sex scandals involving Catholic priests the fault of moral and theological
liberalism? Some conservative Catholics think so. But an ugly case
unfolding now in Pennsylvania involving allegations of homosexual
misconduct, alcohol abuse, and financial fraud on the part of a
traditionalist religious community suggests otherwise.
In late January, Scranton Bishop James Timlin confirmed to the local
media that he had reassigned but not suspended the
two leaders of the traditionalist Society of St. John, pending the
outcome of an investigation into the purported sexual molestation
of a young man, who was a minor at the time of the alleged crime.
The priests are the Rev. Carlos Urritigoity, the society's superior-general,
and his chancellor, the Rev. Eric Ensey. Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty
said the move came in the wake of a January 12 "confidential
letter" the diocese received from an adult male alleging molestation
against one of the two priests, and improper contact with the other.
Jeffrey Bond, who was tapped by the society to run its planned college,
but who has turned on the order after discovering what he considers
evidence of financial and sexual impropriety, believes Bishop Timlin's
actions are too little, too late. And the grassroots-activist group
Roman Catholic Faithful
has called for the resignation of Timlin, whom it has accused of
foot-dragging to protect the order.
"Last summer, I knew we had to separate the college from the
Society," Bond says. "First, because they were raising
money in our name but not giving it to us, and second, because I
found out that Fr. Urritigoity had a problem with sleeping with
He's not using the verb as a euphemism for sex between the priest
and others, which he says he cannot prove. Urritigoity, though,
has a strange habit of sharing his bed with seminarians and other
young men, say 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.
The Society of St. John began as a breakaway group from the Society
of St. Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic order founded by the
late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. When Bishop Timlin canonically
established the Society in his diocese in 1997, he gave its members
temporary housing in St. Gregory's Academy, an all-male Catholic
boarding school sponsored by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Jude Huntz, who was head dorm manager, stated in a sworn affidavit
that on several occasions, he saw Society members getting male students
drunk. Brother Alexis Bugnolo, a Franciscan friar who overnighted
in the Society's quarters in 1999, says in a letter that he is prepared
to testify in court that he witnessed during that stay several instances
of homosexual activity among students, including one boy who later
became a postulant of the Society.
Later that year, Society members relocated into two houses on a
vast rural Pennsylvania estate it had purchased for $2.2 million.
That did not end the Society's relationship with St. Gregory's boys,
though. One former Society postulant, who was with the order for
six months in the year 2000, told NRO that 18- and 19-year-old St.
Gregory's graduates would visit Urritigoity on weekends, many of
them spending the night in the priest's room, which contained only
one, single-sized bed.
A sworn affidavit provided by the 32-year-old California man, who
asked NRO to withhold his name, details several instances in which
he claims to have seen young men in compromising positions with
Urritigoity, and the Society's priests plying young men with booze.
On one occasion, the ex-postulant alleges he saw a man who had been
extremely drunk the night before, leaving the 37-year-old Urritigoity's
bedroom in the morning.
"None of them ever told me they had had intercourse with him,
but it was all very weird," the ex-postulant said. He added
that when he shared his concerns about "musical bedrooms"
with others in the Society, "I was made to feel that I was
the one with the problem."
Meanwhile, the Society was presenting to the public an appealing
image of a vibrant new religious community based on the Latin Mass,
classical scholarship, and Catholic cultural tradition. Its well-designed
the Society's vision for an ideal Catholic priestly and lay community
including the building of a model traditionalist Catholic
village which brought donations pouring in from sympathetic
Behind the scenes, though, the Society was "spending money
like a drunken sailor," alleges a prominent Catholic businessman
who served on its board of advisers, and who helped the Society
"I was concerned because they had a certain arrogance and a
certain attitude about things," says John Blewett, who is now
managing editor of Latin Mass magazine. "They were careless
financially, and very haughty about what they could do. That's not
the kind of humility and attitude one brings to that kind of endeavor."
Matthew Sawyer, an Illinois businessman and former board member,
says he was rebuffed by the Society's leadership when he questioned
them about what he describes as their "wild spending sprees,"
and the possible illegal handling of their finances.
"Then I petitioned Bishop Timlin, and he couldn't have cared
less," says Sawyer. "He said that's the way they are."
In public letters to the bishop, who is a favorite of traditionalist
Catholics, Bond accuses him of looking the other way as he and others
presented evidence of the Society's financial mismanagement and
sexual shenanigans. Among his allegations: that Timlin knew, or
should have known had he done a background check as required by
diocesan guidelines, that Urritigoity was a potential danger to
boys at St. Gregory's.
Bond provided NRO with a copy of an undated letter, written in Spanish,
purportedly sent by a Society of St. Pius X seminary in Argentina
to SSPX counterparts in the United States, warning them that Urritigoity
had been caught numerous times engaging in homosexual activity while
a seminarian there. Bond came across the document while investigating
Urritigoity, and says he e-mailed the information to Timlin on December
"Why did I have to be the one to find this out about Fr. Urritigoity's
past?" says Bond. "If Bishop Timlin had bothered to do
a background check before he let this guy work with kids, as the
diocesan policy says he's supposed to, he would have found it out
on his own."
A spokesman at SSPX's American headquarters declined to comment
on the letter, calling it "a private communication."
For its part, the Diocese of Scranton issued an angry January 24
statement categorically denying Bond's charges (the official statement,
which is not available on the diocesan website, can be found here,
along with a short statement by the Society, and responses by Bond.
The diocese's statement referred requests for further information
to its attorney, but does not identify the lawyer. Calls to the
diocese's spokeswoman were unanswered. Nor did the Society answer
NRO's request for comment.
The whole mess may soon end up in court. The young man who sent
the January 12 letter to Timlin claiming he had been molested by
a Society priest is said to be preparing a lawsuit against the Society
and the diocese. Bond is also contemplating a lawsuit that would
seek to hold the Society and Timlin responsible for the collapse
temporary, he hopes of the College
of St. Justin Martyr.
Meanwhile, both the implosion of the Society and the bishop's actions
have left some Catholics feeling angry, betrayed, and alienated
from the traditionalist movement.
Sawyer describes the Society's priests as, "Wolves in sheep's
clothing. I gave them my all, and they just kicked me in the teeth.
They're lawless renegades, and the way they handled their money
and property, they've got to be in violation of their 501(c)3 status."
The ex-postulant from California, whose family had donated a large
sum of money to the Society, is, like Sawyer, estranged from traditionalist
Latin Mass magazine is the editorial flagship of the movement,
agrees that scandals like this rob good people of their hope, and
make them cynical. And the fallout will, unfortunately, affect even
good traditionalist orders.
"When these brushes tar, they tar widely," he says.
Bond says until this happened, he believed sexual disorder in the
clergy was the fruit of modern liturgy and liberal bishops. Now,
he says, he has learned the hard way that personal orthodoxy does
not guarantee that a bishop will do the right thing when it comes
to governing his diocese, particularly in the matter of protecting
kids from potential sexual predators. And he is convinced even a
bishop as well-liked by Church conservatives as Timlin must be held
"I've gotten my share of people telling me to be quiet about
this, and I keep telling them that you can't say we have to avoid
scandal, and let people get harmed," says Bond. "Your
duty is to stop the evil and let God take care of the rest. The
scandal is caused by the actions of these people, and what you're
doing is trying to stop it."