Relevant Once Again: A Special Report on the Society of Saint John (2000)

[Author’s Note: As promised when Led by Thoroughly False Spirits, part two was published on June 4, 2014, I have transcribed and formatted a special report about the Society of Saint John that was written in September and October of 2000. The report is relevant once again as a result of Father Carlos Urrutigoity’s promotion four months ago to the position of vicar general of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, despite the fact that only the willfully blind can ignore his record as predator of young boys and young men.

[Unfortunately, there are lots of people all across and up and down the vast expanse of the ecclesiastical divide who are are willfully blinded to clear indications of similar behavior on the part of those to whom they are attached while castigating anyone and everyone who attempts to shed light on such behavior. Father Carlos Urrutigoity is a past and present master at deflecting revelations about his immoral, indecent conduct by his attacking the “agenda” and the person of his accusers.

[This report was written after an investigation conducted this author in the Summer and Fall of 2000 at the behest of two former board members of the Society of Saint John, who made available reams of original documentation (letters, financial statements, attestations via e-mail) as I conducted interviews with many of the principals involved. Let it be stipulated that I was attending “indult” Masses in those days and was unaware at that time of any controversy involving Father Carlos Urrutigoity’s history as a seminarian and priest of the Society of Saint Pius X.

[The conclusions reached as a result my investigation served as the basis of series of written questions I submitted to Father Carlos Urrutigoity, the founder of the Society of Saint John, during the Fall of 2000. It was only after the then conciliar “bishop” of the Diocese of Scranton, James Clifford Timlin, ordered Father Urrutigoity to respond to questions that he did so, delegating, however, much of the task to others in the Society of Saint John (these responses appeared on their website at the time). “Bishop” Timlin issued a statement to me on October 26, 2000, that has been transcribed and is found at the end of the original report, and is completely indefensible in light of all of the facts that have come to light since that time. Equally laughable is the assertion made on March 22, 2006, by the “papal” nuncio to Paraguay, Archbishop” Orlando Antonini, to attorney James Bendell that “no trace of this Society remains anywhere in Paraguay.

[Although Father Urrutigoity’s responses evaded the issues under examination, he was forthright, however, in condemning the nature of the questions posed to him as Satanic. He resented having to answer to them, claiming that I was doing the work of the devil by undermining a mission which had been given him directly by God.

[Subsequent events have transpired since my report was written and I received the Society’s responses to my questions in late November of 2000. Dr. Jeffrey Bond, the fonder of the College of Justin Martyr, wrote a number of e-mails in which he has made serious allegations against Father Carlos Urrutigoity and the Society of Saint John. Although the nature of the allegations concerning behavior in violation of the binding precepts of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments did not constitute the substance of the report that I wrote, there was a hint of some predilection in this regard as pertains public nakedness on the grounds of the Society’s property in Shohola, Pennsylvania. The gist of my report, however, dealt with the financial profligacy of the Society and the cavalier manner in which it dealt with the contributions it raised and how it squandered the trust and good will of those who had spent considerable time and energy to help it raise funds. The continued financial profligacy of the Society that has been documented by Dr. Bond is the result of the failure of diocesan officials, including Bishop Timlin, to take seriously the concerns which had been raised directly with them by former board members in 1999 and 2000.

[Readers can judge the story on its own merits. Lest the actual dating of this article be in question, permit me to say that this story was submitted on a confidential basis with a number of leading Catholics in the Fall of 2000, including Lt. General Martin L. Brandner, U.S.M.C. (ret.), the Executive Director of the Scholz Family Foundation, and Dr. John C, Rao, the Director of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute in New York City, among others.

[Reference number in parentheses represent points that are the subject of commentary in No Excuses For Those Who Indemnify the Society of Saint John.]

September 2000: The Society of Saint John was founded by several priests who had left the Society of Saint Pius X in 1992. It appeared to be the case that the priests who broke from the Society of Saint Pius X had desired to seek full communion with the Succession of Saint Peter. With that in mind, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bishop James C. Timlin, welcomed the priests into his diocese and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pete permitted them to live and work at Saint Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, until such time as they could find a permanent place to live. The Society was canonically erected by Bishop Timlin in May of 1998. The installation Mass, which drew several hundred people from all over the country, was celebated according to the 1962 Missale Romanum, which had been promulgated by Pope John XXIII (and which was specified by John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei ad afflicta motu proprio as the Missal to be used by priests celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass under Vatican indult). The Mass of Canonical Erection was so beautiful that it led almost all of those who attended it to conclude that the Society of Saint John was serious about promoting a more generous restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass. Indeed, the Society’s Founding Document discussed the importance of “restoring” our liturgical tradition, although it did not specifically identify a Missal to be followed. It was assumed that the Society would celebrate Mass in accord with the 1962 Missale Romanum.

The Society’s Founding Document included a commitment on the part of its founders to establish a Medieval village which would center around the restored liturgy. The Founding Document identified what it called “liturgical decadence” as having played a major role in the destruction of order both within the Church and society. The village would be a place for families to support themselves by living off of the food they would grow and the livestock they would keep on the property. Individuals of any faith would be welcome to buy property and to establish themselves as part of the village. And those who did not conduct business there, such as commuters who drove to other places to make a living, would be welcomed to live and to participate in the social life and camaraderie that characterized villages in the Middle Ages.

An important element of the village was to be a Catholic college, somewhat modeled after Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Indeed, some of the initial seminarians had been graduates of Thomas Aquinas College. That part of the Founding Document which dealt with the concept of the college was written essentially by Dr. Ronald McArthur, Thomas Aquinas College’s founder and first president. The college was to feature scholars noted for their doctrinal orthodoxy and their commitment to liturgical tradition. The college would be open to all, but it would also serve to educate seminarians of the Society before they embarked on their theological studies leading to priestly ordination.

The Society assemble an impressed Board of Advisers to list on its letterhead and fund-raising letters. Among the members of the Board were John W. Blewett, President of the Wanderer Forum Foundation and former Vice President for Business Administration at Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. McArthur, Father John Perricone, and Mr. Howard Walsh, President of Keep the Faith. Father Longinus Young was selected to be the Society’s spiritual director. This impressive group of advisers—and the Society’s apparent commitment to liturgical tradition—helped to create a vast reservoir of good will for the Society, which resulted in a number of very wealthy people volunteering to support the Society’s development and growth.

The Society and the Mass

There are many aspects of the Society’s development and growth that will be covered in this story. The most important aspect, however, concerns the Society and the Mass. For despite the appearance of a commitment to what most Catholics would call the Traditional Latin Mass, Father Carlos Urrutigoity has said that the Society of Saint John is not committed to celebrate the Mass in accordance with the 1962 Missale Romanum. However, he has not made these remarks publicly. His public utterances, such as those made at a regional Wanderer Forum in Montvale, New Jersey, in January of 1999, have been vague and confusing to the untrained listener. His response to a direct question about what he meant when he referred to “restoring the liturgy” was even more vague than the comments he had given in his prepared remarks. Most people, however, just shook off the vagueness and ambiguity, reading into his remarks their own belief that the Society meant to continue to celebrate the Mass in accordance with the 1962 Missale Romanum. (1)

It became evident to several people as early as April of 1999 that the Society was not committed to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass according to one particular Missal. The Easter Vigil Masss, which was celebrated at Saint Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, featured a number of innovations not to be found in the 1962 Missal. One of these innovations was the use of a set of readings not found in that Missal. Additionally, there was the distribution of Holy Communion with intinction of Our Lord’s Most Precious Blood, something that is forbidden in the Traditional Latin Mass. This raised more than a few eyebrows, especially since Monsignor Arthur Calkins of the Ecclesia Dei Commission in Rome was the celebrant of the Mass. He told this reporter after the Mass, which lasted from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am on Easter Sunday morning, that he had authorized the changes. As Monsignor Calkins has never been particularly friendly to the promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass under the Ecclesia Dei ad afflicta motu proprio (2), more than a few suspicions were aroused following the Easter Vigil Mass in Elmhurst in 1999. Was Monsignor Calkins using the Society to experiment with a hybri Mass, something forbidden by Pope John Paul II in the Ecclesia Dei motu proprio in 1988? The Holy Father said there was to be no admixture of rites. Was the Society of Saint John being pushed into these innovations-or were they in fact collaborating with Monsignor Calkins? Was the integrity of the Traditional Latin Mass being compromised?

These questions were not answered early that Easter morning in 1999, although this write did ask an intermediary to pose questions to Father Carlos about what had happened during the Easter Vigil Mass. Generally, however, there continued to be a reservoir of good will towards the Society of Saint John, especially after word became public that an indescribably beautiful piece of property had been found for them in Shohola, Pennsylvania, approximately fifteen miles west of Pennsylvania’s border with the State of New York. The raising of funds for thatproperty is the subject of the next part of this report. Suffice it to say, however, that whatever questions supporters had about its liturgical thrust were subordinated in the rush of the excitement produced by the discovery of the Shohola property—and the desire to get them settle there as soon as possible.

This reporter interviewed Father Carlos in Shohola in November of 1999. The interview took place as part of an effort to publicize the plight of the Society, which was represented to me by a board member, Mr. Howard Walsh, as being in desperate need of financial assistance to support its seminarians who were study abroad at a monastery in France, as well to to keep the priests in Shohola afloat financially. But the first thing this reporter wanted to discuss with Father Carlos Urrutigoity was the liturgy.

The reporter told Father Carlos directly that there was a great deal of concern about the liturgical direction in which the Society was proceeding. He understood the question and spoke most matter of factly about the Society’s intentions. He began by referring to an unnamed newsletter (which turned out to have been published by the National Coalition of Concerned Clergy and Laity in Allentown, Pennsylvania), stating that it was what he called an “un-Catholic” position to stake one’s liturgical beliefs and practices to a particular missal, in this case the 1962 Missale Romanum. Father Carlos became very animated, saying that an attachment to one particular Mass is not only an un-Catholic position it is Protestant to its very core. He said that those who propagated such a view were bordering on schism as they held an inordinate attachment to one Missal, thereby precluding the possibility of organic growth in the liturgy. The task of the Society, as Father Carlos explained to this reporter, was to see how the liturgy would have grown organically had there no Consilium appointed by Pope Paul VI in 1967 to “reform” the liturgy. It was the Consilium that planned what became the Novus Ordo, which was promulgated by the Missal issue by Pope Paul VI on April 3, 1969. (3)

As Father Carlos saw matters, there had been too many polemical arguments about liturgical matters. To recapture the Church’s liturgical tradition, he contended at the time, one would have to be willing to borrow, say, from the 1910 Missal, or the 1955 Missal, or the 1962 Missal. Father Carlos said that there might be an occasion or two when elements from the 1965 Missal might be used in the Society’s celebration of Holy Mass. There might be experiments with abolishing prayers at the foot of the altar as is the practice in the Benedictine celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (and, of course, I the 1965 Ordo Missae), and the readings might be read in English only with no Latin recitation whatsoever by the priest. Father Carlos said that he was committed to what he called the Tridentine Mass, but not to any particular expression of it. He said that it was important to permit the traditional liturgy to grow organically as it might have grown h there not been the polemics concerning the Novus Ordo and its implementation (note) and the abuses associated with that implementation. He told this reporter that the Society was working closely with Monsignor Arthur Calkins in the Ecclesia Dei Commission on the types of changes that could be made to the traditional liturgy, changes that would reflect its permanence on the one hand and what he said was its “living nature” on the other. He said that now was was not the time for a public discussion of these matters, however, given the controversy surrounding several priests in the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter who desired to celebrate both the Immemorial Mass of Tradition and the Novus Ordo. He said that he did not want to undermine the members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter who wanted to hold only to the Traditional Latin Mass, especially since the Society was indebted to the Priestly Fraternity for housing its members after Bishop Timlin decided to give them his canonical protection.

This reporter came away from the meeting with the belief, since confirmed by others (as will be explained below), that Father Carlos believed that he had been charged by God the Holy Ghost to oversee changes in the Immemorial Mass of Tradition. It further occurred to me that Monsignor Calkins was indeed trying to use the Society of Saint John as a laboratory to prepare people for liturgical reforms in accord with neither the letter nor the spirit of John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei ad afflicta motu proprio. Although I believed it was important to report this, I understood Father Carlos’s stated desire not to undermine the stated position of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. But it also occurred to me that he did not want possible financial donors to know the true intentions of the Society. Intentions that he had masked quite cleverly by the use of vague language at various conferences and in the Society’s Founding Document.

Dr. John C. Rao, Professor of History at St. John’s University, Staten Island, New York, and the Director of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute in the City of New York, New York, reported that he had a similar experience with Father Carlos earlier this year, repeated to Rao what he had told this reporter some months before. Rao said that Father Carlos believed that:

“Traditionalist circles were filled with a kind of Presbyterian, anti-clerical, lay spirit. He did, indeed, that mention several times that the 1962 Missal was not good, and it was that comment which made me wonder just how much he knew of liturgical development given the fact that the 1962 Missal would not have aroused surprise in the mind of someone hearing Mass in 1862. He also made the comment to me that the Society would do all in its power to defend the Fraternity of Saint Peter, though I could could not understand why that would be the case if the 1962 Missal were so flawed. I would not necessarily say that he put special emphasis on anything in the conversation; it just flowed here and there. Again, what came through in my meeting with him was a sense of his conviction that they were ‘with the Church’ and we were not; that their liturgical changes were the correct ones; and that lay people, but especially lay people without degrees, were too powerful in the traditionalist movement.”

Rao also noted that Father Carlos had accused him, John Rao, of having a “schismatic mentality” when he brought up complaints about the Church.

According to Rao, Father Carlos envisioned a wide range of changes, based upon what was termed “monastic usage,” which should have been made in the 1962 Missal, changes which the Society, Father Carlos implied, was founded to explore. When Rao challenged him on these points, Father Carlos grew quite angry. However, it was Rao’s judgment that Father Carlos did not have a deep understanding of the development of the liturgy. It was also Rao’s judgment that Father Carlos resented being challenged on any of the points he made, arbitrarily calling such challenges an example of the anti-clericalism he says is associated with certain traditionalists. Dr. Rao asked Father Carlos if it was right to keep this information from the Sociey’s supporters, whereupon Father Carlos told Rao to publish the information himself. “You tell them, you tell them all,” Rao reported Father Carlos as saying. (4)

A similarly heated discussion on the Society’s liturgical thrust was held in New York, New York in July of 2000. One participant, a layman who has since obtained prominence in the world and explained about a decade ago that his name was to be removed from this report, reported that Father Carlos became angry with him when he made many of the points which Dr. Rao had made earlier this year. He did not retract his remarks, however. Concerns about the liturgical thrust of the Society of Saint John prompted Una Voce to remove links to the Society on its website.

Upon reflection, this reporter recalled discussing the nature of the Society with Tony Myers, who had joined the Society shortly after its formation, on the day of the Society’s canonical erection n May of 1998. Myers said that the Society did not want to involve itself in “controversy,” that it wanted to reach out to Catholics who were beyond the traditional movement in order to expose them to the richness of the liturgy. Perhaps it is the case, in retrospect, that the Society desired to reach out to to people beyond the traditional movement who would not have any knowledge of—or concern about—the changes in the liturgy which Father Carlos Urrutigoity believed it was his mission to design and implement. (5)

Thus, it should be clear that those who want to offer financial assistance to the Society of Saint John are not supporting an effort that is based on a commitment to comply with the Ecclesia Dei ad afflicta motu proprio of John Paul II. They are supporting a speculative effort to reform the Immemorial Mass of Tradition, all the while being encouraged to so by a Vatican functionary who is no friend of the Traditional Latin Mass. Monsignor Arthur Calkins is using the Society to advance his own vision as to how the 1962 Missal might be “updated,” and the Society is using the prestige of the Vatican to justify its own desire to explore changes in the liturgy (and to solicit for funds without informing people as to it true intentions). If donors want to support an effort to see how the Traditional Latin Mass might have grown organically without the polemics caused by the creation of the synthetic Novus Ordo, then they are free to do so. Most of the donors, however have been misled by Father Carlo’s studied ambiguity and personal charm into thinking that the Society shares their own commitment to the Traditional Latin Mass without any change. It does not. (6)

The Society of Saint John and the Raising an Spending of Money: To Whom Are They Accountable

As many wealthy, traditionally-minded Catholics were impressed with what they perceived to be the mission of the Society of Saint John, contributions flowed into the Society’s coffers soon after they were canonically erected by Bishop Timlin in May of 1998. Some contributors gave upwards in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to hep put the Society on it feet, principally to help support its members at a time they were paying rent to live at the Academy of Saint Gregory in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. Also uppermost in the minds of those who contributed to the Society early on in its canonical life was the necessity of finding a permanent piece of property upon which the Society could establish itself, the place upon which the concept of the Medieval village, replete with the college proposed to be created by the Society, could originate and grow.

Through a series of circumstances recounted in my Wanderer piece on the Society of Saint John in November of 1999, a wealthy Catholic happened to receive a brochure describing a tract of land in Shohola, Pennsylvania, which seemed to be perfect for the Society’s purposes. The enthusiasm among the supporters of the Society ran so high that a number of decisions were mae which came back to haunt them once it became apparent in late-1999 that Father Carlos Urrutigoity was acting in a reckless and imprudent manner when it came to the expenditure of funds donated to suppot the work of the Society of Saint John.

One of the Society’s chief financial supporters in 1999 was Mr. Matthew J. Sawyer, a self-made millionaire who has been very supportive of a variety of Catholic causes. A letter he to wrote to Father Urrutigoity and others, dated September 14, 1999, indicated the degree of enthusiasm that he possessed as the Society neared the final stages of closing on the property in Shohola. The letter also demonstrated the degree to which Mr. Sawyer trusted the representations that had been made to him by Father Carlos.

“I would like to take this opportunity to review the chronology and facts of the negotiations for the purchase of the Pinebrook Farm Ziccardi, as it appears to me that there is some feeling of unease toward me. Perhaps it appear to some that I have acted too aggressively throughout the negotiations this past summer and pushed too hard to conclude this purchase without full agreement, consent, and guidance from the above mentioned board members.”

The second paragraph is revealing, especially in light of Mr. Sawyer’s subsequent disillusionment with the Society and his sense that Father Carlos had manipulated him into making hasting decisions during the summer of 1999. It is clear from Mr. Sawyer’s first paragraph that some of the Society’s board members were concerned by the speed with which Mr. Sawyer was acting to acquire the property without checking all of the details. As will be discovered in a moment, Mr. Sawyer was acting on Father Carlos Urrutigoity’s specific direction and encouragement.

“First and foremost, that any action taken by Tony Myers [a member of the Society of Saint John] and myself was done on explicit instructions from Father Urrutigoity and was done for the good of the Society of Saint John. We had to overcome many, many obstacles during the course of the negotiations, any one of which could have killed the deal altogether if we had not acted in an expeditious and professional manner. The foremost objective of the SSI [the Latin abbreviation for SSJ] in a relatively short time period and have the SSI established for the first time on their own property.”

Mr. Saywer recounted in great detail the chronology of what led up to his own efforts to bail out the Society, which found itself in a financial pinch just before it closed on he property in Shohola. Sawyer noted in his September 14, 1999, letter that:

“Initially, we understood that there was $340,000 in the bank for the purchase down payment. Tony and I negotiated confidently with this figure in mind, and concluded the purchase on Friday, July 9, for $2.2 million. The following Monday, we were informed that,in fact there would be only $208,000 available. This would then make the deal much harder to get together and get financing approval from the bank, as they required a 20% down payment for a loan of this amount., especially for a relatively new organization without a proven track record in financial matters.”

Although Sawyer did not realize it at the time, the misrepresentation by the Society as to the amount of money it had in the bank was to prove quite typical of the half-truths he would be told in the ensuing months.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Sawyer, Father Urrutigoity had contracted with an architectural firm, Hemller, Camayd, before closing on the property in Shohola. The Society owed this firm $21,748.89 for “project administration, pre-design, schematics and design developments” in the period between July 30, 1999 (when it was far from clear that the Society would qualify for the mortgage and the note it needed to close on the property in Shohola), and October 28, 1999. The Society was spending money in the bank than it actually had to cover the purchase down payment on the Shohola property.

Thus, Mr. Sawyer negotiated with the bank to see if the Society could qualify for a 90% loan, something that is most unusual for a bank to grant to a new organization whose financial assets were almost nonexistent at the time. “The only way the bank would consider this loan,” Mr. Sawyer wrote on September 14, 1999, “was with a Guarantor for at least $500,000. As there did not appear to be any other volunteers insight I took on this obligation and had to comply with all the demands for financial documents, tax returns and various requests by the bank.”

It appears to have been the case that Father Carlos made a conscious decision to place Mr. Sawyer in a position where his enthusiasm for the welfare of the Society of Saint John would compel him to place himself at financial risk to bail out the Society when it became evident that the Society did not have the amount of money in the bank which Mr. Sawyer had been told it had. Many who have been involved with the Society have had the same kind of experience, which Father Carlos dismissed in each instance as a “misunderstanding.” perhaps caused by the fact that English is not his native language. Others, however, believed that Father Carlos Urrutigoity meant to deceive them into doing with their own means that which he could not do with the Society’s.

Mr. Sawyer, for instance, not only had to guarantee the Society’s mortgage by pledging up to $500,000 of his own money after filling out an exhaustive set of forms. As he wrote on September 14, 1999: “Were just advised that there will be some additional unanticipated costs at the closing, including a 1% transfer fee, various taxes and insurance fees which necessitates us having to bring an additional, unanticipated $40,000 to the closing. It is too bad our lawyer did not inform us of these costs sooner.” Mr. Sawyer loaned the money himself. He later came to regret the decision when he learned that Father Carlos was busy supervising the purchase of $135,000 in furniture for the house in Shohola, an expense that Father Longinus Young, who was the Society of Saint John’s spiritual director at the time, called obscene and unjustifiable.

The purchase of the property in Shohola left one Scott Fraser, a real estate agent with Davis Realty in Milford, Pennsylvania, out in the cold. He had worked very hard with Father Carlos Urrutigoity and several board members to find a property suitable for the Society of Saint John and its ambitious goals. Although the Shohola property came to the attention of the Society as the result of the aforementioned mailing sent to one of its aforementioned board members, Mr. Fraser was told by Father Carlos that he would be paid his commission nonetheless.

Mr. Fraser warned Father Carlos about possible problems with the Shohola property, not the least of which concerned the logistics of access road and possible problems that might be encountered in obtaining the necessary permits to develop the property. His warnings fell on deaf ears. As it turned out, to us a colloquialism, Mr. Fraser got “stiffed” by the Society of Saint John. He received no commission for all of the many hours he had worked to help the Society.

Thanks in large measure to the generosity of Mr. Sawyer and others, the Society purchased the property in Shohola and moved into the house. As town ordinances forbade more than five people who are unrelated by blood to each other from living in one dwelling unit on a tract of land, the Society could not legally house seminarians and guests in the house in Shohola. And for the Society to even begin thinking about developing the property for purposes of erecting the village and establishing the campus of the College of Saint Justin Martyr, it had to construct an access road, which they could not do as they did not own the property adjacent to theirs upon which an access road could be built. Nevertheless, the Society continued to represent in fund-raising brochures and letters that it was ready to start the college and to begin the construction on their chapel, to say nothing for planning for the village. To that latter end, architects and engineers were hired without first obtaining any estimate as to what professional fees those professionals would charge the Society. Father Carlos’s attitude seemed to be that God would provide him with the means to pay for the professionals, some of whom were working at cross purposes and duplicating the work of others. He did not bother himself with obtaining estimates and confining himself to any particular budget.

Moreover, it was around this time that Father Carlos begin to solicit loans from Catholic couples who had savings accounts with funds that Father believed could be tapped to support his extravagant, unbudgeted spending sprees. As will be be detailed below, one of these couples loaned the Society of Saint John $100,000, although they did not receive any document from the Society acknowledging that it was a loan, nor did they receive any information as to when the loan would be repaid. Furthermore, the loan did not appear as a loan on the Society’s financial books, thereby creating a false impression to those who might review it books that would not reveal the full extent of its liabilities. Indeed, some of those who were on the Society’s board believed that the hiding of these loans was done very deliberately.

A summary of expenses prepared by the Society in November of 1999 indicated that nearly $140,000 had been spent between October 26, 1999, and November 2, 1999. Among those expenses were payments made to Penn Furniture, Scranton, Pennsylvania, totaling $134,486.35. Included in this purchase were the following items:

(1) $4,345 for a desk;
(2) $16,500 for a dining table;
(3) $13,650 for three rugs;
(4) $4,995 for an entertainment center;
(5) $5,200 for a bar, among other items purchased.

Father Carlos claimed that his father, who lives in his native Argentina, was subsidizing the $5,000 monthly furniture payment that the Society was making at the time to Penn Furniture.

Additionally, the Society of Saint John listed a sum of $20,562 in salary to ten paid employees. Anthony Mioni was listed as being paid a monthly sum of $3,500 to direct the Society’s publications and its website development. Joseph Mioni was paid $3,116 to serve as the Society’s director of finances. And as noted above, a sum of $100,000 was listed as being owed to a benefactress, who had loaned that amount of money to the Society of Saint John at the request of Father Carlos Urrutigoity. But the amount was not listed as a loan. It was listed merely as a debt owed, with no real reason given as to the nature of the debt. No schedule of payment to the benefactress, who had requested anonymity after this report was published in 2002, was listed on the summary of the Society’s expenses that had been provided to this writer by a former board member. As will be seen below, Father Carlos was treating loans as though those who had made them would later turn the loans into gifts.

Although of Saint John had listed its expenses upon being requested to do so by members of the Board of Advisers, it did not provide board members with a detailed itemization of assets and liabilities, including donations given to the Society and loans made to the Society by private individuals. Indeed, all efforts to secure such information up to the time of this report’s writing were resisted by Father Carlos Urrutigoity. One of the Society’s major contributors demanded that the Diocese of Scranton, was was evidently in possession of an audit that had been made of the Society’s books in 2000, make the records available to him. The individual who made this request was one who helped to find the Shohola property in the first place, a man who devoted a great deal of money to help establish the Society of Saint John in 1998 and to support it thereafter. Father Carlos took the man off of the Society’s mailing list, something that he did with others who dared to question him about his conduct and his control of the Society.

Mr. Matthew Sawyer, a man who built a small business into a successful enterprise as a result of careful planning, became alarmed at the Society’s spending habits. He was also concerned about Father Carlos Urrutigoity’s unwillingness to accept advice from anyone, and was very irritated by the fact that Father Carlos had actually expressed resentment at anyone who dared to place any of his decisions into question, going so far as to say, as he had done in the case of Dr. John C. Rao, that such people have a “schismatic mentality.” Mr. Sawyer expressed his concern in a letter to Father Carlos Urrutigoity dated December 8, 1999:

“I am writing to express my deep concern that under your leadership and direction I feel that you have brought the Society of Saint John to the point of bankruptcy. I am stunned and disappointed by your very unstable and erratic behavior, especially in your responses to some serious questions.

“Had your apparent unconcern for for money and the wisdom of your advisors and supporters been previously known to me, I never would have had any interest whatsoever in getting involved with the Society of Saint John, especially to the extent that I have my personal financial situation at risk with you. I am very shocked by your reckless, profligate spending and the fact that you have run up an enormous debt load in only six weeks of taking occupancy of of the Shohola property. It is hard for me to comprehend that only two days before closing you were desperate to find $40,000 to make the closing costs and had to lean on me at the last minute for that money. Then one week later you went on a spending spree that included a purchase of furniture for $135,000. You have coldly betrayed my trust in you and the Society of Saint John—especially my rights as a cosigner. Should you not consult with someone before embarking on such spending junkets? This is totally unacceptable behavior and very surprising to me. I never could have imagined this happening with an order of priests! I sincerely thought that the mortgage would keep all of you very humble and focused on being very conservative with money—not to mention watchful and respectful of my personal financial risk.

“As far as I can determine from the financial statements, you ran up the debt of $500,000 by mid-November and hired ten paid employees , of which, two have assistants. How can you have ore than one or two paid employees and the rest volunteer? At your stage of development, being a very young organization, I would expect you naturally be in a very mean and lean posture. Wasting money on expensive furniture and employees is not a very sensible use of donors’ money, especially when you re facing a monthly mortgage of $15,000, and need to start construction of various buildings to house members and, of course, build a chapel. With all the money wasted so far, a new chapel could have been almost completed.”

“You also seem to be unconcerned that you have permitted a lien to be placed on your property. This is in violation of the mortgage agreement. You borrowed $100,000 from a supporter without any consultation with the board of advisors an you started deconstruction work on the stable without the permission of Penn Bank as required by the loan documentation. Father Urrutigoity, who are you accountable to? If you will not listen to the advice of your advisors, whom will you listen to?

“I am further disappointed that you tried to hold back accurate financial information from Howard Walsh, who is one of your most key supporters, both financially and otherwise. You also provided limited and incomplete financial information for the meeting in New Jersey that included John Blewett and Ron McArthur and others. Then you did not even show up at that meeting to answer questions, despite the fact that John Blewett flew all the way from California just for this meeting. In my opinion, you certainly display a very careless attitude towards the very norms of society that one must adhere to, especially when dealing with people’s trust and their gifts of money and time. I, for one, can no longer support the Society of Saint John under your leadership after seeing the direction in which it is taking under your guidance. I hope that you urgently find a replacement cosigner for the loan so I can rest easy knowing that your foolishness with money will not end up as my obligation some day.”

The meeting referred to in Mr. Sawyer’s letter took place in late-November of 1999. Father Carlos wrote John Blewett a letter to explained why he had absented himself at what it he believed “was turning [out] to be some sort of impeachment trial and I thought that the best way to guarantee objectivity was for you people to get together, formulate clearly and freely all your concerns, and that afterwards I would do my best to answer them. . . .” He gave other reasons. The last one given indicated that he did not really consider himself answerable to the members of the Board of Advisors: “The Society is a clerical institute, and as such the superior to whom I must answer is the Bishop of Scranton (this we did by informing him of what was happening and following his advice in the matter).” This illustrated the point made by Dr. John C. Rao about Father Carlos’s resentment of lay involvement in clerical matters. It is clear that Father Carlos Urrutigoity did not want any lay person, including those who had place themselves at personal risk in serving on his Board of Advisors, whose function is to, after all, to interject himself in any way with the functioning of the Society of Saint John.

Mr. Sawyer’s December 8, 1999, letter was written three weeks after this reporter had interviewed Father Carlos Urrutigoity in Shohola. The purpose of my visit was to write an article for The Wanderer in order to help raise money for the Society. It had been represented to me that the Society was having difficulty feeding its members and pay for the upkeep of its seminarians who were studying at a monastery in France. Although a board member had told me rather vaguely that there some concerns about the expenditure of funds, I had no idea that the problems were as deep as outlined in Mr. Sawyer’s December 8 [1999] letter.

Indeed, members of the board of advisors did not know the depth of the problems. The Society appeared to be financially viable in the eyes of traditional Catholics. It appeared to be committed to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition without any alteration or innovation. Its glossy brochures and widely distributed videotapes indicated that it was a vibrant new religious community in the Catholic Church which was on sound footing, both liturgically and financially. The placement of slickly produced television advertisements on the major television networks in the summer of 2000 continued to convey that impression.

The reality, however, was not that being cultivated by the Society of Saint John. Concerns about its liturgical direction and its financial irresponsibility and unaccountability led several key board members to resign in early-2000. Among those who did so were Matthew Sawyer, Howard Walsh, John Blewett, Ronald McArthur, and Monsignor Charles Moss. Father John Perricone resigned in 2001. Although most of those people have kept their peace publicly until the time that this report was written [Monsignor Charles Moss died on July 9, 2006], Mr. Blewett [who died on February 8, 2013] did state the fact of his resignation from the board in the Forum Focus publication of The Wanderer Forum Foundation in early-2000.

The Society eventually did relieve Mr. Sawyer of his obligation as the cosigner on the loan that had helped to guarantee the purchase of the Shohola property in 1999. In a letter dated July 5, 2000, Mr. Sawyer expressed relief to Fathers Carlos Urrutigoity and Daniel Fullerton for being released from that obligation. He also informed them that, “I recently received a telephone call from Mr. Peter Pagan who expressed grave concern about your stability and your ability to handle money and make mature financial decisions. Of course, I was obliged to tell him of my experience with you. I think that he is now even more concerned than ever about the loan he apparently made to you. I sincerely hope that he is not about to be seriously damaged financially by you. He expressed deep concern about the fate of his money, which he is depending on for his future security.”

Mr. Sawyer went on to request the return of the $40,000 he had given the Society in September of 1999 to hep it meet its closing costs on the Shohola property.

“As for my experience with you and the loan I made to you close the property last September, I feel that you are obliged to at least repay this amount. When you called me just before the closing, you asked for a loan. I made no comment, but did wire you the money. Later I told you that I would give you the money and not consider it a loan. As events have played out and the facts have become known, I think that you were very deceptive in asking for money under false pretenses. Knowing what Father Carlos Urrutigoity was spending money on, yo should have been truthful me and othes as to the real intended use of our donations. We were told that you were using the contributions for the new seminarians and hopefully a college. Instead you were squandering our money on expensive furniture, travel and other non-related items at a staggering and disgraceful rate.”

To amplify Mr. Sawyer’s point, even though it appeared at the time of this report’s writing that the property for an access road had been purchased, it did not appear to be the case that any of the contributions made up to the Fall of 2000 had been set aside in separate accounts for the construction of a dormitory or the college. Although Carlos said at the time that the college could have begun in the Fall of 2000 as a private association, it was impossible for there to have been a commercial venture on the property until such time as the access road had been built. Furthermore, anyone desiring to start a college in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must have $500,000 in an escrow account before even beginning to apply for recognition (and part of that recognition involves having a charter to operate, the hiring of at least eight full-time professors who do nothing other than teach for the college, the offering of courses in specific buildings which are used principally for such a college). None of that had been done as it stood at the writing of this report, especially the $500,000 sum needed in an escrow amount. The Society had also pictured seminarians in its literature and fund-raising brochures who were no longer with it at the time. Indeed, one “seminarian” pictured in photograph had been dead for a while—and a photograph of including him as one of the seminarians continued to be reproduced as late of September of 2000. Was this done for purposes of of giving a misleading picture of the state of the Society.”

Mr. Sawyer put it this way in the closing paragraph of his July 5, 2000, to Father Fulleton:

“How could you continue to solicit contributions from me and my friends knowing full well how how Father Carlos was using the money? Father Fullerton, this verges on outright deception. It is morally wrong, against the Church’s teaching and may eventually become criminal if not stopped. You cannot ask people for loans that you know can never be repaid and for money that is not being used for the state purposes. If you continue to use people this way, you and the Society of Saint John are heading toward disaster and disgrace for all involved. You must reevaluate what is happening before it is too late.”

Father Carlos responded to Mr. Sawyer’s July 5, 2000, letter on August 17, 2000, saying that he had reviewed his letter with Father Fullterton and Bishop Timlin. “Both Father Fullerton and His Excellency affirmed that the money you wired, in order for us to be able close on our property in Shohola, was indeed given not as loan, but as a donation. This you seem to affirm in your own letter when you state ‘Later I told you that you that I would give you the money and not consider it a loan.’ Obviously, I do not concur with your criticism of our use of donations, and hence, I believe that the money you donated to us, in order to close on the property, is not owed to you, either as repayment for a loan or as retribution for alleged abuse of contributions. That having been said, for the sake of your peace, and so that you may use the money for whatever you feel called to by God, the Society of Saint John will return your donation of $40,000 as and when we are able so able. This is an attempt to go beyond our duty and show you appreciation for both your person and what you done for the Church.” The operative phrase in Father Carlos’s letter was “as and when we are able.” It is not known whether Mr. Sawyer ever received the $40,000.

The Diocese of Scranton, as noted earlier, was reluctant to let even major contributors and former members of the Society’s board to look at an independent audit conducted under its auspices, thus fueling suspicions that all may not have been well with the Society’s finances at that time. Serious questions remained about the state of the Society’s finances and the representation made in its fund-raising efforts. To wit, the aforementioned videotape, which was mailed to potential donors in early-2000, claimed that funds needed to be raised to purchase trailers for the housing of seminarians, whose upkeep the Society had the fiduciary responsibility to maintain. In truth, however, no seminarians were housed on the property in Shohola at the time of this report’s writing as the access road had not yet been built. No trailers had been purchased. The seminarians who were in Shohola and not in France were residing with private individuals, who provided room and board to them at no expense to the Society of Saint John.

Father Longinus Young told this reporter that Father Carlos Urrutigoity had informed him that the Society had no financial problems, that the contributions continued to flow into its coffers. This report was prepared as a means to help prospective donors realize that the cause for which they were being solicited to raise funds (namely, the restoration of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition without alteration or innovation) was not the purpose of the Society of Saint John. Additionally, it was important to alert such prospective donors to the fact that monies donated to the Society apparently were used for its immediate disbursement on whatever project or expenses happened to be on their table at the time donations arrived, disregarding any and all representations mae as to how the solicited monies would be spent by the Society.

Other Concerns

A number of people were interviewed for this report prior to its being sent to the Diocese of Scranton. Without exception, every interviewee expressed grave concerns about the direction and stability of the Society of Saint John. Over and above the concern expressed about the representations made in their advertising and in their solicitations for loans from private individuals, the general consensus of thought among the many individuals interviewed is that Father Carlos, whether consciously or not, uses a form of studied ambiguity to acquire from a particular person that which he desires of him or her. He becomes enraged if anyone should question him about his motives or his modus operandi, expressing his belief that anyone who criticizes him is possessed of an anti-clerical, anti-hierarchical attitude. Indeed, some of those interviewed indicated that they found quite a comparison between Father Carlos’s mode of operation and that of President William Jefferson Clinton: when caught in a misrepresentation, accuse the critic of bad faith—or claim that a misunderstanding existed. “It all depends on what the meaning of is is.” Each and every person interviewed expressed the belief that Father Carlos considers himself a law unto himself, answerable to no one, a man who seems believe that he has a private pipeline to God the Holy Ghost. Those who question him are not only wrong, in his mind, they are doing the work of the devil himself. His tendency to seek to manipulate and control others is indicative of cult-like mentality, in the view of some interviewed.

Brother Gabriel Francis [now “Father” Virgil Bradley Tetherow, a man who has had his own difficulties in the past decade–7] was one of those who had first-hand experience with Father Carlos Urrutigoity and the Society of Saint John. He had joined Father Benedict Groeschel’s Congregation of the Francisan Renewal in 1997. However, he and another new member of the Congregation, Brother Isaac Marion, became more and more attracted to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition. As they did so, they sought the advice and counsel of Monsignor Eugene V. Clark [since deceased], who was the pastor of the Church of Saint Agnes in New York, New York, at the time. Brothers Gabriel and Isaac became fixtures at the indult Mass at the Church of Saint Agnes every Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m., deciding to join the Society of Saint John in December of 1998 when the Society was still located at the Academy of Saint Gregory in Elmhust, Pennsylvania. They were impressed with Father Carlos—and with the possibilities of establishing a Franciscan community devoted to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition within the context of the Society of Saint John.

According to Brother Gabriel, Father Carlos Urrutigoity promised them that they could have a community of brothers within the Society of Saint John. Congregation of the Franciscan Renewal to leave for Elmhurst, whereupon they began their formal association with the Society of Saint John in January of 1999. Almost immediately, however, they began getting mixed signals about the Society. They became concerned about the decision that they had made.

Brother Gabriel was told by Father Carlos that he did not have a vocation to the priesthood, that he should remain a brother and conduct retreats on the property in Shohola. Father Carlos told him that he would have a $3.5 million friary built for his community of brothers. This scandalized Brother Gabriel’s Franciscan spirit of holy poverty. It was his desire to live simply in the Franciscan manner, serving the poor by means of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which would include conducting catechetical programs for the poor in their own communities. Father Carlos’s lavish spending habits and his plans to raise and spend ever large sums of money began to distress Brothers Gabriel and Isaac. They were also concerned about the liturgical direction in which Father Carlos appeared to be moving. It became their view that Father Carlos Urrutigoity saw himself as the savior of the liturgy, constantly thinking of ways to reinvent the Immemorial Mass of Tradition. They were also concerned about what appeared to them to be the obsession of the priests in the Society of Saint John to look prosperous so as to appeal to prosperous donors. It also became clear to them that they were not going to be able to have friends outside of the village, once it became a reality, and they considered that to be most unhealthy for men called to an apostolate of service to the poor.

Brothers Gabriel Francis and Isaac Marion expressed their concerns to Father Carlos, asking him to approach Bishop Timlin with a request to separate themselves from the Society of Saint John. Father Carlos rebuked them, saing that Bishop Timin would never permit such a thing. He showed them a piece of paper, evidently from Bishop Timlin, which Father Carlos said proved that the bishop wanted them to stay with the Society of Saint John. Father Carlos never let the brothers actually read the letter. He whisked it out, placed it briefly in front of their faces, and then snatched it back. It might appear, without ever directly saying that he, Father Carlos, had spoken to Bishop Timlin specifically about the brothers’ situation, and that the bishop said simply that he would give them permission to leave.

Undeterred, however, Brothers Gabriel Francis and Isaac Marion went to Bishop Timlin directly. The had decided that they were not going to move to Shohola with the Society of Saint John once the purchase of the property there had been completed. They found that Bishop Timlin was very receptive to their request. The bishop showed no sign whatsoever of the inclination that had been attributed to him by Father Carlos Urrutigoity. Thus, the brothers move into a rundown old house in a poor section of Scranton on November 30, 1999. They were living a life of Franciscan poverty within a few blocks of Saint Michael’s Church, which is served by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, in Scranton, at the time of the writing of this report in September of 2000. Brother Gabriel was ordained to the priesthood in 2001. It turned out that he did have a vocation to the priesthood, Father Carlos’s judgment in the matter notwithstanding. It was their desire to bring people back to the traditional liturgy, doing so by demonstrating the Franciscan spirit of Eucharistic piety and deep love of the poor. As of 2001, however, they had moved their apostolate to the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Brother Gabriel told this reporter that it appeared to him that Father Carlos and the other priests were more interested in the concept of the village than anything else, including the Mass. John Nieto, a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, had the same experience with the Society when he was briefly with them in late-1999. He found that the village was what occupied the time and the thought of Father Carlos more than anything else. Additionally, both he and Brother Gabriel reported that it was their judgment that Father Carlos acted in a most imprudent and ad hoc manner on almost everything. Nothing appeared stable or well-planned. Everything was haphazard in its planning and execution. Plans announced one day would be changed arbitrarily by the next. This proved to be too much for Mr. Nieto, who decided to return to his teaching career at Thomas Aquinas College. Father Longinus Young, who said that there was so much to cover with respect to the Society of Saint John that he did know know where to begin, confirmed those judgments, stating that Father Carlos Urrutigoity simply refusd to take direction—and that, whether conscious or not, he was an expert at manipulating people emotionally.

Brother Gabriel confirmed to this reporter that he and Brother Isaac swore out an affidavit at the suggestion of a canon lawyer concerning an incident alleged to have taken place on the property in Shohola, Pennsylvania. Brother Gabriel heard some of the young men from the Academy of Saint Gregory discussing the fact that they had just gone “skinny-dipping” in a creek on the property in Shohola. They did so because it had been reported to them that Father Carlos had told the young men that “clothes were optional.” He advised them to swear out he affidavit to have it on the record that they were not part of the skinny-dipping incident. (8)

Father Carlos and the Society of Saint John continued to enjoy the confidence of many influential Catholics at the time of this report’s initial writing in September of 2000. The did cut a good appearance, and they knew how to get favorable media coverage. A very favorable piece about the Society appeared in the Washington Times on Friday, August 25, 2000. A get-together for young people, at which Father Carlos entertained by playing the guitar and singing, evidently was a huge success just a day later. Father Carlos uses his charisma and natural charm to attract unto himself the devotion of his followers, especially among the young. According to a woman who had moved from New York City to Milford, Pennsylvania (which is near Shohola) Father Carlos attempted on several occasions in the early Fall of 2000 to indemnify himself from any revelations about the Society by saying that he has enemies who were out to destroy him and to destroy what the Society of Saint John wanted to do in Shohola. It appeared to be the case that Father Carlos Urrutigoity was not above using the sympathy card to engender the support of those with whom he had cultivated a friendship.

Former board member John W. Blewett told this reporter in September of 2000 that the Society was continuing to misrepresent itself to the public. For example, Mr. Blewett noted that the “seminarians” who were living at the Benedictine monastery in Fontgambault, France, in the 1999-2000 academic year had taken no courses. “They were not taking studies,” Mr. Blewett said to me. “I want them to tell us what were the course and where are the academic records.” Mr. Blewett had other questions: “What seminary are these men training for? What is the curriculum for priestly training which the Society has prepared? Has Bishop Timlin sanctioned this curriculum, if one even exists?” Mr. Blewett was similarly concerned about the construction of the much-vaunted village. “They have no authority to build a village. No licenses or conditional use permits to build a village have been granted. As they have proven themselves unreliable in all other matters, why should anyone believe them about the representations they are now making about their village?

The picture that emerged about the Society of Saint John in September of 2000 even before direct accusations were made about Father Carlos Urrutigoity’s immoral conduct came to light was far less benign than the portrait Father Carlos carefully sought to cultivate in traditional Catholic circles and in the secular media. A cult of personality appeared to be developing in Shohola, Pennsylvania, centering around Father Carlos Urrutigoity as a visionary who had been charged with the responsibility of seeing where the Traditional Latin Mass may have grown had there not been the developments that took place after the Second Vatican Council. Father Carlos clearly believes that he is a law unto himself, and that his unaccountability on matters financial and liturgical is the direct will of God. Prospective donors and supporters have to be put on notice about the problems associated with the Society of Saint John. And Father Carlos must make a full and open disclosure of the Society’s true purpose and of its financial records, especially to those who invested so much time, energy, efforts, and expense to provide them with the means to survive after being expelled, as it turned out was the case, from the Society of Saint Pius X, to say nothing of helping them obtain the protection of Bishop Timlin, the property on which the became established, and the undeserved confidence of Catholics here and around the world.

[End of Original Report, redacted in a few places concerning the use of the past tense for events contemporaneous to it completion.]

Statement of Bishop James C. Timlin to Mr. Thomas Droleskey

The members of the Society of Saint John are a dedicated, talented intelligent group of men who have my permission to live in the Diocese of Scranton as a clerical association of Christian faithful (302). They hard working, industrious, and ambitious. They want only what is best for the Church and for the work they hope to accomplish. They have my wholehearted support.

I can understand that there may be a difference of opinion as to how contributed funds have been spent or are to be spent. But, there is no question that what they have done so far is for the furthering of their apostolate which is to promote the love of the Sacred Liturgy and education.

In their youthful exuberance, they have made mistakes but never intentionally or maliciously. Moreover, they have learned a great deal from these same mistakes an have taken all necessary measures to both correct past errors or judgment and prevent them from occurring again. They have done this working in close collaboration with the Diocese of Scranton, its finance officers and auditors

I am morally certain that there has been no wrongful, unlawful, or capricious use of funds on the part of the Society of St. John.

As far as the “Tridentine Mass” is concerned, the members of the Society have permission to use this Liturgy, and they do use it. Very simply, they are open to the Novus Ordo liturgy, as every Catholic must be, but they are committed to preserving the Sacred Liturgy according to the regulations of the Ecclesia Dei Commission.

It behooves all people of good will to do all they can to support this fledgling community in the Church and not tear it down.

Most Reverend James C. Timlin, D.D., Bishop of Scranton, October 26, 2000. (For a scan of the statement, which was found in a legal filing in a lawsuit brought against the Diocese of Scranton in the last decade, please see Timlin Statement to Droleskey)

(For the antidote to this spin-doctoring, please see Mr. James Bendell’s Pray for the Children and Mrs. Randy Engel’s Exploiting Traditionalist Orders: The Society of St. John. Readers can judge for themselves who has the facts and who doesn’t. I will give you a little head start: the facts were not on the side of James Clifford Timlin in 2000, and they not on his side now. See also today’s companion commentary, No Excuses For Those Who Indemnify the Society of Saint John.)

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

Saint Basil the Great, pray for us.