National Catholic Reporter

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Vatican intervenes to remove a priest in Paraguay accused of sex abuse in US

Vatican City

The Vatican has ordered a Roman Catholic diocese in eastern Paraguay to remove a priest accused of sex abuse in the U.S. and to restrict the activities of the bishop who hired him.

Pope Francis sent a cardinal and an archbishop to investigate Carlos Urrutigoity in the diocese of Ciudad del Este. The two men visited the country July 21-26.

The removal is the latest demonstration of the pope's "zero tolerance" of clerical abuse, and it suggests priests suspected of child abuse in one country can no longer find shelter in other countries.

In 2002, Urrutigoity was accused of sexual abuse of minors in a highly publicized lawsuit in the diocese of Scranton, Pa. He and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory's Academy. The diocese reportedly reached a $400,000-plus settlement in the case in 2006.

Urrutigoity, a native of Argentina, was transferred to Canada before settling in Paraguay.

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The Vatican's spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirmed Wednesday that Urrutigoity had been removed from his position as vicar general, or deputy bishop, of the diocese on July 14.

"He has not been suspended. He has been removed from the position," Lombardi said.

During his visit to Paraguay, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello also told Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano not to proceed with any further ordinations of priests in Ciudad del Este, Lombardi said.

The cardinal will report his findings from Paraguay directly to Pope Francis, and Lombardi said it was unclear whether the Vatican would take further action.

Earlier this year, Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera expressed concern about Urrutigoity's career advancement in Paraguay, saying "warnings regarding this cleric's suitability for ministry have not been heeded."

In a message on the diocese website, the bishop went further and urged anyone who has "suspected, witnessed or suffered abuse at the hands of Father Urrutigoity" to report it to authorities.

"Transferring predator priests to different dioceses or countries is dreadfully irresponsible," said David Clohessy, executive director of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "SNAP has been demanding that this dangerous predator be ousted since March."

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