Action Alert!

Another giant step forward in the Vatican's fight to stop abuse—and demand accountability

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 25, 2014

Just yesterday I made the observation that Pope Francis has ratcheted up the intensity of the drive against clerical abuse, by authorizing the arrest and prosecution of former papal nuncio Josef Wesolowski. Today, with the removal of Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, the ratchet clicked several more steps.

In the Wesolowski case, the Vatican moved against a prelate who was himself accused of sexual abuse. Other bishops have been removed for personal misconduct in the past decade, although the severity of the disciplinary action against Wesolowski—laicization followed by criminal prosecution—is unprecedented.

But in the case of Bishop Livieres, there is (as far as I know) no charge that the bishop himself engaged in sexual misconduct. The complaint is that he harbored and even promoted a priest whose past was littered with complaints of abuse.

Father Carlos Urrutigoity, the priest at the center of this drama, is a remarkable character. Ambitious, energetic, and unflinching in his doctrinal orthodoxy, he has persuaded many good Catholics to pour their financial support into his projects. (In all those respects, his story is like a sad replay of the scandal created by Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ.) The Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, had warned that Father Urrotigoity was a danger to children. Bishop Livieres chose to ignore that warning.

In other respects, Bishop Livieres appeared to be a successful pastor of souls; he had an admirable record for drawing young men into the priesthood and gaining new members for the Catholic Church. By removing him, Pope Francis has demonstrated a real “zero tolerance” policy. 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.

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 See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Sep. 28, 2014 12:44 AM ET USA

    Yes. I'm not the Pope but who am I to judge is the only thing I can say. And in such muddy matters I ought to say it gladly!!

  • Posted by: LAR - Sep. 26, 2014 5:03 PM ET USA

    If it is a "giant step" then why was Cardinal Godfried Danneels personally appointed by Pope Francis to the Synod? The selection is remarkable because Danneels was caught on tape in 2010 urging a victim who had been sexually abused by a bishop-friend of Danneels, to be silent.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Sep. 26, 2014 2:06 PM ET USA

    Indeed, Bruno. The comments from the Holy See suggest that St. Charles Borromeo would not be tolerated as a bishop today, since the disruption this bishop created appears (from what one can find online) to be that he was calling his fellow bishops to greater fidelity to the faith. This is somewhat concerning. But the case is obviously quite complex, especially with the Urrutigoity angle. Who am I to judge?

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Sep. 26, 2014 7:09 AM ET USA

    But how come the Vatican itself has said that the removal was not related to the protection of Urrutigoity - whom, Livieres claim, was accepted in response to Benedict XVI's request?