ROME—What is a boy to do when his spiritual mentor, part of a group that claims it is leading young people on the path of Christ, says that God, working in mysterious ways, wants him to fondle and be fondled, to lie naked with grown men, to be sodomized? Too often and for too long in too many parts of the world, those experiences have been kept as guilty secrets, not by the perpetrators but by the victims.
“I thought I had been selected by the devil to provide sexual services to this man,” as one of those boys explained to investigators.
Only when the press has documented the cases has action been taken to expose some of the perpetrators, although far from all of them.
Such is the situation in Peru and Chile, where Pope Francis is paying a visit this week. However beneficent his reputation, the sordid past of such men and institutions keeps coming back to afflict his papacy like a recurrent, debilitating disease.
Luis Fernando Figari, the 70-year-old founder of Peru’s conservative Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) Catholic movement used psychological manipulation and sexual torture on young members of his Catholic organization, according to his victims. He and three other men stand accused, though not yet officially charged by Peruvian authorities, of sexually and psychologically assaulting dozens of little boys and young men throughout the ’90s and early 2000s by threatening them with the wrath of God if they didn’t succumb to their wanton pleasures of the flesh.
One of Daniels Valderrama’s alleged victims, Alvaro Urbina, interviewed by the Tribune, said he had been taken to SCV to escape bullying in school when Daniels gave him attention that soon turned sexual. “I was a child. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I wanted. These are scars that I’ll carry for years,” he told the Tribune in December. “It’s a pain I’m going to carry in my heart forever.”
The reported abuses of SCV founder Figari are remarkably similar to those lodged against the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who founded the Legion of Christ in the 1940s and used it as a pool from which those in charge could recruit young victims for sex acts that often included oral and anal abuse. Maciel Degollado did not limit himself to little boys. While serving as a supposedly celibate priest, he also fathered several children, at least one of whom he later abused.
The SCV, which has chapters throughout Latin America and the United States, formally admitted its founder’s crimes last year in a detailed report (PDF), confessing that Figari and three others, including Daniels Valderrama, sexually abused 19 minors and 10 adults.
The report called Figari “narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, racist, sexist, elitist and obsessed with sexual issues and the sexual orientation of SCV members.” This from the investigative document:
“In the most egregious case of abuse in the SCV, Jeffrey Daniels (Daniels) abused at least 12 minor males who were associated with SCV ministries between 1985 and 1997. Daniels was well-liked in the community, but he was also considered ‘goofy.’ ‘too affectionate’ and ‘immature.’ … On several occasions he took the boys on mission trips or drove them to different events. A victim recalled this about the offender,
“‘When I was 14 years old Daniels became increasingly friendly with me and gave me affection that I did not get from my family…His affections became sexual…. I thought I had been selected by the devil to provide sexual services to this man… Now I have flashbacks…’” [Italics in the original]
The accusations first came to light in the book Half Monks, Half Soldiers, by investigative journalists Pedro Salinas, a former member of the group (although not a victim of sexual abuse), and Paola Ugaz. It outlined alleged abuse that involved enticing young boys to perform oral sex on Figari and adult men lest they face severe punishment by the Almighty, which could include, but was not limited to, death or illness of friends or parents, failure in school, or general bad omens. The book’s authors also write that victims alleged they were made to participate in group sex that included bondage and keeping young boys in pitch darkness while older men fondled them.
The group’s current leader, Alessandro Moroni Llabrés, released a video in 2016 in which he declared the founder guilty. “After hearing the witness accounts, we find Luis Figari guilty of the alleged abuses. And we declare him a persona non-grata in our organization, which completely deplores and condemns his behavior,” Maroni said.
The bearded and bespectacled Figari is currently living in seclusion in Rome. While he is not an ordained priest, he could still be given protection by the Holy See if it chooses to allow him to live within the protective walls of Vatican City, a sovereign city state.
Last week, the Vatican essentially took over the SCV, putting a Colombian prelate in charge. The timing presumably was linked to the papal visit to Latin America this week. The Vatican issued a statement that the pope “has followed with concern” the goings on in Peru.
The new prelate’s appointment is seen as “too little, too late” by the victims of the alleged abuse, who have asked to meet the pope. No such encounter is on the official agenda, but Vatican spokesman Greg Burke did not rule out a private meeting.
Things aren’t much better for the pope in Chile, where Francis will begin his official apostolic visit when he arrives Monday evening.
Francis recently appointed controversial Bishop Juan Barros to head the diocese of the city of Osorno in the south of the country, even though Barros worked directly under Fernando Karadima, a priest convicted of sexual abuse by the Vatican and sentenced to the usual “life of prayer and penitence” in a secluded monastery. Barros denies knowing of Karadima’s crimes, even though he is named by several witnesses as ultimately aiding in the cover-up, and sent a letter to the Vatican in support of the known predator during the Vatican’s investigation.
According to documents seen by the Associated Press, Francis considered sending Barros on a sabbatical to avoid any potential dust-up among abuse survivors but, as the AP reports, it was a decision “he didn't ultimately take.”
Last Friday, four Catholic churches in Santiago were firebombed ahead of the pope’s visit. A note left behind in the Santa Isabel de Hungría church used Spanish orthography changed to eliminate masculine and feminine gender, declaring, for example, “We will never submit to the dominion they want to exercise over our bodies [nuestrxs cuerpxs]... ” It concluded, “Pope Francis, the next bombs will be in your cassock.”
Francis has been widely criticized for his mixed messaging on clerical sex abuse. He has not yet renewed the mandate of his commission on clerical sex abuse, which expired on Dec. 17. Peter Saunders, a victim of clerical sex abuse and member of the commission who had been on leave for the better part of the year, officially resigned from the commission in December, citing “disappointment that that commission had not done more” as his primary reason. He has been invited by protesters in Chile to join the demonstrations to stand in solidarity with victims in protests against the pontiff.
The pope will begin his apostolic visit late Monday evening in Chile before moving on to Peru later in the week. He will return to Rome Jan. 21.