Predator Priests Still Receiving Monthly Stipend
A Diocese of Scranton priest who impregnated a teenager and arranged for her to have an abortion is among 11 clergy members accused of abuse who still receive financial assistance from the diocese.
Thomas D. Skotek has received a monthly stipend, currently $1,237.50, since he was permanently removed from the ministry in 2002, William Genello, spokesman for the diocese, confirmed Thursday.
Abortion is a crime under canon law. A female who has an abortion or anyone who helps assist in the procurement of the procedure is automatically excommunicated, according to Nick Cafardi, a Pittsburgh attorney and expert in canon law.
Despite that fact, the Most. Rev. James Timlin, then bishop, never referred Skotek to the Vatican to seek his permanent dispensation from the ministry, known as laicization or defrocking, the diocese said.
Under canon law, any priest who is removed from the ministry, but not laicized, is eligible to receive a “minimum sustenance” payment to meet their basic needs, even if they were removed for sexual abuse or other serious misconduct.
“The theology of the church is once a man is a priest, he remains a priest forever,” Cafardi said. “That means these men, despite the heinous crimes they committed, remain priests ... As long as they remain priests, the diocese where they were ordained has certain obligations toward them.”
Skotek is among 70 predator priests the diocese identified last week following the release of a statewide grand jury report on the Catholic church sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania. The report includes 59 people on the diocese’s list, six of whose names were redacted.
Diocese records show that of the 70 priests it identified, at least 24 are still alive. Skotek, now 80 and living in McAdoo, is among 15 still living priests who were removed, but not laicized, so he and the others entitled to the payment. Current bishop, the Most. Rev. Joseph Bambera, has no authority to halt the payments.
“It seems unfair this guy should be getting anything,” Cafardi said. “On the other hand, the obligation of sustenance goes along with him being a priest.”
In an email, Genello said the diocese is only required to provide sustenance to priests who need the funds to survive. In addition to Skotek, the diocese is paying sustenance to nine other priests removed for sexual misconduct: Martin M. Boylan, Joseph Bucolo, J. Peter Crynes, Austin E. Flanagan, Mark A. Honhart, Russell E. Motsay, W. Jeffrey Paulish,Raymond L. Deviney and Joseph F. Meighan.
Genello said the diocese is not providing payments to four others because they were deemed not to need the financial assistance: Philip A. Altavilla, Christopher R. Clay, Carlos Urrutigoity and Joseph B. Wilson.
Thomas P. Shoback, another priest who was removed and not laicized, is currently serving a five- to 10-year prison sentence for his 2013 conviction in Tioga County court for molesting an altar boy. He is not receiving any payment while in prison, Genello said.
Genello said after Shoback was convicted, Bambera referred his case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates misconduct to determine if laicization is warranted. The diocese believes the congregation is waiting for Shoback to be released from prison before it rules on his case, he said.
Cafardi said the delay in Shoback’s case is understandable since Shoback cannot effectively defend himself while in prison. Skotek’s case is more troubling, he said. He cannot fathom why Timlin did not seek to have Skotek laicized in 1989, when the grand jury report says he learned of the misconduct, which occurred while he served at a Freeland church between 1980 and 1985.
“It is difficult to understand ... how someone like that with such a substantial character flaw could remain in the ministry,” Cafardi said. “When you think of the firm stance our church has taken on abortion in every situation, it seems hypocritical.”
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest from Washington, D.C., and an expert on the Catholic church, shared that sentiment.
“Clearly, Timlin made a mistake back in 1989,” Reese said. “The question you have to ask is, is it too late to fix a mistake made in the past?”
It likely is too late, according to said Michael J. Ritty, an attorney with Canon Law Professionals in Feura Bush, New York.
According to Genello, when Bambera became bishop in 2010, he referred Skotek’s case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, along with cases of other priests who were removed in 2002 based on a new policy that mandated removal of all priests accused of sexual abuse.
“The Congregation reviewed the cases and decided not to pursue them,” Genello said.
Ritty said once the Vatican has reviewed a case and made a determination, it’s binding on the diocese.
“If there was a canonical process and he was not dismissed, my opinion is they are stuck with that decision,” Ritty said. “It’s like criminal court. If you sentence someone, you can’t come back five years later and say, ‘I know we gave you five years, but now we’re looking at the death penalty for you.’”
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