ROSARIO, Argentina — The Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope Francis appointed an extraordinary administrator to fill in for a Brazilian bishop who’s been arrested for allegedly stealing over $600,000 from his diocese’s funds. The announcement came only two days after Bishop Jose Ribeiro and several priests of the diocese were arrested.
Ribeiro and the five priests were arrested on Monday and on Wednesday the Vatican announced Francis had appointed Archbishop Paulo Mendes Peixoto of Uberaba to serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese.
The statement from Rome, however, does not mention the arrests, technically, Ribeiro hasn’t been removed from his post. The term used in the press release is “sede plena et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,” used in rare occasions when the bishop is unable to continue leading the diocese.
Prosecutors in the state of Goias allege that those arrested used the diverted money to buy a cattle ranch and a lottery store. As part of the investigation, local courts had authorized prosecutors to wiretap the telephones of the accused.
Douglas Chegury, the prosecutor in charge of this case, told local media that Ribeiro is also suspected of stealing from parishioners in the diocese of Janaúba, a city north of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais where he served from 2007 to 2014.
“The bishop faced this same type of problem in the Diocese of Janaúba,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying by Brazilian news site G1. “He was transferred from there to here, where he implemented a similar scheme.”
The ongoing investigation by prosecutors and police started in 2015, following complaints by parishioners. In an interview with local media two years ago, Ronaldo denied any wrong-doing.
On March 20, the Brazilian bishops’ conference issued a statement in which they expressed solidarity with the parishioners of Formosa.
“Justice is to abandon oneself to the merciful will of God,” the statement reminds Ribeiro. “The truth of the facts must be determined with justice and transparency, for the good of the individual church and the bishop.”