The Sex Abuse Case Against Father Anthony J. Cipolla
Part I - Setting the Record Straight
By Randy Engel
On the morning of Tuesday, August 30, 2016, the former Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Roman Catholic priest, Father Anthony Joseph Cipolla, 73, died of a cardiac arrhythmia before his speeding car struck a tree at a dangerous curve near the Warren Bible Methodist Church in Warren, Ohio. He was declared dead at the scene of the accident. Behind the tree was a church sign that read “Faith means continuing to run the race confident you will get your second wind.”
Living in the Pittsburgh area for more than 40 years, I had known about Fr. Cipolla from prolife friends who were part of his Padre Pio group before meeting him face to face for an interview in the early 1990s near the old Pittsburgh Airport. The main topic up for discussion was our mutual nemesis, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and currently Archbishop of Washington, D.C. I was researching the bishop’s background for my chapter on the late Cardinal John J. Wright, Wuerl’s influential benefactor, for my upcoming book, The Rite of Sodomy.
Before the interview ended, I took the opportunity to ask Father Cipolla about the charges of sexual abuse that had followed him for more than a decade. He vehemently denied both the 1988 pederasty charges filed by a young man named Timothy Bendig, as well as an earlier 1978 complaint of sexual abuse, also involving a young, as yet, unnamed boy. Although his brief explanation at the time sent up a number of red flags, after a few unsuccessful attempts to discover the name of the alleged victim’s mother who eventually withdrew the 1978 charges, I let the matter drop. If there was any evidence against Fr. Cipolla to support the sex abuse charges, I knew it would eventually find me. And find me it did, some 24 years later.
Father Cipolla stayed in contact with me even after his laicization by Pope John Paul II in 2002 – always by phone, always maintaining his innocence regarding the alleged sex abuse allegations. Over the years, as a personal favor, I periodically edited some articles for the Thorns and Roses publication dedicated to Saint Padre Pio in whom I have a great interest. Our conversations, which were generally short but friendly, always included a recounting of his deteriorating health and the many injustices he suffered under Bishop Wuerl.
Then, with the New Year of 2016, the proverbial bomb dropped.
I received a phone call from my dear and trusted friend Mary Henry who was living in the Camden Diocese. She was a former home-schooling leader and a veteran of the McHugh Wars promoting sex initiation programs in Catholic schools dating back to the late 1960s.
As heaven would have it, Mrs. Henry had once met Fr. Cipolla when he was trying to get a teaching position with home schoolers at a newly-formed Traditional parish in N.J. in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Prophetically, she nixed the Cipolla appointment after a brief luncheon interview conducted at the behest of the pastor. I had forgotten about that meeting except for the fact that the conversation added another red flag to my Cipolla list – Why would a priest accused of pederasty, that is homosexual contact with a young adolescent boy, on more than one occasion, seek out a position which would bring him in immediate contact with young adolescent boys? And besides, Fr. Cipolla was a Novus Ordo priest and did not know how to say or pray the Traditional Mass.
This particular phone call, however, was to inform me Mrs. Henry had made contact with Diana Thompson (now Diana Magnum) the mother of not one, but three sons, two of whom she said were sexually abused in 1977-1978 by Fr. Cipolla. Mrs. Henry helped me set up an introductory phone appointment with Diana, after which there was exchange of detailed information, mostly in the form of e-mails, for over a period of more than six months.
The case study you are about to read is based on my own independent research as well as numerous phone interviews with the victims, their families and other interested parties.
“The Sex Abuse Case of Father Anthony J. Cipolla,” is a three-part study.
Part I – “Setting the Record Straight,” covers the grooming of the Thompson family by Fr. Cipolla and the testimony of two of his victims, Frank Labiaux, and his stepbrother, Thomas “Tucker” Thompson. I do not use the word “alleged” in connection with the victims’ accusations because I believe the evidence presented in this investigative report supports the truthfulness of their testimony and is incontrovertible.
Part II – “Profile of A Pederast” covers the clerical background of Fr. Cipolla and provides insights into his troubled past that should have served as red flags to four consecutive bishops of the Pittsburgh Diocese from 1969 to 2006, but tragically, did not. It also deals with the Jim Bendig sex abuse settlement claim with the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1993.
Part III - “The Pittsburgh Diocese – A Study of Lies, Deceit and Treachery” is a documented review of the Pittsburgh Diocese’s decades-old pattern of covering-up clerical sex abuse crimes in general, and of the Thompson Case, in particular.
If there was ever a case to support the opening up the window to victims of clerical and other institutional sexual abuse, a window closed by the current statutes of limitations in the state of Pennsylvania, the Thompson Case is it.
The Grooming of the Thompson Family
I have nodoubt that the first time Fr. Cipolla set his eyes on Diana Thompson and her family, including her three young sons, he must have thought he had died and gone to heaven. All sexual predators, especially homosexual hunters of young boys, seem to be born with a built-in Geiger counter that instinctively seeks out vulnerable parents and their even more vulnerable young male offspring.
The Thompsons moved into their brick apartment house on Mexico Street just a few blocks from St. Francis Xavier Church on the North Side of Pittsburgh in early 1977. In February of that year, Diana Thompson registered her family with the parish and registered her children for the parish school.
St. Xavier’s pastor was Rev. Joseph P. Newell, who had been transferred to the parish in 1968. Hearing that the Thompson family was financially strapped, and that Diana’s husband Tom was an Army veteran who had serious medical and emotional problems, Father Newell gave Diana a part-time job cleaning which included cleaning the bathrooms. The elderly housekeeper didn’t do toilets. This work and the income she earned from her other job at a nearby print shop helped put food on the table and covered the parochial school tuition for her oldest son, Frank Labiaux, age 12, her daughter Betty Anne Labiaux, age 11, and her youngest son, Bernard Thompson, age 8.
Her nine-year-old son, Thomas Thompson, affectionately known as Tucker, had a learning disability. He couldn’t concentrate. His attention span was nil. He couldn’t sit still. Since second grade he had attended special education classes and was now happily enrolled at the John Morrow Elementary School where he commuted to classes on weekdays by mini-bus.
Fr. Cipolla came to St. Xavier’s in 1976 to serve as an assistant pastor. It was his fifth parish assignment since his ordination in 1972 – an unusual record for any young priest. It is impossible that this fact had escaped Father Newell’s attention or that of the Pittsburgh Diocese. We’ll re-examine this matter in more detail in Part II of this series.
The grooming of the Thompson family started almost immediately after Father Cipolla met Diana and her children. The priest began to visit the Thompson home on a regular basis. When he didn’t have time to visit he would call and ask specifically to speak with Frank. The game was on.
When Diana asked Fr. Newell about getting her children baptized, Fr. Cipolla stepped in and volunteered to do the baptisms. Early that spring he baptized all of Diana’s children including Frank, thus setting up a special spiritual bond between the priest and the young boy.
Sometimes Fr. Cipolla would call and ask Frank to come to the rectory to help with yard work or gathering and boxing donations of food, toys and clothing for charity which were left at the rectory by parishioners. Frank was especially excited by the priest’s talk of a summer of fun and special trips which Fr. Cipolla was planning for St. Xavier’s male teens.
Fr. Cipolla heard Diana’s confessions so he had an intimate knowledge of the medical and psychological problems that beset Diana’s husband, and their adverse effects on the family.
Tom Thompson was seriously injured, almost killed, in 1965, in a vehicle crash and explosion during special training maneuvers at the Army base-camp in Spartanburg, S.C., in anticipation of his deployment to Vietnam. Unfortunately, while his physical injuries healed, his mental disabilities increased. He was never the same man he was before the accident.
Before his military service he was one of the finest printing pressman in the country. But after the accident he was able to work only intermittently despite his desire to stay on the job.
By the time the Thompson family settled in Pittsburgh, all semblance of family stability had disappeared. Relations between Tom and his two stepchildren, Frank and Betty Labiaux, by a previous marriage, were never good. He believed they were Diana’s responsibility. By the time of the move, however, he had also lost interest in his own two sons, Tucker and Bernie. The noise and confusion in Tom’s head made it impossible for him to tolerate any noise by the children. He drank to help him remain calm, but the alcohol interacted with his medications including his anti-psychotic meds, causing fits of paranoia and physical violence. Everyone was afraid of his mean spirit including his own wife and children. Sometimes Tom would leave the house for parts unknown and then return as if he hadn’t been away. But it didn’t matter if he was at home or away. Diana and the children were always on pins and needles.
The home’s atmosphere of fear and anxiety was occasionally broken by short intervals of relative peace which allowed everyone a breather before the next hit. In the end, Tom took his own life with a prescription drug overdose, but while that tragedy was still yet in the distant future, another tragedy was waiting on the front stoop of the Thompson apartment in the form of a Catholic priest named Fr. Anthony Cipolla.
Fr. Cipolla to the Rescue
Into this unbelievably untenable set of circumstances rode Father Cipolla like a knight in shining armor on a white horse entering the lists to do battle with Satan. He appeared to be everything a priest should be – understanding, caring, helpful, and holy.
Frank, Tucker and Bernie loved and trusted him. In their eyes, he quickly became a male mentor, a substitute father, for young boys who had never really known their fathers.
Diana thought he was the best priest she ever met. “All the family enjoyed his attention. It was almost a form of prestige to have a personal connection with the Church, especially in the Catholic area where we lived,” Diana said. “The children felt secure being part of something so social and respected,” she added.
From snatches of conversation she had overheard of the phone conversations between the priest and her oldest son she assumed that Fr. Cipolla was trying to interest Frank in the priesthood. Imagine, her son, a priest!
The priesthood had always had a special significance for Diana because her own father was in the seminary only eight months from ordination when he met the other love of his life, and left the seminary to marry her mother. Both her father, an excellent Latinist, and her mother remained devout Catholic all the days of their lives. They gave Diana and her siblings an excellent religious education and were devoted grandparents to all Diana’s children especially Frank.
At this point in time, the reader may do well to remember that the year was 1977 and the thought that a priest would sexually assault a young boy or girl was simply out of the framework of consciousness of most Catholic lay men and women.
Attaching the Bait and Reeling in the Victim
Frank Labiaux was just weeks away from his 13th birthday when the first sexual abuse incident occurred. Despite his difficult family situation, Frank was a straight A-student before the abuse. He was a happy-go-lucky kid, respected authority and was well behaved. His abuse at the hands of Fr. Cipolla would change all that.
That day in early August, he was at the rectory for a private religious instruction class with the priest. Frank was especially excited because Fr. Cipolla had invited him on a three-day trip to visit the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI with three or four other young boys from the parish. They were to leave on August 15th and return on the 17th.
His mother was at home when the call came in from Fr. Cipolla, who told her that Frank needed a health certificate before he would be permitted to go on the trip to Dearborn. He said all the other boys had already turned in their medical slips
Diana told him he should have told her sooner. She explained that she didn't know if she could get an appointment with the clinic before their departure date. Fr. Cipolla quickly offered a solution. He told her he would “check” Frank's temperature and listen for any sign of chest congestion to determine if Frank was well enough to travel. Period. She knew that Frank was “as healthy as a horse,” so she said “fine.” She thought Fr. Cipolla was being helpful. He did not tell her he was going to give Frank a “physical exam” and have him strip naked.
According to Frank, the two went into Cipolla’s bedroom at the rectory and the priest told him to take off all his clothes and underwear. The young boy obeyed. Then Fr. Cipolla had him bend over the bed and the priest inserted a lubricated finger into the boy’s anus (digital rape).
In Pennsylvania, aggravated indecent assault including anal penetration (however slight) with a body part, between a minor who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age is a second degree felony. It also includes minors who are 13, 14, or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
When the “exam” was completed and Frank put his clothes back on, Fr. Cipolla told him that he had detected blood in the anus and Frank may want to tell his doctor about that on his next visit.
Frank did not tell his mother or anyone else what happened that day. He wanted so very badly to go on the trip to Dearborn. His mom had saved up $45.00 for his trip. He knew she worked hard for every dollar. And he still trusted the priest.
When Fr. Cipolla reached Dearborn with his charges and checked into the two-story motel, Frank called his mom to tell her they had arrived safely. He seemed happy and excited. Then the priest informed Frank he would not be sleeping with the other boys but with him. That night when they had both retired to their room and were getting ready for bed, Fr. Cipolla told him that they were going to share the same bed even though there were two beds available. The priest insisted that that Frank was not to wear pajamas or underwear, just a t-shirt. Nothing happened that first night. It had been a long and tiring ride.
On the next night at bedtime, however, Fr. Cipolla took out a large bulb enema fitted with a long tube from his bag, filled it with warm water, and explained to the young boy that what he was about to do was a normal thing that fathers taught their sons.
The horror of his abuse at the hands of Fr. Cipolla that night still haunts Frank till this day.
What was the young boy to do? Hell, Cipolla was a priest!
The abuse continued after Frank returned home until one day, when Fr Cipolla called Frank to come over to the rectory to help with some chores, he refused to go.
One week later, Frank and another boy vandalized a church down from St. Xavier Church and got caught. They had entered a window and sprayed fire extinguisher foam over the podium and pews of the church. At his appearance in Juvenile Court, Frank asked to be sent away to live with his grandparents, Diana’s mother and father in Florida, and the judge agreed. He said nothing about his abuse at the hands of Fr. Cipolla. He was angry at the priest for what he did to him and for breaking the bond of trust between them, but was even more angry at himself for being so “gullible” and “stupid.” He was just relieved to get away from the pervert.
Cipolla Grooms his Next Victim
When Frank failed to show up at the rectory, Father Cipolla went over to the Thompson apartment to see what was the matter. Diana told him that he had gone to stay with his grandparents and would be going to school in Florida for the 1977-1978 term.
After another few visits and phone calls to confirm that Frank was not returning to Pittsburgh, Fr. Cipolla began his grooming of Tucker Thompson, Frank’s younger stepbrother.
In the spring of 1978 as soon as school was out, Fr. Cipolla, by now a regular at the Thompson home, told Diana that he would be happy to tutor Tucker privately for his First Communion.
Tucker’s early visits to Fr. Cipolla at St. Xavier’s rectory were without incident. The nine-year-old special education student liked the priest and was happy to receiving his special attention. Tucker was especially delighted to hear about the saintly Padre Pio from Fr. Cipolla’s lips since the boy’s grandfather had once spoken with the holy man on a trip to Italy.
However, on one of his early July visits, things did not go well for Tucker. Fr. Cipolla took him into his bedroom which was on the bottom floor of the rectory, to the right of the sitting room and then left, and told the young boy to take all his clothes off including his underwear because he wanted to give Tucker an exam. The nature of this initial sexual abuse by Cipolla is not clear, but to his credit, Tucker had enough smarts to know what was the priest was doing to him was not right, but he did not tell his mother what had happened. Instead he played hooky and stopped going to the rectory for instruction.
Then Cipolla made a tactical error. He called Diana and told her that Tucker had cut his instruction classes. She promised to get to the bottom of her son’s absence. When Tucker got home he confessed he had skipped his First Communion sessions, but didn’t tell her why. She told him she was rescheduling another session with Fr. Cipolla and that she expected Tucker not to miss it again. Her son agreed and the next day he returned to the scene of the crime – but not alone.
Tucker asked his little friend and playmate, Kathy K., who lived in the apartment right above the Thompsons to accompany him to the rectory at 3:30 p.m. When Fr. Cipolla went to open the front door, he must have been surprised to see Kathy with Tucker, but he didn’t let it interfere with his next sexual session with the boy. He simply had Kathy wait in the sitting room, took Tucker inside his bedroom, closed the door, and went at him with a vengeance.
First the priest had Tucker strip naked. Then he lifted him on the bed, took out a stethoscope to listen to Tuckers heart and lungs, and then he inserted a lubricated finger into the boy’s anus and rectum. Then he masturbated the boy.
When Cipolla was done with him, he had Tucker put his underwear and clothes back on and brought the boy over to a desk where there was a Bible. He made Tucker swear with his hand on the Bible that he would never tell anyone what Cipolla had done to him. To tell, said Cipolla, was the “Unforgivable sin” that the Holy Ghost talked of. He scared Tucker to death.
When Tucker came home that afternoon, his mother knew something was terribly wrong. Gradually she pulled the truth out of him.
When she recovered from the shock of hearing of her son’s abuse, her first phone call was to Pastor Newell to report the crime. His response was that she must be mistaken and he would have to talk with Fr. Cipolla first. Her next call was to the police.
The date was on July 25, 1978 – four days away from Tucker’s 10th birthday.
Detectives Arrive at the Thompson Apartment
Detective R. Fogle, Badge No. 37, and M.N. Nehouser, Badge No. 46, of the Pittsburgh Police Department were the first to arrive at the Thompson home. They listened to Tucker’s account of Cipolla’s assault and then told Diana that they needed to have her son examined immediately for his well-being and for the collection of any evidence.
Betty Anne and Bernie were still at home, so Diana stayed at the apartment while the detectives took Tucker to Allegheny General Hospital’s Emergency Room. He was examined by Dr. Paul Pearson for signs of sexual abuse. Pearson found the patient in good condition. There were still traces of the lubricant Cipolla had used on his finger found on the boy’s buttocks, anus and underwear. The hospital gave the detectives a medical report and the detectives returned Tucker to his home.
In the meantime, Fr. Newell had called Diana back to inform her that “Father Cipolla denied everything.” She told him she had already called the police. Click.
The police went to the St. Xavier rectory to pick up Fr. Cipolla and bring him down to Police Station Number 9 for questioning. Fr. Newell answered the door, said the priest was getting dressed, and asked, at the request of Bishop Leonard, if could bring the priest to the station house within the hour, which he did. Cipolla was later released on his own recognizance and was not required to post bond or bail money. Fr. Newell picked the priest up and drove Fr. Cipolla back to the rectory and served as his caretaker until the arraignment period.
The police had already searched the priest’s room with Cipolla’s permission and found a medical bag which contained a stethoscope, thermometers, a blood-pressure gauge, tongue suppressors, a lubricant and other items. Cipolla told the police he was saving them for charity.
Five days later, an unaccompanied Cipolla came to the Thompson home dressed in a black cassock and white collar and stood on the stoop of the open kitchen door. Tucker was at the kitchen table doing his homework when he spotted the priest and shouted “Mom” and ran away. Diana looked up and there was Fr. Cipolla. “Tucker is in a special class. He just got confused,” he told her. This was same story he gave to Fr. Newell, to the police, and many years later to the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
The next time the Thompson family saw Cipolla was at the arraignment set for August 28, 1978, but this time Tucker was not the lone witness against Fr Cipolla.
Upon receiving a phone call from his mother telling him that Tucker had been assaulted by Fr. Cipolla, Frank, who had been living in Florida, finally broke his silence and told her about his assault at the hands of the priest the previous year. Diana instructed her parents to bring Frank back home to Pennsylvania so that he could add his testimony to that of his young brother.
The noose was tightening around Fr. Cipolla’s neck. It was time for the Ordinary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to enter the fray.
The Anatomy of a Cover-up
Bishop Vincent Martin Leonard was the 9th bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He served as Corporate Sole of the diocese from June 1, 1969 to June 30, 1983.
We’ll be examining the diocese’s track record on the handling of its clerical sex abuse cases from the 1960’s to the present in Part III of this study in order to put the Cipolla Case into an understandable perspective for the reader.
For now, it will suffice to note that by the time Leonard took over the Pittsburgh Diocese, a pattern of lies, deceit, and treachery in dealing with delinquent priests – mainly homosexual pederast clerics who preyed on young boys – was already well established. The 1977-1988 diocesan cover-up of Fr. Cipolla’s crimes was the rule not the exception.
Bishop Leonard contacted Diana Thompson by phone three times during the period prior to Cipolla’s arraignment hearing in late August. He gave her his private phone number to call if she wanted to talk, but he never arranged to meet her and her family in person.
In his first conversation, the bishop told her that the Catholic Church was suffering from the throes of the death of Pope Paul VI who died on August 6, 1978. The times were turbulent, he said, as if there some real connection between Cipolla’s crimes and the death of a pope and the election of a new pope.
At no point did the bishop state Cipolla was innocent of the charges of indecent assault leveled against him. When Diana informed Leonard that Fr. Cipolla had also abused her oldest son, Frank, and that she had already conveyed this information to the two detectives charged with the case, the bishop was audibly agitated. Diana also made Leonard aware of the harassment and threats her family was receiving.
Bishop Leonard attempted to rationalize Cipolla’s guilt by claiming he was a sick priest. What exactly was his ailment? Bishop Leonard said he was ill from hearing confessions. He told Diana that priests are bombarded daily by evil simply because they are priests. He said that hearing confession was fraught with sin and corruption, but priests endure the attacks from the Evil One in order to save souls. Then he suggested that Cipolla was himself a victim. A victim of the Devil!
Unfortunately, his statement to Diana was only a half-truth. The bishop forgot to tell her the whole truth. That is, if the priest is in the state of grace, God will protect him from the assaults of the devil. But if the priest hearing confession is in the state of mortal sin he is a walking spiritual time bomb ready to detonate. Without the cloak of supernatural grace, the wicked condition of the priest is only further exacerbated in the confessional.
Bishop Leonard also made all kinds of promises to Diana including the promise that Cipolla would receive “treatment” and be “cured.” The game plan, as he laid it out, was to get Cipolla psychiatric help, impose a suitable penance or exorcism on him, and then return him to ministry. His advice to Diana can be summed up in five words – “Let the Church handle it.”
It was not only a bad game plan. It was an impossible one.
Among child sex offenders, homosexual pederasts have one of the highest rates of repeat offenses, that is, the highest rates of recidivism. As a group they are deemed to be “incorrigible.”
As early as 1952, the American bishops were warned by Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, that such clerics are never free from the approximate danger once they have begun. He said that their repentance and amendment was superficial, and that keeping such priests in ministry or moving them from parish to parish, was a cause or approximate cause of scandal. Fitzgerald’s solution was involuntarily laicization or retirement to an isolated monastery for the remainder of their lives.
The official position of the Roman Catholic Church concerning grave sexual offenses against minors is found in Canon 2359 in the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law which was still in effect in 1977 and 1978. It provided:
If they (clerics) engage in a delict (canonical crime) against the 6th precept of the Decalogue with a minor below the age of 16, or engage in adultery, debauchery, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, incest with blood relatives, or affines in the first degree, they are suspended, declared infamous and deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, responsibility if they have such, whatsoever, and in more serious cases, they are to be deposed.
The reader will note that in Canon 2359, the abuse of children is at the forefront of the list. It is inclusive. The child need not have even been physically touched for an act to qualify as a delict. Nor is it required that a secular court of law finds the accused guilty.
So there is no question that Bishop Leonard had Canon Law on his side had he been willing to move against Fr. Cipolla. But he wasn’t. Instead he continued to lie to Diana:
Lie one – under Bishop Leonard, Cipolla never received “treatment” for his sexual pathology.
Lie two – Cipolla never publicly admitted to his crime and he did no “penance” that we know of. After the Thompson accusations, the bishop simply moved him from St. Xavier Church to St. Canice Church in Knoxville, and then to St. Philip Church in Crafton.
Lie three – The Church did not “handle” the crime. It compounded it in a way that defies all logic. One of Bishop Leonard’s last acts before he retired in the late spring of 1983, was to make Fr. Cipolla the chaplain for the nuns at the McGuire Memorial Home for Exceptional Children, where the predator priest had potential access to a whole new range of young male victims with profound, multiple complex disabilities. The victims were the “best” kind – the silent kind.
In truth, Leonard was acting as a confidence man for the Pittsburgh Diocese. The ultimate objective of his communication with Diana, from day one, was to get her to drop any and all charges against Fr. Cipolla, ostensibly under the guise of preventing “scandal.”
He was preoccupied with “one priest giving the whole Church a black eye” but was blind to his own attempts at covering-up crimes which cry to heaven for vengeance. Somewhere along the way he lost his moral conscience, his moral compass. He was reduced to a mere functionary with a miter and crosier. He defrauded Diana and her children of the justice they deserved. More to the point, he never intended to deliver justice at all. He never even offered to have the diocese cover the costs of psychiatric or psychological council for her two sons.
Fr. Cipolla Destroyed an Entire Family
In examining cases of clerical sex abuse cases the emphasis is usually on the perpetrator of the crime and his victims. We tend to forget that when the clerical pederast grooms the family to get to his prey, he also contributes to the destruction of the victim’s family.
Betty Anne Labiaux, the only girl among her three male siblings, was 11 years old at the time that Fr. Cipolla insinuated himself into her family circle.
In a lengthy interview with this writer, Betty explained that before the abuse of her big brother, Frank, and her little brother, Tucker, began, life was good. Frank and Bernie and Betty were excited to be going to a Catholic school for the first time. They were all excellent students and were involved in many school and church activities. Tucker was happy at John Morrow. Even with their father’s illness and emotional tantrums, the kids managed to be kids and there was always fun things to do in a neighborhood filled with tons of kids, she recalled.
Betty was closest to Tucker. She always watched over him like a mother hen. Frank, as the oldest son and man of the family, so to speak, was “bossy,” and had his own friends and interests. Bernie, the “baby” of the family, even at the age of eight was quite independent and loved jokes and playing tricks on everyone. He was the most beloved of all the Thompson children.
Like her mother and brothers, Betty looked up to Fr. Cipolla. She said that he made her and her brothers feel special. They really loved the priest. For them, he was next in line to God.
Recollecting the publicity and gossip surrounding the tragic events, Betty admitted she was too young to understand the exact nature of the assault. She knew Fr. Cipolla had “hurt” her brothers, but she didn’t know why or how.
She was not too young, however, to feel the pain that comes with being shunned, of the whispering campaign behind her back, losing best friends because of parental disapproval, and of being “treated like trash,” because her family had made serious sexual charges against an “innocent” and “holy” Catholic priest. None of the Thompson children were allowed to go out alone because of the possibility of physical violence against them.
In the end, the only friends the Thompson children had were each other and their courageous mother.
Betty said that the worst thing of all were the changes she saw in Frank. Almost overnight, he began to exhibit mood swings. He became mean and grouchy, and in some instances, physically abusive. He was always angry. He shut himself off from his brothers and from her. He became a loner. Always very smart, his grades at school tumbled. He no longer respected legitimate authority.
Interestingly, when I interviewed Frank, he gave the almost exact description of the changes in his behavior after his abuse by Fr. Cipolla, as Betty did. I don’t think he’s ever fully forgiven himself for his failure to report Cipolla’s crime before the priest attacked Tucker. He also explained that he traced his inability to form meaningful and long-term relationships including two failed marriages, and his bouts with substance abuse, to his childhood abuse and admitted that there were still many unsolved issues in his life although he has been doing better in recent years.
Tucker came out of the abuse in somewhat better condition because it was caught earlier, but in his interview he said he still suffered from trust and authority issues.
Diana recalled for me a particularly traumatic incident tied to the Cipolla affair which occurred before the arraignment hearing neither she nor Tucker will ever forget.
She had sent her son down to the local grocery store on an errand. When the owner saw Tucker he grabbed him and smacked him cross the face and screamed, “How dare you call the police on the good Father.” Then the old man just walked away. Tucker forgot the quart of milk and ran home. He had four red marks across his left cheek and was crying. He felt ashamed because there were witnesses to the attack in the store.
Diana called the police station and spoke to the detectives in charge of the case. They paid the grocer a visit and had a chat with him. Out of pity, Diana did not press charges against the 70-year-old man, for which he and family were thankful.
How would you feel if that was your child?
I know from my interview with Tucker that the after-shocks of his abuse were still never completely out of his thoughts. I asked him if he was open to counseling and he said yes.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that neither Frank nor Tucker nor Betty ever stepped foot in a Catholic Church again, but they continue to love God.
Bernie Thompson was killed on October 29, 2009, in a car accident. He was trying to help a homeless man across the street to buy him a decent meal when he was fatally struck down by a speeding driver rushing to pick up her son.
Nor was I surprised to find out that neither stepbrother had ever opened up to the other concerning their sexual abuse by Fr. Cipolla. That is not unusual in families where the perpetrator abuses multiple family members. My hope is that this belated discussion between Frank and Tucker and with the whole family will come about in the near future as part their healing process.
Vandalism Stalks the Thompsons
Perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching moments in my interview with Betty came when she described the toll the abuse of her two brothers had taken on her mother.
“She cried for months and months,” Betty said. “Her eyes were always red and swollen.”
At the time and that age, Betty could not have fully realized how really bad the familial situation had become once the news of the abuse had become public.
The detectives had warned Diana that there might be retaliation by supporters of Fr. Cipolla, but she didn’t believe them at first. Then the threatening letters and harassing phone calls began. These were followed by acts of vandalism to their truck and a large stone was thrown through a front window of their apartment. The police and the detectives were informed of the incidents, but no one was ever caught or charged.
Sometimes, in the evening, Tucker or Frank would come into his parent’s bedroom to see if they were safe and then return to their own bedroom.
Diana’s husband’s condition got worse after the Cipolla ordeal. Tom blamed her for baptizing the children in the Catholic Church, for sending the children to a Catholic school and for bringing Fr. Cipolla into their household, and he repeatedly did so in front of the children.
Diana was hopeful that following Cipolla’s arraignment, the family could return to a semblance of normality. But that did not happen.
The Preliminary Arraignment Hearing
The preliminary arraignment hearing for Fr. Anthony Cipolla was held at city court in Police Station Number 1 in Pittsburgh on August 28, 1978. It was one day before the priest’s 35th birthday. In Pennsylvania, the proceeding is held before a district justice at which time the criminal defendant is provided with a copy of the complaint and advised of his legal rights.
Detectives Fogle, and Nehouser from Police Station Number 9, picked up Diana, Tucker and Frank and drove them to the city court. On the way, the detectives told Diana that they believed they had a good case against Cipolla and they urged her not to be intimidated by the Diocese which, they repeated, would attempt to pressure her into dropping the charges against Cipolla.
Diana told them that she wanted to add Frank’s name to the complaint and the detectives said that the District Attorney represented the state – the people – them. The detectives had already questioned Frank thoroughly and they said they would add that information to the record when they went before the District Attorney. and the attorney for the Pittsburgh Diocese.
By now, Diana had already put Bishop Leonard on notice that Fr. Cipolla had sexually abuse two of her sons, and it is certain that he had informed the attorney for the diocese and any legal consultants of this fact, plus any other pertinent information that Mrs. Thompson would have inadvertently shared with the bishop during their phone conversations – information which could be used against the Thompsons by diocesan lawyers.
Present at the August 28th proceedings were the District Attorney, the attorney for the Diocese of Pittsburgh who represented the interests of Fr. Cipolla and the Church, the two Pittsburgh detectives, a bailiff, a sheriff and the Thompsons. The latter had no attorney.
There was a judge and he was in his office to right of the courtroom. He did not talk with the victims or their mother. The bailiff went back and forth between the courtroom and the judge’s chambers with paperwork to review or sign off on.
Detectives Fogle and Nehouser were the first to go into the city court room. They never wavered in their support of the Thompsons. The wanted to nail Fr. Cipolla because they believed he was guilty. When Diana and Frank and Tucker went in, they remained outside with the priest in the waiting area. The last word from one of the detectives to Diana and her sons were “Don’t back down. They will try and stop you.”
When Diana and her sons entered the courtroom, they were introduced to the D.A. who was seated behind a desk and the attorney for the diocese who was standing near the desk. They took their seats and waited while the two men bantered about a golf outing, laughing and joking. It was clear that they knew each other and were on friendly terms.
Diana, Frank and Tucker were sworn in, that is, they gave their testimony under oath. Both the D.A. and the attorney for the diocese treated Diana and her sons matter-of-factly and with respect.
Diana was the first one called upon to give her statement. She immediately asked that Fr. Cipolla’s attack on Frank be added to the charges already filed in connection with Tucker’s abuse. Both men acknowledged her request and appeared to make a notation for their files.
When the attorney for the diocese questioned the boys, he seemed more interested in scaring the wits out of the boys than anything else. He told them that if the case went to trial they would have to tell their story of their attack by the priest before a 100 or more people. He told them that Cipolla’s lawyer would “rip their testimony apart.”
The D.A. never made a move to protect Frank or Tucker from the obvious attempt by the diocesan attorney to intimidate the young boys. Instead he acted deferentially toward the diocesan attorney who appeared to be in control of the proceedings, and in a great hurry to get it over with.
At this point in time, both boys started to cry and Diana, seeing what was happening, started to tremble and sob aloud. Tucker said he can still remember his mother sitting there, crying and shaking. She remembers the scene as being surreal. She said both she and the boys were really scared.
After the diocesan attorney finished his examination, the D.A. asked Diana if she was willing to drop the charges against Fr. Cipolla. He promised that if she were willing to let the Church handle Cipolla, he would get “the needed psychiatric care to cure him.” Diana logically took the statement as an admission of Cipolla’s guilt by the diocese and the D.A.
When she hesitated, both the D.A. and the diocesan attorney became visibly perturbed. The D.A. asked the bailiff to take the boys out of the room and get them some refreshments. One of the detectives accompanied Frank and Tucker and the bailiff to the soda pop machine and then took the boys on a tour of the stationhouse.
Diana didn’t have much formal education after high school, but she had enough street smarts to know that the Church was running the show not the D.A., and that the Church wanted the scandal hushed-up at any cost. The diocese knew that the Thompson family was in dire straits financially and that Mrs. Thompson’s husband was an alcoholic and was mentally disabled. With enough pressure the diocesan attorney knew she’d back down and “let the Church handle Cipolla.”
Diana Thompson instinctively knew justice would not be done, at least that day.
So under duress, she agreed to sign the necessary papers which included the document providing for the dropping of all charges against Fr. Anthony Cipolla, and an expungement document. The first document had already been prepared for her to sign.
The D.A. then had the secretary complete the expungement order. He said it was necessary to help Fr. Cipolla return to his ministry after “treatment” and it wouldn’t do for him to have an indecent sexual assault charge or two “hanging over his head.”
An expungement proceeding is a civil action dealing with an underlying criminal record in which the petitioner or plaintiff, in this case, Diana Thompson, asks a court to declare that the records be expunged.
The proceeding is permitted for a first-time offender, especially if he or she is a minor. The fact that Cipolla committed two felonies on two minors within a year’s time appears to have been conveniently overlooked.
In general, once sealed or expunged, all records of an arrest and/or subsequent court case are removed from the public record, and sealed from the State or Federal repository. Thereafter, the individual may legally deny or fail to acknowledge ever having been arrested for or charged with any crime which has been expunged. In simple language, when a criminal record is expunged, it’s as though the crime never occurred and the perpetrator can legally state that he was never charged or convicted of a crime.
However, in many jurisdictions, the report of the crime may not entirely disappear and may still be available to law enforcement officials, to sentencing judges on subsequent offenses, and to corrections facilities to which the individual may be sentenced on subsequent convictions.
Diana never received copies of either of the documents she signed. The D.A. and the attorney for the diocese, on the other hand, kept copies of both agreements.
One should also remember that Bishop Leonard, as the Corporate Sole of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was required by Canon Law to file a detailed report on the Cipolla charges in the secret archives of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. We will return to the secret archives matter later in the series.
Once the official papers were signed and the boys returned to the waiting room, the detectives spirited the Thompsons away. This had been an important case for them and they were disappointed with the outcome, but they were more upset with the prospect that Fr. Cipolla would claim more victims. The pederast priest did not disappoint.
The last time the Thompsons saw Fr. Cipolla, he was sitting in the area waiting to give his testimony. That never happened. When he left the station house he was a free man.
One Piece of Evidence Remained
Neither the attorney for the Pittsburgh Diocese nor Fr. Cipolla realized that two days later, the detectives assigned to the case paid the Thompsons one last visit, and gave Diana a copy of the Department of Police Offense/Incidence Report dated 7-25-78. They told her to hold on to it because she might need it someday.
The narrative of the indecent assault by Father Anthony Cipolla [actor] against Thomas Thompson (Tucker) read:
The victim related to his mother and then to the police that he was going to the priest house for instruction on his First Communion. … While at instruction the actor told victim he had to give him a physical. Actor had victim remove his clothing checked him with a stethoscope and then put his finger up the victims anus. He then began to masturbate the victim. Victim had to sign a paper stating he would not tell what happened before he was able to go. Victim states this was the second time this has occurred. The first time was approx.. 3 weeks ago.
It was the only official record the Thompsons ever had that accused Father Anthony Cippola, of sexually assaulting Tucker Thompson at the St. Francis Xavier rectory on July 25, 1978.
Two weeks after the city court hearing, in mid-September 1978, the Thompsons fled Pittsburgh and resettled in Cleveland.
Diana could did not send her children back to St. Xavier’s school, and Tucker never returned to John Morrow after the Cipolla debacle. Tom Thompson was fearful to the point of paranoia that the Church would come after his family now that Fr. Cipolla was free, and Diana was fearful for her children, and the repercussions that would likely follow against her family. Diana urged her boys to try and forget the whole sad affair. She said she would try and do the same.
Meanwhile, back at the diocesan ranch, Bishop Leonard made arrangement for Fr. Cipolla to be shuffled off to St. Canice Parish in the Knoxville section of Pittsburgh. The priest was later assigned to St. Philip Church in Crafton and finally he was made the chaplain to the Felician Sisters of North America at the McGuire Memorial Home.
There is no evidence that Fr. Cipolla was ever “exorcised” or ever underwent any “treatment” for his criminal pathology, much less that he was “cured.”
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh was both thrilled and relieved it had managed such a timely and successful pederast cover-up and avoided a public scandal as well as a potentially costly lawsuit.
The year 1978 had not been a good one for the Pittsburgh Diocese especially with the arrest and conviction of the defrocked celerity priest, Father Richard Ginder, for sodomizing two 16-year-old boys, for which he received a four-year prison term. Ginder had been arrested earlier in 1969 for possession of photographs and descriptive diaries of teenage boys performing homosexual acts on Ginder and possibly other sodomite priests of the Pittsburgh Diocese. Attorneys for the diocese interceded for the priest and he was released from jail and put on 10 years probation. He was still on probation when he raped the two young men.
In 1978, Bishop Leonard also transferred accused pederast, Rev. Ralph Esposito, to the Diocese of Little Rock, AK. A Pittsburgh diocesan priest, Esposito was accused of sexually molesting a 10-year-old boy at Mother of Sorrows Parish in McKees Rock for three years beginning in 1973. The victim eventually received a settlement in 2007 as part of a $1.25M deal cut with the Diocese of Pittsburgh for 32 victims by 17 priests. An interesting footnote to the Esposito Case is that, according to Monsignor Francis Malone, vicar general for the Diocese of Little Rock, there was nothing in the priest’s record, before or after the priest's arrival, that would have raised an alarm. Malone added that bishops of Pittsburgh and Little Rock had an arrangement by which Catholic-sparse Arkansas would receive priests from Catholic-rich Pennsylvania.
As far as the parishioners of St. Xavier, and other Catholics of Pittsburgh who had followed the story in the newspapers knew, the accusers of Fr. Anthony Cipolla had left town in a hurry and the priest had been found innocent of the charges against him.
And that would have been the end of the story, had not Fr. Anthony Cipolla, the new assistant pastor at St. Canice, decided to go boy hunting again.
End – Part I
The Sex Abuse Case Against Father Anthony J. Cipolla
Part II The Life and Death of a Pederast Priest
By Randy Engel
Father Anthony Joseph Cipolla was born on August 29, 1943 in Rochester, PA, a borough of Beaver County. He was the youngest of five children – Ann, Vincent, Genevra, Anita, his twin sister, and Anthony – born to Ambrose and Albina (Natale) Cipolla.
His first parish, where he received his First Holy Communion on June 17, 1954, was St. Titus Church in Aliquippa. It was a heavily mixed ethnic church with German-born, Italian- speaking Father Edward Zauner serving as its long-time pastor. Fr. Cipolla, a country boy, gave credit for his vocation to Fr. Zauner and to his mother, who by every account was a devout Catholic and a kind, generous soul.
That same year, 1954, due to the expanding population in the area, Pittsburgh Bishop John Dearden established a new parish, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, in nearby Aliquippa under Father Cornelius J. Finneran. A small chapel was built on the site in September 1954, but the church was not completed until 1987. It was here that the young Anthony Cipolla learned his catechism, went to confession and attended Mass. And it was here that the Mass of Christian Burial was said for the 73-year-old priest following a fatal auto accident on August 30, 2016.
A Missionary Priest and Boys, Boys, Boys
According to autobiographical data provided by Fr. Cipolla, he wanted to be a missionary priest, not a diocesan priest. At the start of 10th grade in high school, he entered St. Anthony’s minor seminary in San Antonio, TX, operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.). However, the distance was too great, plane rides home too expensive and tuition too high. He returned home.
Later, he applied to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.) and was accepted at Maryglade College Seminary, in Memphis, MI. He graduated in 1966 and was sent by the missionary order to the Pontifical College Josephinum near Worthington, OH, for his theology training. He remained at the Josephinum for only one the year. Then he left for reasons unexplained.
The next religious order he decided to try out was the Missionaries of the Holy Family (M.S.F), whose special charism is fostering family life. The American Province for the Italian-based congregation sent Cipolla to St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Farmington, MO. When his novitiate year was over, he took his simple vows. The order then sent Cipolla to St. Leonard’s Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, operated by the Franciscan Friars Minor of St. John, for his second year of theological studies. Again he left the seminary for reasons unexplained.
Fr. Cipolla now took a year off and accepted a teaching position at St. Anselm’s parochial K-8 grade school in Dearborn Heights, MI. In addition to teaching religion, geography, English and history he also taught a boys’ physical education class. Cipolla resided in Dearborn, where readers of Part I of this series will remember he took Frank Labiaux and other boys in the summer of 1977 to an auto museum and ended up assaulting the 12-year-old Frank in his motel room.
Fr. Cipolla then returned to the P.I.M.E. Fathers who accepted him back for his final two years of theological studies. He took up residence at the P.I.M.E.’s Queen of the Missions Seminary in Oakland, N.J. and commuted about 20 minutes away to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J. for his theology classes.
According to Cipolla, the P.I.M.E.’s rector, Father John Barocco asked him to teach religion at the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and instruct gym classes for 7th grade boys. The money he earned was put towards Cipolla’s tuition.
The young Cipolla also became involved with the Oakland Boys’ Club which had 225 high school and grade school members. He oversaw the club’s sports program and gave an annual retreat for boys at the P.I.M.E.’s seminary. There was also Camp Tamarac where Cipolla took boys on campouts.
Cipolla Ordained as a Diocesan Priest
At the close of his last year with the P.I.M.E. Fathers, Cipolla was contacted by Fr. Finneran, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, now his home parish, telling the young man that his father was dying and his mother was struggling to keep the family restaurant and bar open. He was needed at home immediately. Fr. Finneran also told Cipolla that he had already talked with Bishop Leonard of the Pittsburgh Diocese and that Leonard was willing to ordain him as a diocesan priest if and when Cipolla returned home.
In early summer of 1972, Cipolla left the P.I.M.E. Fathers and his dream of being a missionary behind. Before he left, the Oakland Boys’ Club held an award dinner in the priest’s honor. Anthony Cipolla was named “Man of the Year,” and the Oakland Chief of Police gave him an engraved plaque in appreciation for his service to the Oakland Boys Club.
Cipolla returned home and Bishop Leonard sent him to St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon to get a taste of what it was like to be a diocesan priest. “I was starting to like the idea although I never forgot my desire to be a missionary,” Cipolla said.
On Saturday, October 28, 1972, at age 29, Anthony J. Cipolla was ordained by Bishop Leonard for the Pittsburgh Diocese at Our Lady of Fatima Church. On Sunday, October 29th he said his first Mass.
During a visit to see his father in a nursing home, Fr. Cipolla blessed him with a relic of hair from Padre Pio’s beard and his father lived another six years. According to Fr. Cipolla, Ambrose Cipolla, who had opposed his son entering the priesthood was now filled with gratitude to both Padre Pio and his son – the priest.
More Red Flags – Fr. Cipolla’s Parish Merry-go-round
During the approximately 16-years that Fr. Cipolla served under three bishops, Bishop Vincent Leonard, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, and Bishop Donald Wuerl, in the Pittsburgh Diocese, he was moved from parish to parish – five parishes before he assaulted Frank Labiaux and his stepbrother Tucker Thompson, and two parishes and a home for exceptional children after the diocese learned of the abuse. The priest was never assigned to be pastor of any parish.
The priest remained at his first parish, St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon from 1972 -1974; at Immaculate Conception in Washington PA from 1974 - 1975, that is, less than a year; at St. Philomena in Beaver Falls in 1975 for just a matter of months; at St. Agatha in Bridgeville from 1975-1976, for less than a year; at St. Francis Xavier on the Northside from 1976 – 1978, where he sexually abused Frank and Tucker; at St. Canice in Knoxville from 1978-1983 where he was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy for more than four years, 1982-1986; at St. Philip in Crafton in 1983 for a few months; and finally the McGuire Memorial Home for Exceptional Children from 1983-1988.
According to Rev Ronald Lengwin, the spokesman for the Pittsburgh Diocese, young priests “typically spent five years at each church, but if they were unhappy in their post, it was not unusual to be transferred much sooner.” Clearly, Fr. Cipolla was “unhappy” with most of his assignments and the pastors were “unhappy” with him.
By the way, the reader will want to remember the name of Fr. Lengwin who was ordained by Bishop John Wright in 1966 for the Pittsburgh Diocese. He has served as the diocese’s public relations director since 1977 to the present. No one knows better than Lengwin where all the diocese’s skeletons are buried, especially those dealing with clerical pederasty. Not surprisingly, he was to play an important role in the Cipolla cover-up.
The Establishment of a Padre Pio Group
In 1979, while an assistant pastor at St. Canice, Fr. Cipolla incorporated an independent tax-deductible charity called the Padre Pio Spiritual Refuge, Inc., based in North Jackson, Ohio, with himself as the Principal Officer. The charity provided a platform for the charismatic priest’s promotion of Saint Padre Pio, O.F.M.Cap., who was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, but more importantly, the organization served as a financial base for the priest’s personal use both before and after Wuerl cut back and then cut off all diocesan financial support.
The Tim Bendig Case Breaks in Pittsburgh Diocese
By the time the Tim Bendig Case against Fr. Cipolla broke for the first time in November 1988, there had been a number of important changes in the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Bishop Leonard had retired in June 1983.
On December 12, 1983, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua was placed in a holding position in the Pittsburgh Diocese in anticipation of his being given the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when the See became vacant. The infamous priest pederast/sadomasochist cases of Rev. Robert Wolk, Rev. Richard Zula and Rev. Francis Pecci, opened under Bevilacqua and ended with prison sentences for Wolk and Zula, and retirement for Pecci, the statute of limitations having run out.
When Bevilacqua moved on to Philly in February, 1988, Bishop Donald W.Wuerl, the former Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle, was installed as the 11th Bishop of Pittsburgh on March 25, 1988. A native of the Pittsburgh Diocese, Wuerl was the former secretary and catamite of homosexual Bishop (later Cardinal) John Wright, the 8th Bishop of Pittsburgh (1959-1969) and Prefect for Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican from April 1969 till his death on August 10, 1979.
Wuerl was only eight months in office when Timothy Bendig first attempted to have his case filed against Fr. Cipolla for more than four years of sexual abuse which occurred while he was an altar boy at St. Canice and where Cipolla was an associate pastor. Bendig also reported that the abuse continued after Cipolla was reassigned to St. Philip Parish and then the McGuire Memorial Home for Exceptional Children, the priest’s last official assignment.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh was already acquainted with Mr. Bendig in a decidedly negative way.
On June 22, 1987, more than a year before Bendig attempted to have a lawsuit filed, the young man had informed the diocese that Cipolla had sexually molested him. According to Fr. Ronald Lengwin spokesman for the diocese, the very next day the diocese conducted “an internal review” and concluded that there was “no indication that Cipolla had acted inappropriately.” The police were not informed of the charge against Fr. Cipolla by either Bishop Bevilacqua, or his successor, Bishop Wuerl.
Tim Bendig then entered St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, PA on several weekends to discern whether or not he had a vocation to the priesthood. In an interview with Tim, I asked him if Fr. Cipolla had ever encouraged him to become a priest and he said yes.
While at the seminary, Mr. Bendig encountered a number of homosexual candidates for the priesthood, and had sexual relations with at least two of them off seminary grounds prior to being accepted into the seminary program. That St. Paul Seminary has had a reputation of being a hotbed of homosexuality since 1965 should come as no surprise as its founder was homosexual prelate, Bishop John Wright.
Bendig stated that he left St. Paul’s of his own volition. Bishop Wuerl said that Bendig was asked to leave the seminary because the young man “was troubled” and had made “unfortunate allegations against other seminarians.”
Ya Think? A young boy who was routinely buggered by a Catholic priest and forced to perform fellatio on the bastard since he entered puberty “was troubled” and was acting out in inappropriate ways. Amazing!
After Bendig left St. Paul seminary, the diocese offered to pay for psychological counseling for him, but that came to an end after only three or four sessions. At this point, Bendig decided to take his criminal complaint to the Office of the Beaver County District Attorney.
Bendig filed criminal charges against Cipolla in December 1988. His attorneys were Edward P. Weiss, Joel Waldman and Bill Goodrich.
District Attorney’s Office Fails to Act Against Fr. Cipolla
Three months later, on March 17, 1989, the Beaver County District Attorney’s Office informed Bendig’s lawyers, and Joseph J. Liberati, the attorney for Fr. Cipolla, that its investigation “showed no basis for criminal prosecution essentially for the following reasons:
Bendig was over 18 years at the time of the alleged offense.
No corroborating evidence was found.”
The D.A.’s office was wrong on the first count because Bendig claimed that Cipolla’s sexual assault on him began when he was a minor, just 13 years old. Cipolla admitted he met the boy in 1981 at St. Canice. These assaults occurred on different occasions including an out-of-state trip to Michigan in 1982; a foreign trip to Portugal in 1983 to visit Our Lady of Fatima Shrine; and at McGuire Memorial in New Brighton from 1983 to 1986 when Cipolla was serving as chaplain to the Felician Sisters.
Cipolla lived at private chaplain quarters at the McGuire Memorial Home. It consisted of a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. According to Bendig, he often stayed days at a time at the home, sleeping on the sofa bed at night. The nuns treated Bendig with the utmost kindness and would bring the young man private lunches if Cipolla was otherwise occupied with his chaplain responsibilities. I asked Mr. Bendig if any of the sisters ever questioned him about his relationship with the older Cipolla and he responded that the sisters and the priest lived in separate worlds and the nuns would never act against Cipolla, who was very argumentative and adversarial. Sister Mary Alice, at least on one occasion, did ask Tim if he had a family and siblings, and if his mother knew that he came to McGuire Memorial. Tim said yes and that was the end of the conversation.
The primary venue for the sexual assaults upon the teenager was Cipolla’s private rooms, although sometimes, when he was driving, Cipolla would force the boy’s head down on the priest’s lap to fellate him.
Concerning the second point, no corroborating evidence was found because the Diocese of Pittsburgh deliberately withheld the details of Cipolla’s 1977 assault of Frank Labiaux in a Michigan motel, and the digital rape of his stepbrother, Tucker Thompson, in Pittsburgh in 1978.
The letter from the Beaver County D.A.’s office indicated that Tim Bendig had been interviewed by Assistant District Attorney William Hare and by a Detective Andrew Gall, after Bendig had accused Father Anthony Cipolla of indecent assault at the McGuire Home in Daugherty Township. The Detective Bureau then conducted an investigation including interviews with Tom Hamilton, a young man from Cipolla’s Padre Pio group who frequented the McGuire Memorial Home in the company of Cipolla, Sister Mary Alice Sobieraj, a founder of the McGuire Memorial Mission, Monsignor [Raymond] Schultz, Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul in Beaver, PA; and Father Cipolla, Chaplain to the Felician Franciscan Sisters
In his own defense, Fr. Cipolla denied he had ever engaged in any sexual wrongdoing with anyone, child or adult, and that he acted with chastity in a reasonable and prudent manner.
Having pressed Frank and Tucker’s mother, Diana Thompson, to drop the charges against Fr. Cipolla and agree to an expungement of the charges so there would be no record any sexual abuse ever took place, the Diocese of Pittsburgh remained publicly silent.
Thus, having found no grounds upon which to file criminal charges against Fr. Cipolla, the Beaver County Office took no further action on the Bendig accusations.
It should be noted that Tim Bendig did make an effort to locate the Thompson family in order to gain evidence that he wasn’t the priest’s only victim. At that time, only Tucker Thompson remained in Pittsburgh. When Mr. Bendig paid him a visit, and asked Tucker to come forward and make a public statement Tucker refused. He panicked and immediately fled the state going first to his father’s residence in New York and then to his mother’s house in Florida. Diana had remarried in June 1984 and her legal name was now Diana Mangum, although for the purposes of this article I shall continue to refer to her as Diana Thompson.
Of the two brothers, Tucker was the most visibly affected by the news that Cipolla was at it again. He feared that the Church would come after him again for having pointed the finger at Fr. Cipolla ten years earlier. His weight dropped and for months he was panic stricken.
However, Diana Thompson still had a sister living in Pittsburgh, and it was through her that Diana and her family learned that Cippola was not “cured” as Bishop Leonard had promised and had offended again with another young boy, Tim Bendig.
At this point in time, Diana was convinced that the Pittsburgh Diocese would deep-six the Bendig Case as they had done with her sons’ cases and she took no action – until 1990 when Bendig took on new legal counsel in the person of Attorney Douglas Yauger, and the battle against Fr. Cipolla began to heat up in ways no one had expected.
The Secret Archive of the Pittsburgh Diocese
It is unclear how much Wuerl knew about Cipolla’s criminal past when he came into office, but we do know that he did have access to the Pittsburgh Diocese secret archive.
The Vatican, and the old 1917 and new 1983 Code of Canon Law mandates that every diocese maintain a canonical institute known as the secret archive, completely locked and immoveable, where detailed records of sexual crimes committed by diocesan and order priests working in the diocese are kept safe and secure. The stored information may also include psychiatric reports and sensitive medical information. Only the bishop has the key to the secret archive safe. In the world of facts and documentation, that is, the external forum, the secret archives do not exist.
Files are purged and destroyed by burning once a year if the accused party has died or ten years have elapsed since the condemnatory (guilty) sentence. A brief summary of the priest’s crime along with the text of the definitive sentence are retained.
One of the avowed purposes of the secret archive is to protect the defendant’s right to confidentiality. Another is to protect the Church’s reputation and prevent scandal. However, in some states, including Pennsylvania, the contents of the diocesan secret archives can be subpoenaed by the state, as in the case of pederast Rev. Francis Luddy, who alone cost the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese $1.2 million in settlements.
Special care is taken for any secret archive file which indicates that no procedure has been undertaken against a particular cleric accused of a grave delict (canonical crime) even if unsubstantiated. The reason for this extra caution is obvious. Should that cleric offend again, the civil authorities would know that the diocese was put on notice as to the priest’s behavior and did nothing, thus opening up the diocese to punitive damage if the priest’s guilt is later proven.
Regarding the Cipolla Case, the Pittsburgh Diocese knew that the wayward priest was guilty of at least two major sexual crimes against minors by the late 1970s, but the victims’ mother did not press charges, and the perp went free. Now along comes another alleged victim of Fr. Cipolla, and Wuerl can’t publicly denounce the perpetrator without acknowledging that, a decade before under Bishop Leonard, his diocese was responsible for the cover-up of the crime.
Chances are that some summary documents concerning Cipolla’s pederasty crimes existed in the secret archives when Wuerl took over. Certainly, the ambitious Wuerl, with his many Vatican connections gleaned from his long intimate relationship with Cardinal Wright, understood that the Cipolla “problem” would not do his rising clerical career any good.
Wuerl’s predicament was further complicated because while Wuerl knew that Cippola was a pederast after reading the secret archives to which he alone had access. Cipolla knew, via the diocesan grapevine, that Wuerl was a homosexual prelate, and would later go so far as to denounce Wuerl to the Congregation for Clergy.
Bishop Wuerl Moves Against Fr. Cipolla
Although the Beaver County D.A. had not moved against Fr. Cipolla in the case of Tim Bendig, Bishop Wuerl decided to pull the priest from McGuire Memorial, and ship the priest out of the diocese to undergo a battery of psychological and psychiatric examinations at various “Catholic” “treatment” “hideaways.” The diocese claimed that Fr. Cipolla had “mental health” problems as evidence by the fact that he had had eight different pastoral assignments in less than 16 years. Usually, when a priest is removed temporarily or laicized permanently the mental illness must be very serious as in the case of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. Having a “personality disorder” just doesn’t quite cut it.
In order to defuse the Cipolla time bomb, Bishop Wuerl first sent the priest to St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, MD, for a psychiatric evaluation. The treatment center, after a necessarily superficial evaluation – Cipolla refused to engage in sexual and masturbatory fantasies – reported back to the diocese that while it found the priest “sexually repressed,” there was no indication that he was a “pedophile.” Nevertheless, the Institute recommended that he not work with children. I believe that we can conclude that the Pittsburgh Diocese did not inform the Institute that it knew that Cipolla had already sexually assaulted two boys in the late 1970s and had probably already had claimed a third victim.
St. Luke’ Institute then recommended that Cipolla be sent to the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, PA, for a psychiatric exam. Cipolla refused to go.
Wuerl was getting more and more angry.
However, Cipolla did agree to go for a second evaluation at St. Michael’s Institute in New York City, a Christian-based outpatient diagnostic facility recommended by Charles Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation. Mr. Wilson was one of a number of Catholic conservatives who believed that the priest was innocent of any sex abuse charges. The staff of St. Michael’s reported back that Cipolla showed no signs of “perverse sexuality,” psychosis, or personality disorder. However, they did indicate he suffered from bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies, but these did not require hospitalization or medication, they reported.
Cipolla returned to the Pittsburgh Diocese, but Wuerl still held off on reassigning him. Then the bishop, without any formal trial, removed his priestly faculties so that Cipolla could not dress or represent himself as a priest or say Mass publicly. According to Cipolla,,Bishop Wuerl was denying him basic support guaranteed to him under canon law as long as he wasn’t laicized.
In July1989, Wuerl sent a letter to the Congregation for the Clergy which deals with diocesan priests and deacons, informing the office that he had banned Cipolla from public ministry because the priest suffered from “health problems.”
Cipolla let it be known that Wuerl was persecuting him “to the ultimate degree.”
In 1991, the Congregation ruled in favor of Bishop Wuerl.
That same year, 1991, Fr. Cipolla, who was represented in the states by Beaver County Attorney John Conti, appealed the Congregation’s verdict to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.
This time, Cipolla won.
The Apostolic Signatura – On a Bishop Behaving Badly
Unfortunately, from the get-go, Bishop Wuerl handled the Cipolla Case in an extra-judicial way simply by issuing a decree without observing any formalities. Canon law, however, puts great emphasis on due process and the norms of the law, as well as the right of appeal. All priests and religious have rights, including priests accused of pederasty, and under the 1983 Code of Canon Law these rights are to be protected and defended including the right not to be punished with canonical penalties except in accord with the norm of law.
Wuerl argued that as bishop, he possessed the executive power of governance, and thus through an administrative act, he had the power to remove Fr. Anthony Cipolla from office, to remove or restrict his faculties and to limit his exercise of priestly ministry.
The six judges of the Supreme Triunal disagreed. They viewed Wuerl’s actions against Cipolla as a punishment not merely an administrative act. Canon law is clear on this point. No bishop can claim beforehand a perpetual penalty. Such a penalty is applied by a judge at the conclusion of a judicial process.
While it was true that Wuerl had ordinary and proper power by virtue of his office, he was still required to rule his diocese according to the norm of law. Clearly, Bishop Wuerl had not done this in his dealings with Fr. Cipolla. The bishop gave no formal warning to the priest. Nor was his dismissal carried out in front of witnesses. All correspondence was done through the mail. The result was that everything he had done to Cipolla was now null and void.
It came as little surprise then, that on March 9, 1993, the judges of the Signatura decided in favor Fr. Anthony Cipolla who was represented by Count Neri Capponi, D.Cn.L., LL.D, a Professor of Canon Law at the University of Florence and accredited to argue cases before the Vatican’s highest juridical body. Count Capponi had a close working relationship with the U.S.-based St. Joseph Foundation and its leader, Charles Wilson.
The seven-page decision written in Latin was basically a procedural/ due process decision, and did not involve the sex abuse charges leveled against Cipolla by the Thompson family.
Since the 1978 charges against Fr. Cipola had been withdrawn and expunged from the public record, the court had given no weight to the matter. The jurists were simply told that there had been no physical exam at all; that Cipolla had quizzed the boy strictly on his Catechism; and that the mother had mistook the boy’s complaints about an exam for a physical exam. There was no reference made to the boy’s older stepbrother who had been sexually abused by Cipolla in 1977.
The Signatura ordered Bishop Donald Wuerl to restore Fr. Cipolla’s faculties, to give him a pastoral or diocesan assignment, and presumably make some form of financial restitution for back remuneration and health insurance which had been withheld by Wuerl.
However, Wuerl publicly refused these conditions and announced, through his spokesman, Fr. Ronald Lengwin, that he planned on appealing the Signatura’s verdict and that he would not assign Cipolla to any parish or diocesan facility until Tim Bendig’s civil lawsuit was over.
Lengwin claimed that the Vatican court’s decision was based partially on some “misinformation,” and “factual errors.”
One week after the Signatura had issued its verdict, Bishop Wuerl found himself eating crow. The highest court at the Vatican had spoken and the bishop had to obey. Father Lengwin issued a curt public statement on Wuerl’s behalf on March 22, 1993, stating that Fr. Cipolla’s full faculties were to be restored and he could wear his Roman collar. “The diocese would have to work out the details,” Lengwin said.
The Signatura was correct in that, while it was true that Bishop Wuerl did not have to assign Fr. Cipolla, he was required to provide “basic support” (housing, medical insurance, basic food) because, by reason of Incardination, a bishop is obligated to “sustain” a cleric who has pledged himself to serve the people of the diocese. The fact that Fr. Cipolla was not reassigned does not of itself sever the juridic bond between him and the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Complete withdrawal of basic financial support can only take place lawfully after laicization. And Cipolla was not laicized until 2002.
Interestingly, as the reader will see in Part III of this series, Bishop Wuerl had no difficulty in providing “basic support,” to a bevy of criminal pederasts for not mere months, but in some cases for years, the record holder being boy hunter Rev. Charles J. Chatt who was officially on “sick leave” for 11 years, from 1992 to 2003, when the priest voluntarily withdrew from all priestly service.
The fact that Wuerl did withhold from Cipolla “basic support,” therefore, was not so much a testimony to a righteous anger that a bishop should hold for a priest who commits sexual crimes against innocent minors, as it was a testimony to Wuerl’s unbridled resentment and strong hatred for a priest who openly challenged his authority and humiliated him before the Congregation for the Clergy and the Signatura.
Fr. Cipolla Makes Plans to Transfer Abroad
The Signatura’s verdict in favor of Fr. Cipolla was greeted with cheers from his attorney, John Conti, from Chuck Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation, and from members of the Padre Pio prayer group, many of whom were being lined up to testify in favor of Fr. Cipolla at the upcoming May trial. The priest was also supported by the popular author, Malachi Martin, the well-known catechist and theologian, Father John Hardon, S.J., and canon lawyer, Father Alfred Joseph Kunz, who was savagely murdered at his Dane Wisconsin parish on March 4, 1998. According to Cipolla, who said he talked with Fr. Kunz just two days before his death, the priest had agreed to help him recover his back remuneration and/or basic support from the Pittsburgh Diocese.
One of the surprising revelations Attorney Conti made following the March 9th Signatura decision was that Fr. Cipolla, who was living at a Catholic shrine in Ohio, had been invited by Mother Teresa to join the Missionaries of Charity in India after undergoing training in Mexico. The priest spoke fluent Italian and Spanish. Conte said that Mother Teresa had been informed of the pederasty charges against the priest, but she recognized his calling and the victimhood he suffered under his bishop. However, under Church law, Cipolla, a diocesan priest, could not be released to a religious order without the bishop’s permission, and it was unlikely that Wuerl was willing to do that until the Bendig Case had played itself out.
Pittsburgh Diocese Faces Anew the Bendig Case
While Bishop Wuerl was deciding how he would handle the repercussions from the Signatura’s verdict in favour of Fr. Cipolla, he also had to decide what he was going to do about the Bendig lawsuit, which had already been filed in the Alleghany County Common Pleas Court by Bendig’s attorney, Douglas Yauger on March 10, 1992. News of the suit was released by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 14, 1993.
Named as defendants were the Pittsburgh Diocese, Bishop Wuerl, Fr. Cipolla, two of Wuerl’s predecessors, retired Bishop Leonard, and Bishop Bevilacqua, later Cardinal and Archbishop of Philadelphia. Also named in the suit were Sister Mary Alice Sobieraj of the McGuire Memorial Home, Msgr. Joseph Findlan, pastor of St. Canice from 1967-1986, the Rev. Carl William Hausen, and the Rev. Theodore A. Rutkowski, Rector of St. Paul Seminary from 1985 – 1986.
Father Lengwin was quoted in the February 14th article as claiming that until this suit, the 1978 accusation was “the only accusation ever made against Father Cipolla to the diocese.” This statement was a lie. Lengwin, who served under Bishop Leonard, would have been aware that there were two sons of Diana Thompson sexually abused by Cipolla, the eldest Frank in 1977 and Tucker in 1978. The Pittsburgh Diocese was back into “cover-up” mode.
On March 4, 1993, Senior Judge Maurice Louik announced that if the defendants could not reach a settlement with Mr. Bendig, the case would go to trial in May, although that date was later moved again to the fall. So time was running out for Bishop Wuerl. However, as it turned out, an unforeseeable turn of events had already forced his hand in favour of a settlement.
In mid-February 1993, Diana Thompson read an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sent to her in Florida by her sister in Pittsburgh concerning a reactivated Bendig civil lawsuit against Bishop Donald Wuerl and the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Fr. Anthony Cipolla and others. Bendig, now 24, was seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, battery, assault and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Diana phoned PPG staff writer, Ann Rodgers-Melnick to find out Attorney Yauger’s number and called his office. She explained that Fr. Cipolla had sexually assaulted two of her sons in the later 1970s, and that she had a copy of the criminal complaint filed for her son, Tucker. She was the woman that Tim Bendig had been looking for but could not find.
The very next day, Yauger flew to Florida to pick up the police report and later made arrangements for Tucker Thompson and his stepbrother, FrankLabiaux, to give their sworn depositions at the office of Attorney Sheldon Stevens in Merritt Island, Florida. Their depositions were videotaped.
Diana was not deposed at this time. However, later that spring she was deposed in Pittsburgh at the request of Attorney Yauger. He had informed her before the meeting that Bishop Wuerl and his legal team would be present for her deposition. The purpose of the meeting was to convince Bishop Wuerl that Cipolla did molest Diana’s two sons, and thus break the stalemated negotiations with the Pittsburgh Diocese and secure a pretrial settlement for the plaintiff.
The meeting took place in the same downtown Pittsburgh building on Grant Street where Yauger’s office was located. The deposition was videotaped and a court recorder with a stenotype machine was also present.
Bishop Wuerl was attended by two clerics, one of whom was a cardinal and the second one of the diocese’s auxiliary bishops, as well as a diocesan attorney. Diana said she was not formally introduced to Wuerl, but was told who he was and he nodded.
Diana recalls that all the bishops were all dressed in full regalia. Wuerl, she said, paced nervously back and forth, swirling his black cape as he turned. At some point during the recording of her deposition which lasted four hours with a break for lunch, she called Fr. Cipolla and others like him, “perverts,” and questioned why the Church was aiding and abetting the priest. Wuerl got angry but managed to plaster a big, plastic-like smile on his face. After that he mostly listened while the other prelates and the diocesan attorney questioned her. Frequently they asked the same questions but in a different context trying to find a hole in her testimony, but this time Diana was unflappable.
Bishop Wuerl never shook hands with Diana or exchanged a thank you before he left the office, nor did make any offer for the diocese to secure Frank or Tucker counselling, even though the prelate would owe his eventual successes against Cipolla at the Vatican and his red cardinal’s hat to Diana and her sons’ sworn testimony. Tim Bendig, to his credit, did call Yauger’s office to thank Diana for her help with his case.
Pittsburgh Diocese Settles Out of Court
On September 30, 1993, the Diocese of Pittsburgh reached a settlement with Mr. Bendig and the case came to an end. The terms and amount of the settlement was not disclosed at the time. In fact, a gag order was imposed upon the plaintiff as a condition for the settlement.
Cipolla's attorney, John Conte, publicly denounced the settlement and said the diocese and plaintiff had reached the settlement behind his back and that Cipolla wanted a trial.
The reader will recall that Cipolla was still insisting that all the sex abuse accusations against him were lies and that Bishop Donald W. Wuerl railroaded him to avoid liability. He was, of course, unaware that two of his former victims and their mother had stepped forward to give sworn testimony against him, thus supporting Tim Bendig’s claim that the priest had, in fact, molested earlier victims.
When Bishop Wuerl next went to Rome in connection with his appeal of the March 9, 1993, decision of the Signatura in favour of Father Cipolla, he had with him the earlier deposition of Diana’s two sons plus her own deposition made in Pittsburgh to which the bishop was a witness and the 1978 police report which detailed the abuse of Tucker Thompson.
Vatican Court Reverses Its Decision in 1995
In 1995, following Bishop Wuerl’s trips to appeal the Signatura’s 1993 decision, the Vatican Court reversed itself and upheld the original ban by the Congregation for Clergy that prohibited Cipolla from acting as a priest. The priest was “impeded” from ministry, that is, officially barred from public ministry, but not yet laicized.
In the meantime, Fr. Cipolla had accepted a number of invitations to say Mass, hold a retreat, act as chaplain on a cruise and conduct pilgrimages out of state and out of the country, including trips to St. Louis and Detroit, Birmingham (Alabama), Spain and Venezuela and Medjugorje (Bosnia).
In 2000, this writer learned that Cipolla was seeking a position with a Traditional Mass Society in New Jersey which included teaching catechetics to home-school children. He was turned down.
The last straw came for Wuerl when he learned that Fr. Cipolla was trying to say Mass in Rome. In May 2002, Bishop Wuerl decided to petition the Congregation for the Faith to have Fr. Cipolla involuntarily laicized.
The end came on September 19, 2002. Pope John Paul II, laicized Fr. Anthony Cipolla without a Church trial. This was and remains a rare occurrence. Cipolla was now officially a layman. He could no longer say Mass, publicly or privately. Ironically, he could marry.
After all the evidence, including the sex abuse charges brought by Bishop Wuerl to Rome, and evidence that Fr. Cipolla had continued to represent himself as a priest after the 1995 reverse decision by the Vatican had been reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope affixed his signature.
The laicized Cipolla returned or attempted to return to Rome to discuss an appeal of the most recent decision with new canon lawyers. According to Chuck Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation, the Vatican had not allowed Cipolla to defend himself since 1993. Wilson said that Cipolla was broke and had no source of income. “I wouldn’t presume to question whether or not the Holy Father was right in deciding this… but, if indeed, Father Cipolla was not given a chance to give his side of the story, I think that’s regrettable,” he said.
According to Mr. Wilson, Fr.Cipolla did not receive the justice he deserved during his earthly life.
However, of this I am certain. When he met the Supreme Judge of us all, the One Who knows all things and reads all hearts, Fr. Anthony Joseph Cipolla got the justice he deserved.
End Part II
The Sex Abuse Case Against Father Anthony J. Cipolla
Part III – The Pittsburgh Diocese – A Study of Lies, Deceit and Treachery
By Randy Engel
As I indicated earlier in this series, the Pittsburgh Diocese’s mishandling and cover-up of the Father Anthony Cipolla Case in the late 1970s was the rule not the exception in the second-half of the 20th century. For almost every Catholic diocese in the world, the first concern of the Corporate Sole of each diocese regarding the management of clerical sex abuse, especially those involving pederasty – adult homosexual acts performed upon minor boys – was the avoidance of scandal at all costs, most especially the cost of justice. This misguided mindset, which was evident not only in the diocesan priesthood but in religious orders as well, was reinforced by the Vatican itself through generations of “progressive” popes in the Post-Conciliar era following the Second Vatican Council.
In this final segment in this series, we will examine a total of 20 select clerical sex abuse cases in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that span from 1940 to the present.
As the title of this segment states, the story of clerical sex abuse cases against minors, especially against young boys, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is one of lies, deceit and treachery.
The reader will want to keep in mind when Pittsburgh media spokesman, Fr. Ronald Lengwin, states that “this is the first time that perp XYZ has been accused of the sex abuse of a minor,” what he really means is that this is the first publicly reported and non-expunged case for perp XYZ. In most cases, the perp claims many victims before he is apprehended, and even then, he rarely faces trial, conviction or jail.
Prior to 1960, almost all clerical sex abuse cases in the Pittsburgh Diocese involved heterosexual priests who preyed on young girls and women, although there were exceptions such as the Ginder Case which opens this review.
The Richard Ginder Case
The Ginder Case was played out under Bishops Hugh C. Boyle (1921-1950), John F. Dearden (1950-1958), John J. Wright (1959-1969), Vincent M. Leonard (1969-1983) and Anthony Bevilacqua (1983-1987). It clearly demonstrates how little the handling of criminal pederast priests has changed over the last seventy years in the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Father Richard Ginder was a native Pittsburgher born in 1914. He was a Basselin Fellow and held a master’s degree in philosophy and a licentiate in theology from the Catholic University of America. He was ordained a priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1940 at the age of 26 by Bishop Hugh Boyle. Fr. Ginder taught for three years at St. Charles College in Catonsville, MD, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Later he became Censor of Books for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Fr. Ginder was a popular syndicated priest-columnist. His byline appeared in such prominent Catholic publications as Our Sunday Visitor where he wrote the controversial syndicated column “Right or Wrong.” He also founded The Priest, a journal for Catholic clergy which he edited for 24 years and The Catholic Choirmaster which he edited for 13 years. He was also an accomplished organist and composer of sacred music.
Ginder claimed he discovered his “sexual identity” in 1949, nine years after his ordination. He said he regretted that over the next 25 years, he was never permitted to express himself on the subject of homosexuality in either OSV or The Priest. He did, however, give himself permission to act out his homosexual impulses with adolescent boys and young men.
Then in 1969, Ginder’s double life as a priest-homosexual pederast came to a grinding halt, not by any action of the diocese but by the Pittsburgh police.
As part of an intensive investigation, police officers raided Ginder’s private apartment in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and found photographs of teenage boys performing homosexual acts with Ginder and possibly other priests from the diocese. The police also found diaries written by Ginder that described his (and, again, possibly other clerics’ and laymen’) homosexual activities with young boys and young men. Diocesan attorneys interceded for Ginder and he was released from jail and put on ten-years’ probation.
To recap – The Pittsburgh Diocese knew that Fr. Ginder was a homosexual hunter of underage boys, a criminal offense. The police had sufficient evidence to convict him. The diocese had enough evidence to petition the Vatican to laicize him. But Bishop Wright got him off the hook. He remained “a priest in good-standing.” And the entire sordid affair was covered-up.
Significantly, that very same year, 1969, Rome kicked Bishop Wright “upstairs” and brought him, and his young secretary, Father Donald Wuerl, to Rome. On April 23, 1969, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Wright, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. Five days later, Wright was made a Cardinal.
In 1975, a little more than halfway through his probationary period, Ginder published his semi-autobiographical book Binding With Briars - Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church, a defense of homosexuality and autoeroticism. As Ginder explains:
The Church does not hate gays. The Church hates sodomy. We are trying to change that opposition, to show that it is a mistaken hostility, that sodomy is licit, at least for gays …if homosexuals are sincerely persuaded that gay sodomy is permissible, then they have no need to build their own private little chapel within the Mother Church, to form an esoteric sect within the Christian commonwealth. Separatism, segregation, is not the answer. The answer is assimilation…Gays can be just as good Catholics as the rest and still have their sex. Don’t let them quit the Church …we need their help in forming a consensus. We need them on the team.
In the foreword Binding With Briars, Ginder stated he celebrated Mass every day and that he believed in the tenets of the Nicene Creed as defined dogma, and that he loved his priesthood and his Church, but on the subject of moral theology, he took a sharp detour in terms of allegiance.
The priest attacked moral theology, “at least as it existed from Trent to Vatican II,” as a “stingy, pettifogging science,” that is “act-centered” rather than person-centered. Salvation lies in the “fundamental option” not in “individual acts,” he insisted. Not surprisingly, as an active homosexual/pederast, Ginder thought chastity and celibacy were highly overrated.
Fr. Ginder hailed “Gay Liberation” as being “the cutting edge of sexual liberation.” He favored both. He labeled pedophilia, that is, sex with children as “sick,” and distinguished “the child molester” from the “normal homosexual,” presumably a man like himself, who only engaged in sex with adolescent boys or peers.
In 1976, one year after the publication of Binding With Briars, Bishop Leonard, Wright’s successor, stripped Ginder of his priestly faculties. But he made no move to laicize the priest, so the hapless parishioners of the diocese continued to support the perp while the perp continued to seek out fresh meat.
Two years later, in 1978, the same year that Fr. Anthony Cipolla abused Tucker Thompson, Ginder was again arrested, and this time convicted of sodomizing two 16-year-old boys and sentenced up to four years in prison. Still no petition from Bishop Leonard to have the priest laicized. And still the Catholic parishioners of the Pittsburgh Diocese were footing the bill to keep the priest financially solvent.
What happened to Fr. Ginder after he served out his sentence remained a mystery for many years until the indefatigable Canadian investigative reporter, Sylvia MacEachern, who blogs on the sex abuse scandal and betrayals in the Roman Catholic Church in Canada at Sylvia’s Site, wrote a story about a Msgr. Martin A. Wain, 46, an American-born clerical pederast operating out of the Canadian Diocese of Peterborough and a New Hampshire monastery.
At his 1990 trial, Fr. Wain, the former pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Lakefield, Ontario, was charged with providing the teenage victim with drugs and pornography as well as sexually assaulting the lad starting at 14 years of age for a four-year period. Some of these assaults were carried out at the Peterborough bishop’s residence known as the Palace, which the defendant knew quite well since he was carrying on an “open secret” affair with the diocesan ordinary, Bishop James Leonard Doyle.
Wain received an 18-month sentence plus three years’ probation. Bishop Doyle, is known to have visited his paramour regularly in jail and when Wain was released, the monsignor moved back in with the bishop.
As reported on “Sylvia’s Site,” in the early 1980s, before his conviction, Wain, a canon lawyer, was “serving” in the Hundred Acre Monastery, a retreat house in the town of New Boston, NH, founded as a new form of “contemporary” monastic life without the “encumbrances” of the old form.
“Serving” with Wain was an already convicted clerical jailbird. His name? You guessed it. – Father Richard Ginder. Pittsburgh Diocesan records showed that while Ginder was living at the Hundred Acre Monastery, the Pittsburgh Diocese had him listed as “Absent on Sick Leave.”
On June 7, 1984, Fr. Ginder, like Fr. Cipolla, was killed in an auto accident. The priest’s body was flown from Hillsborough County, NH, and returned to Pittsburgh for burial at Calvary Cemetery.
Fr. Richard Ginder was never laicized.
Instead, the ordinary of the Pittsburgh Diocese, Bishop Vincent Leonard, arranged with the ordinary of the Diocese of Manchester, NH, Bishop, Odore Joseph Gendron, to hide the ex-convict Ginder at a far-flung monastery where there was no supervision or restriction on his comings and goings.
When Leonard’s successor, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, learned of Ginder’s death in New Hampshire, he was probably somewhat relieved to learn that the diocese no longer had to consider the 70-year-old Ginder as an on-going liability. Any files on Ginder kept in the diocesan secret archives would be destroyed, and his criminal record kept under tight wraps by the Diocese of Pittsburgh until diocesan officials were forced to open church records in the wake of clerical pederast scandals that would soon rock the nation and the Church.
In September 2007, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh headed by Bishop David Zubik, agreed to pay a total of $1.25 million to 32 people who say they were abused by 17 priests between the 1950s and 1994. Father Richard Ginder’s name was listed in the civil suit.
It is not without a touch of irony that Zubik’s predecessor, Bishop Donald Wuerl, was the same Secretary Donald Wuerl whose mentor, Bishop John Wright, had given Ginder his first “get-out-of-jail-free” card in 1969.
The Wolk, Zula, Pucci and Zirwas Affairs
Rev. Robert Wolk and Rev. Richard “Sade” Zula were ordained for the Pittsburgh Diocese in the 1960s by Bishop Wright; Rev. Francis Pucci was ordained for the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1957 by Bishop Dearden; and Rev. George Zirwas was ordained for the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1979 by Bishop Leonard. A merrier band of homosexual pederast priests with a sadomasochist bent you’d never chance to meet!
On October 12, 1988, Catholics in the Pittsburgh Diocese opened their local morning paper to learn that that the police had formally charged a former diocesan assistant chancellor with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (sodomy) and the corruption of minors against two teenage boys, brothers, altar boys, over a six-year period, with much of the abuse taking place at the church rectory. Arraignment on the charges occurred on Friday, October 14, 1988.
The diocesan official in question was the Rev. Robert G. Wolk, 48, former pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park. Unnamed in the same article were two other priests who the victims told police provided them with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and performed sadomasochist acts on them using whips and chains. Shortly thereafter, two additional names were released – the Rev. Richard Zula, nicknamed “Sade,” the pastor of Saints Mary and Ann Church in Marianna, Washington County, PA, and the Rev. Francis Pucci, former pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Burgettstown and Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, PA.
All three priests “shared” the same two brothers at different locations, usually the parish house. But the F.B.I. was also called into the case because Wolk was suspected of the sexual abuse of minors in other counties in Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Florida, and Canada.
Records showed that the diocese knew about the pederast ring ONE YEAR BEFORE THE ARREST. All three homosexual priests were removed from their parishes by Bishop Bevilacqua on September 24, 1987, within two days of their accusation. But neither Bevilacqua nor his successor, Bishop Wuerl, took the initiative to bring the crime to the attention of law enforcement authorities.
That task of reporting the crimes was carried out by a friend of the victims’ family, attorney F. Peter Dixon, who contacted the Bethel Park Police, who in turn filed criminal charges with both Allegheny and Washington County and later Somerset County police officials.
When the Pittsburgh police went to arrest Wolk, he wasn’t at his parish. Both he and Pecci were out-of-state. Bishop Wuerl had sent both priests off to the St. Luke Institute in Suitland, MD for “evaluation and treatment,” as Wuerl had done with Fr. Anthony Cipolla. On the advice of his lawyer, Charles Scarlata of Pittsburgh, Wolk returned to the city of his own volition making the filing of extradition papers unnecessary. Pecci also returned without incident to face his accusers.
It took a while for the police to locate and arrest Zula because as the diocesan spokesman, Fr. Ronald Lengwin explained, the diocese does not reveal the whereabouts of priests who are on “sick leave.” The priest was later found at his home in North Huntington and gave himself up voluntarily.
The timing for the priest scandal could not have been worse for Bishop Wuerl and for the Pittsburgh Diocese which was simultaneously facing the sex abuse charges of Tim Bendig against Fr. Anthony Cipolla.
Defending Wuerl’s decision not to report the Wolk, Zula, Pecci Case to the proper authorities, the perpetual diocesan toady, Fr. Ronald Lengwin, publicly announced that the Diocese was not obliged to report child sex abuse to the Child Protective Services, especially when the family of the victims are not initially disposed to take pubic action.
Somewhere between October 30 and November 12, 1988 the victims’ family notified the Pittsburgh Diocese that it intended to sue for $75 million, but the actual amount of the final settlement was never made public.
Much to the relief of the Pittsburgh Diocese the case never went to trial. Washington County District Attorney John Pettit explained that the two victims who were 19 and 21 in June 1990, accepted the plea bargain because it spared the victims and their family the “trauma and difficulty” of testifying at trial.
Left unsaid, was that the Pittsburgh Diocese was spared the “trauma and difficulty” of explaining to Catholic laymen and women how such moral and spiritual miscreants made it through the seminary, the chancery and parish life for decades, and how a pederasty ring could operate with virtual immunity for so long.
As the Dust Settled
By the time the seemingly endless months of plea bargaining were over and the dust had settled in the spring of 1990, Wolk was serving a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years that would run concurrently with the 5 to 10 years he was already serving in Western Penitentiary. He would be voluntarily laicized in 2003.
Zula was serving a two and a half to five-year sentence for assaulting the two youths in addition to a one-to-two-year sentence imposed in Somerset County for molesting one of the brothers during a weekend religious retreat in November 1984 at the Seven Springs Resort in Somerset County. All the original separate 140 counts against him, except two, were dismissed by Washington County officials after the priest pleaded guilty to lesser counts of corruption based on sexual misconduct. Zula’s lawyer was Gary Selway of Greensburg.
After serving his prison sentence, which included five years’ probation, Zula returned home to live with his mother in North Huntington, Westmoreland County. She died in January 2010. There is no public record indicating he was ever laicized.
Only Pucci escaped relatively unscathed. A Washington County judge ruled in September 1991 that the statute of limitations had expired and case was nolle prossed.
Pucci had been accused of molesting one of the brothers at Fr. Zula’s parish house in Marianna in 1986. And he had allowed Zula, to sexually assault one of the brothers at his parish house in Burgettstown.
Pucci was not permanently removed from ministry and he was never laicized. From 1999 until 2002 he served as chaplain for the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer in Elizabeth Township.
He was permitted by the diocese to take an early retirement for health reasons and continued to be financially supported by the diocese until his death in April 2002. Bishop Wuerl celebrated the funeral Mass at the Motherhouse of the Divine Redeemer.
Enter Rev. George Zirwas
Had it not been for an inadvertent comment made during a statement to police in 1988 by the 19-year-old brother who was victimized as a minor by Wolk, Zula, and Pucci, Rev. George Zirwas might have escaped the attention of law enforcement officers completely. Zirwas would have continued as a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in good standing, acting out his secret life as a sodomite/pederast, while his friends, Wolk and Zula went to jail and Pucci lost his parish.
The incident that precipitated the discovery of Fr. Zirwas’s involvement in the pederasty ring occurred at a “retreat” held at the fashionable Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County, PA in 1984. Lodging at the resort includes everything from hotel rooms in the main lodge and condos to more secluded cottages and chalets.
As reported in a lengthy article on the life and times of George Zirwas by writer Kathy Glasgow in the Miami New Times on April 17, 2003, Zula had rented a suite for a weekend at the resort. The 43-year old priest arrived with the then-15-year-old victim in tow. The boy helped Zula unload snacks and whiskey from the car. Shortly thereafter, Zirwas arrived at the suite. He had two, not one, young boys in tow. While his charges went off to swim and play racquetball, Zula and his boy drank whiskey and beer and then retired to a bedroom for a session of mutual fellatio. Zirwas was left alone in another room. Here ends the extent of the information about Zirwas that surfaced publicly, says Gasgow. So, let’s backtrack, and start at the beginning.
The Life and Death of Father George Zirwas
Born on December 16, 1953, in the coalmining town of McDonald, PA, in Washington County, George Zirwas had two older brothers, Matthew and Frank, but he was the special son – the proverbial mama’s boy from childhood onwards.
Young George entered St. Paul Seminary for his theological studies and then completed his training at St. Mary of the Mount Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Classmates remember him for his traditional dress and love of the accruements of the Latin Mass; the lace, the incense, the pageantry. But his theology was Modernist. He was among the many homosexuals that Bishop Leonard ordained in the late 1970s for the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Following a pattern with which the reader of this series has already become familiar, the young priest, like the newly ordained Fr. Anthony Cipolla, managed to chalk up eight different assignments within a 15-year period.
He stayed only eight months at Resurrection Church in Brookline, his first parish, then moved on to the Polish parish of St. Adalbert on South Side where he stayed less than a year. He arrived at his third parish, St. Joseph the Worker in New Castle in April 1981 and departed for St. Michael in Elizabeth, PA in February 1982 where he remained until 1989, serving as an assistant pastor and parochial vicar.
We know that by 1984, Zirwas had established a friendly relationship with Wolk, Zula and Pecci and was present at Seven Springs when Zula abused the 15-year old brother that the trio sexually “shared.”
When the police first reported on the Wolk, Zula, and Pucci cases, they indicated that there were four other youths and another male adult involved in the pederast “ring.” The public was never told who the 4th partner was. Even if it was Zirwas, there apparently were no charges made against him at that time even though he brought two boys to Zula’s suite.
In 1988-1989, when the chancery found out that Zirwas was involved with Zula, the priest was pulled in for questioning by the diocese now headed by Bishop Wuerl. Lengwin said Zirwas denied that there was any wrong behavior on his part, and since no public accusations had been made against him, he returned to St. Joseph’s.
In June 1989, Zirwas was moved to St. Bartholomew in Penn Hills where he remained until December 1991. Then he was transferred again to St. Scholastica in Aspinwald, and in May 1994, transferred again, this time to St. Joseph in Verona where he remained until 1994.
About this time, we know that Zirwas was seriously considering leaving the priesthood to pursue a more open “gay” life. He requested and received a six-month leave of absence during which time he remained a priest in good standing and thus received his full diocesan salary along with insurance coverage, etc. In January 1995, he bought a house in Fort Lauderdale which he resold and then a condo which he rented out then sold.
He returned to active duty in July 1995, but was reassigned to a new parish, St. Maurice in Forest Hills in August. In November 1995, he requested and got a second personal leave
By this time, however, Bishop Wuerl’s patience with the priest had worn thin. While Wuerl appeared to have little trouble with accommodating active homosexual/pederast priests who acted discreetly, they did have to show up for work on a regular basis.
In February 1996, Wuerl, without any canonical fanfare imposed the punishment of “administrative leave” upon the priest, but he did not move to have Zirwas laicized. Zirwas could not represent himself as a priest, could not wear a Roman collar, and could not say Mass publicly. In return for his “disappearance” the diocese continued to send him a basic financial package presumably until Zirwas died.
Unfortunately, an unforeseen glitch in the plan occurred shortly after the diocesan sanction was imposed. Zirwas reported that he was seriously ill and he needed medical assistance, apparently expensive medical assistance. Lengwin, who didn’t have any trouble revealing that Pucci had “kidney” problems, said he couldn’t state the nature of Zirwas’s illness. Which leads one to ask out loud if Zirwas had contracted a sexually-transmitted disease such as syphilis or AIDS. If the latter was the case, then his subsequent promiscuous behaviors would have horrific consequences for his young sex partners at home and abroad.
Whatever his ailment, Zirwas made a sufficient recovery to resettled in South Florida by 1997, until he departed for his final destination – Havana, Cuba . His main connection to the city of Pittsburgh remained his aging mother whom he called every day and visited occasionally. And, of course, his paycheck from the Pittsburgh Diocese.
He also became a sex-tourist making trips to Costa Rica’s and Cuba’s “gay” resorts.
Costa Rica caught this writer’s eye because when I wrote The Rite of Sodomy, I studied “gay” sexual tourism on the Caribbean island, particularly, the life of cacheros, juvenile AIDS-free prostitutes who service American. Canadian and European homosexuals.
Cacherismo is a profession of extreme youth, that is, normal heterosexual boys are recruited as early as age 10 and they exit the scene about age 20. Foreign sex tourists tend to favor boys between the ages of 10 to 15 who have no facial hair – in the Greek tradition.
If Zirwas was attracted to Costa Rica, it wasn’t purely for the scenery.
Death by Murder
Once Zirwas established his domicile in Cuba he lived the life of a typical “gay” American resident. He had a live-in partner, a young and handsome male nurse, Ulises Sierra Tabares, who, from all accounts, Zirwas genuinely liked, although he continued to seek out the company of pingueos, young male prostitutes. Ulises also serviced another older man.
Zirwas, at age 47, met his earthly end on Sunday, May 27, 2001, when he invited into his home, Abel Medina Valdes for a sexual tryst. Medina and his half-brother, Armando Vicente Alfonso had already murdered two foreign “gays.” A third “gay” victim managed to escape. But Zirwas was not so lucky. He was brutally beaten and injected with a fatal dose of a relaxant at the base of his skull. He was dead at the scene when the police arrived so there was no opportunity for last rites even if had wanted them.
Funeral Mass and Burial
Retrieval of the body was difficult since the United States did not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, but the U.S. State Department, working through the Swedish Embassy in Havana, was able to ship the body home for a funeral.
The Pittsburgh Diocese was informed of Zirwas’s death on Wednesday, May 30, 2001.
Fr. Lengwin had the difficult task of trying to explain to reporters how a priest from the Pittsburgh Diocese ended up in Havana, and why the priest was murdered.
An Associated Press release quoted Lengwin as saying that Zirwas had been on a “personal leave of absence” since 1996 because of medical problems. Catholic World News (6/1/01) reported that Zirwas was on “medical leave,” and he lived in Havana helping the poor, which was partially true because he did bring medical supplies and other relief supplies for the neighborhood poor when he returned to Havana from his trips to Pittsburgh to see his mother.
Only Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ann Rodgers-Melnick (6/2/2001) reported correctly that Zirwas was banned from ministry and was on administration leave for reasons the Diocese of Pittsburgh would not disclose. She said that upon hearing of his death, “former parishioners praised his compassion and devotion to tradition.”
Fr. George Zirwas was buried in his vestments at his home parish of St. Alphonsus in Wexford on June 11, 2001. In attendance were two bishops, 20 priests, and more than 100 mourners. The priest’s mother and two brothers and relatives were present and in a state of unbelievable grief. Zirwas’ mother died of a broken heart the very next year.
Three months after his murder, Medina and his accomplice were tried in a Havana courtroom. None of Zirwas’ relatives were present to hear the sordid details of the killing. Medina’s half-brother received a 35 – year sentence, and Medina received a death sentence, but the latter was commuted in secret to 45 years.
The Mystery of Iniquity
Sadomasochism is usually the last level of human degradation reached by sexual perverts like Wolk, Zula, Pecci and Zirwas. So, when the news of a clerical pederast sadomasochist “ring” operating in the Pittsburgh Diocese made headlines in the fall of 1988, one can be sure it had been in existence for many years undisturbed by diocesan officials as had the Ginder sex ring.
Yet, diocesan spokesman Lengwin, speaking in defense of Wolk said this was the “first time” that Wolk had been reported for “misconduct.” First time “reported” to the police, yes, but not the first time he had sexually abused young boys. Misconduct? The original charge before plea bargaining was involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, that is, forced sodomy.
Bishop Wuerl added to the obscenity of the tragic affair when he stated that the priest (Wolk) was “devastated.” “For the priest, his life is in ruins. That was his whole life,” he told the press.
The priesthood was “Wolk’s whole life?”
Really! I don’t think so.
Wolk, Zula, Pecci, and Zirwas were demons with Roman collars. Devils in disguise. Did the foursome bother to confess their sins, one to another, and give each other absolution? If so, they incurred ipso facto, automatic excommunication, the lifting of which is reserved for the Holy Father. Unshriven, they committed sacrilege every time they said Mass in the state of mortal sin.
Did any diocesan official ever care to inquire why Zula’s nickname was “Sade,” as in the Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, a habituated sodomite and sexual libertine?
As for devastation, what about the devastation wrought upon the two brothers and their family? The diocese did provide the two young men with “monthly counseling sessions,” but after six years of sodomy and other forms of homosexual abuse, no amount of “counseling” will ever totally wipe away the shame and humiliation they endured at the hands of Wolk and the other priests.
The credible accusation against Kline and eight other Marianist brothers, however, was not revealed until 2014 when American-born Marianist Brother Bernard Joseph Hartman was “voluntarily” extricated from the United States to Melbourne, Australia, to face charges of sex abuse of minors there.
In addition to Kline and Hartman, Marianist brothers named as pederasts were:
Brother Jerome Binder who worked at North Catholic from 1961-1966; 1975-1976; and 1979-1989. Binder, who died in 2000 claimed one known male victim.
Brother Ralph Mravintz, A.S.M., was a native Pittsburgher. He attended North Catholic as a student and after graduation entered the Marianist postulate at Mt. St. John in Dayton, OH. He took his final vows on August 24, 1947. He attended the University of Dayton and the University of Pittsburgh, and served the Marianists as a social worker, a counselor, and a science teacher.
Brother Mravintz taught at North Catholic from October 1984 to February 1985.
On February 14, 1985, the 59-year-old brother was taken into custody by the police and brought to Police Station Number 9, the same place where Fr. Anthony Cipolla had been interrogated in July 1978. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing and was released on nominal bond. Mravintz was charged with indecent assault and the corruption of a minor boy he had been tutoring and with whom he said he was “in love.” The victim did not wish to testify, however, so Mravintz pleaded to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, was fined $200.00 and remained in the classroom for the term. There was no report of a settlement. However, the next year, his superiors squirreled Mravintz away to teach at Memphis Catholic in Tennessee. After he retired in 1993, he continued to tutor young boys.
In 2014, the above incident resurfaced in connection with the Hartman trial in Australia. The offense was brought to the attention of the diocese by an alumnus, at which point Fr. Lengwin, the keeper of secrets, restated that Pittsburgh Diocese had no responsibility in the matter, even though the Marianist Order serves at the pleasure of the Ordinary of the diocese. He also denied having any knowledge of the case and said the diocese had no record of the matter because the victim went directly to the police and the Marianists kept the personal records for their brothers.
In fact, the Mravintz scandal was a public affair so Lengwin had to know about it. Also, the incident and verdict would have appeared in the secret archives which includes crimes committed by order priests and brothers, so a record of the crime had existed at one time and was probably destroyed when the brother died in 2006.
In a remembrance of Brother Ralph Mravintz at the time of his death, the following tribute was given by his Marianist brother, Ray Martin:
He was a true educator, a caring person, and he loved people… He was an open and loving person… He made such an impression on students. Once they met him, they fell in love with him. He was a loving educator.
Yeah. Yeah. We get the idea!
Brother William Charles Hildebrand worked at North Catholic for ten-years, from 1951 to 1961, and claimed four victims, all male. He died in 1979.
Brother Julius F. May worked at North Catholic from 1960 to 1969. He died in July 1979.May claimed one victim, a male student.
Brother Francis Meder worked as a cafeteria worker at North Catholic from 1952 to 1967. He died in 1976. He claimed four male victims.
Brother John Keegan worked at North Catholic for an undetermined amount of time. He left the Marianist Order in the early 1960s. He is accused of sexually assaulting two brothers. Nothing else is known about him.
Brother William Klefer worked at North Catholic from 1956 to 1962.He is deceased. He is reported to have claimed one male victim.
The Brother Bernard Joseph Hartman Story
Brother Hartman wasthe only Marianist brother accused of the sexual abuse of minors who ended up in jail. Among the other eight perps mentioned above, he is also the only equal-opportunity perpetrator, since he molested both male students and sisters of male students who attended St. Paul’s College in Altona, a western suburb of Melbourne.
Hartman, a son of a steel worker, joined the U.S. Province of the Marianist Order in 1958 and was given a teaching job in Australia where he lived from 1972 to 1985.
A youth worker who taught with Brother Hartman at St. Paul’s during this time-period said that several students complained about the brother’s inappropriate behavior including showing students pictures of genitalia and masturbating in front of a young female in his care. Unfortunately, the whistle-blower took his complaint to his Marianist superiors, but not to the police. In 1985, the Marianists shipped Hartman back to the States. Hartman spent a year in Dayton, OH and in 1986 was assigned to North Catholic in Pittsburgh.
Brother Hartman had visited the high school briefly in 1961 and again on a sabbatical break in 1979. This time he stayed from 1986 to 1997, when the Marianist superior in Australia notified his American counter-part that he had evidence that Hartman had committed incidents of sex abuse in Australia from 1976 to 1982, on four minors, ages 6 to 16.
The American Marianists did not turn Hartman over immediately to the police for extradition, however. Neither did they inform the Pittsburgh Diocese why they were pulling Hartman out of North Catholic. Instead, they sent Brother Hartman for “extensive therapy” at an in-patient site – where we don’t know – and then reassigned him to an office job near Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton, OH in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The Marianists then worked out a “safety plan” with the risk management company, Praesidium, Inc., hired by the Marinist Order, and designed to keep Hartman away from young people. Heretofore, the only “safety plan” for sexual predators was called jail.
Between 2011 and 2012, the Marianist house of cards came tumbling down in Australia and the United States when one of Hartman’s female victims publicly accused Brother Hartman of sexual abuse at a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse. Later she filed a civil action against the Church in a Victorian Court. She and other child female victims of the brother had, in 1993, 1997, and 1999, informed the Archdiocese of Melbourne that Hartman was a child molester, but were told to be quiet or that Hartman would be “monitored “by the Church.
One victim reported that she was sexually abused by Hartman in the 1970s, between the ages of 8 and 11, and that he offered her 50 cents per photo if she agreed to pose nude him.
One of the male victims said that Hartment had a sadistic bent and would beat him after sexually abusing him. When the boy reported the brother to the headmaster, he got caned for his troubles. The latter statement would lead one to the conclusion that the abuse was an “open secret” among the Marianists.
Up until this time, Australian and American Catholics were totally clueless as to the existence of the crime of pederasty and pedophilia in the Marianist Order, although the Order, and the Pittsburgh Diocese knew (through the Mravintz Case) the so-called “problem” had existed for decades.
When news of the Hartman’s alleged offenses at St. Paul’s College in Melbourne reached Dayton Catholics on December 5, 2011, officials of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati publicly claimed that it had no connection to Hartman, “forgetting” that the Archdiocese had been advised by the Marianist Order of the “safety plan” under which Hartman was supposedly living.
All this time, Brother Hartman remained a Marianist brother in “good standing.”
Brother Hartman Returns to Australia
On September 4, 2013, Brother Hartman was arrested and taken into custody at the Melbourne Airport, and taken to court. He had voluntarily agreed to return to Australia from the United States to face trial. He was traveling on a tourist visa and needed to secure a criminal justice visa.
Under the terms of his bail, Hartman had to report three times a week to a court official. He was to reside at a secure facility under 24-hour supervision, until the date set for his trial. He could have no contact with children and could not work as a religious brother. The real kicker in this arrangement, however, was that the religious residential “safe house” where Hartman was to spend almost two years, located in the inner-city Parkville area, was operated by the Christian Brothers – one of the most corrupt male religious orders in the world, notorious for their high population of homosexual priests and brothers, and consequently, for their high numbers of active pederasts.
And as if this wasn’t enough to burn one’s feathers, on November 28, 2013, Hartman’s bail conditions were suspended by the court magistrate in Melbourne so the perp could take a ten-day beach holiday at Apollo Bay over Christmas with his colleagues.
On March 18and 19, 2014, the first preliminary hearing for Hartman convened at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. After two days of evidence, the court found there was sufficient evidence to find Hartman guilty and be was committed for trial in a high court.
April 22, 2014, Hartman pleaded not guilty to14 counts of indecent assault, 2 counts of gross indecency with a girl under 16, and 2 counts of assault, for a total of 18 counts.
The trial date was set for April 15, 2015.
Pittsburgh Diocese Embroiled in Scandal
Meanwhile, back at the Pittsburgh Diocese, one of its biggest sex abuse scandals was about to erupt into the open.
On March 20, 2014, international reporters started to call the diocese concerning the Hartman Case since the Marianist brother had taught at North Catholic High School for many years.
This prompted North Catholic and Pittsburgh diocesan officers to send out a letter on March 28, 2014, to 4,000 student alumni (enrolled in 1961-1965; 1979-1984 and 1986-2001), informing them of Hartman’s decades of sex abuse and asking anyone who suffered by the brother’s hand while he taught at North Catholic to come forward.
On April 14, 2014, one man came forward and stated he had been abused by Brother Hartman while a student at North Catholic. Instead of sending the young man immediately to the police, a meeting was arranged between the accuser and the diocesan staff who determined that the charges were “credible.” Only then was the Allegheny County’s District Attorney’s office informed of the accusations.
Slowly but surely, more male alumni came forward to state that they had been abused by Marianist brothers, but not Hartman.
On April 24, 2014, in a second letter, 9,000 North Catholic alumni were informed that in addition to Brother Bernard Hartman, Marianist Brothers William Hildebrand, Francis Meder, and Ralph Mravintz had also been accused of sex abuse. Later, Brother John Keegan was added to the list along with Brothers Julius F. May, William Kiefer, Jerome Binder, and James Kline.
When the dust had settled in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2014, 22 victims from North Catholic High School had accused 9 Marianist brothers of sex abuse. Twenty-one were men and one was a woman.
Nationwide, as of 2014, 157 victims had accused 31 brothers and priests of the Marianist Order. As noted in the introduction to this section on religious orders, members of the order get preference over molested children. The Marianists have produce no record of how many members of the Order have been accused of the sexual abuse of minors and of the sex abuse of young and vulnerable postulants and brothers and priests to date; the names of the institutions where they taught; and how much the Order has paid out in settlement and legal fees.
Regarding the financial cost of moral corruption in the Order, there was one case involving a victim of St. John Vianney in St. Louis who was fondled at knife point by a Marianist pederast. The victim was compensated to the tune of $650,000.00 by the Marianists. Four million dollars was paid out by the Marianists to settle 23 claims in a Colorado sex abuse lawsuit.
As for the settlement costs for the nine perps highlighted in the North Catholic debacle, we have zilch! Nada! Zero knowledge.
The Trials of Brother Harman
In April 2015, at the trials of Hartman and his four Australian victims that we know of, the two men and two women got a chance to talk of their personal ordeals which took place during the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the two male victims said that Hartman indecently assaulted him over a two-year period. His trial took place in May 2015 and the jury found Hartman guilty of one count of indecent assault and 2 counts of common law assaults which occurred when the victim was between 10 and 11-years old in 1981 and 1982.
A separate trial with a new jury was held for a second man. The jury found Hartman not guilty of indecent assault against the boy.
One of the female victims was molested from age 5 to 11 in her own bedroom. Hartman posed as a friend of the family and was frequently invited over for dinner. She said she couldn’t tell her adoptive parents of the abuse because they were very devout Catholics. Years later she received a love letter from the brother. In her 20s she went to the Catholic Church’s “Towards Healing” program in Melbourne and was advised to keep silent, “as it may stir up problems in other people’s lives.”
Hartman pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault including vaginal penetration of two girls between the ages of 8 and 11 which took place from 1973 till 1979.
On July 24, 2015. Brother Hartman was sentenced to three years in jail, with one year suspended. Only TWO years? Considering the destruction that this man wrought on his many victims in the U.S. and abroad, one wonders why the Australian justice system even bothered to hold any trial at all
A Litany of Pittsburgh Diocese Sex Abuse Cases
The 14 cases cited above are intended to serve as prototypes of how the Diocese of Pittsburgh has handled clerical sex abuse cases over the last six decades. They are invaluable to the reader, in that they provide a context by which to evaluate the Father Anthony Cipolla Case in particular, and the diocese’s general lack of dispensing justice in matters related to clerical sexual abuse.
Space and time do not permit me to give the same detailed attention that accompanied the Ginder, Wolk, Zula, Pecci, Zirwas, and Marianist Order cases to the following Hoehl, Sorensen, Huff, Dorsch, Esposito and Connor cases. Nevertheless, I believe there is still merit in presenting the highlights of these cases if for no other reason than that they represent how little real reform has come about since the days of Bishop Vincent Leonard and the Fr. Anthony Cipolla case.
Fr. John Hoehl – Pederast at Quigley High
While a handful of Marianist brothers were doing their thing at North Catholic High School, Father John “Jack” Hoehl was doing his thing as Principal of Quigley Catholic High School in Baden. In a space of 14 years, he managed to chalk up more than two dozen victims all on his own as headmaster and male sports enthusiast at the Beaver County high school.
The sexual assaults took place between 1971 and 1985 at the rectory where Hoehl lived and his cabin on the Youghiogheny River. One young student remembers that the priest held “sleepover” parties at the rectory where the priest served liquor and pot to wrestling-team members. School and diocesan officials remained “clueless” regarding these illegal activities.
Bishop Bevilacqua, a canon and civil law lawyer, found out about homosexual Hoehl’s predilection for teenage boys in the spring of 1986 just a few months after the priest had been transferred to Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead. No contact was made between the diocese and law enforcement or child services protection officials. Instead, Bevilacqua put Hoehl “on leave” and shipped the perp out of the country to the Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada, for “treatment.” Southdown’s motto is “Healthy Ministers for a Healthy Church.” Predictably, the pederast priest was not “healthy” when he left the institute.
When Hoehl returned to the Pittsburgh Diocese in July 1988, Bishop Wuerl was the new Ordinary with access to the secret archives and the priest’s medical records. Like his predecessor, he failed to turn the perpetrator over to the police. Acting on the advice of the Southdown staff, who recommended that Hoehl be returned to a “limited” ministry, Wuerl assigned the priest to a chaplaincy at Shadyside Hospital located in the East End of Pittsburgh with its high secondary school and college student population.
By November 29, 1988, Wuerl recognized his error and withdrew the priest from ministry, but did not seek laicization for Hoehl. This meant, that under canon law, the priest was still on the diocesan payroll. Nor did Wuerl contact the police or social services to inform them of the male minors abused by the priest, or of rumors that one or more of Hoehl’s victims had committed suicide.
In a statement made by diocesan spokesman and vicar general, Fr. Lengwin, on or about September 10, 2004, when Hoehl was finally laicized by the Vatican, the press was told that the diocese lost contact with Hoehl after Wuerl received the priest’s resignation in 1988. How then did the diocese know where to send the priest his monthly stipend over the years?
Lengwin went on to explain that the diocese was never contacted by prospective employers. He added that the Church can’t announce that he’s a sex offender because he was never arrested, tried or convicted. “Our role is not to determine whether someone has committed a crime, but whether they are suitable for ministry.”
Wow! Did you get that? I mean, did you really get that?
The words uttered by Lengwin were the exact same words uttered by Fr. Cipolla during the 1988 Tim Bendig trial, when he insisted that he was “never arrested, tried or convicted.” That, of course, was because Bishop Leonard convinced Diana Thompson to drop the charges of sexual assault leveled against Cipolla and agreed to the expungement of the public record.
In the Hoehl Case, the only reason Lengwin could say what he said was because neither Bishop Bevilacqua or Bishop Wuerl ever informed the police that there was sufficient evidence against Hoyle to warrant an arrest, a trial and a probable conviction and jail time. And if the diocese has no role in determining a priest’s culpability in a crime, why is the matter brought before a diocesan review board at all? Why not make it a rule to immediately inform the authorities when a crime is reported by an alleged victim and let the police handle a task for which they are trained and legally empowered to carry out
After Hoehl left Pittsburgh, he resettled in Weirton, West Virginia, where he hung out a shingle identifying himself as a “counselor” specializing in adolescent clientele. His charade was exposed, not by Pittsburgh Diocese, but by four of the priest’s victims and a local Pittsburgh television station. Eventually Hoehl’s counseling license was revoked by the West Virginia Board of Counselors. However, the clerical bugger never spent a day in jail.
Fr. Bartley Sorensen – Young Male Porn
In December 2011, Fr. Bartley Sorensen was taken into police custody arrested at St. John Fisher Church. He pleaded guilty to possessing and receiving thousands of pornographic and frequently sadomasochist images of naked young boys, some engaged in sex with each other and sex with adult men.
When the police searched the rectory they also found photo albums of pictures of local boys attending church functions such as swim parties and picnics and commercially produced child porn movies.
Ordained in 1976 by Bishop Leonard, the priest served in numerous parishes throughout the Pittsburgh Diocese including St. Ferdinand in Cranberry Township, St. Colman’s in Turtle Creek, St. James in Sewickley, St. Valentine’s in Bethel Park, Blessed Sacrament at Natrona Heights, Mater Dolorosa in Chicora, St. Victor’s in Bairdford, a chaplaincy at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph’s in Pittsburgh and St. Anne’s in Castle Shannon.
Sorensen also took a one-year sabbatical in 2003.
Fr. Sorensen was just newly arrived at St. John Fisher in Churchill, when a church employee found the priest at his computer looking at boy-porn. To his credit, the employee informed the diocese and the diocese informed law enforcement, and the police took action.
At the priest’s trial, his attorney Patrick J. Thomassey pleaded that Sorensen had no criminal history, never had any inappropriate contact with children, and should therefore serve a mandatory minimum.
This comment is interesting in that Sorensen made trips to Amsterdam during his priesthood – Amsterdam being one of world’s top sex industry/trafficking/pornography/centers. Male and female prostitution is legal in the Netherlands for youth sixteen and over. But pre-adolescent and adolescent boys bring a high price from homosexual/pederast/pedophile clients, many of whom travel from Britain and the United States to Amsterdam.
Was the priest ever questioned by the diocese as to what these trips involved? Would the priest have told the truth if they had? Probably not.
The final verdict was handed down by U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch in January 2013. He gave Sorensen eight years and one month in prison, followed by five more years of probation, and a $25,000 fine for possession of child pornography.
The Pittsburgh Diocese has sent the Sorensen Case to the Vatican for the purpose of laicization.
Fr. Edward G. Huff – Trouble in St. Louis
Fr. Edward Huff was another homosexual pederast ordained under Bishop Leonard in 1973, but protected for a long time by Bishop Wuerl.
Huff’s first public accusations of sexual of adolescent boys came in 1992, just days apart, from two Catholic families in two different parishes where Huff had served. Wuerl did not inform the police of the charges. Following his usual pattern, on March 1, 1992, the bishop sent Huff off to an out-of-state “treatment” center, the St. Michael Center operated by the Servants of the Paraclete in St. Louis, MO, for $50,000 a pop.
Although there are some readers who may have heard of the infamous Servants of the Paraclete “treatment” facility in Jemez Springs, NM, aka Camp Ped, most are probably not acquainted with the St. Louis Center. Permit me to shed some light on one of the Pittsburgh Diocese’s three favorite hideouts for clerical pederasts and pedophiles.
In March 1998, Francis Cardinal George, OMI, of Chicago, at the request of the Holy See, ordered an investigation of the St. Michael Center. The facility was charged with harboring a nest of clerical homosexual proselytizers and activists. Critics of the center said that some homosexual relations were carried out in the open at St. Michael’s. The Paraclete Fathers had a record of accepting known convicted sexual molesters into their order and inviting them to join their treatment staff. As with many religious orders, decent and faithful priests of the Servants of the Huff Paraclete were drummed out of the Order or removed from positions of authority and silenced. Both the St. Louis and Jemez Springs “treatment” centers have closed and the Order has since gotten itself out of the “cash cow” clerical homosexual/pedophile/pederast business.
In November 1992, Huff completed his first round at St. Michael’s and returned to Bishop Wuerl for another assignment. The bishop still had not contacted the police about the allegations against the priest.
The staff at St. Michael’s, reported that Huff had enough “residual functional capacity,” to perform some kind of ministry, so Wuerl made him a chaplain’s chaplain with a residence at St. Mary of Mercy in Pittsburgh. And, ironies of ironies, Huff was to be “monitored” by Fr. Ronald Lengwin.
On December 18, 1992, Wuerl received the bad news that more Catholic parents had come forward and accused Huff of abusing their sons between 1987 and 1991 at a parish in Bessemer in Lawrence County where Huff had also served.
On Jan 6, 1993, Wuerl sent Fr. Huff back to St. Michael’s for more “treatment.”
In February 1993, Huff left the priesthood.
Finally, in March 1993, Bishop Wuerl reported Huff’s crimes to the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, but, D.A. John Pettit claimed that Wuerl fell far short in cooperating with the investigation.
On June 22, 1994, Huff was arraigned on four counts each of attempted indecent assault and corruption of minors and one count of indecent assault. Huff pleaded guilty to lesser charges of improperly touching and providing alcohol to six boys and was sentenced from 15 months to 5 years in prison following plea bargaining. The other charges were dropped.
In a follow- up public relations statement on July 21, 1994, Lengwin told the press that after the first incident in Swissvale, Huff was not reassigned but spent most of his years in a residential treatment center. This was just another of his many lies to cover up Wuerl’s delinquent behavior. Bishop Wuerl had given Huff a chaplaincy after his first return from St. Louis. During this time, he was a priest in good standing, on active duty and collecting his monthly paycheck.
Fr. Richard J Dorsch – The Matter of Suicide
Another clerical pederast ordained by Bishop Leonard in 1975 was Fr. Richard Dorsch who was charged with molesting a son of a family friend – a 13-year-old boy at a sports outing in North Park in 1994. The Pittsburgh Diocese put him on “administrative leave” in August.
In June 1995, the priest sentenced up to 23 months in jail, but was released after only one month.
Dorsch resigned from the priesthood in May 1996, but continued to receive a monthly stipend of about $1,000 from the diocese. It is unclear if he was ever laicized.
In 2004, Dorsch was named in at least two civil suits.
In one civil suit, a Florida man, formerly from Etna, PA, claimed he was 11-years-old when the parish priest from All Saints Church started to molest him for over a four-year period.
Both claims were eventually honored in a comprehensive settlement of $1.25 million by the Pittsburgh Diocese in 2007 which covered 32 plaintiffs alleging abuse by 17 priests including Dorsch.
In July 2010, the diocese was sued by the family of one of Dorsch’s victims, Michael R. Unglo, who committed suicide on May 4, 2010, 25 years after he was abused by the priest. The suicide occurred when the middle-aged man was a psychiatric patient at Austen Riggs Hospital in Massachusetts. The Pittsburgh Diocese had already paid out $300,000 in treatment fees for Unglo and was alleged to have threatened to withdraw money for further treatment when the patient took his own life. The diocese said this was not true. Superior Court dismissed the appeal in September 2011.
The Dorsch Case brings up a yet unaddressed issue by the Vatican of the many suicides of victims of clerical sexual abuse like Michael Unglo, and of the suicides of the clerics who perpetrate such crimes. The case serves to remind the reader that financial settlements cannot wipe the human slate clean of the loss of faith and trust in authority, the reoccurring nightmares, and the many lives and souls destroyed by clerical sexual abuse. Nor can money bring back from the dead those who have suicided leaving mothers and fathers and siblings in endless sorrow for what might have been.
Fr. Ralph J. Esposito – “Bishops Helping Bishops”
Born on October 22, 1940, and ordained for the Pittsburgh by Bishop John Wright in 1967, Fr. Esposito was accused of sexually molesting a young boy for three years starting in 1973 when the boy was age 10 at Mother of Sorrows Parish in McKees Rocks.
Pittsburgh diocesan spokesman, Fr. Ronald Lengwin, said there is no record of the accusation, which is not to say that the molestation didn’t occur and was covered up by the diocese, and the secret archives/record had been expunges as occurred in the Cipolla Case in 1978.
Nevertheless, in 1978, Esposito was shipped off to the Diocese of Little Rock, AR, by Wright’s successor, Bishop Leonard, and accepted into the diocese by Bishop Andrew J. McDonald.
In 2003, when Esposito retired from the Little Rock Diocese, the issue of his alleged sexual abuse of the young McKees Rocks boy came up again. In response, the Vicar General for the Arkansas diocese said that there was nothing in the priest’s record, before or after his arrival to warrant any alarm. Which means that either Bishop McDonald did not know of the accusations or he simply didn’t want to know or knew but he wanted to help Bishop Leonard out in the time-old-tradition of “bishops helping bishops.”
In September 2007, the truth finally came out when the Pittsburgh Diocese reached a financial settlement with the McKees Rocks victim of Fr. Esposito as part of a $1.25 million suit already mentioned above in the Ginder and Dorsch cases. ss
Fr. John P. Connor – “Taking Out the Trash”
The Fr. John Connor Case is in the same tradition of “bishops helping bishops,” also referred to as “taking out the trash.” This time it was Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, the future archbishop of Philadelphia, helping out his close friend, Bishop George H. Guilfoyle, aka, “Queen of the Fairies,” of the Camden Diocese.
Before becoming Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bevilacqua, who held a doctorate in both canon law and civil law, had already gained much experience dealing with homosexual/pederast clerics in his home-town Diocese of Brooklyn where he served as an auxiliary and chancellor under Bishop Francis Mugavero.
Bishop Mugavero, another homosexual prelate, was notorious for routinely shifting clerical boy-hunters from parish to parish, a habituated pattern with which the young and ambitious Bevilacqua, became fully acquainted. In addition to his utter contempt for victims of clerical abuse, Mugavero is perhaps best remembered for his support of the St. Mathew Community, a Roman Catholic religious of homosexuals for homosexuals that operated in the Brooklyn Diocese during the late 1970s and early 1980.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Bevilacqua chalked up a generally poor record when it came to handling sex abuse cases in the Pittsburgh Diocese. His handling of the Fr. Connor Case joins his handling of the Hoehl case as being among the most egregious.
A Short Dossier on Fr. Connor
Father John P. Connor was ordained a priest of the Camden Diocese in New Jersey in 1962 by Bishop Celestine J. Damiano. He served at three parishes, St. Mary’s in Gloucester, St. Rose’s in Haddon Heights, and St. John’s in Collingswood before being assigned to teach religion and coach golf at an all-boys school, Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken. By this time, if not before Connor was reported to have a serious problem with alcohol.
In October 1984, Connor was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student at an overnight trip in Cape May County where the boy stayed at the priest’s trailer. The youth was given beer and then treated to what the priest called “a religious experience,” that is, mutual masturbation. The youth told his cousin what had happened and the cousin told the boy’s mother who promptly called the police. The police conducted a sting operation by which they got Connor to confess to the abuse, and was arrested at the principal’s office at Bishop Eustace.
Bishop Guilfoyle and diocesan attorneys immediately went into action and cut a deal to keep Connor out of jail and to destroy any public record of the crime.
The prosecutor’s office accommodated the diocese by agreeing to expunge any trace of the crime if Connor admitted his guilt and was a good boy for a year.
Guilfoyle then sent the perp to the Southdown Institute, a psychiatric facility for Catholic priests founded by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He remained hidden away there for eight months for “treatment.” In the summer of 1985, Connor was released with the blessing of the Institute which declared the priest to have “no basic or lasting problem,” although the staff did warn Guilfoyle that the priest had a sexual predilection for adolescent boys, aka, Connor was a pederast and was in danger of offending again especially if he continued to consume alcohol.
To avoid adding more scandal to his already heavily homosexual-colonized diocese, Guilfoyle called upon his bosom buddy “Tony” Bevilacqua who was in the Pittsburgh Diocese on a holding pattern awaiting the retirement of John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
In a diocesan memo dated September 11, 1985, from Father Nicholas C. Dattilo to Bishop Bevilacqua Re: “Bishop Guilfoyle’s Request,” the personal aide expressed genuine concern regarding the transfer of Connor either “temporarily” or “permanently.” He argued that more background information was needed and that if the issue was “homosexuality or pedophilia, we would be accepting a difficulty with which we have no post-therapeutic experience.”
Dattilo’s interoffice memo to Bishop Bevilacqua concluded, “If, after you have talked with Bishop Guilfoyle you believe there is no serious risk in accepting Fr. Connor, we will do everything we can to keep the tradition of bishops helping bishops intact.”
Six days later, Bevilacqua signed-off on the memo with a terse notation, “I cannot guarantee there is no serious risk.” But he had already made up his mind to help Guilfoyle.
Fr. Connor transferred to the Pittsburgh Diocese in October 1985 and was assigned a chaplaincy at Sewickley Valley Hospital for one-year and a residency at St. James Parish with a K-Eight parochial school. The pastor was not informed by Bevilacqua that he had a dangerous pederast in his midst.
Dattilo was rewarded for his loyalty to the Old Boys’ Club when, on January 26, 1990, Cardinal Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia consecrated him, Bishop of Harrisburg.
Back to Fr. Connor.
In 1986, Connor was transferred to St. Alphonsus Church in Wexford, PA. with a Preschool through Eighth Grade program. He served as an assistant pastor until July 1988.
But it was not until April 2013, that Pittsburghers learned that Connor had claimed another victim under Bevilacqua’s watch in Pittsburgh while Connor was at St. Alphonsus.
On March 21, 2013, the anonymous victim contacted a detective from the Northern Regional Police Department in Allegheny County to report the assault.
The victim, by then in his 40s, revealed that Connor started to abuse him when he was 12 years old. The abuse took place in the priest’s car, a local movie theater, and on a baketball court. in Bradford Hills, a borough of Allegheny County. The abuse occurred from early 1986 to mid-1987.
Three years later, on March 20, 2016, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review released the news that the Pittsburgh Diocese had settled a Fr. John Connor sex abuse from the 1980s for an undisclosed five-figure sum even though the statute of limitations has run out long ago.
Fr. Lengwin confirmed the settlement but refused to reveal the amount. He simply said the priest was no longer “in good standing.” We also now know for certain that Bevilacqua never warned any of the pastors of churches where Connor that the priest was a dangerous predator.
Fr. Connor Leaves Pittsburgh for Philly
By the spring of 1988, Archbishop Bevilacqua had settled into the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Connor had left Pittsburgh to rejoin him. The priest was assigned to St. Matthew’s Parish in Conshohocken, PA, where Connor took up an intimate relationship with an 3rd grade boy from the parish.
The new pastor at the church, Fr. James W. Donlon, received no warning about Connor. Instead, the archbishop told him that Connor was brought from Pittsburgh to Philly to be closer to his family. The result was that there were no restrictions or conditions attached to the priest’s ministry, and he roamed at will, and continued to indulge in alcohol and his young protégé.
In September 1993, however, now Cardinal Bevilacqua shipped Connor back to the Diocese of Camden after the Philadelphia Archdiocese received information from Bishop James T. McHugh, who had replaced Bishop Guilfoyle as Bishop of Camden, that the 1984 victim of Connor had hired a lawyer and was about to sue. An intervention was planned and McHugh settled out of court.
But Bevilacqua’s troubles with Fr. Connor were not over yet.
On November 15, 1994, the cardinal was informed that Connor was making weekly trips back to Conshohocken to visit his young friend who was now 13 and an 8th grader at St. Matthew’s school. Connor took the boy on trips, to movies, dinner, bowling and golfing and lavished expensive gifts upon him – the same grooming techniques the priest had used on earlier victims. At no point was there ever any effort made to inform the boy’s mother than Connor was a danger to her son.
Neither the young man nor his mother ever brought a lawsuit against Connor or the Camden Diocese or Philadelphia Archdiocese. But years later, at the Grand Jury Hearings on the Sex Abuse of Minors in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2003, a detective who had tracked down the young man, now 24, reported that as a young boy he suffered from proctitis, an inflammation of the anus and inner rectum commonly associated with sodomy.
In February 2000, the Camden Diocese offered Connor an early retirement, after which he went to live in live in a retirement home for priests in NJ. He was never laicized.
There are more than 20 additional cases of clerical sex abuse which have occurred in the Diocese of Pittsburgh which I have not reviewed in this study.
Open the Door to Justice
The purpose of this series is to obtain justice for the Thompson Family, and to give every victim of childhood molestation, who has been denied a hearing because of the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, his or her day in court. In most cases this means opening up a window of opportunity for the victims of childhood sexual abuse to file criminal and/or civil cases after the legislative measure is passed.
The good news is that the timing couldn’t be better. The Pittsburgh Diocese is one of four Catholic dioceses currently under investigation by a grand jury. All Catholic Church records concerning child sexual abuse accusations in the Pittsburgh Diocese, credible or not, as determined by the diocese, have been subpoenaed by the State Attorney General Bruce Beemer. Bishop David Zubik has said he will comply with the order.
The bad news is that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, all the Catholic Bishops of the state’s eight Latin Rite dioceses – Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Altoona-Johnstown, Harrisburg, Erie, Scranton, Allentown, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania have opposed any change in the current. statute
On September 1, 2016, the Diocese of Pittsburgh received its subpoenaed for records dating back to 1947. It is unclear if this includes records from the diocesan secret archives and from religious orders like the Marianists whose priests and brother have served in the diocese. Testimony to the grand jury has been continuing from early summer 2016.
On March 1, 2016, a grand jury released its findings on clerical child abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese – a scathing147-page report by the 37th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. The report explains how Bishop James Hogan and Bishop Joseph Adamec hid clerical perpetrators, including more than four dozen diocesan priests and religious, from the police. One of the Franciscan friars who was accused of molesting scores of male victims in several states committed suicide. Some church documents were seized using search warrants. With one exception, none of the perps spent any time in jail. They were merely shifted from parish to parish, sent for “treatment” or told to take a little R & R. Under-the-table settlements were made in some cases. Almost all the victims were adolescent boys.
Does all this sound vaguely familiar?
Some Parting Thoughts on Protecting Our Children
I would be remiss, if in bringing this series to a close, I fail to mention the large elephant in the Catholic parish and rectory involving clerical sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable populations – HOMOSEXUALITY.
Pederasty is the handmaiden of homosexuality. The Homosexual Collective – both male and female – is youth driven. It recruits like the Army. Pederasty not pedophilia is the bane of the Catholic Church today. As long as homosexual prelates, priests and religious are permitted to continue to colonize the Catholic Church, there will be no end to the crime of pederasty.
One of the many tragedies of pederasty is the large numbers of young male victims who end up among the rank and file of the Homosexual Collective. I am sure that many of these poor souls along with organizations founded to help them, who have approved of this exposé up until now, will reject these assertions. They will argue that homosexuals are “born that way” or else why would their perpetrator have sought them out? What they fail to understand is how deeply they were harmed, harmed to their very being, by their assault at the hands of a homosexual predator. Another reason that convicted pederasts should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
One of the common missions of the Church and State is to promote virtue and suppress vice. This means upholding the Natural Law, a law which is binding on all men everywhere and at all times. So far, I have get to hear either party declare its willingness to execute this mission with determination and vigor.
Today, the Homosexual Collective has become an umbrella vice under which many other vices including pederasty are hiding. We can’t lick one without licking the other.
A very sobering thought to what I trust is a very sobering series.
Thank you for your kind attention.