Pope Francis' First Crisis? Defiant Archbishop Refuses to Quit

Puerto Rican Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves is a controversial figure

ByABC News
May 8, 2013, 8:09 AM

May 8, 2013— -- The new pope's first crisis is not related to the Church's controversial position on contraceptives or proposals for female clergy. Rather, Pope Francis' first major quandary is getting rid of a Puerto Rican archbishop who, despite the Vatican's numerous requests, has repeatedly refused to step down.

The source of Pope Francis' current ordeal is Roberto Octavio González Nieves, the outspoken Archbishop of San Juan, who has been accused by Vatican emissaries of allegedly protecting pedophile priests, abusing his power, promoting Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., and supporting a law that could grant same-sex couples living together hereditary rights and health benefits, according to the Vatican Insider.

González Nieves was confronted by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the current prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and denied the allegations during a tense meeting in Puerto Rico on December 15, 2012. In the course of the discussion, the Vatican envoy subtly asked González Nieves to resign and to ask the Church for a new position elsewhere.

Nearly two months later, González Nieves sent Ouellet an angry missive that was recently leaked to the Puerto Rican press.

"Injustices, persecutions, defamations, fact-meddling, and unjust and biased enquiries should never amount to legal sources or just causes for a Bishop to resign," González Nieves wrote. "Therefore, this servant [of the Church] wants to state that he will never resign to the Archbishopric of San Juan de Puerto Rico when there is no reason to do so."

"Moreover, the accusations against me being so grave, that if they were true, how is it possible that I would be able to occupy another position in the Church?" he added.

González Nieves has suggested that the accusations against him are politically motivated, according to Argentinian newspaper El Clarín. He mentioned fellow Cardinal Josef Wesolowski and former Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, staunch supporters of Puerto Rican statehood, as two of the masterminds behind the allegations against him.

Thus far, none of the accusations against him have been confirmed, so it's not clear whether Pope Francis will strip Gonzalez Nieves of his title or allow the scandal to simply fade away. Until then, the Vatican and González Nieves are set to maintain a tense relationship.

"Many people have come up to me or called my office asking, 'What can we do?'" González Nieves, who tonight is celebrating 14 years as Archbishop with a mass in San Juan, wrote in an open letter to his flock last weekend. "On the one hand, I beg you not send letters to the Holy See expressing your support [on my behalf]. On the other hand, I bid you to pray, which is the only thing that can be done in this kind of situations. Let's pray for the truth to prevail."