Francis Removes Bishop under Cloud in Paraguay
By Gaia Pianigiani And Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
September 25, 2014
In another sign of his willingness to exert discipline in the church hierarchy, Pope Francis removed a conservative bishop in Paraguay on Thursday who was seen as a renegade by his fellow bishops and had sheltered a priest accused of molesting seminarians in several countries.
Pope Francis decided to dismiss the bishop, Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, to preserve the “unity of both the bishops and of the faithful” and “under the weight of serious pastoral concerns,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The Vatican spokesman said the reasons had more to do with the bishop’s clashes with his colleagues than with his role in protecting the accused priest. The Vatican sent a delegation to Paraguay in July to report back.
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“The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, adding that the bishop was in Rome this week to discuss the conclusions of the report with his superiors.
Father Lombardi said the accusations of sexual misconduct against the priest, the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, an Argentine who had worked for years in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, were “not central, albeit have been debated.”
Bishop Livieres had promoted Father Urrutigoity to be his vicar-general — a position that often includes responsibility for handling accusations of clergy sexual abuse in a diocese — despite warnings to him from the former bishop of Scranton, Pa., Joseph Martino, who called Father Urrutigoity “a serious threat to young people.”
Bishop Livieres, a member of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei, had been in disputes for years with theologically liberal priests and bishops in Paraguay. Soon after becoming bishop in 2004, he opened his own diocesan seminary in Ciudad del Este, marked by a more orthodox style than the main seminary in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion.
He publicly accused Asuncion’s archbishop at the time of being gay, setting off an uproar.
In July, after the investigation, Bishop Livieres was barred from ordaining new priests, an unusual step, and Father Urrutigoity was removed as vicar-general.
Bishop Livieres posted a long rebuttal to the Vatican on his diocesan website. It asserted that Father Urrutigoity was the target of a defamation campaign and that he had been recommended by cardinals in the Vatican, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.
Father Urrutigoity, who began his priesthood in the schismatic Society of St. Pius X, was accused of molesting sleeping seminarians in Argentina and Pennsylvania, according to news reports, including a four-part series this summer in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal. The Diocese of Scranton settled a lawsuit in 2004 against Father Urrutigoity, another priest and the diocese for $400,000.
Some observers read Francis’ decision as another step in cracking down on clergy sexual abuse, coming only two days after the arrest of Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and Vatican ambassador accused of sexually abusing boys while he served in the Dominican Republic.
“This is another sign of Francis’ extraordinary governing skills and courage,” said Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert with the Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, “in line with his will to clean up house and renew the church.”
Francis named Bishop Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela Rios, a Paraguayan, temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed, the Vatican said.