Two steps forward, one step back: mixed signals from Vatican on abuse and accountability

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 26, 2014

Yesterday, buoyed by the latest news from the Vatican, I concluded a happy comment by observing that with the removal of a Paraguayan bishop:

The message from Rome is loud and clear: It doesn’t matter what else you do; if you don’t protect children from abuse, you’re out.

Today the Vatican press office released a statement that loudly, clearly said something quite different. Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano was removed, we are told, because of his “difficult” relations with other prelates in Paraguay.

Really? Can a bishop be yanked out of office because he doesn’t get along with his colleagues? (St. Athanasius wouldn’t have survived under that sort of policy.) Are we to believe, then, that a failure to be cordial is a more serious offense than the promotion of a priest who had been declared dangerous to children?

And if there were tensions between Bishop Livieres and the other bishops of Paraguay, what was their source? Did they arise from differences of opinion about the value of liberation theology—as defenders of the deposed bishop now allege? Or was it, rather, the refusal of Bishop Livieres to recognize the need—which all his colleagues recognized—to safeguard young people?

One day the Vatican takes a decisive action, which is interpreted universally as a strong indicator of new seriousness about sexual abuse and episcopal accountability. The very next day the press office issues a statement that muddies the waters. Once again critics of the Church are saying that the Vatican doesn’t take the issue seriously, and defenders of the faith are sadly shaking their heads.

In other news, this week marked the first meeting of a Vatican commission set up to make some sense of the Holy See’s communications strategy. It can’t happen too soon.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Deo Vindice - Sep. 29, 2014 10:48 AM ET USA

    In retrospect to Pope Francis' recent accolades aside from the sex abuse scandles, and in regards to the more recent and historical liberal fundamentals of the bishops of Paraguay , i beleive this was a move by the Pope to rid of Bishop Livieres who does not see eye to eye with the Pope and with his colleagues in Paraguay on certain doctrinal and theological assertations. PRAY FOR OUR CHURCH AND THE POPE!!!

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Sep. 28, 2014 12:41 AM ET USA

    FYI , Bishop Livieres claims that the abuser priest was taken in on Pope Benedict's request.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Sep. 26, 2014 8:44 PM ET USA

    Francis' entire papacy to date has been replete with this kind of thing; mixed signals, or what seem at first seem to be very clear signals followed up immediately by denials. And in a few cases, a confusing scenario has been repeated, e.g. several enigmatic interviews granted by the pope himself. I'm not sure what is the goal of this chaotic behavior, but it's happened too often now to be fortuitous.