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Mexico’s bishops launch ‘the migrant is a gift’ campaign on social media

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 14, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/Europa Press).- The Mexican Bishops have launched a #elmigranteesundon (the migrant is a gift) campaign on social media to show their dissatisfaction with the immigration policy of United States president Donald Trump.

Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, auxiliary bishop of Monterrey, called on Mexicans “to protect the dignity of migrants not just with economic resources, but also with time and actions they can take within their different spheres.”

The bishop warned that Trump’s immigration policy, especially its deportations, will cause families and communities to be separated.

Bishop Miranda also indicated that the Church in Mexico “is seeking to strengthen relations with the U.S. bishops in order to mutually support one another.”

“Mexico is a transit country, a temporary or permanent place for migrants coming from other countries, but it is also a place of return which takes in our compatriots who have be repatriated; we’re not going to get into a fight, but we do have to defend the dignity of our people,” he stated.

During a March 1 press conference, the prelate  highlighted the 70 migrant centers in Mexico that provide temporary lodging and assistance to people seeking to pass through the country

“Economically, the migrant centers are supported with donations from the communities where they are located, but the disposition to build peace and the common good among us is the best way to strengthen our unity,” he added.

Bishop Miranda estimated that in the coming days there will be a greater number of migrants and so the way forward “must be that of peace, justice and solidarity to intelligently and creatively solve the great challenges that are going to be presented.”

The permanent council of the Mexican bishops’ conference encouraged the faithful to take advantage of “this time of grace in Lent to be sensitized to the difficult situation we are going through.”

In a March 8 statement, the bishops on the permanent council expressed their concern about the social situation the country is going through, “particularly regarding the migration issue that many of our compatriots are facing as a result of the policies implemented by the government of the United States, including the unacceptable possibility that Mexican families maybe separated when returning to this country.”

“In face of a possible humanitarian emergency,we bishops repeat our invitation to faithful Catholics, and society in general, to join the work being done in the parishes, in the more than 70 migrant centers, administered by the Catholic Church or in those supported by sister Christian churches, civil organizations or the government. This is the time to get involved in this great effort and service and brotherhood,” they encouraged.

The bishops informed that “the will soon broaden their stance on the consequences of the immigration policies adopted by the government of the neighboring country.”

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Call for prayers, reform follow deadly fire at Guatemala girls’ shelter

March 10, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Guatemala City, Guatemala, Mar 10, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There is mourning in Guatemala after at least 35 girls perished in a fire at a state-run home for youth, which had attracted widespread charges of abusive conditions and mistreatment.

The Church “greatly mourns a tragedy of this kind,” Auxiliary Bishop Raúl Antonio Martínez Paredes of the Archdiocese of Guatemala told CNA.

The fire occurred March 8 at the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home. A group of girls and teenagers rioted to protest what they alleged was physical and sexual abuse at the facilities. Authorities said that some of the children set fire to mattresses and the fire then spread to the rest of the facility.

Gloria Castro, attorney for the children, told Guatemala’s Congress that the girls who died in the fire were unable to get out because they were locked in a room, apparently as a punishment. The previous night, some 60 children escaped from the center.

The center, located in the San Antonio area of the town of San José Pinula, was created to provide protection for about 400 girls and teenagers abandoned and at risk. However, it currently houses close to 750 children, including those in trouble with the law.

Bishop Martinez Paredes said it might be possible to discover who is responsible for the incident, but he said it is most important to resolve the problems of the safe house.

“If it’s closed, what will be done with the young people who have rights and needs?” the bishop asked. “It’s almost certain that we Christians can offer some help.”

Noting the complaints that provoked the riot, the bishop voiced concern that no distinction was made between younger girls and teenagers, or between those who have committed crimes and those who have not. He said the facilities are “not appropriate” and are joined together.

The shelter “practically became a children’s prison, when the original idea was to be a home to help children at risk.” He called on authorities to fulfill their obligations to protect children and to build the proper infrastructure.

After the tragedy, the Attorney General’s Office for Human Rights reiterated that in November 2016 it recommended closing this center for failing to comply with the recommendations made in 2015, when the problems facing the children began to be known.

The Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala also expressed “its deepest sorrow and solidarity” with the families of those who died and with those injured in the fire.

It said such an event is unacceptable and would have been avoided had the shelter improved the unfit conditions. The office urged that those responsible for the shelter’s condition be sanctioned, and child protection policies be adopted in line with national and international law.

Such centers must strengthen human persons and their rights, not become places of imprisonment and mistreatment, the human rights office said.

“We pray to the Lord Our God to give us and the affected families strength,” it said.

 

 

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Conditions lamented as seven Argentine inmates die in fire

March 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 9, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The deaths of seven inmates in a fire at a police station in Pergamino, Argentina has brought renewed criticisms of the “inhumane situation” experienced in prisons in the country.

On March 2, seven people died inside Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino in an incident ending with a fire that was caused, according to preliminary information, by a fight between the prisoners.

In their statement entitled “Where is your brother?” the National Secretariat of Prison Pastoral Care invited “everyone to become aware of this inhumane situation that so many of our brothers live in, and we make an urgent demand to those directly and immediately responsible: ‘Don’t put off actions that cannot wait!’”

The secretariat expressed its sorrow to the families and renewed its “commitment for life” in addition asking that “God in his great mercy may grant us the gift to discover every person as a brother and act accordingly.”

“We cannot remain indifferent. These are seven lives taken away by the fire, they have names: Sergio, Federico, Alan, Franco, John Mario, Juan Carlos and Fernando Emanuel, they have families, they have histories, they are from our homeland,” the statement said.

According to reports, a fight among the prisoners broke out and led to mattresses being set on fire. The firefighters arrived late on the scene, and seven prisoners died.

However, the secretariat of prison pastoral care said, “We can’t just stop at a simplistic account of what happened” and “much less can we think…’seven less thieves.’ With shame, much grief and indignation we want to ask forgiveness for expressions like that.”

“In such a tragic event, there are many questions that have been waiting for answers for a long time, they require urgent decisions and concrete actions.”

“Even when there are so many overcrowded prisoners and in inhumane conditions in the police stations, how can it be that they are not prepared for this? This reality has been going on for some time and it is increasing even though it has been repeatedly pointed out as inadmissible and therefore prohibited,” the statement said.

“Police stations are not a suitable place for long term detentions, far from minimum standards,” it continued. “Police stations don’t have the preparations and the requirements demanded by the needs of a prison program.”

The prison ministry secretariat reiterated that places of detention must protect life, “preserve and maintain psycho-physical integrity,” and have adequate sanitation, potable water, places for eating, resting, and access to education, among other things.

“Can it be admitted that there is no emergency protocol for situations like these, knowing that it is a public place, a police station, and even more so where there are people imprisoned under the responsibility of the state?” the secretariat said.

 

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Meet the four-legged Franciscan ‘friar’

March 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Cochabamba, Bolivia, Mar 8, 2017 / 11:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The newest member of St. Francis Monastery in Cochabamba, Bolivia, is furry and has four legs.

His name is Friar Carmelo, but they’ve nicknamed him Friar Bigotón (Spanish for mustache).

The friars found the stray schnauzer on the streets and decided to adopt him as one of their own, even going so far as to outfit the pup with his own Franciscan habit.

“Sometimes we brothers have a laugh among ourselves and there is a brother here that is also called Carmelo, who has a moustache, so that was sort of the inspiration [behind his name],” one of the friars told local television channel ATB.

In Facebook photos posted by Franciscan friar Kasper Mariusz Kapron which have been shared hundreds of times, Friar Carmelo can be seen running and playing throughout the monastery grounds, and even “preaching to the fish” in the monastery pond.
"Brother Carmelo preaching to the fish." Credit: Kasper Mariusz Kapro? Ofm“His life is all about playing and running,” friar Jorge Fernandez told The Dodo. “Here, all of the brothers love him very much. He is a creature of God.”

The adoption was made possible by animal rescue group Proyecto Narices Frías (Cold Nose Project). The animal group stated in a post on Facebook that they hoped more religious groups would be inspired by the story to adopt animals in need.

“If only all the churches of our country adopt a dog and care for him like Friar Bigotón,” the group wrote in a post on Facebook, “we are sure that the parishioners would follow his example.”

The friars told local media that the dog has a bit of a naughty side, and has been known to chew things or hide them in the monastery garden. Still, he remains a beloved part of monastery life.

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This priest says Adoration has made Juarez a safer city

March 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Juarez, Mexico, Mar 7, 2017 / 04:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Juarez, located in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico, was considered from 2008 to 2010 to be one of the the most dangerous cities in the world, due to drug trafficking violence and the constant struggles for power and territory between the cartels.

However, the city of 1.3 million inhabitants dropped off this list thanks to a significant decrease in the number of homicides: from 3,766 in 2010 to 256 in 2015.

Although this drop can be credited to an improvement in the work of local authorities, for Fr. Patrico Hileman – a priest responsible for establishing Perpetual Adoration chapels in Latin America – there is a much deeper reason: Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

“When a parish adores God day and night, the city is transformed,” Fr. Hileman said.

The priest told Radio María Argentina that in 2013 the missionaries opened the first Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Juarez. At that time “40 people a day were dying because two drug gangs were fighting over the city to move drugs into the United States.”

It was the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, whose former leader Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán Loera was recently extradited from Mexico to the United States.

Fr. Hileman recalled that “the parishes were saying that the war wasn’t ending because a group of soldiers were with one gang and the police were with the other one. They were killing people, burning houses down so they would leave, fighting over the city.”

One of the parishes that was “desperate” asked the missionaries to open a Perpetual Adoration chapel because they assured that “only Jesus is going to save us from this, only Jesus can give us security.”

The missionaries only took three days to establish the first Perpetual Adoration chapel in Juarez.

Fr. Hileman told how one day, when the city was under a state of siege, a lady was on her way to the chapel to do her Holy Hour at 3:00 in the morning, when she was intercepted by six soldiers who asked her where she was heading.

When the woman told them that she was going to “the little chapel” the uniformed men asked her what place, because everything was closed at that hour. Then the woman proposed  they accompany her to see for themselves.

When they got to the chapel, the soldiers found “six women making the Holy Hour at the 3:00 in the morning,” Fr. Hileman said.

At that moment the lady said to the soldiers: “Do you think you’re protecting us? We’re praying for you 24 hours a day.”

One of the uniformed men fell down holding his weapon,“crying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The next day at 3:00 in the morning they saw him in civilian clothes doing a Holy Hour, crying oceans of tears,” he said.

Two months after the chapel was opened, the pastor “calls us and says to us: Father, since the chapel was opened there has not been one death in Juarez, it’s been two months since anyone has died.”

“We put up ten little chapels in a year,” Fr. Hileman said.

As if that were not enough, “at that time they were going to close the seminary because there were only eight seminarians and now there are 88. The bishop told me me that these seminarians had participated in the Holy Hours.”

Fr. Hileman pointed out that “that is what Jesus does in a parish” when people understand that “we find security in Christ.”

He also noted that “the greatest miracles occur in the early hours of the morning. “

The early morning “is when you’re most at peace, when you hear God better, your mind, your heart  is more tranquil, you’re there alone for God. If you are generous with Jesus, he is a thousand times more generous with you,” Fr. Hileman said.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 26, 2017.

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Peruvian marches against gender ideology attract 1.5 million

March 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Mar 7, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Under the theme “Don’t Mess With My Children,” more than 1.5 million Peruvians demonstrated on Saturday against gender ideology in the nation’s schools.

Organizers said that total attendance surpassed 1.5 million, at demonstrations throughout the country.

Among those present were Congress members Julio Rosas, Carlos Tubino, Nelly Cuadros, Juan Carlos Gonzales, Marco Miyashiro, Roberto Vieira, Federico Pariona and Edwin Donayre.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”es” dir=”ltr”>Los organizadores de <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/conmishijosnotemetas?src=hash”>#conmishijosnotemetas</a> anuncian que más de 1.5 millones marcharon en todo el Perú <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/4M?src=hash”>#4M</a> ????<a href=”https://twitter.com/Calderon_Martha”>@Calderon_Martha</a> / <a href=”https://twitter.com/acamasca”>@acamasca</a> <a href=”https://t.co/351NDByffr”>pic.twitter.com/351NDByffr</a></p>&mdash; ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) <a href=”https://twitter.com/aciprensa/status/838175199686164480″>March 4, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“Don’t Mess With My Children” is a campaign against recent attempts to promote a national curriculum of gender ideology, which teaches that one’s ‘gender’  is chosen and has no connection with one’s biological sex.

In January of this year, the Peruvian Bishop’s Conference told the government that it “urges the removal from the new National Curriculum those notions coming from gender ideology.”

At 2 p.m. on March 4, massive crowds gathered to march toward San Martín Plaza in the center of Lima.

The demonstrators, bearing various signs and slogans, marched down the main districts of the Peruvian capital.

Other cities throughout the country, including Arequipa, Trujillo, Iquitos and Cusco, also saw heavily attended demonstrations.

Fr. Luis Gaspar, episcopal vicar of the Family and Life Commission for the Archdiocese of Lima, stressed that “education as the first right of parents concerning their children is not negotiable.”

“We are in a war over morals, a spiritual war, and the battlefield is the minds of their children, and we are going to defend it till the day we die.”

Fr. Gaspar also invited the demonstrators to participate in the March for Life which will be held March 25 in Lima.

 

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Venezuelan Catholics face backlash for opposing government

February 23, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 23, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After speaking against alleged government misconduct, human rights abuses and delay of free elections, Catholic churches and clergy around Venezuela are facing a wave of protests from pro-government supporters.

A string of incidents began on the morning of Jan. 29, as supporters of the current government interrupted a Mass at San Pedro Claver Church in a poor neighborhood of Caracas, Reuters reported.

The crowd of around 20 people hurled insults at the clergy, calling them “Satan in a cassock!” and “Fascist!” The protesters also used the chant “Chavez lives!” – in honor of late president and former leader of the ruling Socialist party, Hugo Chavez.

After the death of the socialist leader from cancer in 2013 and his succession by current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, the country has faced both increases in violence and a number of social and political challenges, including the delay of the country’s regional elections.

The bishops’ strong stance against the current Venezuelan government – and other opinions echoed by priests around the country– has prompted backlash not only in the capital of Caracas, but in around the country. The cathedral of Caracas was hit with rocks, and protestors went to the home of the Archbishop Antonio Lopez of Barquisimeto after he said in a speech that socialism has brought “misery” to the country.

The same day as the protests in the Caracas parish of San Pedro Claver, police interrupted Mass in the city of Maracaibo. In the last week of January, gun-toting robbers attacked, threatened monks and stole from a Trappist monastery in the state of Merida.

Current head of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Diego Padron, told Reuters that “this list, in my opinion, shows they are not isolated events.”

One of the most contentious issues the country faces is the economy, where the world’s highest inflation rates, price controls and failed economic policies have resulted in severe shortages of basic necessities like medicines, milk, flour, toilet paper and other essentials.

The shortages have their roots in policies enacted by Chavez in 2003 that control the price of nearly 160 products such as flour, milk, oil and soap. While these products are affordable at the government listed price, they are in short supply and fly off the shelves, ending up on the black market at much higher rates.

To complicate matters further, there have been numerous reports of the Venezuelan army’s use of their position in guarding food supply and distribution as a means of participating and making money off the black markets. The supply shortages and other opportunities for corruption have also allowed other government officials and businesspeople to profit off of the troubles facing the Venezuelan people.

Since Maduro took office, Venezuela has also experienced a spike in violent crime, with one of the world’s highest murder rates. Opponents of the Maduro regime also report that the government has used its power to jail protesters and circumvent elections – essentially becoming a dictatorship.
Some of these opponents include the Venezuelan Bishops.

In a Feb. 7 interview with the archdiocese, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino criticized the suspension of regional elections and his displeasure with the government’s approach to political processes.  

“Without a doubt, it’s not a modern democracy,” the cardinal said. “Democracy is respect for the people, observance of the constitution, division and functioning of public powers, enforcement of all the promises, absence of political prisoners, free elections.”

“It’s already a dictatorship.”

The regional elections – which were scheduled for late 2016 and then delayed by the government – will take place later this year. According to the government, the delays were put in place to allow time for the reorganization of political organizations.

Before the delay of the elections, the Church helped to facilitate talks between the Maduro government and the opposition coalition. However, the talks collapsed with tensions and accusations from both sides.

The former president of of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Bishop Ovidio Pérez Morales has also criticized the government and assured that the Church cannot remain quiet in the face of the government’s human right abuses.

“Morally, I cannot accept the violation of human rights,” he said in a Feb. 1 interview with Union Radio. “I can’t accept that the state considers itself the owner of persons.”

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Sodalits provide information on abuse of minors to Peruvian prosecutors

February 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 20, 2017 / 11:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The head of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae on Friday turned over to Peru’s Office of the Public Prosecutor the information identified in a recent report on the community regarding the sexual abuse of minors by its founder and by four of its former members.

Alessandro Moroni Llabres, superior general of the Sodalits, went to the public prosecutor’s office Feb. 17 “to make available to the authorities all the information in reference to the cases of the sexual abuse of minors identified in the investigation by international experts,” the community announced.

After handing over the report, Moroni stated: “we are continuing to seek out the truth. We are asking for your prayers for this work in a special way for the victims and all those who are suffering.”

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.

A two-part report made public Feb. 14 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. These abuses occurred between 1975 and 2007.

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 instances of physical and psychological abuse occurred between 1971 and 2010, the report stated.

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 report noted. “However, this opinion does not represent an investigatory conclusion, nor does it constitute the findings of a legal or canonical proceeding.”

In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, 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.

In January the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae announced that 66 persons can be considered victims of abuse or 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.

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New Sodalit report details severe sexual, psychological abuse

February 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 14, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A two-part report made public on Tuesday detail 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. No 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’s abuses

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 abuse.

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 orientation.

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 found.

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 Holy See.”

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 mental well-being.”

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 ministry.

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 reputation.

Moving forward

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 external reviews.

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 abuse reporting.

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 report said.

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 change.”

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. Candidates are encouraged to finish college before entering formation, and “today’s formators and superiors treat the students with respect and dignity.”

 

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