SCRANTON — Carlos Urrutigoity has become the problem priest the Diocese of Scranton can’t get away from, despite a distance of about 4,700 miles.
Bishop Joseph Bambera issued a statement over the weekend distancing the diocese from news that Urrutigoity has been promoted in his current diocese in Paraguay. That news was posted online by the watchdog group, Bishopaccountability.org. The diocese rebutted media accounts that said then-Bishop Joseph Martino had “allowed” Urrutigoity to “transfer” to Ciudad del Este diocese in 2004.
Controversy surrounding Urrutigoity began in 2002 when The Times Leader first reported two priests from the Society of St. John in Shohola, Pike County, had been accused of sexually molesting minor males. The names of the priests later became public as then-Bishop James Timlin revoked the rights of Urrutigoity and The Rev. Eric Ensey to publicly practice as priests in any capacity.
The two were evaluated at a facility in Canada, and according to reports later made public during a lawsuit by an alleged victim, the facility recommended both be barred permanently from public practice as priests. Such a move is not the same as defrocking, or removing a person completely from the priesthood, a rare action.
In 2004 after Timlin retired, Martino, his replacement, “suppressed” the Society of St. John, barring it from the 11-county Diocese of Scranton. Urrutigoity and Ensey had spearheaded the establishment of the society here.
The society had been formed with a vision of creating a conservative Catholic community with a college and a church where the Latin Mass was said and Gregorian chants were sung. It became embroiled in controversy, first because of financial problems that drove original backers away, then because of allegations of priests sleeping with young men.
The allegations became a lawsuit by person identified as John Doe. The Diocese settled the suit for a total of $454,550.
In suppressing the society, Martino cited four factors, including the allegations of misconduct and financial problems.
Urrutigoity was never a diocesan priest. Like other priests who belong to separate religious orders, Urrutigoity and the priests of the Society of St. John operated within the diocese with the bishop’s approval but not as part of the diocese.
The statement released Saturday essentially said Martino did everything he could regarding a priest operating beyond diocesan jurisdiction.
“The diocese reported its serious concerns about this cleric to appropriate church officials, including Bishop Rogelio Livieres, Bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; the Apostolic Nuncio to Paraguay; and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.” Apostolic Nuncios are the papal equivalent of ambassadors, the highest church authorities outside of Rome.
The statement says Martino consistently cautioned the bishop in Paraguay “to not allow Father Urrutigoity to incardinate into his diocese,” but that the warnings were ignored.
“The Diocese of Scranton continues to reiterate its efforts in this particular matter despite what appears to be a lack of reciprocity in this particular case,” the statement said.