VATICAN - Pope Francis has dismissed a Paraguayan bishop accused of protecting a priest suspected of sexually abusing young people, the Vatican said on Thursday.
A statement said the pope had removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his post as head of the diocese of Ciudad del Este and named another bishop to run it as an administrator for the time being.
The sacking followed a Vatican investigation of the bishop, the diocese and its seminaries, said the statement, which gave no details.
Vatican sources said the bishop had refused to resign after the investigation and reports of irregularities in his diocese and clashes between the conservative Livieres Plano and other bishops in the country.
The Argentinian-born pontiff has vowed zero tolerance of clerics who abuse minors, after church scandals in several countries over many years. Last May, Francis called such abuse an “ugly crime” and likened it to “a Satanic mass”.
In a letter to the head of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, Livieres Plano said the decision was “unfounded and arbitrary” and added: “The pope will have to answer to God and not to me”. The letter, posted on the diocese's website, did not mention the allegation that he had shielded the priest accused of sexual abuse.
The Vatican's ambassador in Paraguay, Archbishop Eliseo Ariotti, told reporters in the capital Asuncion it would be up to the new administrator of the diocese to make decisions regarding the accused priest.
Ariotti said that as part of the disciplinary procedure against Livieres Plano, the bishop would not be allowed to say mass in public but only in private.
According to reports in Catholic media while the Vatican investigation was in progress, Livieres Plano had promoted a priest accused of sexual abuse while serving in the United States.
Livieres Plano had defended both himself and the priest, saying the charges were unfounded, Catholic media have reported.
The bishop was a member of the conservative Roman Catholic group Opus Dei and often clashed with more liberal clerics, according to the reports.
The Vatican said Pope Francis had taken the “onerous decision” to remove Livieres Plano after careful examination of the results of the Vatican investigation.
SNAP, a U.S.-based victims' group which has often called on the Vatican to discipline bishops suspected of covering up abuse, said it was “encouraged” by the move. It said Livieres Plano had “protected and promoted a credibly accused sex offender cleric”.
BishopAccountability.org, a U.S. resource center on sexual abuse in the church, called the move “bold” but said the Vatican should say if he had been “fired primarily because of his wanton disregard for the safety of young people” or because of his divisive behavior in his diocese.
The dismissal of the Paraguayan bishop came two days after the pope approved the arrest in the Vatican of a former archbishop accused of paying for sex with children while he was a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic.