Pope Benedict reportedly vouched for priest accused of abuse

The conflict between the Vatican and Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay was sparked by accusations made this past March that the bishop promoted a Catholic priest who had been barred from ministry after church officials said he molested several boys. He was reportedly vouched for in 2005 by the newly elected Pope Benedict. Vatican officials now sent there have taken disciplinary actions against the priest and the bishop.

In a rebuttal to Rome, the diocese said that the priest, Urrutigoity, has been subject to “a long and harsh defamation campaign in the U.S.” and said that he came “recommended by some cardinals with roles in the Vatican.” He also claims to have been vouched for by Benedict XVI days before his election in 2005. Benedict has been praised for toughening church policies against priests who partake in abuse. Before his election as pope, he ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has charge over all abuse cases.

Urrutigoity was accused of abuse in a lawsuit in Scranton, Pa., in 2002, which was a highly publicized event at the time. He and another priest were suspended by Bishop James Timlin over allegations that they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst. The diocese reached a $450,000 settlement in the case. The Bishop’s successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, shut down the Society of St. John. The group was founded in part be Urrutigoity, which has seen some controversy of its own in the pasy.

By that point, however, Urrutigoity moved to Paraguay to rebuild the society under the auspices of Livieres. The group was seen as similar to the group Opus Dei, which has roots in extreme conservatism. Martino then alerted Livieres and the Vatican ambassadors to the U.S. and Paraguay about the accusations against Urrutigoity. Livieres, the bishop at the time, accepted the Urrutigoity and eventually named him a monsignor and even appointed him vicar general, which is the second-most powerful position in any diocese.

Media reports in March about his promotion prompted the Scranton bishop to talk about the objections to the priest serving in ministries and a lengthy article in the Global Post about Urrutigoity’s career set in motion the chain of events leading to the clash between Bishop Livieres and the Vatican. The online rebuttal by the diocese focuses on the Urrutigoity case but also serves as a chance for the bishop to defend himself against a string of criticisms of his conservative policies and positions on church issues and politics in Paraguay.

The rejoinder concludes in a dramatic way, invoking the events portrayed in the 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” a statement said about the events in the movie. “They were also accused by questionable ecclesiastics in alliance with powerful lobbies and politicians,” it says, talking about the irony of Francis himself being a Jesuit from South America who seems set to “write the story” of that suppression “in a new way.”