May 14, 2013 ( – The Catholic Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, says that he won’t renounce his position despite pressure from Vatican officials stemming from his support of a type of homosexual civil union legislation, and accusations that he is guilty of protecting pedophile priests in his diocese.

Roberto Octavio Gonzalez Nieves, a Franciscan who received the post of archbishop in 1999 after having served as an auxiliary bishop for Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, Massachusetts, and as bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, says that Cardinal Marc Ouellet has pressured him to resign and take another position in the Church. He also says that he has been prohibited from making appointments of diocesan personnel since 2011 as a result of the accusations. 

The nature of the conflict was revealed on April 29 when Puerto Rican radio station Notiuno published a letter sent by the archbishop to Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops.  In the missive, dated February 20 of this year, Gonzalez Nieves complains of being accused of various misdeeds, but without knowing his accusers, and without seeing the evidence. (View a PDF of the letter here.)


Gonzalez Nieves states that the accusations against him are based on four grounds: “1. Protecting pedophile priests, 2. Carrying out an investigation of the Rev. P. Edward Santana without jurisdiction, 3. The ‘Shared Residences,’ 4. The matter of the Altar of the Fatherland.” 

The “Shared Residences” is a reference to a controversial proposal by the archbishop to allow people of the same sex who reside together to have rights of inheritance, hospital visits, and medical coverage, without having the title of “marriage,” according to the Italian news service La Stampa.  Gonzalez Nieves has, however, opposed homosexual adoption, working in a coalition of religious leaders to oppose such proposals. 

The “Altar of the Fatherland” is a reference to an altar erected in the cathedral of San Juan in an apparent endorsement of Puerto Rican national independence, with the full title “The Altar of the Fatherland and the Maternal Womb of the Puerto Rican Nation.”  Independence is a controversial issue on the island, where a majority supports a continued link to the United States, and a minority of only 5% supports separation, according to a 2012 referendum.  The issue appears even stickier given the fact that Gonzalez Nieves is not a native Puerto Rican, but was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey. 

According to Gonzalez Nieves, in a meeting held with Ouellet on December 15, “it was subtly indicated to me that I had to resign from the Archbishopric of San Juan de Puerto Rico and to ask for another post in the Church.  Injustices, persecutions, defamations, the twisting of the facts, unjust and biased procedures can never be the source of law for the resignation of a bishop or just cause for the same.  Therefore, this servant wants to make it clear that he will never renounce the Archbishopric of San Juan when there are no reasons to do so.” 

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“Furthermore,” adds the archbishop, “given that the accusations against me are so grave, if they are assumed to be true, how is it possible that I can occupy another ecclesiastical office in the Church?” 

The archbishop defends himself by claiming that all but one Puerto Rican bishop supports him, and invokes the authority of the Episcopal Conference of Puerto Rico, of which he was elected president in 2012, asking, “Who but the local bishops, united in the Episcopal Conference, are the natural interlocutors of the Holy See?” 

Among a large number of prelates with whom Gonzalez Nieves says he has communicated regarding the matter is the now-disgraced archbishop whom he assisted in Boston in the 1980s, while many of the cover-ups of pedophile priests were occurring: Cardinal Bernard Law.  

“In strict confidentiality, as Your Eminence is already aware, I have conversed on this topic with His Reverend Excellency, Cardinal Bernard Law.  After our meeting on the 15th of December, I went to have breakfast with Cardinal Bernard Law.  At the end of the breakfast, he asked me what was wrong because I didn’t look well. I explained to him what happened.” 

In addition to the letter written by Gonzalez Nieves, Notiuno has also published a letter attributed to the Apostolic Nuncio to Puerto Rico, Jozef Wesolowski, dated December of last year, rebuking the archbishop for plans to bury the bodies of two nationalist icons under the condemned “Altar of the Fatherland”: Juan Alejo Arizmendi, the first native-born bishop of Puerto Rico, and Ramon Power y Giralt, the island’s first legislative delegate to the Cortes of Spain during the colonial era. (View the letter here.) 

“I appeal fraternally to your sense of the Universal Church to renounce such a project and to diligently carry out the supreme decisions of the Holy See,” writes Wesolowski, who has refused to comment on the letter. 

The missive notes that Cardinal Tarcicio Bertone has already expressed to Gonzalez Nieves “the strong desire of the Holy Father Benedict XVI” that he obey a previous directive to remove the name “Altar of the Fatherland” from the altar in question and replace it with another. 

Although it is unclear how much support is enjoyed by the archbishop, organized demonstrations, supportive declarations and press conferences have been held in his favor by various groups, including a nationalistic pro-life group, the Catholic Puerto Rican Alliance for Life and Fatherland, established in 2012, and the Coalition in Defense and Solidarity with the Archbishop of San Juan, which claims to represent close to one hundred organizations. 

In a recent letter to the faithful, the Gonzalez Nieves urges them not to communicate with Rome about the matter, but to support him with their prayers. 

“Many people have approached me or have called my office asking: “what can we do?”  On the one hand I ask them, please, not to send letters to the Holy See with expressions of support.   On the other hand, I say to them that there is only one thing to do in situations such as this: pray.”


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