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Vatican backs suppression of Pennsylvania religious community June 09, 2005

The Vatican has endorsed the suppression of a troubled religious order in Pennsylvania.

Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton announced last November that he was withdrawing support from the Society of St. John, a group that faced serious problems involved sex-abuse charges and allegations of financial improprieties. The Society appealed to Rome, but the Congregation for Clergy has backed the bishop, who has now barred the priests of the Society of St. John from saying Mass or raising funds within the Pennsylvania diocese.

The Society of St. John was established in 1997, and inaugurated an aggressive fundraising campaign to support plans for the construction of a Christian community, school, and university. The group's plans were derailed by sex-abuse charges against the founder, Father Carlos Urrutigoity, and by charges of lavish spending at the rural Shohola, Pennsylvania headquarters. In 2002, the Society agreed to an out-of-court settlement of the abuse charges, and soon thereafter sold most of its property.

Still, legal problems persisted, and clashes with the diocese over the handling of funds finally led to Bishop Martino's decision to suppress the Society. The Vatican Congregation for Clergy agreed with the bishop's judgment that the group had "repeatedly refused to fully cooperate" with the diocese in handling legal questions.

The bishop's orders require the Society of St. John to post prominent notice that the group is no longer recognized by the Catholic Church. To date, the group has not done so.