Lay movements ‘next frontier’ in abuse crisis, NZ ex-Vatican official says

lay movements

Rocio Figueroa Alvear is a theologian, an abuse survivor and a consecrated woman-turned-whistle-blower on scandals in her former community.

After trying unsuccessfully to raise the alarm both in her order and in the Vatican, she left, and is now a researcher and activist pushing for a change in Church structures that allow abuse and cover-up to happen.

A former member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation (MCR), a pontifically-recognized Society of Apostolic Life, Figueroa said that while much discussion in the Church has so far focused on the abuse and cover-up by priests and bishops, lay movements are next on the list.

Asked whether lay movements are the “next frontier,” Figueroa said “absolutely,” and pinned part of the problem on the Church granting “too much power to lay movements.”

“They have lots of rights and no responsibilities, no accountability, so it’s very complicated,” she said, explaining that in her view, there need to be changes in canon law that better address the specific needs of lay movements which would also protect their members.

Speaking at a Nov. 27 Voices of Faith event in Rome, Figueroa recounted her story of entering the MCR after being abused by one of the high-ranking members of the male branch of the community, the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), when she was 15.

At the time, the women’s branch of the SCV – established by Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari in 1971 – had not been established yet, and Figueroa met the group through her brother in 1983.

Feeling a call to give herself to God, she began receiving spiritual direction from the order’s vicar general, German Doig, who would later be found guilty of sexually abusing multiple people, including minors.

Figueroa said she was “naïve” and didn’t understand what was happening when Doig began touching her during “exercises” to help her “manage her sexuality.”

Convinced he had her best interests in mind but feeling uncomfortable, she asked him to stop and earnestly believed he had changed his behavior.

Still feeling a call to give her life to God, Figueroa became one of five women to start the women’s branch, the MCR, in 1986.

Although she was happy, she said Figari never visited the community, calling him a “misogynist” who would always tell the women they were “less intelligent” than the men and needed to be “more masculine.”

Liberation

Once the community began to grow, Figari stepped in and began managing the MCR on a daily basis, assigning the women to work in projects run by men, but essentially treating them like slaves, as they would work unpaid while the men’s community received financial benefits, she said.

Figueroa, who was superior general at the time, objected and said she believed she could change Figari’s behavior, but instead found herself demoted and assigned to the community house in Rome.

“It was the beginning of my liberation,” she said, recounting how she was assigned to work as head of the women’s office in the former Vatican department for laity.

It was while she was there that Doig died suddenly in 2001.

Overly defensive of men

Around this time, Figueroa said she had been confronted by a priest who said she was overly defensive of men and asked whether something had happened.

When she told him what Doig had done to her at the age of 15, he told her she had been sexually abused.

“For the first time I realized I was a victim,” she said, explaining that although she was in her 40s, she began a long process of healing.

However, after Doig’s death, Figari asked her to help promote his cause for canonization inside the Vatican.

Feeling conflicted, since many people at the time believed Doig to be a saint, Figueroa said she confided the situation in confession, and the priest’s advice was to investigate since Doig could have reformed his behavior.

However, in 2006 she discovered there was another victim who had been abused after she was, and soon after that, another.

“He was not a saint, but a serial perpetrator.” Continue reading

  • Dr Rocio Figueroa is originally from Peru. Her doctorate in theology is from the Gregorian University in Rome. During her time in Rome she was also Responsible for the Section on Women’s Issues in the Vatican. She currently lectures in Theology at Good Shepherd Theological College, Auckland.
  • Image: Altavoz

 

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