Pope Francis and Sex Abuse: Time for Another* Reality Check

By Betty Clermont

September 26, 2014

“Pope sacks Paraguay bishop accused of protecting abuser priest” or some similar headline was carried by newspapers and news agencies around the world yesterday, unanimously praising Pope Francis for “taking action” against a prelate for harboring a clerical sex abuser. Since such notorious guardians of offending priests as Twin Cities Archbishop Niensted, Kansas City Bishop Finn and Newark Archbishop Myers are still in place although petitions have been sent to the pope for their removal, and just about every hierarch appointed or promoted in the U.S. by Pope Francis has a dismal record in this regard, accurate headlines would have stated the real reason this bishop was “sacked.”

“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,” (emphasis mine) stated the Vatican. Not a word about sex abuse or the priest involved.

Yes, Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, 69, an Opus Dei priest, was removed as head of the Ciudad del Este diocese after refusing to resign and yes, Livieres had accepted Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, as a priest in his diocese and promoted him to vicar general or second-in-command. However, keeping the Vatican statement in mind, this is why Livieres is out and Myers et al are still in.

In August, the diocese of Ciudad del Este issued a long statement.

That document – itself a remarkable development (bishops don’t usually publicly refute Vatican sanctions) – claimed that Urrutigoity was wrongly accused, that he and Livieres were the victims of a smear campaign, and that Livieres invited Urrutigoity into the diocese on the recommendation of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now pope emeritus). The statement rebuked the archbishop of Asuncion [who had asked Livieres to investigate Urrutigoity] for “attacking” Urrutigoity, going so far as to allege that the archbishop himself was accused and “processed” for engaging in “homosexual activity.”

Some serious accusations – which were outlined and contested by the diocese – were made against Livieres in August: other Paraguayan bishops accused him of “breaking ecclesial communion”; his priests (and the Archbishop of Asunción, Pastor Cuquejo, “a staunch critic of Bishop Rogelio”) signed a petition protesting the pastoral methods adopted by the bishop and sent it to Rome. There were also disagreements over the seminaries. The prelate was accused of embezzlement and fraud in the management of the diocese’s finances and the controversial Carlos Urrutigoity case….
[The pope’s representative] asked Livieres “not to preside over ordinations”. Urrutigoity, meanwhile, “was relieved of his duties as Vicar General by Livieres on 14 July.”

As is often the case, it was the blessed work of BishopAccountability.com and Abuse Tracker which exposed Urrutigoity’s promotion to vicar general resulting in a series of articles written by Grant Gallicho in Commonweal and the international condemnation of Livieres which forced Pope Francis to take action. Yet, “Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of Catholic officials – from pastors to prelates – have ignored or concealed clergy sex crimes [including Pope Francis] and many are still ignoring and concealing clergy sex crimes.”

The media coverage got even worse. The AP’s Nicole Winfield wrote that Livieres’ removal “marks the second time Francis has kicked out a conservative bishop for the sake of keeping peace among the faithful and unity among bishops. In March, he ousted the ‘bling bishop’ of Limburg, Germany, whose $43-million new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.” Duh! Every active prelate in the world, including the pope and his electors, is conservative because each one was appointed and/or promoted by Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Not one has ever declared that contraception, abortion to save the life of the mother or same-sex marriage are moral choices. Also, Winfield could have mentioned the mansions of still-in-place U.S. hierarchs.

Earlier this week, “Pope arrests ex-envoy on child sex abuse” et al were the international headlines referring to Joseph Wesolowski, the former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic, secretly whisked out of the country in August 2013 by Pope Francis just before the broadcast of an expose accusing the archbishop of paying poor boys to masturbate and perform oral sex.

Although the Vatican kept Wesolowski’s location secret, many presumed that the ambassador was in Rome. It wasn’t until June when a bishop from the Dominican Republic spotted Wesolowski walking the streets in Rome that his whereabouts were confirmed.

After the New York Times recently put an article about Wesolowski on its front page, the next morning Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, made an announcement that the former ambassador – contrary to a year’s worth of news articles in the affirmative – did not have diplomatic immunity. Lombardi, however, must be aware that Dominican officials have said since the beginning that they could not extradite the ambassador because “there’s no extradition treaty between the Vatican and the Dominican Republic” and “that the Vienna Convention ruled out the request for extradition of the accused of child abuse. ‘The ideal thing would’ve been and our desire is that he be tried here, butthe law forbids us.’”

If Pope Francis wanted to protect children, Wesolowski would have been held inside the Vatican over a year ago. Yet he wasn’t arrested until Vatican investigators found him with child pornography. Additionally, “the Polish prelate represented a flight risk and Vatican prosecutors feared he might tamper with evidence.”

This morning, an Italian newspaper reported: [It was the discovery of Wesolowski's possession of child pornography] “that led to action being taken against him so quickly. There was a serious risk that the nuncio would be arrested on Italian territory at the request of the Dominican authorities and then extradited. In that case, he would have had to be imprisoned until proceedings with the Holy See were completed.”

*See previous reality checks

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