Monday, September 29, 2014

On the Dismissal of Bishop Livieres

For those among you who have been following the story regarding the recent dismissal of Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, there may be some confusion as to the reason for the dismissal. And that would be perfectly understandable, given the batch of headlines circulating the internet: 
As it turns out, Bishop Livieres was not removed from office because of his having "protected a pedophile priest". This was confirmed by Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi a few days ago. Fair enough. But why not? By all accounts, it would have made the whole dismissal much more palatable. No one wants pedophiles in the Church. The priest in question - one Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity - seems to have been all but convicted of sexual misconduct. And Bishop Livieres promoted this priest to the position of Vicar General of the diocese. So, why not avoid the rather ambiguous issue of "the greater good of the unity of the Church in Ciudad del Este", which does nothing to squelch rumors of an ideological battle between Bishop Livieres - a man personally commissioned by Pope John Paul II to combat Liberation Theology in South America - and his fellow bishops, condemn the man as guilty by association, and be done with it?

Because Bishop Livieres covered his bases. Thoroughly.

When his episcopal confreres began making allegations against him in regards to Fr. Urrutigoity back in 2008, Bishop Livieres published a detailed "Open Letter" which made clear that he did not consider the matter lightly before employing the priest. In fact, he checked with every conceivable authority on the matter and, outside of obtaining a papal blessing, received nothing but approval for his plans to incardinate Fr. Urrutigoity. A translation of the letter is reproduced below for your consideration:

Information Regarding Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity

Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano

Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano
(Photo: Paul Haring/CNS)
Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity is a priest incardinated in my Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and Superior of the Priestly Society of St. John, a community approved by the Holy See in a letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze dated April 2, 2005.

From 2001 to 2005, there was a vigorous internet smear campaign against this priest, who was being accused of alleged sexual abuse. As this information has begun to be spread about by some of the unscrupulous among the faithful of Ciudad del Este, it is my responsibility to make clear the truth of the matter.

I have devoted much time and energy to the investigation of the case of Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity. Given the dramatic nature of the allegations appearing on the internet, it was my duty as bishop to be sure of his innocence before finally accepting him into my diocese. Also, I found the case very interesting, being myself a civil lawyer and having a doctorate in canon law. So I inquired in detail in regards to the particulars of the case and consulted with experts in both law and in secular and religious priestly formation who were familiar with the breadth of the matter. They also recommended the Society of St. John to me, and Fr. Urrutigoity in particular. I worked on this issue closely with the Papal Nuncio, who was always very knowledgeable about everything, and proceeded only with permission. I am sure not only of the innocence of Fr. Urrutigoity but also of his suitability for priestly ministry. All here in Ciudad del Este have seen that he is a very good priest, faithful to the life of prayer and completely dedicated to working with the faithful.

Contrary to what you read on the internet, the first thing to be said is that there neither are nor ever were any criminal proceedings against Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, neither under civil law nor canonlaw. This is because, despite the many allegations that appear on the internet (all of which are being orchestrated by the same source) saying that the Church in the U.S. found the allegations of sexual abuse of minors to be credible, no minor has ever accused Father of such things.

We all know that recently there was a campaign of accusations against priests in the U.S. which were investigated by the civil and ecclesial authorities under strong pressure from the media. The alleged charges against this priest were also investigated independently by two district attorneys in the state of Pennsylvania. As is common knowledge by the reports of the media at the time, the prosecutors’ offices did not proceed with any criminal proceedings due to lack of merit, that is, because there were no serious and credible allegations.

As regards canon law, the congregation with competence in this area is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This Congregation, after extensive research, both in the U.S. and in Rome, ruled on the case in question in a letter to Bishop Joseph Martino, Bishop of Scranton, dated July 20, 2005 (238/2004-21480 Prot), which failed to raise a canonical trial against Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity because, despite what was being said on the internet, there was not a single charge made by minors against the priest: “It is evident from the information contained in the records that no canonical offense took place, and thus no criminal proceedings will be initiated.”

When Bishop James Timlin, former Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, the home of the priest in question, made intense investigations into the first accusations – the same accusations which now appear on the internet as “proven” – they were completely discarded. The Bishop investigated the matter personally, assisted by the civilian legal counsel of the Diocese, the Assistant Bishop and the Vicar General. To ensure greater objectivity, the information thus obtained was then evaluated by the independent Diocesan Review Board, consisting of notable lay people, in November 2001, with a summary of findings being written by James Early, Diocesan Chancellor. It made clear that “there were no explicit and direct complaints about inappropriate sexual activity on the part of Fr. Urrutigoity.”

Accordingly, Bishop James Timlin stated repeatedly, in public and in writing, that it was his moral conviction that the allegations were not only false, but were motivated by economic interests and personal vendettas, kept alive by a vigorous smear campaign that lasted more than four years, both on the internet and in local newspapers. For the sake of brevity, I quote only one of the press statements, made on February 15, 2002: “As the Bishop of Scranton, I continue to support the Society of St. John wholeheartedly during these very difficult times. I urge everyone not to come to any negative judgments regarding the allegations made against two of the Society’s priests without verifying all the facts. It is confusing and difficult to arrive at the facts because of all the erroneous accusations being made by enemies of the Society. The Society at this point is alive and well and deserves the support of its friends.”

The Diocese of Scranton also received a great many letters containing positive testimonials from alumni, parents, managers, colleagues and the faithful of the Society of St. John in support of Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity and the other members of that institution. These faithful reports, made either spontaneously or in response to official inquiries made by the Diocese, claimed not only the innocence of this priest, but also his moral and spiritual integrity, and the excellent fruits of his apostolic work.

As is standard in such cases, Fr. Urrutigoity was also subjected to an extensive psychological evaluation. To ensure the objectivity and independence of the criteria, there were two evaluations made, each taking one week: the first was conducted by the Rev. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Franciscan priest and renowned psychologist in the U.S., and the second by the Southdown Institute in Canada. The two agree categorically as to the heterosexuality of the priest, with no grounds for reservation. Not to dwell unduly, I quote but one passage of the report (Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist): “In regards to what some have argued as being concerning indicators of sexual immorality concerning [Fr. Urrutigoity] … some right-wing conservatives are so paranoid that they are perfectly capable of killing someone’s good name with absolutely no proof other than his own suspicions … I have not seen anything in these tests and reports pointing to even a hint of homosexual tendencies.”

Finally, I would like to give my own personal testimony. I have known Fr. Urrutigoity and his family since 1991. Added to this is the direct experience I’ve had of him as a priest in active ministry serving under my direct supervision for three years in my diocese. For two of those three years, he has lived with me in the Bishopric. I must highlight his most correct priestly behavior and delicate, pastoral effectiveness. I have also received very positive testimony from many faithful who have known him here in Paraguay. I would also like to express my admiration for the spiritual and human qualities of the members of the Society of St. John who have accompanied Fr. Urrutigoity in my diocese.

In my recent travels to Rome, I spoke at length about this matter with Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and the Vice President of the Commission itself, Monsignor Camille Perl. Both thanked me for what I – at their suggestion – was doing with the members of the Society of St. John. I have already noted that I informed the Apostolic Nuncio with the details of this case, and only proceeded with approval. I have in my files copies of everything I have said here, including numerous testimonials of students and faithful.

I agree with Bishop James Timlin that the smear campaign (more than 500 pages of emails and internet articles orchestrated by one person!) against Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity was motivated by ideological vendettas and strong economic interests.

I want to assure everyone that I have never protected or concealed anyone guilty of any crime. My actions in these cases has been very clear, especially in regard to priests with allegations of sexual abuse. In all three cases I tried and found someone guilty – a legal act with weight – and one of them became noted in the local press because it involved Saltos del Guaira. [?] But just as I have not hesitated to condemn the guilty, so have I never punished an innocent victim of slander. I am certain of the innocence of Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity and have very much positive evidence of his priestly work. The Church needs many good priests, and I will not sacrifice any, regardless of the strength of the storms unleashed against them.

It is true that there have been real cases of abuse worthy of our condemnation. But there have also been innocent priests and religious convicted on false accusations and smear campaigns. Innocence is to be presumed, and in this case, was found after much investigation by both the U.S. civil authorities and those of the Church.

The Church needs many good priests. Defend those we have and pray that Our Lord may multiply the number of sacred ministers in the future.

+ Rogelio Livieres
Bishop of Ciudad del Este

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