ROME — A conservative Latin American bishop fired by Pope Francis last September, who once claimed he was the victim of “ideological persecution” but later moved to reconcile with the pontiff, died Friday at the age of 69.
Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, a native Argentinian, died in Buenos Aires from complications related to diabetes. He had been the bishop of Ciudad del Estes in Paraguay before his removal on Sept. 25, 2014.
Before his death, Livieres reached out to the pope.
Last July, while meeting local bishops during his trip to Paraguay, Francis read a letter Livieres had written to the pontiff. In it, the bishop expressed his gratitude to the pope and his “full communion” with Rome.
According to a Vatican statement in September 2014, Francis removed Livieres from his post for unspecified “serious pastoral reasons” and “the greater good of preserving the unity of the local Church.”
News reports at the time noted the bishop’s vocal support for Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, a fellow Argentine, whom he welcomed into his diocese in 2003 after Urrutigoity left the Scranton, Pennsylvania diocese amidst sexual abuse charges.
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.
A 2014 statement on the Scranton diocese’s website identified Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people,” yet Livieres, who maintained Urrutigoity’s innocence until the end, made him vicar general of the diocese in Paraguay, in effect his second-in-command.
But the Vatican denied this was the reason for ousting Livieres.
“Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told members of the press at the time. “That was not the principal problem. There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy, and relations with other bishops.”
Lombardi didn’t provide much detail, but mentioned differences with other bishops over seminary education and alluded to Livieres’ remarks, in a television interview early last year, accusing the now-retired Archbishop Pastor Cuquejo of Asuncion, the national capital, of being gay.
Born in Corrientes, Argentina and a member of Opus Dei, a Catholic group with a profile for being fairly conservative, Livieres had been under investigation by the Vatican for several issues.
He had been at odds with fellow Paraguayan bishops for opposing the 2008 presidential candidacy of former bishop Fernando Lugo, a leftist close to the liberation theology movement in Latin America.
The Vatican had ordered Lugo not to run for president. He ran anyway — and won — but was expelled from the priesthood. He was impeached in 2012.
Livieres objected to Lugo’s candidacy for two reasons: He disagreed with the “confusion between religion and politics” that had led Lugo to leave the Church to join the ranks of a local leftist party, and he also complained of what he called the “moral and administrative” irresponsibility of the candidate.
After Lugo was elected president, it became public that he had had love affairs with several women and fathered more than one child. According to Livieres, the Catholic hierarchy in Paraguay had been well aware of the situation before they supported his candidacy.
Lugo wasn’t the only member of the local hierarchy Livieres criticized.
In a letter he personally delivered to Benedict XVI during a visit to Rome that was subsequently leaked to the press, the Argentine denounced the “doctrinal disorder” and “lack of coherence between the doctrine of the church on the one hand and the actions of bishops and priests on the other.”
Talking to local newspaper Última Hora, he denounced the Paraguayan Church for taking a different direction than that of the universal Church. Essentially, he said, the Church in the country had turned into “an NGO in the best of cases” and “an instrument of violence and class struggle” in others.
Regarding Lombardi’s comment about problems with the diocese’s management, as of last June, Livieres was being investigated for leaving a deficit close to $800,000 US.
Before relieving Livieres from his office, Pope Francis sent Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló and the Uruguayan Archbishop Milton Luis Tróccoli to Paraguay to investigate the diocese.
As a precautionary measure, Livieres 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, which Livieres had opened soon after being appointed to the diocese by St. John Paul II.
When the suspension of the ordinations was announced, Livieres confirmed the Vatican’s decision.
“It’s a precautionary move taken by the Holy Father until the situation is clarified,” he said at the time.
According to Livieres, the measure followed “wrongful, unfounded, and slanderous” stories told both by the Paraguayan Bishops Conference and the Vatican embassy in Paraguay.
“I will happily suspend everything [Pope Francis] wants me to suspend, because I do what God wants and God’s spokesman is the pope,” he said.
The seminary of Ciudad del Este is one of two diocesan seminaries in the country; the other is in Asunción. At Livieres’ request, future priests received formation to celebrate Mass in both the ordinary rite and the Latin form, and were ordained after only four years of formation (six is the normal requirement).
After he was deposed, Livieres wrote a short-lived blog.
Even though he had spiteful words for “the human devils” who had brought him and his seminary down, and labeled the pope’s decision as “unfounded and arbitrary,” he also wrote that he was accepting it as a sign of obedience and called for those who defended him to pray, be faithful to their vocation, and obedient to the new bishop.
Days before his death, Livieres welcomed in his hospital room, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, two of his fellow Paraguayan bishops: Archbishop Edmundo Valenzuela of Asunción, and Bishop Guillermo Steckling, his successor in Ciudad del Este. Witnesses defined the encounter as one “full of love, warmth, fraternity, and spirituality.”