Priestly Society of St. John Abolished (of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay)

Ciudad del Este: Dissolution of the Society of Saint John (CSSJ) by Bishop

 Legacy of Bishop Livieres Dismantled

(Asuncion) On March 16, the Priestly Society of St. John (CSSJ) has been abolished by Bishop Wilhelm Steckling of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The abolition is connected with the removal of Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, who was deposed in 2014 by Pope Francis. Both interventions have something in common: they were done without official naming of reasons, were accompanied by dirty media speculations and are part of a hard factional debate on the understanding of the Church. 

Vocations crisis is no natural phenomenon

When Bishop Rogelio Livieres was deposed by Pope Francis in the late summer of 2014, the Holy See gave no reasons for the radical intervention. Officially, it was never disclosed what the bishop who died in 2015 during an operation had been accused of doing. This provided more space for speculation. From the Pope's decree, however, it was clear that Bishop Livieres had disturbed the "concord" in the Episcopal Conference. In Paraguay, which strongly progressive and liberation theological, lay the crux of the matter.

Bishop Rogelio Livieres (1945-2015)

Bishop Livieres belonged to Opus Dei . He was appointed by Pope John Paul II, and took over a diocese on ropes, which had hardly any priests. Until then, the seminarians of all the dioceses of the country were trained in a central national seminary in Asuncion, whose mind was formed on liberation theology. Bishop Livieres withdrew his seminarians and founded his own seminary. The education was oriented to the teachings of the Church, the sacramental priesthood was emphasized and the reverence for the sacrament of the altar was lived. In the parishes, the bishop intensified the religious instruction by founding Bible study groups and the formation of catechists. In addition, Eucharistic worship and the celebration of Holy Mass were promoted in the traditional Rite.

The diocese prospered, as the strongly increasing number of donated sacraments showed. In the diocesan priestly seminary of Bishop Livieres, almost three times as many seminarians were preparing for the priesthood in 2014, as in the national priestly seminar of all other dioceses. Bishop Livieres had thus proved that the claimed crisis of occupation and the consequent lack of priests represented no natural phenomenon, but could be overcome, and made a considerable part of it.

The dismissal of Bishop Livieres

In fact, the bishops of the other Paraguayan dioceses, indeed the bishops of the whole world should
 have had to travel to Ciudad del Este to study what Bishop Livieres had done and taken over this model as much as possible. The opposite occurred. Bishop Livieres was perceived by the other bishops as a trouble maker, which also had to do with his clear language. Under Pope Benedict XVI Livieres was left alone to do his work. With the election of Pope Francis, it was likewise with the traditionally oriented and equally successful young order of the Franciscans of the Immaculata.
Bishop Livieres, moreover, was Argentinian, like Pope Francis. They knew each other and were obviously not fond of each other. In vain Livieres asked the Pope to receive him. He demanded the right to know what he was accused of and having the possibility of defending himself. Nothing of the kind was granted him. He was lured to Rome so they could exchange the door locks in Ciudad del Este for the episcopal residence during his absence. Pope Francis left Bishop Livieres in Rome in front of closed doors. The bishop learned of his dismissal while waiting for an appointment in the Vatican, from the media.

The new bishop: seminary shut, priestly community abolished

Bishop Wilhelm Steckling OMI

Pope Francis appointed the former General Superior of the Oblates of the Immaculate Virgin Mary (Hunteel Oblates), the newly-appointed Bishop of Ciudad del Este, of the Westphalian descent, Wilhelm Steckling. In 2016 the diocesan priestly seminary, the bone of contention was finally dissolved. The seminarians of Ciudad del Este have been studying since then in the National Seminary in Asuncion. In the Bishop's Conference of Paraguay, "Unity" reigned.
On the 16th of March, Bishop Steckling has raised another piece of the legacy of Bishop Livieres. He had promoted the establishment of various religious and priestly communities in his diocese, which are faithful to the doctrine of the Church, including those who cultivate the traditional rite.
Among the communities supported by Livieres was the Priestly Society of St. John (Comunidades Sacerdotales de San Juan, CSSJ), founded in 2008 in the Diocese of Ciudad del Este by four priests, which was canonically recognized as a society of the Apostolic Life. The Society consisted of a parish in the diocese and had its own seminary and a branch in Argentina. In the joint seminary, almost 40 seminarians were preparing for the priesthood.
Reasons for the abolition of the Society and the seminary were not mentioned by Bishop Steckling. In the diocesan press release, there is only the following lapidary statement:
"We invite those who have been members of the CSSJ society to participate actively in the life of the Church, which offers many options regarding spiritual life and ministry. The seminarians have the opportunity to continue their education as future priests at the National Seminary of Paraguay or within the framework of religious congregations."

Urrutigoity - the charge for all cases

Carlos Urrutigoity

The media has pointed out in the past few days that one of the founders of the Society of St. John, Carlos Urrutigoity. Urrutigoity, who previously belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, had studied at the seminary in Argentina and was ordained a priest for the FSSPX. In 1999, he was incardinated in the US diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, because of "subversive behavior." He was suspected of having sexually abused a teenager in 2002 in the USA. There was no conviction.
The Argentinian Urrutigoity had been admitted to Ciudad del Este under Bishop Livieres, and he had been assigned as the Vicar General in 2012-2014. In 2015, he left the diocese and returned to his native Argentina. The diocese announced his departure, without mentioning reasons. Bishop Steckling only said in general:
"The Scranton diocese in Pennsylvania, where Don Urrutigoity used to be, assured me that there were no cases pending. That he does not enjoy a good reputation is another problem. "
Urrutigoity has received a lot of attention in recent years. This does not have to do with his challenging personality. In Paraguay, he seems to have provided a general complaint, which is pulled out of a hat like a rabbit for every purpose. In 2014 he served in the media and behind the scenes as a main charge against Bishop Livieres. The Paraguayan juvenile court prosecutor, on the other hand, declared that there was nothing against the Argentine priest. As soon as Livieres had left, Urrutigoity also disappeared from the media in order to reappear.  Again as the unofficial justification of the dismissal.

Counterweight to Liberation Theology - "New Clergy"

Neither the dismissal of Bishop Livieres, nor the abolition of the Priestly Society of St. John is directly connected with Urrutigoity. The reasons for the bishop's dismissal have already been explained. For the same reasons, the priestly community was also abolished, the orientation of which was disturbed by unabated faith. Above all, the majority of Society seminarians came from the diocesan priestly seminary of Bishop Livieres, who did not want to continue their studies at the central priestly seminary in Asuncion.

In reality, behind the Ciudad del Este case, is a fundamental strife in the Church involving the understanding of what the Church is, and fidelity to the Catholic doctrine of faith. Pope John Paul II had appointed Livieres as diocesan bishop to initiate a renewal of the church of Paraguay. A counterweight to the prevailing course was to have been created. Corresponding excitement prevailed when Liviere's nomination was announced in 2004. Livieres saw his primary task of creating a "new clergy" for Paraguay, with which the change of course was to be carried out. The Opus-Dei bishop was on his way. Since in 2014 90 percent of the Paraguayan dioceses had only 28 percent of the seminarians, Bishop Livieres has already trained 72 percent of the future priests.
The Priestly Society of St. John tried to preserve the legacy of Bishop Livieres and at least partially became a catch basin. This is unacceptable in a country where the bishops attach such importance to Liberation Theology, witnesses such as Fernando Lugo, who resigned his bishop's office, because it was more important to be a political activist for the office of State President, and the Archbishop of Asuncion was suspected of being an active aberrosexual. Both were publicly criticized by Bishop Livieres. This is not the behavior with which one makes friends. With the return of Pope Benedict XVI. this was still possible. When the latter resigned, the retribution followed apace.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI's attempt in Paraguay of a change of course must be regarded as a failure. Seeds were nevertheless dispersed and have not yet been completely eradicated.

Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Photo: ABCcolor / Cronica / Periodista Digital (Screenshots)
Trans: Tancred
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