Riobamba, Ecuador, Apr 29, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).
The Ecuadorian bishops have rejected claims that corruption was behind the unusual simultaneous resignation of a bishop and his presumptive successor. They said “false rumors” about the resignations aimed to discredit the Catholic Church’s pastoral work.
In reality, they said, Bishop Julio Parrilla Díaz of Riobamba resigned because of health reasons and because he had turned 75, the age established by canon law for bishops to submit their resignation.
For his part, Coadjutor Bishop-designate Fr. Gerardo Nieves Loja, 57, resigned for personal reasons, the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference said in an April 28 statement titled “Debunking Falsehoods.”
Fr. Nieves had been appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Riobamba Oct. 27, 2020. He had yet to be consecrated a bishop.
The conference said that on March 25, Bishop Parrilla submitted his resignation to the pope, citing his age limit and health problems. He had asked for the Pope’s “immediate acceptance,” said the Ecuadorian bishops.
The Holy See Press Office announced April 28 the resignations of both Bishop Parrilla and Fr. Nieves, who as coadjutor would have ordinarily replaced Bishop Parilla upon his resignation.
The Holy See also announced that Bishop José Bolívar de Piedra Aguirre, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cuenca, will serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese.
The Associated Press coverage of the resignations said Pope Francis had sacked “the leadership of the Ecuadorian diocese amid complaints” and in response to allegations of bad governance and moral failures.
The news reports citied as their source an opinion column by Spanish-born missionary Julia Serrano, who in January criticized Bishop Parrilla’s pastoral governance and questioned the “transparency” and “moral quality” of Fr. Nieves, his designated successor.
Claims included an alleged widespread practice of charging money for Masses and sacraments and an allegation that Fr. Nieves had caused an accident and left the scene. Serrano claimed the two clergymen did nothing about alleged homosexuality and did nothing in reaction to priests who had children.
In their statement, the Ecuadorian bishops defended Bishop Parrilla’s reputation.
“The credibility and evangelical integrity of Bishop Julio Parrilla have earned him the friendship, appreciation and admiration of very many people in our country, especially that of all his brother bishops,” the bishops’ conference said.
Regarding Fr. Nieves, the conference said his resignation was “due to personal reasons that no one has the right to question, since it involves what is most sacred in each person, such as his freedom and responsibility.”
The bishops’ conference commented: “if we are not able to discern between objective facts and ideological prejudices, between truth and personal interpretations, we are very far from the Gospel that should guide us all.”
The statement added: “This official news from the Church leaves without foundation the false rumors that only seek to discredit a pastoral program, carried out with tireless dedication for the most impoverished, through the national and local Caritas organization, and with a wisdom that disarms the ideological positions of who have become judges of virtue and teachers of truth.”
Serrano, writing in a January essay for the Catholic blog “Redes Cristianas” and the Spanish news site Religion Digital, had accused Bishop Parrilla of charging a “tariff for Masses and sacraments”
“Riobamba has become a pagan diocese flooded with blessings and given over to the selling and buying of pastoral services. It has sold its soul to the proselytizing of popular religiosity instead of evangelizing it,” the missionary charged.
Serrano also accused Bishop Parrilla of being “arrogant” and lacking integrity, charging that he wasn’t transparent about the assets of the diocese. She objected that no laypersons had positions of responsibility or decision making.
She called Fr. Nieves an “accomplice” of the bishop and a fugitive from justice, accusing him of leaving the scene of an accident he supposedly caused.
The missionary also said Bishop Parrilla and Fr. Nieves did nothing about a purported culture of homosexuality did nothing to address priests in the diocese who had children.
The Associated Press cited a priest source who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he feared retaliation. This priest said that diocesan money was wasted and mismanaged, and he alleged simony: “everything was sold and marketed: baptisms, marriages, everything.” Some clergy had three or four children, he said.
However, a source with knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, that Nieves’ resignation was due to personal, not moral issues.
In a letter dated Feb. 19, Bishop Parrilla expressed his support for Fr. Nieves and respected his decision to resign as coadjutor bishop-elect, renewing his “fraternal friendship” and “understanding.”
“When a decision comes from so deep within, it is only possible to respect it, to pray and trust in God,” the bishop said. He noted that some 500 people had signed a published letter of “gratitude and support” to himself and Fr. Nieves.
“Despite this, and so many words of encouragement, I believe that the pain, which also touches his family, has been only worsening in the heart of our brother,” Bishop Parrilla said in his letter, which also obliquely addressed the priest’s critics.
“As for what is written by some people, I can’t imagine Jesus smiling and approving that there is someone capable of handing out Kingdom credentials… Rather, in my conscience the words of the Lord resound: ‘Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,’” he added.
The city of Riobamba is about 120 miles south of Quito. The Catholic diocese based there has about 620,000 people, the vast majority of whom are Catholic. It has about 50 diocesan priests.