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 that 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 no doubt 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, Fr. 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 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. (1917 Code of Canon Law – 2359)
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 his 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 station house.
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.
CLICK here for Part II
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