Scratching my head about the bishop in Paraguay

I will be the first to admit that what we do not know about this case, could fill volumes.  However, there are a few curiosities that leave me scratching my head.

Here is a story form CWN about the Paraguayan bishop recently relieved of his mandate by Pope Francis.

Keep in mind that while the Supreme Pontiff exercises full jurisdiction in the Church and that his decisions have no appeal, should the Supreme Pontiff want there to be sound rule of law through the Church at every level, he, too, will observe the laws of which he is the Legislator.  So, the removal of bishops by the Pope should have some canonical basis.  It doesn’t have to, technically, but it really should.

Let’s have a look:

Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, [Argentinian, by the way, and Opus Dei] who was removed from his post in Paraguay, has issued a bitter complaint, charging that other bishops conspired against him [which is plausible] and saying that Pope Francis “must answer to God” for his removal.  [Which is true.  We all must answer to God for all that we do or fail to do that we ought.]

The deposed bishop, in a letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, said that he was being “persecuted” for his orthodoxy, [!] and complained that he had not been given an opportunity to defend himself.

The bishop’s letter, which was leaked to the media in Paraguay, [who knows by whom] said that the action against him was “unfounded and arbitrary.” He angrily charged that although Pope Francis has spoken often about “dialogue, mercy, openness, decentralization, and respect for authority of the local churches,” he did not give Bishop Livieres a chance to “clarify any doubts” about his ministry. [In my discussions with Argentinians recently, I have come to learned, from explanations made by the same Argentinians, that their dialogue tends to be blunt even to the point of rancorous.]

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, observed that the bishop’s letter was “a very violent reaction.” He remarked to reporters: “Maybe it is easier to understand why there was a problem.” [No.  That actually doesn’t help at all.  “Blunt speech” and “voicing an opinion” are not a canonical basis for removal from office unless the opinion is obviously heresy.]

Father Lombardi had earlier said that Bishop Livieres had been removed from office because of his discordant relations with the other bishops of Paraguay. [Again, how is “not getting along with others” a canonical basis for removal from office?] Most observers have agreed that the case pivoted on the bishop’s decision to promote a priest who had been characterized by an American diocese (Scranton, Pennsylvania) as a danger to children. [And yet Fr. Lombardi clarified the other day that the case of the Vicar General was not a major element in the decision!  So, which is it?  By the way, that choice for VG was really a bad move.  No question.  What was he thinking?]

I am left with some questions, but it is unlikely that we will get answers.  I am not sure we need answers.  However, since some answers that don’t add up are being offered, I am left scratching my head.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have a problem with the removal of bishops who are a disaster.  It may be that removal of this bishop was surely founded on canonical grounds and for good reasons.  But when the reasons given publicly don’t add up very well, I start to wonder what’s really going on.  Removal of a bishop is a serious event.  It should make everyone stop and think about their own conduct in their own state of life.

This is an “examine your conscience” moment for all of us.

Oh… and another thing.  This Argentinian bishop serving in Paraguay will be criticized by liberals for fighting back.  But those same liberals praised the Bishop of Toowoomba in Australia for getting all feisty.   He, you see, was “prophetic”, but the Paraguayan must be an “ideologue”.

Moderation queue is ON.

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  1. Lavrans says:

    I have been meaning to ask Father Z, as well as other commentators here, what is done with “former” bishops? They have received the fullness of Holy Orders and thus have an indelible mark upon their souls. They can’t be fired from “being” bishops, just from “acting as” bishops. So what do you do with them? Will there be a “lost bishop colony” started somewhere, with a ministering future-saint taking care of them? Like the lepers of St. Damien?

  2. Tamquam says:

    It is unfortunate that personalities and politics play such an out sized role in relations among the clergy, but the Church is full of humans and their foibles. Personally, I’d rather have blunt and rancorous than passive aggressive and unctuous.

  3. Gratias says:

    The Bishop was earmarked for this fate already in 2011. This article in Portuguese explains how Cardinal Bergoglio and the Argentine priests opposed him.

    Good Bishop Livieres had 200 seminarians, [?!?] all trained in both forms of the Latin rite Mass.

  4. Gratias says:

    Acción Liturgica has many important links in this article in defense of Ex-Bishop Livieres.

    I wonder if the Opus Dei is going to fall more generally in disfavor. They are very prominent in the Spanish speaking world and more conservative than the Jesuits. In this country Bishop Finn of the Opus Dei is also under visitation.

  5. Muret says:

    Dear Father: Here are a few facts thats I know firsthand and might help with the head scrathing.
    Bishop Livieres established a Seminar in Ciudad del Este (CdE) when he was apppointed by BXVI, which has now nearly 250 seminars [seminarians], all of thema which are trained in the Latin Mass rite. The parishers are devastated by the news, because Bishop Livieres is a very well respected and loved Pastor. Paraguay´s former President was former Bishop Lugo, who was forced to quit his Office by Parliament two years ago because of his disastrous socialist administration. He gravely embarrased the Church because, once in Office, it was kown that he had several lovers among his former flock, including children with some of them. All this is Public, it was all over the news, and I only mention it because the current Bishop of Asunción (and the one who pointed the gun and fired it againts Bishop Livieres) wsa his right hand man in the Diosece for many, many years. Such was the general state of the Church in Paraguay when Bishop Livieres came in. Now, he managed to have more seminars than the whole of Paraguay. Go check the Diocese of Ciudad del Este’s web site, look for the Murales de Ciudad del Este iconography murals. Unique in Paraguay. Lectio Divina was reverently followed and prayed. Processions through the city attracted thousands.
    Seminars came from Argentina and Brasil (despite opposition from local Bishops). Tradition was thriving in that place. An then Jealousy and Pride entered the stage and Father Urrutugoity was used by the devil to end all this. Father Urrutigoity was behind all this revolution that gave hope and faith to Ciudad del Este . I know because I have eyes and ears there and personally know many seminarists there. When Bishop Livieres was accused of givinh harbor to Father Urrutigoity (being from Argentina, after all, and believing in his innocence after having him by his side for ten long, hard and fruiful years) bluntly replied by saying out loud what everyone there knows about the Bishop of Asunción. This was a public statement and I will not repeat it. It was bad. Very bad.
    Then came the visitation. Livieres was orally called to Rome, where the newspapers knew before he did that he was “dismissed”. No one gave the bishop any written report on the visitation. No such report exists for the visitation to the diocese was a sham prepared to excuse a future removal of an outstanding bishop. They did not do anything other than interview a few seminarians and priests. Hardly a pastoral visit. No documents, financial statements or papers were asked for.
    Like we are saying around here: Ciudad del Este is now Ciudad Desolada.
    May the Lord join all this suffering to His Cross and turn it into abundant Grace.

    [Again, there is a lot we do not know. Also, the fact remains that the appointment of Fr. Urrutugoity was a very bad idea. That said, the Holy See Press Office states that Fr. U aas VG played only a minor role in the dismissal of the bishop. Therefore, we have to look for reasons elsewhere.]

  6. dans0622 says:

    The problem (or, at least a problem) here is that canon law contains no mention of the removal of diocesan bishops (cf. canon 416). Certainly, I think this should be a stated possibility in the law but it is not. Whenever a bishop is removed, then, it’s almost a guarantee that the “process” will be illusory and it will be easy to say that proper canonical procedure was not followed. The response could easily be “sure it was. The pope acted.”

  7. JBS says:

    Perhaps we can hope the Holy Father intends to begin removing extremely “liberal” bishops, but wanted to take the present action for the sake of providing some kind of balance. Otherwise, it’s all a little depressing.

  8. anna 6 says:

    And remember that it took years for the bishop of Toowoomba to be removed. Benedict called him to Rome and tried to convince him to resign after many attempts to convince him to change his ways, but to no avail. A letter with notes from B16 regarding this matter was part of the “Vatileaks” cache and it clearly demonstrates the patience and paternal care the Pope Emeritus took with this very difficult situation.

  9. PA mom says:

    This Bishop had 200-250 seminarians?!? [That number surprised me too. I’d like to know more about that. This is either incredibly good or a serious cause for concern.]

    By their fruits you will know them.

  10. marcelus says:

    Much much more than that indeed. the” I’m conservative so they are kicking me out” is in danger of becoming fashionable as with the case of the Bishop of Lintz was it ?

    I know not many are familiar with spanish, therefore can not read some reports , but there are so many out there saying otherwise.

    Bare in mind, almost all actor are Argentinians so I trust the Pope on this one clearly). Let’s not forget that Livieres was “offered” to put in his resignation and avoid all the scandal and he chose otherwise….

    ABC is the Paraguayan newpaper:

    1.Corruptions case here: He was accused of using millions of Guaranies (Pgy currency) coming out of the Itaipu binational Damm as per a special agreeament, money to be used in helping out kids needed of medical assitance. women subject to domestic violencie, street & abandoned children, singgle pregnant women and so,

    Money was used instead for the Seminar, phone billls, gas etc etc. Millions!!

    2: His seminary was “turning out” priests after only 4 years of study whereas a minimum of 6 are required at a mayor seminary aparently. he was warned to put an end to this.

    3_ the now famous Urrutigoity child molesting accusations bot in the US an Switzerland ?

  11. Bea says:

    From an Argentinian Catholic Newspaper:
    Además, y siguiendo con lo anticipado, hemos sabido que el mismo día de su arribo el Nuncio comunicó a la madre del Obispo, anciana de casi 90 años y en silla de ruedas, que dadas las circunstancias debería dejar el lugar donde vivía; aunque podía tomarse un tiempo prudencial para su mudanza. La digna señora se fue inmediatamente. Menos mal que somos católicos. ¡Cómo se han de tratar los pagans!

    Besides, and following what was anticipated, we have learned that the same day of his arrival the Nuncio communicated to the mother of the Bishop, elderly of almost 90 years of age and (confined) to a wheelchair, that given the circumstances she should leave at the place where she lived (this was at the Archbishop’s residence): although she could take a prudential time for her departure. The dignified lady left immediately. (Menos mal-not translatable) (to our credit?) that we are Catholics. Thus are we treated as Pagans! and/or How we must treat the pagans!

    This has me scratching my head even more.

  12. Whatever may be said by whomever now, the 7/10/2014 National Catholic Register article , announcing the pope’s apostolic delegation to visit the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, indicates that Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity–who somehow landed there as vicar general of the diocese after his dismissal for alleged sex abuse in the U.S.—was the original pretext for and center of the investigation:

    Father Carlos Urrutigoity, an Argentine native who is the vicar general for the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, is described by the Diocese of Scranton, which suspended him in 2002, as ‘a serious threat to young people.’

    CIUDAD DEL ESTE, Paraguay — Pope Francis will send an apostolic delegation to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este to investigate the vicar general, who has a history of sexual-abuse accusations.

    Archbishop Eliseo Ariotti, apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, announced July 2 that the Pope will be sending an apostolic visitation to the diocese July 21-26 “to determine not only what has happened recently, but all there is to see in the house of Ciudad del Este.”
    . . . . .
    Father Carlos Urrutigoity, an Argentine native, is a vicar general for the Ciudad del Este Diocese, but he served in the Diocese of Scranton from the late 1990s until 2002, when a highly publicized lawsuit accused him of sexual misconduct involving minors at the now-closed St. Gregory’s Academy.

    A statement on the Diocese of Scranton website describes Father Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people” and says that Bishop Timlin’s immediate successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, cautioned the bishop of Paraguay against accepting Father Urrutigoity as an active priest.

    Those who were taken in by the now-infamous Society of St. John founded by Fr. Urrutigoity know what a rotten apple he is. Evidently, taking him in as vicar general was a mistake that a bishop, especially an apparently heroically orthodox one surrounded by hostile progressives, could not afford to make.

  13. CrimsonCatholic says:

    This is a PR nightmare, the Vatican would have done better if they didn’t make a statement at all as to why the Bishop was removed. Now the traditionalist and orthodox Catholics will claim that the Pope is clearly against orthodoxy , and the the leftist claim that the Pope is now enabling child abusers because he didn’t remove Bp. Livieres because of the promotion of Fr. Urrutigoity.

    Which ever the case, from all I have read Fr. Urrutigoity shouldn’t have been in a active ministry, let alone VG.

  14. albizzi says:

    Anyways, this dismissal after the FFI’s destruction, FSI’s inspection, Card. Burke’s malting and Bp Finn’s visitation looks very suspicious and unfair.
    In my own diocese, a vey holy parish priest, wellknown in France and elsewhere, Fr Zanotti-Sorkine, was forced to exile to another diocese with 7 (yes, seven) young men of his parish who wanted to become priests. None of these future seminarians had the fortune to please the archbp.
    There are some slandering rumours saying the archbp is a freemason.

  15. Robbie says:

    Sadly, this move seems to fit what was done to the FFI. I, too, had read recently the seminary in this district had well over 200 seminarians who were trained in both forms of the Mass. So when it was announced the Bishop had been removed, apparently with great support from the liberal Bishops in the region, my first thought was he was too orthodox. Hopefully, that concern will be proven wrong,. Given some of the recent actions coming from Rome, though, I’m not too optimistic.

  16. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Regarding the points raised above by Gratias, historically there has been much mention of the antipathy of the Jesuits for Opus Dei/the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. But surely as a man whose weltanschaung and ecclesiology are radically focused on the virtue of mercy our HF would not give truck to such old fashioned prejudices. Perhaps it is the historical proximity of the Churches of Argentina, Spain, and Italy to the fascists that would make him wary of Opus Dei. But this would be also puzzling, for while the priests and laity of Opus Dei have been unfairly saddled with accusations of having abetted fascists, so indeed has Papa Bergoglio. The mind buckles under so many layers of possible meanings and ironies in this case.

  17. xgenerationcatholic says:

    If it is this easy to remove bishops and you don’t even have to say why, then why the heaven weren’t bishops such as Weakland removed long before they retired?

  18. Gerard Plourde says:

    As Fr. Z points out, there is much that we don’t know about the situation. Our best recourse is to pray for the Holy Father that the Lord, through the action on the Holy Spirit, grant him wisdom and discernment in this matter and also for Bishop Livieres Plano, that he may recognize and follow the will of the Lord in his service to His holy Church.

  19. AdamRules247 says:

    Fr., I have read one statistic, though it haven’t seen it any where else, and it may just have been a blog comment, that 50% of those who applied for this seminary/diocese were actually rejected by the bishop, which seems to imply fairly high standards. If anyone could confirm this stat I would be most interested.

    If the thing about them only have 4 years training is true then this is most troubling. Further because it suggests that there was little scope from this seminary for further study (thus meaning this bishop’s men won’t have a hope of being future bishops). However, if the 4 years training is true, it doesn’t reflect well on the national seminary, the bishop having withdrawn his men due to lack of proper formation (by which we can assume he meant intellectual, moral, liturgical, etc.)

  20. Luciano says:

    marcelus, the ammount donated by Itaipu Damn to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este sums 300 000 dolars in cash and a property valued at 1,5 million dolars, according brazilian press. It’s a lot of money in a poor country like Paraguay, but aren’t millions of dollars.

  21. cresci says:

    This number of seminarians is common on most major dioceses in South America. São Paulo, Santo Amaro and Rio de Janeiro have reached these same peak numbers of 200-250 – sometimes going down to half, the numbers are very distinct – in the last 15 years.

  22. ChrisRawlings says:

    The Pope kept a photo of St. Josemaria Escriva on his desk in Buenos Aires. I have also heard that one of his advisors/spiritual directors is a lay member of Opus Dei from Uruguay. I hardly think that he harbors a bias against Opus Dei.

  23. Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, observed that the bishop’s letter was “a very violent reaction.” He remarked to reporters: “Maybe it is easier to understand why there was a problem.”

    Father, I think this might be where we are going wrong. I am not sure Fr Lombardi is entirely playing with a straight bat (as we say in my country).

    As a press officer and PR person, he will choose to express the matter in the light in which he wants the mainstream media to see it, eg. ‘Look at this hothead’.

    The paedophile issue is a major one, but it may also have been a wonderful opportunity for this bishop’s enemies to shuffle him off as well. It could well be both.

  24. Let us pray for all that are involved

    I’d much rather there be 4 years of orthodox formation, rather than 5 years of heresy :) and if priests are being formed in both rites I can’t see it as a bad thing.

  25. marcelus says:

    Luciano says:
    1 October 2014 at 7:48 pm
    marcelus, the ammount donated by Itaipu Damn to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este sums 300 000 dolars in cash and a property valued at 1,5 million dolars, according brazilian press. It’s a lot of money in a poor country like Paraguay, but aren’t millions of dollars.

    Thank you Luciano: I never mentioned U$S , I said Paraguayan currency if you loom carefully.

    ChrisRawlings says:
    1 October 2014 at 8:36 pm
    The Pope kept a photo of St. Josemaria Escriva on his desk in Buenos Aires. I have also heard that one of his advisors/spiritual directors is a lay member of Opus Dei from Uruguay. I hardly think that he harbors a bias against Opus Dei.

    Chris:Spot on.the OD runs many institutions in Argentina and are held in high regard, My kids were born at one of their hospitals,

  26. Joe of St Thérèse said:
    “I’d much rather there be 4 years of orthodox formation, rather than 5 years of heresy :) and if priests are being formed in both rites I can’t see it as a bad thing.”

    Exactly. Proof is in the final results. Is the system meant to train and form holy men of God, or amateur pop psychologists and sacrament dispensers? I would rather see 4 years of rigorous, orthodox training in the Fathers, Summa, liturgy, homiletics, and true pastoral training than 5 or 6 or ? years of feminist-lead ‘studies’ in modernist pap.

    We see the result of the latter…maybe it’s time to get back to the basics. Perhaps (and there is no way we’ll ever know for sure, but, the official statements really don’t pass a ‘smell test’) this is just one more manifestation of what happens when you ‘rock the ecclesial boat’.

  27. robtbrown says:

    My guess is that there a few things in play here:

    1. This pope is big on national or regional episcopal conferences. (I said before that what is at stake in the coming Synods is doctrine but rather the authority of those conferences [esp. German] to decide the applications of doctrine in the bad marriage/Holy Communion situation.

    2. If this bishop had a full seminary, that means that probably he had seminarians from other dioceses, so that would have meant resentment from the other bishops.

    BTW, for those not familiar with the history of the French-SSPX problems, a similar situation existed. The French seminaries were empty, and French seminarians were joining the SSPX. So the French bishops blamed Lefebvre for “stealing” French seminarians.

  28. robtbrown says:

    should be: is NOT doctrine

  29. MikeM says:

    Pope Francis talks as if he wants to ratchet down the exercise of papal authority, but, from what I can tell, he’s as far into the “iron fisted” side of the spectrum as any post VII pope. I don’t know if that’s good, bad or neutral, but it seems that when he talks about Papal authority, he means something other than what we (or, at least, I) have thought he meant.

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