Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Endgame in Scranton

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 27, 2004

According to a statement circulated via e-mail by Dr. Jeffrey Bond, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, PA, has published in his diocesan newspaper a decree suppressing the Society of St. John, an association of traditionalist priests embroiled over the past two years in allegations of financial and homosexual improprieties. Concerning the latter, the decree (according to Bond) says:

Allegations of sexual misconduct against two members of the Society have caused public scandal. If the allegations are not true, there, nevertheless, have been acts of commission and omission by members of the Society in general that have given rise to these allegations and the resultant scandal.

The reference is to Father Carlos Urritigoity, superior-general of the Society of St. John, and his chancellor, Father Eric Ensey, who deny the accusations of misconduct. The background to the controversy is laid out with lucidity and balance by Rod Dreher in two NRO stories from 2002, one from February 7th and the other from February 15th. In the first story, we read:

Urritigoity has a strange habit of sharing his bed with seminarians and other young men, say [Dr. Jeffrey] Bond and others formerly associated with the Society. Bond and his lawyer provided NRO with two affidavits and a letter from a Franciscan friar, all of whom say they witnessed activities involving alcohol and improper physical intimacy among Society priests and young men -- including teenage boys -- in their company

As happens not infrequently, one's dismay at the accusations of sexual impropriety is eclipsed by even greater dismay at the reasoning offered in defense of the persons accused. In this case, Scranton's then-Bishop James Timlin told Dreher that, while it was true that the priests in question shared their beds with young men on some occasions, he was impressed with their alacrity when ordered to desist:

"When I heard that this was going on, I called the whole bunch of them [Society priests] in and ordered them to stop it," Timlin says. "They denied any wrongdoing, and said they did things like that only when they were crowded. They denied any immoral activity. I told them that they had to understand that in this climate, this is outrageous. You have to avoid even the appearance of evil." The bishop says the priests were "very obedient" and promised to stop.

Most wives will feel a twinge of sympathy for Timlin. Your husband overnights in a Las Vegas hotel on a business trip, and, due to a shortage of rooms, he is obliged to share his mattress with a cocktail waitress or exotic dancer. Happens all the time. It's not that he'd stoop to immoral activity, of course, but you can't help but wish he'd be a little more sensitive to the fact that, in this climate, you have to avoid even the appearance of evil.

It appears, however, that the judgment of the SSJ was found wanting in other matters as well. To return to Bishop Martino's decree:

Past financial decisions and conduct on the part of the Society of Saint John have caused grievous financial burdens for the Diocese of Scranton. These burdens include the Diocese being named in a civil suit for over $1 million and the need for the Diocese to secure a $2.6 million loan in August 2003, because of the Society's indebtedness.

Because of the Society's indebtedness? There's a lot that needs explaining in what is left unspoken here. Whatever connections existed between Timlin and the SSJ, Martino makes it clear that he wants out.

I hereby decree the Society of Saint John, Shohola, Pennsylvania, suppressed as a juridic person, a public association of the faithful, as of November 24, 2004.

We'll keep an eye on further developments.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.