Pope Benedict XVI OK’d abusive priest in Paraguay, local bishop says

Pope Francis sent a papal delegation to Paraguay to investigate the activities of the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, a priest accused of sex abuse in Pennsylvania.
Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 24, 2011. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

(RNS) A showdown between Pope Francis and a conservative bishop in Paraguay is heating up as the bishop rejected charges that he sheltered a priest accused of sexual misconduct, and claimed that Pope Benedict XVI himself vouched for the suspect cleric just days before his election as pope in 2005.

The conflict between the Vatican and Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este was sparked by revelations in March that the bishop had promoted a Catholic priest who had been barred from ministry in Pennsylvania after church officials there said he molested several boys.

Last month, Rome dispatched a cardinal and an archbishop to Paraguay to investigate, and on July 30 the Vatican said it was removing the priest, the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, from his job as the diocese’s No. 2 official. It also took the unusual step of barring Livieres from ordaining any men to the priesthood.

In a detailed and sharply worded 12-point rebuttal to Rome, the Paraguayan diocese said Urrutigoity has been the subject of “a long and harsh defamation campaign in the U.S.” and said he came “recommended by some cardinals with roles in the Vatican.”

Pope Francis is sending a papal delegation to Paraguay to investigate the activities of the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, a priest accused of sex abuse in Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy P. Alvarenga, Vanguardia

Pope Francis sent a papal delegation to Paraguay to investigate the activities of the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, a priest accused of sex abuse in Pennsylvania.

One of those cardinals, it said, was Joseph Ratzinger, who “was elected pope Benedict XVI a few days later,” in April 2005.

Benedict, who resigned in February 2013, has been praised for toughening church policies against abusive priests. Before his election as pope, he ran the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has jurisdiction over all abuse cases.

Urrutigoity was accused of abuse in a highly publicized lawsuit in Scranton, Pa., in 2002. At the time, he and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, now closed. The diocese reportedly reached a $450,000 settlement in the case in 2006.

Timlin’s successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, who is also retired, in 2005 shut down the Society of St. John, a conservative group that Urrutigoity had founded; the group was known for promoting the old Latin Mass and for lavish spending.

By then, Urrutigoity had moved to Paraguay, along with a number of priests and lay people from Scranton, to reconstitute the society under the auspices of Livieres, a member of the Opus Dei order who had developed a reputation as an outspoken conservative, even in the Paraguayan hierarchy.

At the time, Martino alerted Livieres and the Vatican ambassadors to the U.S. and Paraguay about the accusations against Urrutigoity, which a church review board had found credible.

But Livieres accepted the Argentine-born Urrutigoity, eventually named him a monsignor and then appointed him vicar general, which is the second-most powerful position in a diocese.

Media reports in March about Urrutigoity’s promotion prompted the current Scranton bishop to reiterate the objections to the priest serving in ministry anywhere, and a lengthy story in the Global Post about Urrutigoity’s checkered career also helped set in motion the chain of events leading to the confrontation between Livieres and the Vatican.

The online rebuttal by the Paraguayan diocese focuses on the Urrutigoity case but also serves as a chance for the bishop to defend himself against a range of long-standing criticisms — many from his fellow bishops — of his conservative policies and positions on church issues and Paraguayan politics.

The rejoinder concludes on an especially dramatic note, invoking the events portrayed in the award-winning film “The Mission,” about Rome’s suppression of Jesuit evangelization efforts in Paraguay in the 18th century.

“The growth and strength of the People of God in Paraguay was cruelly maimed” as a result of those events, says the statement, which is set to the famous soundtrack of the 1986 film.

“They were also accused by questionable ecclesiastics in alliance with powerful lobbies and politicians,” it adds, noting the irony that Francis is himself a Jesuit from South America who is set to “write the story” of that previous suppression “in a new way.”



About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • As Jesus himself said, “Be on the watch for false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering but inside are ravenous wolves.

    By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they?

    Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit; a good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit.

    Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown in the fire. Really, then, buy their fruits you will recognize them. (Matthew 6:15-20). We can see what kind of fruitage there is here.

  • This story heightens the disgusting situation of sex abuse and sex by so-called celibate clergy in the church. When will definitive action be taken? Never! Not until people from the pews are added to those who investigate all these claims of sex abuse and sex and the hiding of charges, the obstruction of justice ceases. and those people from the pews are given a full part in church management at all levels. The main purpose of the hierarchy is to keep the people in the pews who pay all the bills from having any say in church matters.

    As Bishop Livieres himself attempts to undo the will of the People of God as represented by them at the Second Vatican Council, he is blatantly undoing the will of the church and he himself should be removed. He has a bold history of defying that Council. He was able to get away with that with John Paul II and Benedict because they also despised and defied the Council over and over.

    Francis must clean up the church. It appears it is already too late. The church has become too big and it has failed. Benedict has a lot of nerve hanging over Francis’ shoulder in the Vatican gardens. He should have gone home to Germany when he retired instead of lingering like a threatening icon over Francis’ shoulders.

    The only salvation for the church will come when its management ceases to be the sole domain of clergy. The church exists for the people in the pews. The people in the pews pay all the bills. It is long past the time when the people in the pews demand a real part in running their parishes, their dioceses, and the international church.

    Celibacy should be dumped. It was foolishly instituted for material reasons more than a thousand years after Jesus. Women should be ordained. Most of our cultures today are shining with enlightenment about gender. When are we going to put it to practice?

    Bishops, like “Bling” in Germany and Meyers and Gregory in the United States, and many others around the world, even in poverty-stricken Africa, would not be allowed to build or live in mansions of luxury paid for by the people in the pews if those people had something to say about it.

    Francis and his “cabinet” must take positive and quick action. After all, he is in his advanced years. How much more time does he have? How much more time do we have?

  • You are right, Max. Too many of the clergy are totally corrupt, plain fakes. The fox is guarding the henhouse. As with the government of the United States, the government of the church will continue rolling along in filthy corruption as long as canon law is distorted to limit the management of the church to the clergy.

    The people in the United States accept all the corruption in their governments. In fact, the elect it, hire it–over and over. From every parish level up to the selection of pope, the people in the pews should be fully included. There is no hope for any good from the church until that happens. The people in the pews must be part of all management, from parishes up to cleaning out the clerical filth in the Vatican.

    How good can the church be even if the people in the pews are part of management? Look what we have in this so-called democracy at local, state, and federal levels. Corruption! Plain, bold, blatant corruption! And we put up with that rot in our civil governments just as we put up with rot at all levels of church management.

    The people in the pews must put an end to clergy claims that they are the bosses.

  • We have to become practical about all this human rot. Quoting the bible is no way to clean out the filth that pervades the church.

  • I will never quote from the Quran or the Book of Mormon, but from the Bible, since that is what my faith and beliefs are based on.

    False religion will receive its due judgment from God for misrepresenting him and its actions through the centuries according to the Bible (Revelation 17 and. 18). Its demise will be swift.

  • Here is how you end this sort of pedophilia

    Christianity is an exculpatory system created to permit evil.

  • If you think that things like this are usually are about something much deeper, you’re right. Here is a very good article explaining the real conflict: (Use Google to translate.)
    And for those interested, here ( ) is a good summary of the truth of the matter regarding Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity.