DIOCESE OF SCRANTON: Two priests relieved of duties as name of alleged victim surfaces

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The Times Leader

Posted on Sat, Jan. 26, 2002



SCRANTON – Two Diocese of Scranton priests have been relieved of their duties pending an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct with a young man, Bishop James Timlin confirmed Friday.

The priests are part of the Society of St. John, a religious community in Shohola, Pike County. Timlin and Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty stressed they have been unable to contact the young man involved and that the priests have denied any wrongdoing.

But a conservative Roman Catholic group based in Illinois has called for Timlin’s resignation, claiming he ignored the charges for years.

Timlin and Dougherty adamantly denied that accusation.

The misconduct accusations have been made for months against the priests, but Dougherty said interviews proved “inconclusive” because no one would provide the victim’s name. That changed when the diocese received a “confidential letter” on Jan. 12.

“We got a name and immediately got in touch with the family, and our policy went into effect,” Dougherty said. “Our first pastoral concern is to find out if the man alleged to be involved was hurt, and does he need help. We are told he is saying that in the case of one priest there may have been molestation and in the case of the other priest there was clearly improper contact.”

The incidents are alleged to have occurred years ago, and until they talk to the man, Dougherty and Timlin said they cannot be sure if he was a minor at the time.

The diocese had received notice of possible improper conduct by one of the priests in February 1999, from a seminary in Minnesota where the priest was before coming here.

Interviews were conducted and the matter was brought before the “clergy review board,” a collection of priests and laypeople set up to evaluate such cases and recommend action. The board ruled the evidence was inconclusive.

There also were rumors that some of the priests at the Society of St. John were inviting young men and sometimes minors to sleep with them in their quarters at Shohola and, before that, at St. Gregory Academy – a school for students in grades nine through 12 – in Elmhurst, where the society resided before buying land in Shohola.

Timlin and Dougherty said those rumors were immediately looked into, and that some of the priests admitted having other men sleep in the same room but denied sexual misconduct, saying it was simple hospitality in crowded quarters. Timlin ordered them to stop the practice immediately.

But Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., a conservative group that boasts of exposing wrongdoing by other bishops, doesn’t accept Timlin’s explanations.

In a wide-ranging press release dated Jan. 15, the nonprofit organization accused Timlin of refusing “to take action to remove and punish those responsible for potential psychological and moral harm to seminarians and other young men.”

Roman Catholic Faithful President Stephen Brady said his group based much of those claims on reports circulated by Jeffrey Bond, president of a fledgling college originally planned for the Shohola site.

Bond said he came from California to help establish the college because he believed in the St. John Society’s conservative vision.

The society wants to set up a small community, say Mass in Latin, and open a small liberal arts college.

But Bond said the college board of directors decided to separate from the society late last year after learning of the “sleeping with men” allegations and hearing about possible fiscal mismanagement by society members, including buying “luxury furniture” they couldn’t afford.

Dougherty said the diocese also checked into those charges, and agreed that the society might have spent money “imprudently.”

The society was “perhaps too optimistic” in the amount of donations they expected, and apparently bought more things and paid for land development studies without realizing they couldn’t immediately afford it, Dougherty said.

The society is an independent nonprofit corporation that has considerable autonomy, but still must ultimately answer to the bishop, Dougherty said. A written response provided by Dougherty to the Roman Catholic Faithful press release said the diocese “has every reason to believe that the Society has exercised scrupulous care and restraint in this area for some time now.”

Dougherty and Timlin repeatedly stressed that they want to get to the bottom of the sexual misconduct allegations. Diocese policy requires that, if abuse is confirmed, the cleric must “submit to a diagnostic evaluation.”

If the evaluation indicates treatment is needed, the cleric “will be urged to enter” a program, will be given a supervisor “to assure accountability,” and must undergo treatment and after-care for “four or five years” before being eligible for a new assignment.

Timlin said the diocese has been and will continue to adhere to the policy. He also dismissed demands for his resignation, saying that Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. had no authority to call for it. “That is between myself and the Holy Father.”

Timlin said he plans to resign on Aug. 5, when he turns 75, as required by the church.

Mark Guydish, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7161.

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