Demonstrators Picket Bishop Timlin

By Charu Gupta and Christopher J. Kelly
Scranton Times [Scranton PA]
February 3, 2003

The battle over alleged sexual misconduct by a pair of area priests became a street fight Sunday, as a handful of protesters picketed Mass at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton.

About six people gathered outside the cathedral on Wyoming Avenue around 9 a.m., carrying signs and distributing fliers that denounced the Revs. Carlos Urrutigoity and Eric Ensey and accused Bishop James C. Timlin and The Times-Tribune newspapers of "covering up for pedophiles."

"We are devout, obedient Catholics, but our obedience is not a blind obedience," said protest leader Jeffrey Bond, Ph.D. "We see no inconsistency between being devout and protesting the bishop for protecting predators."

Since last April, Mr. Bond and his allies have used the Internet and other media to make widespread allegations of financial abuse, fraud and homosexual molestation by members of the Society of St. John, a small group of Catholic priests in Pike County. They have also accused Bishop Timlin of covering up for the priests.

Members of the Shohola-based society, the Revs. Urrutigoity and Ensey have been accused of sexual misconduct with a young man they met at St. Gregory's Academy in Elmhurst. Now in his 20s, the unidentified man and his family have filed a federal civil action against the priests, who have denied the allegations.

In addition to the priests, defendants in the civil action include the Society of St. John, Bishop Timlin, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and St. Gregory's Academy. The Fraternity of St. Peter operates St. Gregory's.

Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola investigated the allegations, but said he could not prosecute because the statute of limitations had expired. At the most, he explained, the actions described by the alleged victim would have reached the level of misdemeanor, which means the charges must be filed within two years. That time expired May 16, 2001, he said.

Mr. Jarbola said he forwarded information on the case to law enforcement authorities in Monroe and Pike counties. He also sent information to authorities in Santa Paula, Calif., because the man alleged sexual misconduct while visiting Father Ensey's home there.

On Bishop Timlin's order, both men have been living privately and have been forbidden to act as priests in public since the investigation began.

Dr. Bond is also suing the Society of Saint John, which hired him in May 2000 to head the College of St. Justin Martyr, which still exits only as an idea. The relationship between Dr. Bond and Father Urrutigoity eventually soured, and Dr. Bond and the Rev. Richard Munkelt, who resigned from the society, asked Bishop Timlin to separate the college from the society and let them run it.

The bishop tried to mediate the dispute, but when his efforts failed, he refused Dr. Bond's and Father Munkelt's request, saying their plan equaled "a hostile takeover."

Shortly after their request was denied, Dr. Bond and Father Munkelt told the bishop that Society of St. John priests had engaged in sexual misconduct.

"We brought to the bishop's attention that there were priests sleeping with boys," said Dr. Bond, who presented Bishop Timlin with affidavits from boys testifying that the Revs. Urrutigoity and Ensey had given them alcohol and then slept with them.

Dr. Bond claimed that the alleged offenses were brought to the bishop's attention five months before allegations of sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of Boston exploded into an international scandal.

"We want the bishop to shut down the Society of St. John's," said Dr. Bond, who has called the group a "homosexual cult." He said he chose Sunday for his protest because it coincided with "the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin," the day the year's supply of candles for the church is blessed.

"The church needs to be purified," Dr. Bond said.

Signs carried by the protesters also accused Times-Tribune newspapers of giving the church preferential treatment in coverage of the scandal.

Inside the cathedral, Chris Cawley, 35, of Scranton, was listening to a special liturgy celebrating the jubilee anniversaries of 65 nuns with 25 to 75 years of service to the church.

"I can sympathize with the parents of a child who's been abused," said Mr. Cawley, who has no children of his own but has six brothers and eight nephews.

"Still, I think you have to look at both sides of the issue, and that takes time. I think the church is addressing it, but it didn't happen overnight, and it won't be solved overnight."

A parishioner at St. Peter's for over 10 years, Mr. Cawley said he has come to see Bishop Timlin as "a very objective, very fair person." He said he trusted these qualities to guide the bishop's handling of the scandal.

"I think you need to set aside your emotions on both sides and let the situation present itself," Mr. Cawley said, adding that he and other local Catholics hope the matter will eventually be resolved.

"Ongoing conflict is never good," he said.

Bishop Timlin acknowledged the protesters during Mass but did not entertain their claims.

"The current situation is the same as it has been for a long time," he said. "(The protesters) want me to hang (the priests) and I won't do it until they've had a trial (in civil court)."

Many parishioners coming out of Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Cathedral did not want to comment on the protests. Nancy Nally, who attends St. Peter's regularly but is not a parishioner, was satisfied with Bishop Timlin's handling of the protest.

"I feel badly that they feel the way they do," Ms. Nally said. "It's not that they're not being heard. It's as the bishop said during Mass, he will not judge until the priests get a fair trial."

Standing at the cathedral doors, Bishop Timlin said he was "surprised" the protesters had brought their fight to the Mass.

"They've stooped to a new low," he said. "I think it's desperation, really, and it's particularly sad to picket the holy sacrament of the Mass."

While troubling, Bishop Timlin said the protest would not affect his handling of the situation.

"We're waiting for the civil cases to be settled," he said. "Then we'll look into a church trial," which would seek to determine if the priests are guilty under church law.

"Until then, I'm not going to take any further action," the bishop said. "I can't, and I won't, because it would be wrong. I will go to the gallows before I'll do anything I believe is wrong."


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