A delegation from Pope Francis to Paraguay to investigate the handling of sex crimes committed by priests against minors was received by the president of the republic, Horacio Cartes. In a statement earlier this month, the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to Paraguay, Archbishop and apostolic nuncio Eliseo Ariotti announced July 2 that the visitation to the second largest diocese in the landlocked country is charged “to determine not only what has happened recently, but all there is to see in the house of Ciudad del Este.”

Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, who serves as  archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, is leading the investigation, with assistance from Bishop Milton Troccoli Cebedio of Uruguay.  The cardinal is also the president of the Vatican’s  Commission of Cardinals of the Institute of Works of Religion – which is one of the Vatican’s banks. A skilled diplomat, he is considered one of the key advisors to Pope Francis.  Following the July 21 meeting with President Cartes, Cardinal Abril y Castelló emphasized the good relations between the Vatican and Paraguay’s government. “I know that there are good relations and we hope that they will continue to be so; this is simply a courtesy visit to the President,” said the cardinal when answering media questions. He also said, “Logically, the faith of Christians is not something that is solely about the relationship with God, because it is also a relationship which also aids in the betterment of human societies.” The Vatican delegation will remain until July 24.

The delegation is investigating Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, a native of Argentina who currently a vicar general for the Ciudad del Este diocese. He also served in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, from the late 1990s until 2002. He left the United States following a highly publicized lawsuit accused him of sexual misconduct involving minors at the now-closed St. Gregory's Academy. Both Fr. Urrutigoity and another priest, Fr. Eric Ensey, were suspended by Bishop James Timlin. The now-retired bishop also suspended the Society of St. John to which the priests belonged.

The Diocese of Scranton has described Fr. Urrutigoity as a “serious threat to young people” and that Bishop Timlin's successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, cautioned the bishop of Paraguay against accepting Fr. Urrutigoity. “Bishop Martino … carefully and consistently expressed his grave doubts about this cleric’s suitability for priestly ministry and cautioned the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese,” the diocese statement reads.

“Despite these serious cautions, Bishop Rogelio Livieres informed the Diocese of Scranton that he was allowing Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his Paraguay diocese.” The Diocese of Scranton also expressed its ongoing efforts to fight abuse within the Church “despite what appears to be a lack of reciprocity in this particular case.” Bishop Joseph Bambera, who currently presides over the Scranton diocese, has said that cases of sexual abuse are appalling and leaves profound wounds, while he called for the establishment of safeguards.

The Diocese of Ciudad del Este stated earlier this month that the visitation has been “long awaited,” while noting that Bishop Livieres had invited Vatican invesigators to “know of all the work being realized in this area of the country” and “about our vibrant and growing diocese.”

Archbishop Tróccoli, as part of the current investigation, visited a seminary in Ciudad del Este and interviewed the rector and other staff in a closed-door consultation.  For his part, Cardinal Abril y Castelló met on July 22 with Bishop Rogelio Livieres of Ciudad del Este. The meetings took the better part of a day. Priests who were ejected from the diocese were also given an opportunity to give testimony. The cardinal will meet with members of the presbyteral council of the diocese and also visit several parishes.  There is a possibility that the cardinal will meet with lay Catholics who want to air suspicions about alleged irregularities committed by diocesan officials, including sexual misconduct and embezzlement. 

Ciudad del Este lies in the eastern part of Paraguay on the Parana River and next to Brazil and Argentina. Narcotrafficking, drug smuggling, money laundering, and river traffic are the mainstays of the economy there.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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