In what is being billed as yet another example of his hardline stance toward clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis has removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his post as Bishop of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
This latest move follows on the heels of Tuesday’s arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who is now facing up to seven years in jail if he is found guilty of charges he sexually abused children while he was papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic.
A statement released by the Vatican does not specify the reasons for Bishop Livieres’s dismissal, but refers simply to “serious pastoral reasons.”
The decision, however, followed an investigation conducted last July by two prelates sent by the Vatican. They were to look into accusations of embezzlement in the management of the diocese’s finances, severing ties with other bishops, and protecting and promoting an Argentinian priest named Carlos Urrutigoity.
In a highly publicized lawsuit in 2002, Fr. Urrutigoity had been accused of sexually molesting students at St. Gregory’s Academy in Scranton, PA. He and another priest, Eric Ensey, were both suspended from their ministry by then-Bishop James Timlin.
On leaving the United States, Fr. Urrutigoity was transferred first to Canada for nine years and then to Paraguay, where Bishop Livieres made him vicar general of the diocese.
The Bishop of Scranton, Joseph Bambera, wrote a letter to the Vatican last March, urging the Holy See to address the “dire” issue of Fr. Urrutigoity, warning that he posed “a serious threat to young people.”
Also in March, the diocese of Scranton issued a statement saying that despite the bishop having consistently expressed “grave doubts about this cleric’s suitability for priestly ministry,” Father Urrutigoity was accepted into the Diocese of Ciudad del Este.
Fr. David Sánchez, a spokesman for the Ciudad del Este diocese, said the allegations against Urrutigoity were baseless. “The bishop conducted very thorough research [into the priest] and didn’t find anything improper,” he said.
Fr. Ciro Benedettini, deputy head of the Vatican press office, said issues concerning Fr. Urrutigoity were part of the reason for the removal of Bishop Livieres. Nevertheless, the main motive, said Benedettini, was to put a stop to the infighting among Paraguayan bishops over the training of priests and the mismanagement of seminaries set up by Bishop Livieres.
Livieres has responded to his dismissal with a letter addressed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, in which he denies all the charges made against him. “Despite all the talk about dialog, mercy and openness,” he writes, “I haven’t even been able to speak to Pope Francis to clear up doubts and concerns.”
“As an obedient son of the Church,” he continues, “I accept this decision in spite of the fact that I find it baseless and arbitrary. The Pope will have to answer to God for it, since he won’t speak to me.”
Livieres, a priest of the conservative Opus Dei movement, had been bishop of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second largest city, since 2004.
For the moment a new bishop has not been named to replace Livieres, and instead Francis has appointed Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela Ríos as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese.