Sexual Abuse Civil Trial against Two Priests May Be Set for Spring
By Chris Birk
January 8, 2005
In early August, the Rev. Eric Ensey filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, which, under federal law, triggers an automatic stay of a debtor's judicial proceedings. Father Ensey and the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity, along with the Diocese of Scranton, the SSJ and a few other entities, are named as defendants in a John Doe civil suit filed in March 2002 in U.S. District Court.
In October, civil trial judge John E. Jones III cited the statute in ordering the case stayed until bankruptcy proceedings cleared or the automatic stay was removed. On Tuesday, the latter occurred, as federal bankruptcy Judge John J. Thomas issued an order lifting the automatic stay.
"Once the stay is lifted, the court will set a pretrial conference for us to select a trial date," said James Bendell, an attorney for Mr. Doe. "I think it should be able to go to trial by March or April."
Despite the stay's dissolution, both sides continue to wait on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorneys for the two priests are hoping to block Mr. Doe's attempt to obtain psychological records of the pair.
In March, Judge Jones gave Mr. Bendell the go-ahead to review the records, but allowed the priests to immediately appeal his decision to the 3rd Circuit.
After the 3rd Circuit denied that initial appeal, attorneys for the priests requested an en banc appeal, which would involve every circuit judge. A three-judge panel heard the initial appeal.
Carbondale attorney Harry T. Coleman, who also represents John Doe, said the case will resume once the appeals court reaches a disposition on the en banc petition.
"The next move is really the circuit's," he said.
A message was left after business hours with the priests' attorney, Sal Cognetti. He was unavailable for comment.
The John Doe civil suit against the society also accuses the Most. Rev. James C. Timlin, then-bishop of the diocese, and others of failing to scrutinize the two priests or adequately monitor their activities after sexual abuse allegations arose.
In late November, the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino, current bishop of Scranton, issued a decree of suppression for the Society of St. John, severing all ties between the diocese and the Pike County organization.
Mr. Doe, now 23 and living in North Carolina, said in his deposition that the molestation began on his 17th birthday in 1998. Mr. Doe's real name is disclosed in the deposition, but it is the policy of the Times-Tribune newspapers not to identify victims of alleged sexual assault.
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