Suppressed society of priests surfaces in South America

Critic faults the Diocese of Scranton

By TOM KANE

SHOHOLA, PA — A suppressed society of Roman Catholic priests has moved out of Shohola Township in the Diocese of Scranton to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. According to its current website, the suppressed Society of Saint John (SSJ) has reestablished itself in the Paraguay diocese with the apparent permission of the local bishop, Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, who presides over the diocese of more than 500,000 Catholics.

The act of suppression, which dissolved the society’s status in the structure of the Catholic Church, came in 2004 by action of the Bishop of Scranton, the Most Rev. Joseph Martino. Also in 2004, the society defaulted on a mortgage loan held by the diocese and was the subject of a civil lawsuit by the parents of a youth who was allegedly molested. The society’s property on Route 424 in Shohola had to be sold, costing the diocese several million dollars.

The society claims it has a mission to maintain traditional Catholic values and express its liturgy in the Latin language. For this reason, it had attracted financial support from conservative Catholics, but lost much of that support when two of its priests were accused of the sexual molestation of several young seminarians under their charge.

The two priests, Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity and Rev. Eric Ensey, who were forbidden from exercising their priestly duties, are now with the society in Paraguay.

“The society no longer exists, but that may not stop several of its members from having recourse to another ecclesiastical authority,” said Bill Genello, spokesman for the diocese. “Bishop Martino intends to contact any bishop the society may attempt to seek out. The priests of the society are still priests of the Diocese of Scranton. The bishop has been taking all appropriate steps open to him under the Code of Canon Law to deal with the priests of the extinguished society.”

“What exactly are the ‘appropriate steps’ that Bishop Martino has taken?” said Jeffrey Bond, a fierce opponent of the society for the last six years. Bond, a former society associate, was to have been the president of a college founded by them.

“Why have the priests of the suppressed SSJ been allowed to wander here, there and everywhere, with no sanctions being brought against them? Why does the Diocese of Scranton always seem to be drowning in a canonical glass of water?”

Bond faults the diocese for being too easy, accusing the former bishop, the Most Rev. James Timlin, Martino’s predecessor, of harboring the priests and the society until he left office. Martino’s action suppressing the society did not satisfy Bond.

“At the very least, the Diocese of Scranton must tell the public where the SSJ priests are and what their status is,” Bond said. Information about the whereabouts and status of the society has not been divulged to the laity by the diocese.

The society is listed in the Archdiocese of Kansas City and has a post office box in Maple Hill, KS.