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Bishop removed by Pope Francis claims he is the victim of an ‘ideological campaign’

Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano (PA)

An Opus Dei bishop who was removed by Pope Francis yesterday has said that he is victim of an “ideological campaign.”

In an open letter following the Vatican’s announcement, Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, 69 said that his removal was due to an ideological campaign by Paraguayan bishops in league with Vatican officials.

While the Vatican did not list specific reasons for the bishop’s dismissal, it came just a few months after the Vatican had ordered him to stop ordaining priests amid ongoing allegations of sexual abuse committed by a high-ranking diocesan official.

A Vatican statement said the “onerous decision” to dismiss Bishop Livieres was made after a “careful examination” of the findings of a Vatican investigation conducted by the congregations for Bishops and for Clergy. An apostolic visitation to the diocese in July was led by Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril Castello, archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St Mary Major.

Just days before Cardinal Abril went to the diocese to conduct the canonical visit, Bishop Livieres removed Msgr Carlos Urrutigoity from his post of vicar general of the diocese “on the grounds of needing him to take on other tasks,” according to a comment July 30 by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Prior to moving to Paraguay in 2005, Msgr. Urrutigoity, an Argentine priest, held posts in Argentina and Winona, Minnesota. He was accepted into the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1997.

A 2002 federal lawsuit claims that while in Scranton, living at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, Msgr. Urrutigoity slept in a bed with a student to whom he “directed inappropriate sexual contact.”

The suit did not say whether the plaintiff was a minor at the time of the alleged incident. The case was reportedly settled in 2005 for a sum of $400,000.

After the suit was filed, then-Scranton Bishop James C. Timlin sent Msgr. Urrutigoity to Canada for psychological evaluation.

A statement posted on the Scranton diocesan website in March said Msgr. Urrutigoity “was identified as posing a serious threat to young people.” Diocesan leaders “expressed grave doubts about this cleric’s suitability for priestly ministry and cautioned the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese.”

In a letter yesterday to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Bishop Livieres did not mention Msgr. Urrutigoity. He claimed instead that the Vatican’s action was punishment for violating “ideological uniformity” among Paraguayan bishops. The bishop’s 1,400-word letter, which was posted on the diocese’s official website the same day, said he had raised the ire of other church leaders in the country specifically by opening a diocesan seminary to make up for the failings of the national seminary.

“The true problem of the church in Paraguay is the crisis of faith and moral life perpetuated by bad formation of clergy and the negligence of pastors,” he wrote.

Bishop Livieres also complained that he had never been shown Cardinal Abril’s report nor permitted to speak with Pope Francis during his meetings at the Vatican earlier in the week.

“As an obedient son of the church I accept, nevertheless, this decision, even though I consider it unfounded and arbitrary, and one for which the pope will have to account before God, though not to me,” the bishop wrote.

In July, a spokesman for the Ciudad del Este Diocese referred Catholic News Service to a statement that called the accusations against Msgr. Urrutigoity a “harsh campaign of libel and slander” coming from the United States.

That statement suggests the accusations against Msgr Urrutigoity were a political tool to discredit Bishop Livieres because the diocesan seminary, which opened in 2012, sought a “more radical application of the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council.”

The statement said the formation of the seminary surprised and angered Paraguayan church leaders, who then tried to dismantle it.

“A separate chapter in this history of opposition to our bishop and the new seminary is undoubtedly the attack on Father Carlos” Urrutigoity,” the statement said. “His case was used as a workhorse to question the pastoral achievements in the diocese.”

The statement said all allegations of inappropriate conduct were false.