“Names of removed priests to stay secret” & related articles

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The list of reassignments announced this week by the Diocese of Scranton omits the names of priests relieved of their duties on accusations of misconduct.

The Times Leader

28 June 2002



SCRANTON – The Diocese of Scranton released its list of priest reassignments on Thursday, but the names of nine priests who have been relieved of their duties after being accused of sexual misconduct will be kept secret.

Bishop James Timlin has repeatedly – and unwaveringly – insisted he will not release the names of priests who committed misconduct if they had received treatment and had no reported relapses. He said he is trying to strike a balance between being open with the public and being compassionate toward the priests.

The nine priests face sanctions under a new policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 14. The policy requires priests guilty of sexual misconduct – regardless of when the incident occurred – to be denied all rights to practice or dress as a priest in public. They can celebrate Mass for themselves.

The policy calls for openness to restore public trust but does not require bishops to release the names of priests removed for past abuses.

Within days after the policy was announced, the diocese said several active priests would be affected, and that the sanctions would be carried out in conjunction with a routine announcements of reassignments and retirements. That announcement came Thursday with a list of 38 changes, but Orzel stressed that Timlin deliberately did not include the names of nine priests affected by the new rules in the list.

Four of those priests had been removed from service before the new policy was adopted. Five more faced removal as a result of the policy, but Orzel said she believed most, if not all, of those were actually removed before Thursday’s announced changes.

Orzel also said that, to the best of her knowledge, all five of those priests were not active in parish ministries, where their departure would have been noticed by the public.

Thursday’s announcements included changes at numerous Luzerne County churches, effective July 3:

At St. Boniface in Wilkes-Barre, assistant pastor the Rev. Christopher Sahd – also Bishop O’Reilly High School’s director of religious formation – will leave to become secretary to the bishop and assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Scranton. One of three men to be ordained Saturday will replace Sahd at St. Boniface.

St. Aloysius Church in Wilkes-Barre will lose assistant pastor the Rev. Thomas Major, who will become pastor at the Church of St. Ann in Bentley Creek. The Rev. Joseph Sica, returning from a sabbatical, will replace him.

At St. Nicholas in Wilkes-Barre, assistant pastor the Rev. Peter O’Rourke will leave to become pastor at the Church of St. Michael in Canton. He will be replaced by the Rev. Lawrence Emmareddy, from the Diocese of Nellore, India.

The Rev. Donald Williams, current Diocesan Director of Vocations, will become pastor at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul, Plymouth.

At the Church of St. Joseph, Wilkes-Barre, administrator the Rev. James Alco will become pastor. At the Church of Our Lady of Grace, Hazleton, administrator the Rev. Thomas Cappelloni will become pastor.

Several changes are set at the Churches of St. Nazarius and St. Mary in Hazle Township. Pastor the Rev. Joseph Bucolo becomes pastor emeritus. The new pastor will be the Very Rev. Gerard Safko, who also will remain as pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Butler Township. And the new assistant pastor for all three churches will be the Rev. Augustine Poonelil, assistant pastor at the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Scranton.

At the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Harding/Falls, pastor the Rev. Thomas McCann will become pastor emeritus. The Rev. Thomas Shoback will leave the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville to be pastor at Holy Redeemer.

The Rev. Frank Homets, Seton Catholic High School’s director of religious formation and assistant pastor of Church of St. John the Evangelist in Pittston, is taking a leave of absence for health reasons.

The Rev. Anthony Generose, assistant pastor at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Scranton, will become pastor at the Church of St. Mary and the Church of the Ascension in Conyngham Township. The Rev. Michael Zipay, the two churches’ administrator, will leave to become pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville.

Generose replaces the Rev. Thomas Skotek, who was relieved of duty in April when new allegations emerged of misconduct that occurred decades ago.

Timlin has cited Skotek – a very popular priest – as a good example of why he opposed applying the new policy in all cases, new and old.

Skotek underwent treatment for an incident that occurred decades ago, and has performed well without complaint since, Timlin said. Many parishioners have expressed support and praise for Skotek.



Five more priests removed from duty

The Times Leader

27 June 2002



SCRANTON – They’ll be there, in a list released today of Scranton Diocese reassignments and retirements: Five priests guilty of sexual misconduct that led to treatment and the notification of law enforcement authorities.

But the diocese won’t say which five priests they are. Nor will it give the names of four other priests previously relieved of duties who face further restrictions under a new national policy.

“I think they’ve suffered enough pain and embarrassment,” Bishop James Timlin said Wednesday.

A total of nine diocesan priests are affected by the new policy adopted earlier this month by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the scandals that have rocked the church, Timlin said.

The policy says a priest who admits to or is proven to have committed sexual misconduct must be removed from all duties and be denied the right to dress as a priest or act as a priest in public. He can celebrate Mass for himself.

Four diocesan priests had already been removed from all public duties before the new policy was adopted, Timlin said. Now, they will now be forced to forgo wearing priestly garb as well, and can celebrate Mass only for themselves. The five other priests face the same fate.

Timlin chose to remove them during a routine reassignment so as to protect their names. “The policy doesn’t call for us to release the names.”

He declined to give details but said “they did something – years ago in many instances – but never in ministry with parish work.” The priests underwent treatment, and if professionals said they could go back to work, they did.

Timlin also said the incidents were reported to the appropriate district attorney, depending on where misconduct occurred. “All these cases were brought to authorities. There were no arrests or anything. We’ve been very open to the authorities.”

The changes being announced today don’t include three priests -the Rev. Eric Ensey, the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity and the Rev. Christopher Clay – still under investigation by the Lackawanna County district attorney. Relieved of duty earlier this year, their fate hinges on the outcome of that investigation.

The list of changes was published today in the diocesan bi-weekly newspaper, The Catholic Light. Spokeswoman Maria Orzel said the list would be given to all media today.

Removing priests from duty is not the only local result of the new policy. Timlin said the diocese is implementing other changes:

About $25,000 has been spent to contract for a “safe environments” program mandated by the policy. “People will come in from every level in the diocese. It’s for everyone who works in the church, to sensitize them to this whole problem.”

The diocese review board – set up years ago to help handle allegations of misconduct – was temporarily restructured. The new policy mandates the majority be lay people, so Timlin removed all clergy or diocese employees – except one priest – from the current board. He said those removed will serve as “adjuncts” until complete revamping in September.

The policy requires each diocese to establish “clear and well-publicized standards of behavior” for clergy and church workers. Timlin said there is no written policy yet, but that he “always asked priests to be very, very careful in these matters,” and that the mandate will be met.

Timlin said he believes all the policy mandates will be met before he retires in August when he turns 75.

“We’ve been doing a lot of these things for the last 10 years, but have to fine-tune it and bring it into compliance.”

Timlin acknowledged that there will always be people who believe he is not doing enough.

“I suppose no matter what we do we’re not going to get everyone to trust us. I get letters from people angry that we aren’t releasing names, and from people begging me not to release them.

“I’m not covering anything up. If they think I’m covering up – well I’m going to have to face the consequences of my actions, and I’m prepared to do that.”

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



New rules to sideline priests in area

The Times Leader

19 June 2002



SCRANTON – The new policy approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will force possibly five to six more Diocese of Scranton priests to forgo any priestly acts – or even appearances – a spokeswoman confirmed.

The new policy requires that when sexual abuse is admitted or proven, a priest must be permanently removed from ministry – regardless of when the incident occurred.

Before the policy was adopted during a meeting in Texas last week, Bishop James Timlin had repeatedly opposed the removal of priests who might have committed misconduct in the past but had undergone treatment and served without incident since.

Timlin has said he agrees with “zero tolerance” when new cases arise, but wanted a case-by-case decision for priests who had been treated and returned successfully to ministry without problems. Timlin could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The conference opted for zero-tolerance regardless of when abuse occurred, and that means several priests – possibly up to five or six – in the diocese will face the consequences, spokeswoman Maria Orzel confirmed.

Orzel said that does not include several priests removed earlier this year after misconduct allegations surfaced.

The Rev. Eric Ensey and the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity were removed from duty in January after being accused of misconduct with a minor while they resided at St. Gregory’s Academy, an all-boys school. The two priests belonged to the St. John Society, now located in Shohola, Pike County.

That case is being investigated by the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office. During the investigation, allegations against the Rev. Christopher Clay were made and he was removed from duty as chaplain at Bishop Hafey High School in Hazle Township. Clay has denied the allegations, Timlin said.

An abuse allegation several decades ago by the Rev. Thomas Skotek resulted in his removal in April as pastor of two parishes in Conyngham Township. Timlin has said Skotek underwent treatment years ago and has done excellent work since without new complaints.

There is no plan to announce the names of additional priests removed as a result of the new policy. Action will likely be made during routine reassignments and retirements done periodically by the diocese.

The policy calls for a priest guilty of misconduct to be dismissed “from the clerical state.” While technically still a priest, he would not be allowed to dress or act like a priest in public or to celebrate Mass except for himself.

The policy mandates other significant steps by dioceses nationwide and Timlin will face implementing them in his final months on the job. He is set to retire, as required by the church, in August when he turns 75.

Timlin was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The new policy requires each diocese to establish:

A review board consisting mainly of lay people not employed by the diocese to assess allegations and regularly review diocese policies. The Diocese of Scranton has a board in place, but it is unclear if it meets the new requirements.

“Clear and well-publicized” standards “of ministerial behavior and appropriate boundaries for clergy and for any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people.”

“A communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness.”

“Safe environment” programs in cooperation with “parents, civil authorities, educators, and community organizations to provide education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children.”

The policy also establishes a national office responsible for overseeing compliance, and promises to publicly name any diocese that fails to meet the new requirements.

The complete policy is available online at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Web site: www.usccb.org.

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


Bishop: Removed priest was evaluated years ago

The Times Leader

26 May 2002


One of the two Scranton Diocese priests most recently removed from duty had undergone evaluation previously, Bishop James Timlin said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Timlin – who said he believes it’s important to talk to the media when problems arise – offered some new details on the recent cases of the Rev. Thomas Skotek and the Rev. Christopher Clay

Skotek was removed as pastor of two parishes in Conyngham Township in April after a recent complaint of misconduct that allegedly occurred about 30 years ago. No charges or lawsuits have been filed.

Timlin said Skotek came under scrutiny several years ago when a different complaint was made, also alleging misconduct decades earlier. Skotek underwent a professional evaluation – as per diocese policy – and was returned to duty because “the evaluation was that he was not a predator, not a pedophile,” Timlin said.

“We go by the recommendations they give us,” Timlin said. “In fact, the people involved with the problem did not want him removed from the ministry.”

Timlin said the decision to let Skotek return to a parish was similar to letting an alcoholic return to work after successful rehabilitation.

“We had priests who were alcoholics over the years, who underwent treatment, and who did a tremendous job afterwards,” Timlin said.

Skotek’s April removal stemmed from a new complaint by a different person – also alleging the incident happened long ago – Timlin said.

Timlin said Clay came under scrutiny as a result of an investigation by the Lackawanna County district attorney into two priests – the Rev. Eric Ensey and the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity – accused of misconduct with a minor while they resided at St. Gregory’s Academy, an all-boy’s school. The two priests belonged to the St. John Society, now located in Shohola, Pike County.

“The same person who filed the claims against those two priests, during the investigation police talked to this boy and he implicated father Clay,” Timlin said.

The person who filed the complaint against Ensey and Urrutigoity alleges that, as part of that involvement, he attended a dinner with the Oratory of St. Philip Neri – another religious association – in Mount Pocono, Monroe County.

Clay was an Oratory member at the time. Timlin would not discuss many details about the case because it is under investigation, but said the student alleges alcohol was served at dinner and that some type of inappropriate contact occurred afterward, though Timlin said his understanding is that the victim is not sure about what was done by whom, because of the alcohol.

Clay, who was serving as chaplain at Bishop Hafey High School in Hazle Township, has admitted wine was served with dinner, but flatly denied other allegations, Timlin said. The fledgling Oratory has since been disbanded because it failed to receive the pope’s approval.

Neither of those cases has resulted in police charges or civil lawsuits, Timlin said.

Two new lawsuits have been filed, both involving the Society of St. John and the College of St. Justin Martyr that was started by the Society. Both name Timlin as a defendant because he agreed to let the Society establish itself in the diocese.

One suit was filed by Jeffrey Bond, the college’s head, who claims he had an oral contract with the society to work for them, at $60,000 per year, to establish the college, along with a Catholic village where the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated – something that requires Timlin’s approval.

Bond said he gave up a tenured college teaching position in New Jersey because the Society and Timlin convinced him the Society would succeed in its sweeping plan, and that the society fired him without cause.

The second suit was filed by the college, which broke away from the Society after allegations of misconduct and financial mismanagement emerged last year. The suit contends the Society raised money using the college’s name, but never gave it to the college. Bond said he believes the society raised $5 million.

Both lawsuits seek unspecified amounts for “losses and damages.” Timlin said he is confident the diocese will win if the cases go to court, and he pointed out that the Society is a separate corporation.

“They include the diocese because they know the Society of St. John doesn’t have any money,” Timlin said.

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


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