Paraguayan bishop ousted by the pope scrutinized for his spending
Children awaiting surgery and women fleeing domestic violence never saw the US$350,000 donated for their benefit. Then, there were the questionable property sales and the money for a cleaning business partially owned by a relative.
In the months since Pope Francis ousted the bishop of Paraguay’s second- largest diocese, questions keep surfacing about the Rev. Rogelio Livieres Plano’s management of church money.
As Paraguayan Catholics prepare to welcome Francis during his South American tour that starts July 5, new leaders of the diocese in this eastern border city are trying to erase the debt left by the controversial bishop, raising money through raffles and bingo games. Many parishioners are demanding answers.
“The former bishop ran things like a mafia,” said Carlos Pereira, a humanities professor at the Catholic University in Ciudad del Este. “How did we end up in debt? What happened to the diocese’s properties, to all its assets?”
The diocese is US$ 800,000 in debt, a considerable sum in one of South America’s poorest countries. The arrears have come to light since Livieres Plano, a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement, was pushed out in September.
The 69-year-old former bishop has denied any wrongdoing. Multiple attempts to locate Livieres Plano for comment, or find someone able to speak on his behalf, were not successful. Church of- ficials and a spokesman for Opus Dei said he is hospitalized in Argentina with diabetes complications.
It is not clear what became of funds belonging to the diocese of nearly 1 million church members. Critics claim, but have not proven, the former bishop used church money to enrich his family, support a gambling habit and live lavishly. An Associated Press review found that during his decade as bishop, Livieres Plano did make several questionable spending decisions.
Property records show that, in 2013, Livieres Plano sold two parcels for US$ 400,000 and US$202,000. He did it without the Vatican council approval required for financial decisions in Paraguay worth more than US$150,000.
In this May 14 photo, girls wearing veils participate in a confirmation ceremony at the Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.