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Vatican affirms diocesan ruling

The Vatican has ratified the Diocese of Scranton's decision to sever all ties with the Society of St. John, declaring the group's appeal "has no basis in law or in fact."

The ruling solidifies the initial suppression decree issued in November by the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino, diocesan bishop. The bishop last fall cited a lingering sexual abuse lawsuit and mounting financial problems among his reasons for cutting off the embattled society.

Weeks later, afforded an avenue of recourse under Catholic canon law, the society appealed the decision to Rome.

The Vatican issued its own decree on May 3.

In it, the Congregation for the Clergy states the Society of St. John "has been plagued with numerous difficulties, particularly in the areas of economic and pastoral activities" and "has repeatedly refused to fully cooperate with the (bishop) in the execution of his responsibilities regarding the oversight of the financial situation of the society," according to a story in today's "The Catholic Light" newspaper.

Efforts to reach the Rev. Daniel Fullerton, chancellor general of the society, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

With that Vatican decree in hand, the Diocese of Scranton has issued a new set of directives for the Society of St. John:

* Priests may not celebrate Holy Communion at their private residence.

* Society members are prohibited from involvement in fundraising activities for any pious purpose.

* Its Web site,,, must carry a prominent notice that the society is no longer a recognized ecclesial entity of the Catholic Church.

The Web site included no mention of the suppression as of Wednesday evening.

Spokesman Bill Genello was unable to address how the diocese plans on enforcing those directives.

The Society of St. John, founded by former members of the Society of St. Pius X, found a home in the diocese in 1997. A year later, then-Bishop James C. Timlin granted the group status as a public clerical association within the diocese. The society lived at St. Gregory's Academy in Elmhurst until relocating to an expansive property in Shohola in 1999.

Looking to create a religious "city on a hill," the Society of St. John tumbled into financial tumult, wracking up debt and legal fees after a former St. Gregory's Academy student accused two society priests of sexual abuse in a federal civil suit. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in March 2002, the John Doe suit against the Revs. Carlos Urrutigoity and Eric Ensey was settled in May, with the diocese on the hook for a $200,000 settlement.

A day later, on May 6, the Society of St. John sold its 1,000-acre property in Pike County for $3.05 million, repaying a $2.65 million loan to the diocese and covering its own $55,000 share of the sexual abuse settlement.

In all, the former student received a $380,000 settlement that, with annuities, is expected to be worth $455,550.

The Shohola tract was sold to Michael and Elizabeth Geitz, of Summit, N.J.

Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful.

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Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved