On September 25, 2014, Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, 69, head of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay. He took the action to preserve the “unity” of both the bishops and the faithful” and “under the weight of serious pastoral concerns,” said the Vatican in a statement.
Bishop Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, repeatedly feuded with the other bishops in Paraguay over seminarian formation, liberation theology and pastoral tone.
He was appointed to the diocese by St. John Paul II in 2004 with a mandate, communicated to him by the papal nuncio at the time, to oppose Paraguayan bishops’ “monolithic” support for liberation theology. He said Pope Benedict XVI personally told him in 2008 that liberation theology was “the problem in all of Latin America.”
But Pope Benedict “had a very different orientation from the present pontificate,” the bishop said. “This is a pontificate opposed to the previous pontificate.”
Soon after he was installed, Bishop Livieres opened his own diocesan seminary in Ciudad del Este, marked by a more orthodox style then the main seminary in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion.
The man he appointed as his Vicar General, a position often responsible for the oversight of clerical sexual abuse, is the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity. Fr. Urrutigoity has been accused multiple times of sexual abuse of high school boys and seminarians in the guise of spiritual direction.
In 2002, Urrutigoity was accused of sexual abuse of young men in a highly publicized lawsuit in the diocese of Scranton, PA. He and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations that they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory’s Academy, a high school for boys operated by the Priestly Fraternity for St. Peter, an order devoted to the Latin Mass. The diocese reached a $400,000 plus settlement in the case in 2006. St. Gregory’s Academy closed in 2012.
A statement on the Diocese of Scanton, PA website describes Fr. Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people” and says that Bishop Timlin’s immediate successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, cautioned Bishop Livieres against accepting Fr. Urrutigoity as an active priest.
“Bishop Martino…carefully and consistently expressed his grave doubts about this cleric’s suitability for priestly ministry and cautioned the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese,” the statement reads.
When the archbishop of Asuncion, Eustaquio Cuquejo Verga, asked Bishop Livieres to investigate Fr. Urrutigoity, Livieres fired back publicly saying, “I think Cuquejo is a homosexual” to Paraguayan TV station La Tele.
In July 2014, Pope Francis sent a cardinal and an archbishop to investigate the Ciudad del Este diocese. They were looking into accusations of embezzlement in the management of the diocese’s finances, severing ties with other bishops, and protecting and promoting Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity in the face of numerous warnings by other dioceses.
Shortly after the July 21-26 visit, the Vatican ordered Fr. Urrutigoity be removed from ministry, and severely restricted the activities of Bishop Livieres, including removing his authority to ordain priests.
Although the Vatican did not specify Bishop Livieres’ financial irregularities, he was allegedly accused of using funds destined for needy and abandoned children, single pregnant women, and women subject to domestic violence, to cover phone, gas and other expenses at the seminaries he opened.
Fr. Ciro Benedettni, deputy head of the Vatican press office, said issues surrounding Fr. Urrutigoity were part of the reason for the removal of Bishop Livieres, but the main motive 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.
The downfall of Bishop Livieres has several similarities to the case of Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO diocese:
-Both bishops are members of Opus Dei.
-Both were outspoken promoters of Catholic orthodoxy.
-Both protected priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Either something doesn’t add up morally, or priestly sexual peccadilloes count for much less than doctrinaire correctness to Catholic tradition.