Peruvian journalist hopeful after meeting with pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz said her meeting with Pope Francis was a much-needed boost in her struggle against persistent lawsuits after exposing abuses in a controversial Catholic group.

“The meeting has given me a lot of hope. I saw him very concerned about the survivors of the Sodalitium in Peru,” Ugaz told Catholic News Service Nov. 11 in a series of messages sent while aboard her flight home from Rome.

“A saying the pope rephrased was: ‘We must heed the message and not crush the messenger, especially if the messenger is a woman,'” she said after meeting the pope Nov. 10 at the Vatican.

Ugaz and fellow journalist Pedro Salinas co-authored a book, “Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados” (“Half Monks, Half Soldiers”), which detailed the alleged psychological and sexual abuse, as well as corporal punishment and extreme exercises, that young members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were forced to endure.

Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz, co-author of a book detailing the psychological and sexual abuse that young members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were forced to endure, is seen with Pope Francis at the Vatican Nov. 10, 2022. (CNS photo/courtesy Paola Ugaz)

A 2017 internal investigation found that Luis Fernando Figari, who founded Sodalitium in 1971 and headed it until 2010, and three other high-ranking former members abused 19 minors and 10 adults.

Since exposing the abuse, both Ugaz and Salinas have been caught in a seemingly endless web of litigation brought against them by associates and members of Sodalitium, including Peruvian Archbishop José Eguren Anselmi of Piura, a professed member of Sodalitium since 1981.

Citing Pope Francis, the country’s bishops distanced themselves from Archbishop Eguren’s defamation lawsuit and said the church needs the help of journalists and survivors of clergy sex abuse to overcome the current crisis.

The Peruvian archbishop dropped his lawsuit against Salinas in April 2020 and against Ugaz several months later.

Among the journalists’ supporters are Peruvian Archbishop Carlos Castillo of Lima and Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, former apostolic nuncio to Peru, who helped arrange Ugaz’s audience with the pope, even though it took two years, Ugaz said.

At the end of 2019, Archbishop Girasoli “asked to see me in his office in Lima. He told me that bad things were headed my way and that it would be good to meet with the pope; that the meeting could help me in some way.”

The meeting was set for March 2020, but Ugaz said the archbishop advised her to avoid flying from Lima and to land in a different European capital “because I was being followed.”

After landing in an undisclosed European capital in February 2020, Ugaz said she was informed by Archbishop Castillo that her meeting with the pope was canceled because Italy had closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After being stranded for nearly three months, she returned home, only to find two stories published by the Peruvian news website Expreso accusing her of heading a money-laundering network, which led to an investigation by prosecutors.

“What (Archbishop) Girasoli told me came true,” she said.

Ugaz told CNS that she is currently facing several other lawsuits against her by members and associates of Sodalitium who have accused her of defamation.

But despite the lawsuits, Ugaz said that when she heard her meeting with Pope Francis was back on track, she informed several Sodalitium abuse survivors.

“He expressed his affection for Peru and to the victims of Sodalitium,” she said. “And he urged us journalists to continue our investigative work.”

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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