Earlier accuser part of abuse suit

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In a deposition, former Minn. seminary student alleges misconduct by area priest.

The Times Leader

13 January 2004



SCRANTON – Explicit testimony of alleged sexual misconduct by an area priest – including sleeping with young men and fondling genitalia – has surfaced in paperwork in federal court.

In a pre-trial deposition, a young man said he was sleeping near the priest and awoke to find the priest fondling his genital area. He said a second priest later tried to explain it away as a medical diagnostic technique.

The man also said under oath that at one point, when he told the first priest he was constipated, the priest suggested using a suppository – while the priest watched. The young man declined.

The events described in the deposition happened in a Minnesota seminary at an unspecified date shortly before 1997, but the attorney who took the depositions contends the testimony shows the priest had lied in earlier depositions and that he has a long pattern of molesting young men.

All of these details have surfaced as part of a federal lawsuit in the U.S. Middle District Court. A “John Doe” and his parents – also unidentified in the suit – contend the boy was the victim of sexual misconduct by the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity while both were at St. Gregory’s Academy, an all-boys school in Elmhurst, Lackawanna County.

Urrutigoity, originally from South America, had been in the Minnesota seminary before deciding to create the Society of St. John. The society was formed in the Diocese of Scranton in 1997 when then-Bishop James Timlin allowed the priests to live in St. Gregory’s Academy. In 1999 the Society bought land in Shohola and moved there.

To bolster John Doe’s case, his attorney – James Bendell – wants to include several depositions as evidence in the upcoming trial. Defense lawyers are fighting that move. A Jan. 27 hearing is set on the issue.

In making his case that the depositions are critical to a fair trial, Bendell took the unusual move of filing paperwork that included excerpts from the depositions.

In the testimony from the former Minnesota seminary student, he says he woke to find “(Urrutigoity’s) hand was on my private area.”

The seminarian later discussed the incident with the Rev. Eric Ensey, who is also named in the John Doe lawsuit. According to the seminarian’s deposition, Ensey “said (Urrutigoity) could do this, you feel this guy, whatever, and you can tell that there was something being bothered.”

Ensey later discussed the possibility that the former student would be forced by subpoena to testify about the events, and said, “You can leave the country.” When the young man refused that idea, Ensey allegedly made a veiled threat regarding his lawyer.

“(Ensey) says, and this is what struck up red flags, ‘He’s a good guy. He’s got strong ties to the Mafia,’ ” the young man testified.

The priests’ attorney, Sal Cognetti Jr. of Scranton, dismissed that allegation Monday. “We’re not going to comment on that stuff. I find that humorous.” He added that both Ensey and Urrutigoity “emphatically” deny all charges.

The Minnesota man was in Pittsburgh when he gave the deposition by phone. Cognetti objected to the phone deposition, and said he did not participate in it.

After that, Bendell arranged video-conference depositions for several other witnesses. Cognetti objected to them as well, but his firm participated.

Excerpts from two of those video depositions were made public Jan. 5 when Bendell included them in court paperwork. Both come from young men who were students at St. Gregory’s when Urrutigoity was there. One man testified that he slept in the same bed with Urrutigoity, along with another person.

The other man testified that he saw a student in Urrutigoity’s bed late one night, though Urrutigoity wasn’t there at the time.

Cognetti said those excerpts were taken “out of context,” and that the two men are “very supportive” of the society. “Hopefully they will be witnesses at the trial.”

Transcripts of pre-trial depositions themselves are not typically filed as part of the public record. Bendell said he included excerpts in his Jan. 5 filing to prove the importance of the depositions. Cognetti contends it was done to get some of the testimony into the public record before a judge could decide on whether it belongs there. “It makes for a big story,” Cognetti said.

The John Doe suit also names Timlin, the Diocese of Scranton, St. Gregory’s Academy and the Fraternity of St. Peter, which runs the academy.

The suit alleges sexual misconduct by Urrutigoity, who headed the Society of St. John until relieved of duty by Timlin after the allegations, and Ensey, who was also relieved of duty.

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

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