ROME – Despite a lingering flu causing breathing difficulties, Pope Francis met Friday with the leader of a Peru-based lay group amid an ongoing investigation into its financial activities and various reform efforts, and even a call from Peru’s top cardinal for the group to be dissolved.
A Dec. 1 Vatican bulletin containing the pope’s scheduled meetings and appointments for the day showed that Francis that morning had met with José David Correa González, superior general of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV).
A society of apostolic life founded in Peru in the 1970s, the SCV has been a source of scandal for years after allegations surfaced against its founder, Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari, who has been sanctioned for various abuses, including the sexual abuse of minors. Correa González is the first non-Peruvian to head the organization.
Over the summer the Vatican’s top investigating duo, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, both officials of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, traveled to Lima to investigate the SCV.
Primary areas of focus for the ongoing inquiry are the ongoing legal harassment of journalists who initially uncovered the SCV’s abuses by organizations associated with the group, as well as allegations of financial corruption, among other things.
While in Lima in July, Scicluna and Bertomeu met with top-ranking SCV officials as well as victims and others involved in the case.
The Vatican’s intervention in the SCV so far has been a long and bumpy road, featuring several rounds of temporary leadership and Vatican-appointed delegates for various aspects of internal reform, while victims have called these interventions largely useless, charging that nothing has changed as corrupt individuals within the group maintain their grip on power, including the purse strings.
Though complaints against Figari had been made as early as 2011, allegations against him went public in 2015, shortly after Peruvian journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz published their blockbuster book Half Monks, Half Soldiers chronicling years of alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse by members of the SCV.
Only then was a formal Vatican investigation into the SCV opened, though both Salinas and Ugaz have continued to face an onslaught of legal harassment from organizations affiliated with the SCV over their continued reporting on the case.
Ugaz, who is preparing a book on alleged financial crimes within the SCV and who has already published several investigatory articles on the SCV finances, receives new legal complaints to this day.
The nature of Friday’s meeting between Pope Francis and Correa González has not been made public, though it is presumed the conversation focused largely on the Vatican’s inquiry and the group’s reform efforts.
A spokesman for the SCV did not immediately respond to a Crux request for comment.
Once finished with their investigation, Scicluna and Bertomeu are expected to present a report with their findings and recommendations to Pope Francis, who will determine the group’s fate, including the possibility of dissolution.
In a conversation with Crux last month at the close of the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality, top-ranking Peruvian prelate Cardinal Pedro Barreto of Huancayo and President of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA) called for justice to be swift.
Referring to Scicluna and Bertomeu’s summer visit to Lima, he said, “It was not the first time there has been a commission, there have been three commissions, but with no effect.”
“Personally, and also the Church itself, does not understand why the Holy See (doesn’t) make a decision to dissolve this organization, which, from the perspective of abuse, they have been very serious, and also the economic aspect,” he said.
He voiced hope that a decision on the SCV’s fate would be made soon, “because God’s justice has to be swift…so I trust that soon we will have a decision to accompany those victims, who are (waiting) for 20 years.”
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