Paraguayan bishop who shielded priest abuser removed from office

by Dennis Coday

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Pope Francis has removed from office a bishop, who defended a priest  against accusations of sexual abuse, following an apostolic visitation to the diocese in eastern Paraguay.

Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, 69, has been removed from heading the Ciudad del Este diocese, a statement from the Vatican press office said Thursday.

"This was a difficult decision on the part of the Holy See, taken for serious pastoral reasons and for the greater good of the unity of the Church in Ciudad del Este and the episcopal communion in Paraguay," the Vatican statement said.

Pope Francis sent a cardinal and an archbishop to investigate in the diocese of Ciudad del Este in July. After the July 21-26 visit, the Vatican ordered that a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, be removed from ministry and restrict the activities of Livieres Plano.

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. The diocese reportedly reached a $400,000-plus settlement in the case in 2006.

Urrutigoity, a native of Argentina, was transferred to Canada before settling in Paraguay.

Earlier this year, Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera expressed concern about Urrutigoity's career advancement in Paraguay, saying "warnings regarding this cleric's suitability for ministry have not been heeded."

In a message on the diocesan website, the bishop went further and urged anyone who has "suspected, witnessed or suffered abuse at the hands of Father Urrutigoity" to report it to authorities.

In July, Francis sent Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, the archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, and another archbishop to Paraguay to investigate Urrutigoity and Livieres Plano, who is a member of the conservative order Opus Dei.

The Vatican and has appointed Bishop Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela Rios of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, Paraguay, as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Ciudad del Este.

During an in-flight news conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land in May, Pope Francis described the abuse of children by priests as "such an ugly crime" and a "very grave" problem, the betrayal of a priest's duty to lead young people to holiness, comparable to performance of a "black mass."

"We must move ahead, ahead, zero tolerance," he said.

Francis said the church cannot have privileged "daddy's boys" exempt from punishment when it comes to sex abuse of minors. He said three unnamed bishops were under investigation by the Vatican for misdeeds related to sex abuse, and another had been found guilty and was awaiting punishment.

In July, the Vatican announced the apostolic investigation of Livieres Plano, and in August, the Vatican announced that Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and papal ambassador, had been laicized because he had sexually abused boys while serving in the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Wesolowski was under house arrest in Vatican City and would face a criminal trial under the laws of Vatican City State.

[Catholic News Service contributed to this report.]

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