By Randy Engel
CLICK here for Part I
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. 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. Cipolla 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 during which Cipolla denied engaging 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 Tribunal 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, Frank Labiaux, 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 counseling, 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.
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