Finance issues plague priests’ society
Board of advisor members resign
SHOHOLA — Allegations of sexual improprieties by
two priests are not the only charges being leveled by critics at
the Society of Saint John, a group of 17 priests and seminarians
living in Shohola.
The society is also accused of numerous extravagant
financial practices by members of its board of advisors. So serious
are these accusations that a number of the board have resigned and
separated themselves from the society.
Bishop pledges support
Despite these accusations, James Timlin, Bishop
of Scranton, recently reiterated his
support of the society and its goals.
“In my statement, I said I completely support what
they are doing,” he said. “I didn’t say they had to keep the property.
I’m not going to kick them when they’re down. If the contributions
dry up, they’re going to have to get out of there.”
The bishop was referring to
the large property on Route 434 in Shohola, which was purchased
by the society two years ago at a cost of $2.9 million, with plans
to build a college, a basilica and a community for members of the
laity who are enamored of the old Latin liturgy. Some people were
planning to move to the site from as far away as California.
The society had permission from the bishop to hold
Masses and other liturgical functions in Latin, as was done prior
to the Vatican II, a council of bishops that met in Rome between
1963 and 1965. After the Vatican II, Latin was dropped from the
Mass and the Roman Ritual in the Catholic church.
A spokesman of the society, Father Dominic O’Connor,
denied that the board resignations were about money but were, rather,
about disagreements over certain liturgical practices followed by
Players dispute wrongdoing
Two former members of the board, Matthew Sawyer,
a wealthy Catholic businessman from Chicago, and John Blewett, another
wealthy Catholic layman, disagree with
“Blewett and I and at least four others, maybe
more, resigned over financial practices [of the society],” Sawyer
said. Sawyer produced copies of the society’s furniture bill from
Penn Furniture of Scranton, amounting to $134,486. “Who needs furniture
that costs that much?” he asked.
Sawyer and Blewett said that they urged the society
not to purchase the expensive Shohola property. However, O’Connor
said that the advisory board urged them to purchase the property,
and denied that anything extravagant or financially irresponsible
Apparently, the bishop disagrees.
“This goes back two years,” Timlin said. “We got
hold of these [financial accusations] and we got some financial
people to help them get back on track financially. They’re in debt
for a couple of million, so they’re not okay.”
O’Connor, disagreeing with the bishop, said the
debt is only $500,000.
“But $500,000 is about 50 percent of the Saint
John budget,” said Vincent Cioci, a land developer who was an early
supporter of the society but recently separated himself from them.
“How can you have debts at 50 percent of your budget? If I did that,
I’d be out of business in a week.”
Cioci, an entrepreneur and land developer from
Long Island, claimed he was told by Bishop Timlin that the society
was actively trying to sell the property. “He said it was an albatross
around their necks,” Cioci said.
Father O’Connor denied that the society was actively
trying to sell. “If someone came along with a great offer, we would
possibly consider it, but we are not looking to sell,” he said.
In response to newspaper criticism charging that
Cioci, warning that the property was too expensive to develop, had
resigned as the society’s land developer this past November, Father
Daniel Fullerton, the society’s treasurer, denied that the society
had a contract with Cioci.
“That’s ludicrous,” Cioci said. “I have a copy
of a contract with them. I formed the Saint
Joseph Enterprises whose only purpose was to develop the
Fullerton was out of town and could not be reached
for comment. However, O’Connor reiterated Fullerton’s claim that
there was no contract. “We had no legal agreement with Cioci,” he
Feasibility study indicated project to cost
$12 to $18 million
Early on, Cioci conducted a marketing survey and
a feasibility study for the society. “The marketing survey indicated
that there were enough people who wanted to be a part of the society’s
project, but the feasibility study indicated it would take $12 to
$18 million to bring the project to fruition,” he said. “I could
not in good conscience condone it. When they ignored me, I left
and never returned. That was last November.”
O’Connor claimed the society knew the land development
might cost that much, but they wanted to go ahead anyway, depending
on whether they could raise the money.
“It’s not even their money; it’s donors’ money,”
The note for the society’s mortgage, amounting
to $500,000, was originally donated by Sawyer, who later asked the
bishop to free him from it when he became disenchanted with the
society’s fiscal practices. “The bishop got another donor to take
it off my hands,” Sawyer said.
The note was then taken over by another rich layman
who does not wish to be named, who also became disenchanted and
asked the bishop to take it away from him. The bishop complied.
The Diocese of Scranton now is responsible for the note. The diocese,
however, is not responsible for the society’s other debts, Timlin
“If worse came to worse, we’d end up with the property
and we’d have to sell it,” Timlin said. “The money would be there.
They bit off too much instead of starting quietly and slowly, and
starting to build. You have to remember they are young, enthusiastic,
ambitious and energetic. I don’t think they have a full grasp on
the intricacies of an operation like that.”
Bond, who was to be college president, becomes
major critic of the society
O’Connor said the society was finding it hard to
raise money because of the opposition of one particular critic,
Dr. Jeffrey Bond, a former associate of the society who was to be
president of the College of Saint Justin Martyr, originally an integral
part of the society’s plan.
Bond became disenchanted with the society when
he saw that he and his college were not getting a share of the funds
being raised. “They were using the college to get funds but didn’t
share any of it with us,” he said. “I began thinking of separating
from the society. When I learned of the [alleged] sexual improprieties
of the two priests, I was convinced that I should separate the college
from the society,” Bond said.
When he went to the bishop, the bishop denied him
the permission to separate, ignoring his warning regarding the sexual
practices of two priests, Bond said.
Timlin strongly denied that the reason for Bond’s
rejection of the society was the alleged sexual improprieties. “It
was all about money,” Timlin said. “He wanted access to the rich
Catholic donors who abandoned the society because of the society’s
liturgical practices. It was about liturgy, not sexual improprieties.”
Further, “it was the society’s call,” said the bishop. “When they
refused to agree to the separation, I had to deny it.”
Both Timlin and O’Connor deny that the sexual allegations
had anything to do with Bond’s alienation. However, Bond stated
that the bishop knew of the allegations of sexual improprieties
and is calling for his resignation.
The society has supporters as well as critics.
“This group of priests is the best thing that ever
happened to my family,” said Russell Bateman of South Canaan, PA.
“We are blessed to get spiritual benefits from them. Coming here
has been awesome for my seven children. I, and a number of others,
support these priests in what they are doing.”