Behind the Wall
Sodalitium Christiane Vitae, an ultraconservative Catholic organization also known as the Sodalicio, was founded in 1971, in Peru. Its mission was to train disciplined young people, with military rigor, almost monks. But the order, discipline and ideology of Sodalico hid many secrets. What happened inside its walls?
You can read a Spanish transcript of the episode, it’s useful if you’re learning the language with this podcast.
Or you can also read an English translation.
Translation by Patrick Moseley
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Before we begin, we want to warn listeners that this episode includes detailed descriptions of abuse and is not suitable for children.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Today we’ll start with this man.
[Pedro Salinas]: At the time, Daniel, you’re a kid who just turned 16. You’re a teenager and, well, if they tell you that you can reach the stars, you believe it, right?
[Daniel]: His name is Pedro Salinas. He’s a writer and journalist from Peru. When he was 16, in 1980, he was a little rebellious. He had…
[Pedro]: Behavior problems, problems with authority, my parents were separated and from the middle of my first year of secondary school I was registered on a probationary basis. By the the middle of my fourth year, they’re most likely going to kick me out of the school halfway through the year.
[Daniel]: Pedro was studying at San Agustín, a private religious high school in Lima. It was high class. That year, the school had hired two young men in their 20s to be in charge of the psychological support office. There they worked with children with academic or behavioral issues.
In other words, students like Pedro…
[Pedro]: And as soon as this office was vacant, it was filled by these two people, or rather two young men, who were from Sodalitium of Christian Life.
[Daniel]: Sodalitium of Christian Life. An ultra-conservative religious group, like Opus Dei. It was recognized by the Vatican in 1997. But if you’re not from Peru, this name probably doesn’t sound familiar. At that time, it wasn’t very well know even among Peruvians. But Pedro found something there that caught his attention. He realized that it was different from what he was expecting from a group with that name.
[Pedro]: They talked to me, they pulled me out of class, they would light cigarettes, they let me smoke in school, you know, giving me this feeling of trust and “patería”, as we say here, like to hook me in and get me to connect with them.
[Daniel]: They used bad words and slang…
[Pedro]: They presented themselves like…as we say here: “bacanes”, you know, cool, lively, and they weren’t those two-faced Christians I expected when they came to talk to you about a preparatory retreat before Confirmation, which at the time I though was the most boring thing on the planet.
[Daniel]: It was a rebellious transgressive Catholicism. Pedro described it to me like this.
[Pedro]: It was Christianity for vandals, you know?
[Daniel]: But they were more interested in getting close to boys with a certain profile.
[Pedro]: White, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, there was a racial component…a racist component. Boys with money and a social standing, in other words there was also a very classist component.
[Daniel]: And, eventually, they would also focus on those boys who were intelligent, who got good grades. The ones with the capacity to become leaders. And they sold those boys with a speech…
[Pedro]: “Come with us, because we are engaged in a project aiming to change the world, to change its very foundation, you know, to transform it from humanity in the wild to humanity in the divine.
[Daniel]: Pedro was very attracted to that rhetoric, and a few months later he went to his first retreat. He was 16 years old. The retreat was less religious than he imagined. They didn’t sit and quote the bible or pray. No. Instead, they talked in groups about different topics: like family, for example. Very personal things.
Pedro’s parents had separated not long ago and he was having a very hard time. It was complex psychological work. Pedro felt that, on one hand, they wanted him to break, to make him cry, and on the other hand, make him feel like someone very special. Unique.
And it worked.
[Pedro]: It was totally clear that the retreat was directed just at me. I mean, at least I felt special attention being directed at me.
[Daniel]: In a matter of months, they had already convinced him to throw himself completely into Sodalitium, distancing himself little by little from everyone else. From his girlfriend, from his friends. Even from his parents. And when he turned 18, he made the decision to join for good. He went to live in a community with other young men in San Bartolo, a coastal town south of Lima.
They had overtaken him, though Pedro wouldn’t have used that word then. Now, however, he can see it clearly.
[Pedro]: They get it your head that the only good thing and most important thing you can do in life is be a Sodalit, which is what they call the militants in the institution.
[Daniel]: It’s no accident that he uses the word “militant.” That’s part of the Sodalit ideology, that the young men in Sodalitium are half-soldier, half-monk. Obedience is what matters. Obeying…
[Pedro]: Without question, because you have the belief that when you obey, you are reaching toward perfection. That was everyone’s objective: be holy, be perfect, you know, to be…be super soldiers for Christ.
[Daniel]: And to be soldiers, they had to get used to living under a strict regimen and in extreme situations. For example…
[Pedro]: In the hours before dawn, they make you swim to the island, which is a crag about 600 meters from the coast, but at night…Swimming at night, uh, alone, [laughs] believe me, it’s a little intimidating, even when you know there aren’t sharks.
[Pedro]: One of the main objectives was to sleep very little or not at all. There were days you wouldn’t sleep at all. That was one of their brainwashing and mental conditioning techniques.
[Daniel]: And there was an older Sodalit living in the community who was in charge of these you men and was always pressuring them.
[Pedro]: Always pushing you to your limits through, uh, demanding physical exertion or physical tests and psychological abuse.
[Daniel]: The leader of these super soldiers was Luis Fernando Figari, the founder of Sodalitium. Pedro met him on his first retreat.
[Pedro]: “Il capo di tutti capi.“
[Daniel]: Meaning “the boss of the bosses”, the number one.
In 1980, Figari was 33 years old. At first glance he wasn’t so imposing.
[Pedro]: He was a rather robust guy, in other words, he was pretty fat, with a mustache and glasses, balding.
[Daniel]: But still they talked about Figari as if he had supernatural powers. As if he could recognize your trauma, your complexes, your family history, just by looking at you…
[Pedro]: If he looked at you, you would say: “Ooof!” You assumed he had already guessed your bad thoughts, that, uh, you were dreaming about naked women. I don’t know, I mean, you felt a little inhibited when Figari looked right at you…
[Daniel]: He isn’t characterized as being a warm leader, someone who is friendly to newcomers. It was the opposite. He had a stern and adversarial way of speaking. He told the young men…
[Pedro]: “If you want to be a Sodalite you’ve got to have a pair, you have to have balls, because if you don’t have balls you won’t do anything. You have to have enough attitude to, uh, follow orders, because here obedience is the backbone of the Sodalitium. Here one who obeys never errs, the path to perfection is obedience. Everything turns toward obedience.”
[Daniel]: Pedro remembers one incident in particular, something that happened when he was living in San Bartolo.
One day, Figari came with a young man who also wanted to join and live in the community. They called these people aspirants.
And to demonstrate the importance of obedience to this aspirant, Figari asked Rafael, a young man who was already a part of the community, to go to the kitchen and bring a candle and some matches.
[Pedro]: Then, Rafael goes to the kitchen and comes out with a box of matches and a candle. Then: “Light it!” Then, Rafael lights the candle. No one knew what the candle was for.
With the candle lit, we were all looking at the lit candle, what’s going to happen, everyone else had a… I mean, we were there with poker faces on, as if everything was normal, you know. Of course on the inside we were always somewhat disconcerted, but we never gave any tell because we knew and could tell that Figari wanted to impress this aspirant.
So he calls Daniel and says: “Daniel, come here.”
[Daniel]: It was a little cold, and this Sodalit, Daniel, was wearing a long sleeve shirt. So Figari says to him:
[Pedro]: “Roll up your sleeve and now put your arm over the candle.” And Daniel puts his arm over the candle.
And the seconds start to pass, but as they do—we’re all there—they become interminable, we hadn’t seen this before.
And then, uh, Figari says: “Enough!” And like nothing happened, [laughs] like someone had sneezed, like nothing, Daniel just unrolls his sleeve and that’s it.
And then he says: “Pedro, now you.” I remember I looked like this, out of the corner of my eye at the aspirant, the Sodalit aspirant that wanted to join and live in a community, whose eyes were the size of saucers, you know, seeing this…thing…this madness.
[Daniel]: Pedro didn’t hesitate. He rolled up his sleeve and put his arm over the candle. 3 seconds. 6 seconds. 10.
He saw his arm turning red.
Finally, Figari told him enough and sent him to the kitchen to wash up. His arm was covered in blisters.
[Pedro]: That day, Figari coined a phrase based on that even, it went: “Pain is an illusion.”
[Daniel]: And I’m wondering and I’m sure you are too: that’s terrible, why did they let it happen? Why didn’t they say something?
For Pedro, who lived through it, these questions don’t take into account the brainwashing they had undergone.
[Pedro]: Because in that moment, you’re a fanatic and the idea of a fanatic is that if they tell you: “Put on a bomb, a vest with sticks of dynamite strapped to the belt,” Daniel, you would do it! You would do it!
[Daniel]: I’m interested in this for two reasons. First: we’re talking about Peru in the ‘80s. In other words, while Pedro was going through all this in Sodalitium, there was also a Maoist terrorist movement that was using the exact same tactics to win over soldiers.
I’m talking about the Shining Path, obviously. These were the same persuasion techniques, the same kind of manipulation. And they also had their leader, their Figari: Abimael Guzmán, who also had supernatural powers attributed to him.
And second: This kind of manipulation, which imparts to children the importance of obedience above all else, is going to play an important role in what happens next. It took years for the truth about the Sodalitium to come to light. Decades.
And the person who exposed the truth was the Pedro Salinas himself.
When he had been a part of Sodalitium for three years, Pedro went to college. He reconnected little by little with young people who weren’t Sodalits. And he started to do normal things, what any college student does: going to parties, drinking, going out with girls.
[Pedro]: And from that moment a process started in my head that ended with my final departure from the Sodalitium.
[Daniel]: This was in 1987, when Pedro was 24 years old. But one way or another, his story with this religious group didn’t end there. Remember that he had distanced himself from his family and friends. So when he left he had to start reconnecting with the people who had been close to him. And no relationship was as damaged as the one between him and his father.
[Pedro]: I left the Sodalitium hating my father, disowning him, effectively thinking that he had abandoned me.
[Daniel]: When his parents separated, his dad moved to Caracas. They exchanged letters for a few years. But later, when Pedro was already in the Sodalit community, all of a sudden, his dad stopped writing him. For years he had no contact with him.
Until 1993, 6 years after he left Sodalitium, Pedro got a call from the Peruvian embassy in Venezuela.
[Pedro]: To inform me that my dad was abandoned at a public hospital in Caracas, dying of a cancer that had already metastasized. You know I wasn’t sure if I was going to go get my father or not, because, like I said, he had cut ties with my whole family, with everyone.
[Daniel]: That was the level of disconnection that Sodalitium had caused him. But after thinking better of it, Pedro decided to travel to Caracas.
[Pedro]: I have the moment I entered his room where he was in his bed recorded perfectly in my memory. I remember he was sitting on his bed. He sees me from a distance and I walk up to him. I end up hugging my dad and we both cry…for a long time. And at one point, I think I asked my dad: “Listen, dad, why did you cut ties with everyone us like that? Why did you stop writing me?” And my dad said: “Cholo, I didn’t stop writing you. You stopped writing me.” And then, the neurons connected in my head and I said: “Shit, it was those sons of bitches at the Sodalitium.”
[Daniel]: In other words, the Sodalits hid the letters that his father was sending and never sent the letters that Pedro was sending to Venezuela.
[Pedro]: They just made them disappear. And that was it, I mean, this…they did that to me, these, I don’t know what to call them, right? But no, not human. That’s not what they are.
[Daniel]: Did you confront Figari about this?
[Pedro]: No because I was already out and at that time my only concern was my father. They had given him 6 months to live and at that point I said: Instead of causing bad blood with those bastards, I’m going to put my effort into making up for the years I had lost with him, you know?
[Daniel]: Pedro brought his father back to Peru. He died a few months later. For Pedro, his years as a Sodalit militant were more distant every day. He became a journalist and writer and in 2002, when he was 39, he published a novel: Mateo Diez.
[Pedro]: A book that was despised by the Sodalitium because in it I said they things I’m telling you now.
[Daniel]: About the fanaticism, Figari’s cruelty to the young men, the guilt he made them feel if they doubted. When the book came out, two former Sodalits who were older than Pedro contacted him.
[Pedro]: And they told me about Figari’s sexual perversions perpetrated against students in the organization.
[Daniel]: In his novel, Mateo Diez, Pedro mentions a case of sexual abuse that he had heard about, but at that time he thought it was an isolated incident.
Pedro tried to learn more about what these Sodalits were telling him but he couldn’t. For various reasons, the victim didn’t want to talk.
[Pedro]: But toward the end of 2010, I was approached by this other person who I knew from my time in the Sodalitium. He was a Sodalit from my time, and he describes to me in minute detail how, when and where Germán Doig had sexually abused him when he was a minor.
[Daniel]: Germán Doig was the number two in the Sodalitium. Very close to Figari.
[Pedro]: Germán Doig was a charismatic guy who had this whole speech about, well, virility, physicality, rigor, holiness and perfection. And he also had a semi-mystical and esoteric thing and we all wanted to be like him.
[Daniel]: Doig had died 9 years earlier, in 2001, and was in the process of being beatified. He was a candidate to be the first Sodalit saint. So when Pedro heard about this abuse, from the victim himself…
[Pedro]: I was…perplexed. I think that word falls short, you know? I was really shocked, extremely impacted, because once he started talking about it he didn’t stop. So that was it. I called Paola immediately…
[Paola Ugaz]: He was devastated, he was in bad shape, he was about to cry. He didn’t cry because old school Peruvian men don’t cry, but he wasn’t well.
[Daniel]: This is Paola Ugaz, a Peruvian journalist and friend of Pedro’s. People who know her call her Pao. She knew something about the topic. She had worked as a producer on a program in 2001 that reported on Sodalitium.
(SOUNDBITE PROGRAM “ENTRE LÍNEAS”)
[Cecilia Valenzuela]: What are the characteristics of this movement? And what do the parents of these adolescents think about their integrating themselves completely into this brotherhood? That is what we will cover extensively in this edition. We’ll begin our report by Diego Fernández Stoll…
[Daniel]: The show is called Entre Líneas, “Between the Lines” in English. Pao knew that the Sodalitium had a lot of power. She had seen the pressure that it had put on the presenter and the insults and attacks on the reporter. So when Pedro told her about this case of abuse, Pao knew immediately that the news could be explosive.
Pedro and Pao met a few days later and decided they were going to spend 2 to 3 months investigating further, to see what they could find…
Paola: Pedro had never done this kind of, we’ll call it, journalistic work and he wanted an investigative journalist so that all of this would come out, let’s say…that it would be corroborated and there would be no…no legal problems. It’s always scary, this group is scary.
[Daniel]: But they decided to do it. Despite their fears. And the investigation didn’t last 2 or 3 months. But 5 years. And it would make it all the way to the Vatican.
We’ll be back after the break.
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[Pedro]: Our working hypothesis with Pao was that Germán Doig did this to several people, in some extreme cases, he sexually abused his subordinates…
[Daniel]: But in order to confirm this hypothesis, they had to talk to more victims. They had to have proof. Obviously, it’s not a minor accusation.
[Paola]: We couldn’t tell this story without the force of testimonies.
[Daniel]: But a lot of people close to Sodalitium didn’t want to speak with Pedro.
[Paola]: I mean, Pedro was the number one traitor to Sodalitium.
[Daniel]: Because of Mateo Diez, the novel he had written.
[Paola]: His picture was there as a person that you couldn’t speak to. Sodalits who came across Pedro in the street crossed the street.
[Daniel]: So they alternated. Pao did some interviews and Pedro did others. In both cases…
[Paola]: Our problem was that no one, I mean, at that time no one, believe me, wanted to give their name.
[Daniel]: But very early in the investigatory process, they found a source who would be key.
[Pedro]: We got in contact with a person from the institution, from the female branch of the Sodalitium, named Rocío Figueroa, who currently lives in New Zealand.
[Paola]: Rocío had been the head of the fraternas, the women Sodalits.
[Rocío Figueroa]: I was the leader of the women. The director, the superior, the one who…the coordinator, we’ll say, of all of the girls. And I did have a lot of leadership, a powerful leadership.
[Daniel]: This is Rocío. Our editor, Silvia Viñas, spoke with her.
[Silvia Viñas, producer]: Rocío was the leader of the fraternas—the female branch of the Sodalitium—, for 8 years. She was charismatic, they liked her in the organization, and she was a good leader. Everyone trusted her. She had joined at 15, in the early ‘80s, and people noticed her gift for leadership very early on.
When she was 16, Doig became her spiritual director, a particularly important position within Sodalitium. Doig was her guide. Her moral point of reference.
[Rocío]: On top of being my friend, he was everything: my father, everything, you know?
[Silvia]: But Doig had behaved inappropriately with her when she was a minor as well. When I spoke with her, Rocío asked that we use the word “undue touching” to describe what Doig had done.
Rocío wouldn’t process it as abuse for many years.
[Rocío]: At first you block it out. Second, you blame yourself, you know? Third, I never understood what it was…
[Silvia]: Rocío decided to “turn the page,” to try to forget everything that happened. As we have already mentioned, she came to have a very high position in Sodalitium. But that didn’t mean that everything was fine. There were several things that made her uncomfortable. Most of all the condition of women in the organization, the treatment they received.
[Rocío]: He said nasty things about women, you know, and that really bothered me. For example, “You women aren’t intelligent. And if a woman is very smart, she’s a lesbian.” That kind of thing, you know? Then I remember we were at a meeting with all of the women and I said to him: “I don’t agree,” I would say. I would confront him, but then I would shut up, you know, wouldn’t keep the confrontation going.
[Silvia]: At one point, Rocío’s questions made him uncomfortable enough to remove her from position. But her expulsion was subtle.
[Rocío]: Then they told me, “oh you’re going to study” but overnight, you know? “You’re going to study in Rome, get your doctorate.”
[Silvia]: A doctorate in Theology. It was 1998 and Rocío was 30 years old. She had been in the community for 15 years. And their decision to send her to Rome would have consequences that at that time the Sodalitium couldn’t have imagined…
[Rocío]: It’s like they opened my eyes. Honestly, what to them was a punishment, for me, I mean, it was my liberation.
[Silvia]: In Rome, she realized that there were religious groups that were much more open, like the Jesuits. That the priests there were more humble. That there were even matters of doctrine that Sodalitium was teaching incorrectly. And, like before, she didn’t stay quiet. There was a group of Sodalit women in Rome, who were called fraternas, and Rocío started talking with them about what she was learning. She started trying to spread the fraternas to places like England and the south of Italy, but Figari didn’t like that. Rocío even tried to…
[Rocío]: Make a new order that was separate from Sodalitium, and that was my goal.
[Silvia]: And that, obviously, didn’t go over well in Lima. And it didn’t work either. Figari got in her way. But all the same, Rocío continued to be an important figure within the Sodalitium.
In 2001, 3 years after her arrival in Rome, Rocío learned that Germán Doig had died. It was a hard hit for her. And eventually, Figari asked for her support in the processes of nominating Doig for sainthood.
Something that was already taken as a fact in Lima.
[Pedro]: They prayed to him in their Masses, they made public petitions to him at Mass, they had even registered miracles in Germán’s name, in the saint’s name.
[Silvia]: But this beautification process, which is the step before becoming a saint, takes its time. The Vatican doesn’t declare someone a “Blessed” overnight. As a rule, you have to wait until a person has been dead for 5 years before formally beginning the process. There has to be evidence of at least one miracle. There have to be testimonies. In the end, we’re talking about a bureaucracy that’s literally 2,000 years old.
And while Rocío was investigating Doig’s life from Rome, she started to see things that caught her attention.
[Rocío]: I started seeing poems that he had written. And in the poems he said…in the poems there were things like: “Oh, I am the worst, I am a sinner,” in other words, he had a conscience.
[Silvia]: One day in 2006, another fraterna came to Rome and told Rocío.
[Rocío]: “Someone came to tell me that Germán had abused him. A boy has come to tell me this.” And I nearly died, you know? That was when I told her what had happened to me. That was when we entered into a crisis and we said “Shit, this guy…And what happens if there are more people who he’s harmed?”. And we started investigating.
[Silvia]: It wasn’t long before Rocío and two other fraternas found another one of Doig’s victims. They decided they had to do something. The process of his beatification could not continue. Figari had asked Rocío to write a biography of Doig, so…
[Rocío]: I remember, I called him on the phone: “Listen,” I said, “I can’t write any kind of biography whatsoever,” I told him. “What are you talking about?”, he says. “No, Germán is not a saint,” I said, “and that cause needs to stop.” “What are you talking about?”, he said. “Nothing,” I said, “there are people who have accused him of abuse.” So he said to me: “Come to speak to me right now.”
[Silvia]: Figari was also in Rome at the time, so Rocío went to see him at his house.
[Rocío]: I almost died. I mean, it was really atrocious, because I was…In the first place he told me there that it was nothing. And I told him: “Look, he has done this to me,” I said, “When I was young.” “Oh! That’s your fault because you’re a flirt!”. He started to say things like that, in other words, he started blaming me, you know? “What are you talking about,” I said, “He was…twice my age,” I told him “he was my superior, and my counselor.” So he started saying to me: “No, no, no and if it were true,” he told me, like that, he told me: “If it were true, it would be nothing.”
[Silvia]: And then Rocío reiterated that it hadn’t just happen to her. There were more victims.
[Rocío]: Then he said to me: “You want to make a….”, he said: “You want to conspire against the Sodalitium. You’ve always been a rebel, you’ve always been a feminist,” I don’t know what he started telling me. And I told him: “I”… But he went nuts, absolutely crazy, like…it was madness, I mean he had Condorito’s eyes, I swear. I mean. I remember, he was walking around the room like a crazy person, standing. I mean, he couldn’t sit down.
[Silvia]: Rocío insisted that he had to stop the process of beatification.
[Rocío]: So he said to me: “I’m not going to stop it. The Sodalitium and the movement needs a saint. ”And I told him: “What are you saying?”, I said, “you want to build on garbage, on…on lies?”, I said: “Don’t count on us. Don’t count on the fraternas,” I said.
[Silvia]: Figari was furious. Which Rocío expected, obviously. But what happened next left her in shock.
[Rocío]: He tells me: “They’re going to say thing about me.” When he told me that I said “oh, oh,” I said. And I asked him: “What?”. “Yes! Of course they’re going to say that I was an abuser too. ”So I said to him: “Listen,” I said, “when I die, no one is going to say that I was an abuser because I’m not,” I said… “So why are you saying this to me?”.
[Silvia]: And then Figari gave a name.
[Rocío]: He said: “Yes, this person is going to accuse me.” And I said to myself: “This imbecile doesn’t realize what he’s saying to me”… I mean, there…imagine yourself there, I mean, your superior…that’s when it all hit me. I said: “This is la madre del cordero, the motherload,” I said. I could see everything, everything, everything. I said: “This is bigger than I thought, I mean, this is a huge deal,” you know. It was like that.
[Silvia]: This confrontation with Figari was very hard on Rocío. The next day she fell ill. She couldn’t even get out of bed. Figari took advantage of the situation, telling the other Sodalits and fraternas in Rome not to go near her, not to bother her because she was sick.
And yes, a few months later she had to be admitted to the hospital to have a tumor removed. She recovered after about 8 months and she went back to putting pressure on the organization to put an end to the cause to beatify Doig and to remove Figari from his role as head of the organization. But nothing happened and it appeared that the Sodalitium was not going to investigate Figari, its founder.
So she decided to continue investigating on her own. She went to Lima and for several months she spoke with many Sodalits and there she found more victims. A friend told her to contact Pedro saying that he was also investigating the issue. Pedro was a family friend of Rocío’s. They already knew each other.
[Rocío]: When Pedro comes onto the scene, I had already written a report on Doig and Figari. In other words, I had been conducting an investigation into the organization.
[Pedro]: For Pao and me, she is one of the most important heroes of this story because if it hadn’t been for her we just wouldn’t have learned anything.
[Silvia]: At this point, remember, the victims didn’t want to speak with Pedro, but several had spoken with Rocío. Despite her private confrontation with Figari, to the outside world, Rocío was still part of the Sodalitium. The Sodalits trusted her…
It was all about to blow.
[Rocío]: The fact that I was saying something, having that authority, carried a lot of weight, because it wasn’t just anyone saying it. It was another person who had been in a superior position, who on top of that had had a promotion, understand? In other words, it was my word against Figari’s, understand? It wasn’t just anybody’s word, some unknown person.
[Daniel]: In mid-December 2010, Figari resigned as head of the Sodalitium, for supposed health problems. He retired in Rome. And in January 2011, Pedro went looking for the people who had told stories about Figari’s abuse in 2012. When he found them, they gave him one name.
[Pedro]: And from there, what followed was the interview with the first victim of Luis Fernando Figari that we found, the first sexual victim. Because victims of psychological and physical abuse, believe me, we make 99% of all Sodalits who have gone through that totalitarian organization with its Catholic religious bent.
[Paola]: And it was destructive, penetrating, it was tremendously manipulative, how it had happened.
[Daniel]: After this testimony, everything started to unravel. The leadership of the Sodalitium finally caved under the pressure from Rocío. On February 1st, 2011, 10 years after Doig’s death, a Liman newspaper printed on the front page: “Scandal in the Sodalitium!”.
Doig’s beatification was cancelled.
That same month, Pao and Pedro shared information about the instances of Doig’s abuse with the same newspaper, Diario16, and with the magazine Caretas.
[Pedro]: We were lucky that the most important testimonies came out over the course of the first 6 months of 2011, we already had three 3 accounts from victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Figari.
[Paola]: I realized that this reporting was much bigger than we had been thinking and it all went so fast we couldn’t understand it.
[Pedro]: And so the investigation, swims, walks, starts to take off.
[Paola]: He hadn’t even starting the processes of sitting down and making a strategy with little strips of paper and everything, you know? From that moment I knew this story was…was very powerful, you know?
[Daniel]: In August of 2011, the testimonies accusing Figari of sexual abuse were published.
The Sodalitium issued this short response through their communications director: “Having been consulted on recent events, Mr. Figari has declared that the facts mentioned are false.”
That same year, Rocío finally left the Sodalitium. She had stayed in order to investigate Figari from the inside. Now that that work was done, she left.
But Pedro and Pao’s work had just started. In the following years, they collected more cases, more testimonies.
[Pedro]: We continued the investigation until we said, ok, after this no more, we already have 30 testimonies. Look: we could get up to 50 testimonies, I mean, because I…we had leads on 15 more.
[Daniel]: But by this point the investigation was going to be a book and 30 testimonies was enough. They had sufficient evidence to confront the power of Sodalitium.
[Journalist]: But for years, within the organization, there were several cases of sexual abuse and an inexplicable silence.
[Journalist]: Figari faces accusations of supposed sexual and physical abuse that are gathered in an investigation carried out by Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz…
[Journalist]: And then they turned it into a book that is very painful to read, it’s piercing…
[Daniel]: That investigation that was going to last 3 months culminated 5 years later. In 2015, they published Mitad monjes, mitad soldados [Half Monks, Half Soldiers], a book that detailed the abuse of adolescents and children inside the Sodalitium and the systematic cover up that protected Figari, Doig and others. The day the book was released, the State Prosecutor announced that they would investigate Figari. And that was just the start…
[Pedro]: This has been the most important journalistic work I’ve done in my life, you know, because in a way along with Pao, it’s contributed to opening…we’ve opened a lot of people’s eyes to what goes on in institutions that a lot of people put their trust in without…without questioning, interrogating, and they send their children to these entities as if they were, well, honorable entities, ethically beyond reproach, you know?
[Daniel]: For Pedro, most of all, this investigation has been a very personal investigation. During these years, he’s had to go to therapy in order to be able to learn…
[Pedro]: How to handle this information that flowed, or that overflowed, and that I had buried away and that had surfaced with this investigation. I had… I had blocked it out.
[Daniel]: Like the psychological abuse he experienced in the Sodalitium and even an incident with sexual connotations that he himself faced…
Pedro had been a star recruiter for Sodalicio…He even convinced his brother to get involved…
[Pedro]: It’s mixed together, it’s…mixed in there is the fact that I got people involved who ended up being victims. To this day, just the idea that I put my brother in danger…is very difficult. The situation with my father is too difficult. And nothing. I mean, seeing, discovering in stories of all these people who have been victims of physical abuse, psychological mistreatment, sexual abuse, slavery, in full view of the entire institution and no one did anything. And seeing the impunity, which is something else that comes out, that makes you angry, and makes it hard to let go of the case. Honestly, sometimes my mental health tells me: “Listen, leave it be for a while.” And the truth is I try.
[Daniel]: In total, Pao and Pedro gathered more than 100 testimonies after publishing their book.
[Silvia]: Describe your room to me. What do you have here from Peru?
[Álvaro Urbina]: From Peru, nothing.
[Álvaro]: I don’t think I have anything from Peru.
[Daniel]: Silvia went to Cologne, Germany, to speak with Álvaro Urbina, one of the first victims to make his story public after the book was published.
[Silvia]: Is that on purpose?
[Álvaro]: I sort of left my life in Peru behind. It really hurts me to think about, so, of course, if I don’t have anything to remind me, well, it’s a little better, you know? I can concentrate on my life and myself.
[Silvia]: Álvaro is 36. He’s very tall and thin, with light eyes and long light brown, nearly blond dreadlocks. When I met with him in April 2017, he had been living in Germany for 5 years. He was mainly doing manual labor jobs: mechanical repairs, painting, fixing bikes.
Álvaro heard about the accusations against Figari and Doig for the first time when he was at his ex-girlfriend’s house. She was working on her computer and he was on his on the internet, on Facebook…
[Álvaro]: And the news I saw was that Jeffery was being accused of…that, you know, an unclear amount of sexual abuse, but probably more than 10 teenagers.
[Silvia]: Álvaro is referring to Jeffery Daniels, one of the leaders of the Sodalits accused of sexual abuse in Pedro and Pao’s book. Daniels is younger than Figari and Doig. He’s from a different generation of Sodalits. He entered as a teenager in the early ‘80s, and when Álvaro met him, toward the end of the ‘90s, he was a spiritual guide for a group of young men.
When Álvaro read the news about Daniels…
[Álvaro]: Of course, I was like stone. I…I couldn’t believe it.
[Silvia]: Álvaro told his girlfriend about what he had just read. He had talked to her about his experiences in the Sodalitium, specifically about Daniels.
[Álvaro]: And she said to me: “No way. And how do you feel about that?”. And I told her: “Well I need a drink right now.” And I got drunk and got more drunk and more drunk and then… Then while I was drinking I was talking to her about all this, you know, and telling her: “Look, I have to…I have to say something, I mean, I didn’t… I didn’t know anything about this.”
[Silvia]: The story of how Álvaro comes to the Sodalitium and gets close to Jeffery Daniels is going to sound familiar. He was a 14 year old who had problems in school: he got bad grades, he was rebellious and in general didn’t fit in at his high end private high school. His classmates bullied him. He was having a hard time. On top of that, his dad had left Peru after separating from his mom.
So, a friend of his mother’s who know about Sodalitium recommended that she bring him.
Álvaro started going to a group of young men who got together every week with a spiritual guide, as we’ve already heard.
The first day he went to this group, he met Jeffrey Daniels.
[Álvaro]: He was a kind of…a grown-up version of Álvaro or something like that, you know? His irreverence and his way of joking around and everything, well, that really spoke to me because I was a lot like that, you know? I think in these kind of situations, I would either really like Jeffrey or really dislike him, you know? And in this situation he was lucky because we got along really well.
[Silvia]: That summer Álvaro went to this group lead by Daniels several more times. He felt really good there. It was the complete opposite of how he felt at school.
[Álvaro]: You knew that no one would bother you. Or they could bother you a little bit, making a joke or something like that, and I was like “haha” and that was it. There was no malice in it, there was no…hitting you at the end, no…no spitting on you, no threatening you, none of those things.
[Silvia]: In other words, at that time you felt safe?
[Álvaro]: Completely safe. In that space. I mean, it changed my life. It made me feel happy. It gave me a reason to smile.
[Silvia]: And Jeffrey Daniels played a very important role in that.
[Álvaro]: I mean, he was everyone’s best friend. The uncle you could trust, who you could tell all your problems to, any kind of problem. I mean, even how often I masturbate and why, or why not, or if I like girls or boys, or how much I like girls and how much I like boys, I don’t know, you know?
[Silvia]: And that confidence is something that Daniels started to exploit with Álvaro very early on, as soon as they met. Once, after a meeting with the group, Daniels dropped everyone at their house. Álvaro was the last one. They stopped the car in a park outside of his house and Daniels told him…
[Álvaro]: That if I was able to trust him, well, I should pull down my pants, you know? And I did, and then he told me to pull down my underwear and then he did too, then he looked at me and all that, like he was a scientist or something. And after that, that was it, you know. I pulled up my pants and he took me home. I went home and that was it.
[Silvia]: He repeated this several more times, but Álvaro says it progressively became something sexual. And for him, a 14 year old, what was beginning with Daniels was a relationship.
[Álvaro]: No, no, the guy…knew what he was doing, he was no amateur, I’m sure of it. I mean, really it wasn’t hard for him to make me think I was the love of his life or something like that. Right? I had never seen the love of your life, so a person who made me laugh, who was my friend, a person I could trust, well…well for me that was the love of my life, that was it.
[Silvia]: Daniels never had to tell Álvaro that what they were doing had to be a secret. It wasn’t necessary. Álvaro had converted 100% to the faith, and to him…
[Álvaro]: He had me completely psychologically tied up, you know? I mean, completely dependent. Completely. There was no way for me to escape. I mean, leaving Jeffrey at that time, talking with my mom or something like that would have been…like throwing my best friend and the person I trusted the most to the lions.
[Silvia]: This relationship lasted almost two years, even after Álvaro stopped meeting with the other boys in the group.
[Álvaro]: And then it was more seeing just him, I mean, he would stay in my house. In other words, having a sexual encounter and then he left, that was it.
[Silvia]: But little by little the visits became less frequent. Once every two weeks, once a month…
[Álvaro]: Once Jeffrey already had me in the bag, you know, I was a commodity for him, I think. So I went from being his favorite, something like that, to being something in the background, you know. By then he had a new favorite, I don’t know.
[Silvia]: Of course, at that time, he didn’t know that Daniels did the same thing with other boys. So, after around 4 months went by without Daniels’ calling him, Álvaro decided to call him, at the Sodalitium house where he lived. They told him that Daniels didn’t live there. But a few months later, at this point it was the late ‘90s, he ran into him at a beach near Lima. Álvaro was 17.
[Álvaro]: I recognized him. So: “Hey Jeffery” I shouted. And he had this kind of crazy deranged look on his face. And nothing. I went and said hi, “Hey, Jeffrey” and so on, I put out my hand and we didn’t say anything. It was a minute or so. He said: “I have to go,” and he left, basically. And that was it. That was the last time I spoke with him.
[Silvia]: After seeing the news about the abuse, Álvaro decided to tell his story.
[Álvaro]: I wanted to give my name because…Honestly, I don’t have anything to be ashamed of. I have lived my life like I always have, you know, the best I can. If I can help a child to not be touched by this monster, well…well I’m more than happy to do it, you know, more than happy.
If I had known then, if I had realized, if I hadn’t been so blind, if…I don’t know, there’s so much “if I had…”, you know.
[Silvia]: When I met Álvaro in Cologne, he had plans to go back to Peru in just a few months. I asked him how he thought he was going to feel going back.
[Álvaro]: Wow, I’m going to cry a lot… In every sense, you know: out of happiness, pain, I don’t know…
[Silvia]: But if there are so many feelings, why go back to Peru now?
[Álvaro]: Because it’s the right time. Because I’ve been away for 17 years now. I miss Peru a lot. It’s always been very clear to me, I mean, I may want to live in a ton of countries, but I want to die in Peru.
[Silvia]: Álvaro went back to Peru in August of 2017. The last time I talked to him, he told me he was working as a photographer, taking pictures of surfers on beach north of Lima and making plans to set up his life in Peru.
A report that was published about Sodalitium in February 2017 refers to Jeffrey Daniels as the most serious case of abuses. It says that “he has been indicated as the perpetrator of the sexual abuse of more than 12” boys. The same report says that Daniels was in isolation for 3 years and received psychological treatment.
He now lives in the United States.
[Daniel]: Despite all of this, Figari is still in Rome, in a sort of “retirement.” Let’s be honest: he lives there under the protection of the Vatican. In May of 2016, 5 ex-Sodalits, including Pedro, sued the Sodalitium.
They argue that it is a criminal organization that systematically commits crimes against minors. That these crimes have cause irreparable damage to their victims. As part of that investigation, the prosecutor in charge of the case traveled to Rome to interview Figari at the Peruvian embassy. She was accompanied by the victim’s lawyers as well as Sodalit’s. Pao was also there.
[Paola]: We were with two other journalists at the door, waiting for him to come out or go in, and get him there to ask him questions. He came straight toward me. He didn’t recognize me. He didn’t know I was part of the book with Pedro Salinas. And right when I ask him: “What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Figari?”
[Paola]: Hello, are you innocent?
[Luis Fernando Figari]: Yes, I am innocent, completely innocent and I am coming here to let the truth be known. Because I have not been permitted by the authorities to speak.
[Paola]: I realized that I became very cold in front of him, and the only thing I had clear was that I had to bombard him with questions.
[Daniel]: It was the first time Pao saw him in person. She had asked for an interview dozens of times, but Figari never agreed.
[Paola]: Some colleagues who were with me there asked him what he had to say to the victims?
[Journalist]: And to the victims?
[Luis Fernando Figari]: To the victims, if there are victims, because it’s not clear to me that there are victims. I’m here. I’m in retirement. So I don’t…I don’t know these people’s real situations. But, it there are victims, it’s deeply, deeply painful for me.
And it pains me deeply and I believe they should be given help to remove themselves from the situation, whatever it may be, because there are many cases, aren’t there? In other words, there are several people and…
[Paola]: I knew that he was, let’s say, proud, and if you egged him on, he would have to explain what he thought about all of the reports.
[Daniel]: That is what surprises me, because it’s a very short interview and in less than five minutes he contradicts himself.
[Paola]: Yes, he contradicts himself.
[Paola]: In other words, you plead innocent to the accusations of sexual abuse against you?
[Luis Fernando Figari]: Completely.
[Paola]: So, you don’t lend any credibility to any of the accusations.
[Luis Fernando Figari]: [Laughs] Look, if I’m here saying no. The answer is no.
[Paola]: And all of the descriptions that I have heard of him became real, you know? That he was a misogynist, that he didn’t value human beings, that he didn’t see them as being as intelligent as him, that he was very arrogant. Seeing him was like proof that what he we had been told was true and more, you know?
[Daniel]: And much more…
In September of 2017, the Peruvian Congress created a commission to investigate abuses by Sodalitium. A lawsuit remains open, and it includes accusations against Figari, Daniels, and four other men. The list of aggrieved has grown from 5 to 15…
In mid December 2017, the prosecutor in charge of the case asked for 9 years of preventive prison for Figari, Daniels and other two ex Sodalits mentioned in the case.
I’m recording this on January 10, 2018. This morning, a week before Pope Francis’ visit to Peru, the Vatican has ordered to intervene the Sodalitium. It’s bureaucratic language, but what is means is this: the decapitation of the Sodalitium. Its supreme leader, Alessandro Moroni, a Peruvian, has been replaced by a Colombian bishop that responds directly to the Pope.
I quote from the Vatican’s press release: “Pope Francis has been following with great concern all the information” of “notable seriousness” that has reached the Vatican regarding Sodalitium for several years.
This morning, our collaborator in this story, Pao Ugaz, tweeted the following: “It’s a good day for the victims of Sodalitium and for investigative journalism.”
This story was produced by Silvia Viñas, Pao Ugaz and me, and edited by Camila Segura. Mixing and sound design by Ryan Sweikert.
Thanks to Pedro Salinas. Their book Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados was published by Planeta.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Andrés Azpiri, Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Moseley, Laura Pérez, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas. Andrea Betanzos is the programming coordinator. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.