The Strange Case of Bishop Livieres' Removal

(photo: YouTube)

There has been increasing disquiet and accusations of injustice over the forced removal of a Paraguayan bishop, ostensibly because of his “difficult” relations with other bishops and priests.

The Vatican has said Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano was removed last month not so much because he appointed a priest accused of sexual abuse as his vicar general or allegations of embezzlement – as many had thought – but because of internal disagreements.

“The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Sept. 26. Concerns about the former vicar general, Father Carlos Urrutigoity, were “not central, albeit have been debated,” he added. "There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy and relations with other bishops," Father Lombardi said.

But that being the case, a leaked letter Livieres wrote to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, still points to a possible injustice. In the letter, Bishop Livieres insisted he had not had an opportunity to defend himself, that other bishops conspired against him, and that he was being “persecuted” for his orthodoxy (in an interview with CNS, he said it was because of his opposition to liberation theology, a claim rebuffed by Father Lombardi as "naive").

He even went so far as to say Pope Francis “must answer to God” for his removal. The action against him was “unfounded and arbitrary,” he said, and added that despite the Pope’s calls for “dialogue, mercy, openness, decentralization, and respect for authority of the local churches,” he did not give him a chance to “clarify any doubts or concerns” about his ministry.

Strong words, to which Father Lombardi responded by saying the bishop’s letter was “a very violent reaction,” adding that “maybe it is easier to understand why there was a problem.”

But none of this negates the fact that Bishop Livieres, who is an Opus Dei numerary with reportedly an excellent track record in attracting vocations, appears not to have had a chance to defend himself and that, even though he was in Rome last week, was not granted an audience with the Holy Father to explain his side of the story.

Just as disconcerting for many is the assertion that ideological reasons have played a significant role in the bishop’s removal. If, as Livieres claims, he is being “persecuted” because of his orthodoxy, that is a very serious charge causing considerable unease, not least within Opus Dei.

The Vatican is not responding to calls for more detailed reasons why the bishop was removed, but the faithful, the bishop's supporters say, have a right to know. And if the reasons are valid and just, they argue, why not share them?


Oct .2: Sandro Magister has helpfully translated a detailed summary of Bishop Livieres' defense which can be read here.