detailing the accusations against founder Luis Fernando Figari, 68.
Co-author Pedro Salinas, a former society member, has been publicly accusing Figari since 2010 of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. According to the book, three men lodged complaints the following year with a Peruvian church tribunal alleging Figari sexually abused them when they were minors.
There is no indication the tribunal did anything with the case, including notifying prosecutors. Nor is it known when the Vatican was advised.
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the conservative archbishop of Lima with jurisdiction over the tribunal, was quoted as telling the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio this week that case is "regrettable and painful" and claiming "we have acted with absolute transparency and rapidity."
No criminal probe was opened in Peru until after the mid-October publication of "Half Monks, Half Soldiers." Prosecutors, though, say the statute of limitations has almost certainly run out as the alleged crimes occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.
Founded in 1971, Sodalitium has a presence in schools and churches and runs retreat facilities with communities in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Italy and the United States. Its members are mostly lay Catholics but also include clergy, including at least two bishops in Peru.
After the book's release, the society issued three successive press releases as a public clamor for greater accountability and transparency intensified.
First, the society revealed that Figari, who is not a priest, has been living in relative isolation at a Sodalitium community in Rome since 2010 and has been out of public life and governance of the society since then. At the time of his departure as general secretary, Sodalitium said only that Figari was stepping down for health reasons.
It added that the society's current leader, Alessandro Moroni, decided in 2014 to intensify the regime of "prayer and retreat" being followed by Figari.