Priest accused of molesting St. Gregory's students removed from Paraguay post

By David Falchek
July 29, 2014

A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting students at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst in 2002, who then landed a powerful position in a diocese in Paraguay, has been removed from his post by Vatican envoys.

The news came shortly after a visit from a delegation of Vatican officials to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, that the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity was relieved of his duties as vicar general of the diocese, according to media reports in South America.

The matter of the Rev. Urrutigoity erupted again in June, after a GlobalPost investigative story that prompted a feud between Paraguay’s two most powerful bishops over the status of the controversial priest amid mounting international and local calls for his removal.

Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera penned a letter to Vatican administrators in the spring expressing concerns about the Rev. Urrutigoity’s rise in the ranks. Local Roman Catholic officials say they have not received official word about the priest’s status in Paraguay.

“Considering Father Urrutigoity’s troubling history in the Diocese of Scranton and the fact that warnings regarding his suitability for ministry have not been heeded, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L., continues to have grave concerns,” read a Diocese of Scranton statement provided Monday.

The move was welcome by watchdog groups.

“We are glad that this has been done but it should have happened months ago and he should never have been put back on the job, much less won a promotion,” said David Clohessy, of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP.

The Rev. Urrutigoity's case highlights the Roman Catholic Church’s difficulty in removing a potentially dangerous priest from service. It is a problem that has frustrated the current and former bishops of the Scranton diocese, who attempted to warn Rogelio Livieres, the bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, of the Rev. Urrutigoity’s troubled history. Bishops have no authority outside their own diocese.

Bishop Livieres consistently defended the Rev. Urrutigoity against all critics, even a neighboring Archbishop.

The Archbishop of Asuncion, Eustaquio Pastor Cuquejo, called for a new investigation into the Rev. Urrutigoity. Bishop Livieres was so outraged that he claimed at a public rally that Archbishop Cuquejo was nearly removed from the church five years ago for homosexual behavior, calling him “a bad person” who shouldn’t “throw stones.” Paraguay’s chief prosecutor for youth began an investigation into the Rev. Urrutigoity last month. Pope Francis’ delegation arrived July 21.

Pope Francis also suspended ordination of priests and deacons in the Diocese of Cuidad del Este, pending findings of his team.

Accusations have dogged the Rev. Urrutigoity, who is originally from Argentina. He was asked to leave a seminary in Argentina for unknown reasons and given a “second chance” at a seminary in Winona, Minnesota, where he was accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward a young seminarian.

He then moved to the Diocese of Scranton, where the accusation took the form of a civil suit from former St. Gregory’s students. Then Bishop James Timlin suspended the Rev. Urrutigoity and the other priest mentioned in the suit, the Rev. Eric Ensey.

The Diocese of Scranton, a named party in the lawsuit, settled the case in 2004, for more than $400,000.

While the statute of limitation had expired on the abuse claims, leaving the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office unable to investigate or prosecute, the allegations were serious enough to prompt Bishop Timlin’s successor, Bishop Joseph Martino, to officially suppress the Society of St. John, the priestly order that operated St. Gregory’s. Soon after that the Rev. Urrutigoity found his way to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este. The Diocese of Scranton later claimed Bishop Martino personally communicated with Bishop Livieres, calling the Rev. Urrutigoity “a serious threat to young people.”

The Rev. Urrutigoity moved up to the ranks, becoming diocesan vicar general, essentially the second in command, earlier this year. That prompted Bishop Bambera to share his concerns with Vatican administrators.

In a recent short interview recorded by GlobalPost on video after a service, the Rev. Urrutigoity was asked about the warnings issued from the Scranton chancery. He said the bishops of Scranton are trying to insulate themselves from legal actions, lawsuits and “hysteria” over priest abuse in the United States.



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