ROME — Pope Francis has fired a bishop in Paraguay who sheltered a priest accused of sexual abuse of minors in the United States, though to what extent the abuse charges figured in the bishop’s ouster isn’t yet clear.
The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis has removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano as the bishop of the small diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, citing “serious pastoral reasons” and “the greater good of preserving the unity of the local church.”
Livieres Plano is associated with the abuse scandals because of his decision to welcome Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, a fellow Argentine, into his diocese in 2003 after he left the Scranton, Pennsylvania diocese facing abuse charges.
A statement on the Scranton diocese’s web site earlier this year identified Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people,” yet Livieres Plano, who maintains Urrutigoity’s innocence, made him vicar general of the diocese in Paraguay, in effect his second-in-command.
Urrutigoity was named in a highly publicized abuse lawsuit in Scranton in 2002. At the time, he and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations they had sexually molested students at a local Catholic school. The diocese reportedly reached a $450,000 settlement in the case in 2006.
The Urrutigoity affair, however, is hardly the only aspect of Livieres Plano’s record that generated alarms in Rome.
Born in Argentina and a member of Opus Dei, a Catholic group with a profile for being fairly conservative, Livieres Plano was also under Vatican investigation for alleged misappropriation of funds, for frayed relations with his fellow bishops in Paraguay, and for changes he decreed in the formation process for future priests.
Among other things, Livieres Plano had been at odds with fellow Paraguayan bishops for opposing the presidential candidacy of former bishop Fernando Lugo, a leftist close to the liberation theology movement in Latin America.
The disagreement between Livieres Plano and other bishops burst into public view when Archbishop Pastor Cuquejo of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, requested a Vatican investigation during an interview with a local radio station.
In a subsequent interview, Livieres Plano opposed bluntly, suggesting Cuquejo should “mind his own business” and openly accused Cuquejo of being homosexual.
Last July, Pope Francis sent Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló and the Uruguayan Archbishop Milton Luis Tróccoli to Paraguay to investigate the diocese of Ciudad del Este.
As a precautionary measure, Livieres Plano removed Urrutigoity from his job as the diocese’s No. 2 official days before the intervention conducted by Albril y Castelló started.
In what was perceived as an unprecedented measure, days after the investigation was over, the Vatican suspended the ordination of new priests from the seminary of Ciudad del Este, opened by Livieres Plano.
When the suspension of the ordinations was announced, Livieres Plano confirmed the Vatican’s decision stating that he had received in writing the pope’s disposition.
“It’s a precautionary move taken by the Holy Father until the situation is clarified,” he said at the time.
According to Livieres Plano, the measure followed “wrongful, unfounded and slanderous” stories told both by the Paraguayan Bishop’s Conference and the Vatican’s embassy to Paraguay.
“I will happily suspend everything he [Pope Francis] wants me to suspend, because I do what God wants and God’s spokesman is the pope,” he said.
At the moment, no declaration has been made by Livieres Plano, his diocese or the Paraguayan Bishop’s Conference, but sources close to the bishop told Crux that he’s “at ease with the announcement and has placed himself at the disposal of the Church.”
Since he wasn’t transferred but removed, he no longer serves a diocese. This places Livieres Plano in the category of “wandering bishops.”
He will be replaced by Bishop Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela.
The removal of Livieres Plano, announced by the Vatican this Thursday, follows the house arrest on Tuesday of ex-Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski. The former papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic is accused of sexually abusing children and, if found guilty, could face six or seven years in a Vatican jail.
The Vatican has said Wesolowski also could be extradited to either the Dominican Republic or Poland if they make a request.