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Sodalitium Christianae Vitae - English / Statements  / Kathleen McChesney: Testimony about her investigation

Kathleen McChesney: Testimony about her investigation

Testimony of Mrs. Kathleen McChesney, former member of the FBI and head of the investigation, with reference to the Report presented on abuses committed in the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae:

In March 2016 they asked us, Mr. Ian Elliott, Dr. Monica Applewhite, and myself, to conduct a review of the allegations of abuse within the Sodalitium. We have done that work over a period of 12 months and we have finished that work. We have completed a report that is in two parts, the first has to do with sexual abuse and other abuses committed by Luis Fernando Figari and the second part of the report has to do with other abuses committed by other sodalites covering a period of time since 1971 until recent years.

We found through our review that a number of Sodalits had committed acts of abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, as well as sexual manipulation of others. Some of the victims of abuse were, unfortunately, minors; there were at least five sodalites, including Luis Fernando Figari, who abused minors. There were several men who sexually abused adults as well and the details of the number of people abused and the number of abusers are in our reports.

To conduct the review, more than 245 people were interviewed, including victims of abuse, witnesses to abuse, and defendants. We examined a wide variety of documents, records provided to us by the Sodalitium, open resource documents, and other records relating to Sodalits or any acts of abuse that we could find. We reviewed the different responses that the Sodalitium had had towards the complaints over time. Some of those responses were very good and appropriate and some victims received pastoral care and assistance. But at other times the Sodalitium did not respond as well as it should. Those were times when the victims were not treated kindly, where their complaints were denied.

The psychological abuse continued into the 2000s, the sexual abuse probably ended in the year 2000. The reason we can’t tell you an exact date is because people’s memories fade, but we know the approximate year that ended sexual abuse was around the year 2000. They also asked us to review the allegations that some of the people who had sexually abused minors had collaborated or had some type of conspiracy. We found that each of the child molesters did so individually without any collaboration or conspiratorial effort with others. All acts of child abuse were between an offender and a child. We also looked at reports of psychological and physical abuse, and many of these occurred within the training system and within what is called a community experience.

Although we have started working with the Sodalitium in March 2016, in the last 5 years or so, the Sodalitium has been assisting victims in a more structured way in the past. People received help and recently with the start of the Office of Assistance and Reparations, several victims have received pastoral assistance, psychological help and compensation for the damage that has been done to them.

In November 2015, the Sodalitium included the assistance of 5 prominent professionals here in Lima, to establish an Ethics and Reconciliation Commission. The purpose of the commission was to receive complaints of abuse from people, within the Sodalitium or outside the Sodalitium, who believe they have been abused. After the commission heard from various people they submitted 32 statements to the Sodalitium. Each of those victims was contacted by a member of our review team and we listened to their stories. We also heard the stories of many other people who had been victims.

After that there was repair, apologies were made, assistance was provided and that work continues. What I think is important for people to know at this point is that the work to help victims continues, that is, if anyone who hears this video has been abused by a Sodalit and hasn’t come forward, they are asked to introduce themselves, get the help they may need, or just tell their story. Those visits are confidential but will continue. The Sodalitium will be open to receiving new information in the coming years. Many times it takes many years for a person to come forward to talk about their abuse, if it occurs at all. It is a very difficult thing for some people to be able to do and that is understood. But when people come forward, it could help the person and it can certainly help the organization to change and do better to prevent abuse in the future.

Also important is the fact that when people come forward and tell what has happened to them, it will help them get justice, it will help them find responsibility and recognition on the part of the offender. Any offender who has abused a child must be held accountable. Sometimes that is not easy because victims report abuse years after the abuse has occurred. And when that happens, sometimes the canon laws of the Church or the civil laws of the place where it happened prevent charges from being brought. So it’s better if people report early, but it’s understandable why they don’t.

We look for ways to help the Sodalitium in the future, providing a series of recommendations that are also included in the report. Those recommendations include ways to respond more effectively to victims of abuse by providing appropriate pastoral care, psychological help, medical assistance, or any other particular needs the victim may have. We made recommendations for prevention of abuse, ways the community could make sure their members were healthy, that they didn’t have problems that would lead them to abuse another person, that they wouldn’t violate boundaries, and make sure that the community had codes of conduct that apply and that everyone understands.

We have made recommendations for additional training; Some training has already been received in the last year on awareness of abuse which is an important part of prevention. One of the most important aspects of our work was making sure that within the Sodalitium there was a safe environment for the people involved in their ministries. To do this, an important aspect is to make sure that everyone is aware of what sexual abuse is and where they can go to report abuse or resolve a problem with someone who is in a higher position than them or an adult if the person is child.

That is why our first priority was to search for and identify people who had sexually abused minors. As I have already indicated, there are no individuals in the Sodalitium who have sexually abused minors, with the exception of Luis Fernando Figari who has been separated from the community.

In the past the Sodalitium did not do all it could to help victims, sometimes victims were accused of lying or were mistreated by other Sodalitium members after they came forward with an accusation.

It is very important for any organization that has issues like abuse to be as transparent as possible about what happened and what they are going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. To that end, prevention has been another of our priorities by providing recommendations to the Sodalitium that could help them in the future to become a better and safer community.