Pope Francis has deposed the controversial bishop of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, Monsignor Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, by relieving him of his duties as bishop of that diocese, and declaring the see vacant.
The bishop was accused not only of incardinating a priest into his diocese in 2005 who had been accused of allegedly engaging in sexual misconduct with minors in Scranton diocese in the USA, but also of defending and covering the priest and even promoting him to be his vicar-general.
The prelate, a member of Opus Dei, also created tensions in the Church in Paraguay by opening his own ‘more orthodox,’ traditional style seminaries in Ciudad del Este in opposition with the one the country’s bishops have in Asuncion, the capital city. He clashed with the country’s bishops over many years, and with its religious orders.
The Vatican broke the news on September 25. It said the pope had taken the decision “after a careful examination of the conclusions of the Apostolic Visitations made to the bishop, the diocese and the seminaries of Ciudad del Este, by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Clergy.”
This “grave decision of the Holy See” was taken for “serious pastoral reasons” and aims at “greater unity of the church of Ciudad del Este and at episcopal communion in Paraguay,” the Vatican stated.
As controversy flourished in the diocese, Pope Francis last July ordered an Apostolic Visitation of the diocese, headed by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló. He did so following news that the local Bishop Livieres had appointed as his Vicar-General, or right hand man, an Argentine-born priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of alleged sexual misconduct with minors at St Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, in the diocese of Scranton (Pennsylvania, USA) where he had served some ten years earlier when he worked there as a priest. Those allegations had resulted in a highly publicized lawsuit in Scranton in 2002.
When Scranton’s bishop Joseph Martino learned that the priest was moving to Paraguay, after spending some time in Canada, he “cautioned the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese,” a statement on the Scranton diocese’s website said at the time. Bishop Livieres ignored this and other warning and not only accepted the priest into his diocese and defended him, he also made him vicar-general.
In addition to all this, Bishop Livieres, a strong advocate of the traditional extraordinary form of the liturgy, had a conflictual relation for several years with other bishops in Paraguay. In actual fact when John Paul II appointed him as bishop to the diocese in 2004, Paraguay’s bishops are said to have written to the Polish pope to protest his appointment but the Holy See held firm. Many priests also wrote to Benedict XVI asking to have him removed, but without success. His defenders, on the other hand, pointed to the fact that since he came to the diocese the number of baptisms and vocations had increased significantly.
During the visitation, July 21-26, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló “cautioned Bishop Livieres against proceeding with further priestly ordinations,” Fr. Federico Lombardi, told reporters at a press briefing in the Vatican on July 30. He also confirmed that Fr. Urrutigoity had been removed from the post of vicar-general on July 14, before the visitation arrived. These initial provisions were a clear indication that more serious consequences would follow.
Those came today when the Vatican announced that he had been “relieved of his duties” as bishop of the diocese, and declared the see vacant.
The pope named an apostolic administrator for the diocese until a new bishop is appointed, the Vatican said. He is Monsignor Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela Rios, bishop of the diocese of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo.
The Vatican statement concluded by saying that Pope Francis “asks the clergy and all the People of God in Ciudad del Este (diocese) to accept the provisions of the Holy See in a spirit of obedience, docility and disarmed soul, guided by faith.” Furthermore, he “invites the Church in Paraguay, guided by its pastors, to (engage in) a serious process of reconciliation and the overcoming of internal dissension (‘factiousness’) and disharmony, so that the face of the one Church... and ‘the flock of Christ’ may not be deprived on the joy of the Gospel.”
UPDATE (9:59 ET): A statement issued by the Apostolic Nunciature in Paraguay today said the Pope took the decision after the bishop refused to resign when requested to do so by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, following the Apostolic Visitation last July.