The bishops of Ecuador gathered in Riobamba, 2018. Image credit: Bishops’ Conference of Ecuador.
Bishop, coadjutor of Ecuadorian see resign amid misconduct allegations, Ecuadorian bishops deny scandal By Eduardo Campos Lima
The Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference denied that the resignation of the bishop and the coadjutor bishop of Riobamba, accepted by Pope Francis on April 28, had actually been a “destitution”, after a missionary in the diocese made allegations of grave misconduct earlier this year.
In a statement titled Denying Falsehoods, published to the Conference’s website on the same day the Press Office of the Holy See announced the pope’s acceptance of the resignations, the Ecuadorian bishops claimed that “a series of lies and falsehoods had been spread in regard to the acceptance” of the Most Rev. Julio Parrilla Díaz’s resignation as the bishop of Riobamba, an Andean city which is the capital of Chimborazo province.
The Ecuadorian bishops’ statement said that the only reason for Bishop Parrilla’s resignation was reached limit of age. The prelate turned 75 years old on March 25, thus reaching the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignations. The pope, however, is not required to accept the letters of resignation.
The Ecuadorian bishops’ statement called the rumors “false” and “without foundation” and said they “seek only to dishonor a pastoral action performed with tireless dedication to the poor through the local and national Caritas and with an intelligence that neutralizes the ideological attitude of those who have posed as judges of virtue and masters of truth.” The bishops’ statement was signed by Archbishop Luis Cabrera of Guayaquil, president of the bishops’ conference.
According to the statement, Father Gerardo Nieves, who had been appointed in October of 2020 by the Vatican as the coadjutor bishop and resigned before consecration in February, decided to do so for “personal reasons which nobody has the right to put in judgement.”
In January, Spanish-born lay missionary Julia Serrano published a letter on the Spanish website Redes Cristianas with serious allegations concerning the operations in the diocese of Riobamba.
Serrano said that the diocese had a “price list for Masses and sacraments.”
“For example, last year people were charged US$ 5 (five dollars) for the funeral prayers. Besides the cost of the Mass,” she said in her open letter.
“Riobamba became a pagan diocese full of blessings and subjected to the buying and selling of pastoral services. It sold its soul for the proselytism of popular religiosity instead of evangelizing it,” Serrano continued.
She also mentioned the “homosexuality in the Riobamba church,” a situation that allegedly had been denounced by a priest in the past but was left unresolved.
Another allegation included in Serrano’s letter is that some priests in the diocese have children. “The Church’s hierarchy has imposed celibacy and many other precepts, but most people don’t comply with it,” she added.
According to Serrano, Bishop Parrilla had established a clericalist way of operating since he arrived in Riobamba eight years ago, in which laypeople can’t occupy “any position of responsibility and decision.”
Serrano arrived in the region in 1983 and worked for a couple of years with Bishop Leónidas Proaño (1910-1988), one of the leading figures of Liberation Theology in Latin America. Proaño was the bishop of Riobamba for more than three decades and became known as the “bishop of the indigenous people” for his support of native and peasant communities.
Serrano accused Bishop Parrilla of taking the diocese far from the course charted by his predecessor, Bishop Proaño. In an interview published on the Spanish language website Religión Digital, she claimed that “Bishop Parrilla tried to erase Bishop Proãno’s memory from churchgoers’ lives.”
On April 30, Rev. Parrilla called a press conference and reaffirmed that his resignation was connected to his age.
“I haven’t faced any kind of lawsuit, not a civil one, not a canonical one or one of any other type,” he told reporters.
Without mentioning Serrano’s name, Rev. Parrilla said that she hasn’t had any missionary role in the diocese for at least eight years. “In other times yes, she had been a very active person, but at least for eight years we haven’t seen her in any assembly, any work department, any meeting or Mass. Never,” he said.
Bishop Parrilla accused Serrano of being more guided by the “strength of ideology” than by “ecclesial communion and faith.”
“I believe that in Church we can dissent, we’re not clones. There are distinct theological schools and distinct ways of operating pastorally, but all that shouldn’t break communion,” he added.
He said that he doesn’t acknowledge any accusation and leaves Ecuador — he’s going back to Spain — with clear conscience.
“The accusations are not supported by evidence. […] I cannot agree with the acts of personal dishonor that were carried out in letters [previously released],” he said.
According to Fr. Carlos Ignacio Man Ging SJ, a professor of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, there’s no special reason for scandal in the diocese of Riobamba, and the media case was caused by an internal conflict.
“Chimborazo’s Church has an important history with Bishop Proaño, who established a plan for the promotion of the indigenous and peasants’ rights, transforming their reality. With a new bishop, there have been changes, and for some they were outstanding,” he told the Catholic Herald.
According to Fr. Man Ging, there has been a general transformation in the way of doing pastoral work over the past years, and many longtime missionaries resented the changes. “But all the Church in Latin America lived the same process, not only Chimborazo,” he argued.
Fr. Man Ging considers that a communication rift probably worsened the situation in the diocese, generating the conflict.
The Catholic Herald tried to contact Julia Serrano and was informed that she wasn’t answering press inquiries following medical advice.
The Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference informed on April 28 that the Vatican appointed Bishop José Bolívar Piedra Aguirre, currently an auxiliary in Cuenca, as the new apostolic administrator of Riobamba.