BEAVER, Pa. (KDKA) — It was one of many shocking accusations in the state grand jury report on child abuse by priests.
“In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, District Attorney Robert Masters of Beaver County reported to church leadership concern about abuse investigations involving one of his priests that, in order to prevent unfavorable publicity, [he] halted all investigations into incidents involving other young boys,’” declared state Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Tuesday.
Not so, says Masters, now an 87-year-old practicing attorney who served as DA in the mid-1960s.
His office never had jurisdiction over this matter, Masters told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
“Juveniles and the priest were carrying on outside of Beaver County. Apparently, this priest owned a farm which he had taken them to, and so there was no criminal case in Beaver County,” said Masters.
At the time, the priest, Fr. Ernest Paone, who began his ministry at St. Titus in Aliquippa, had been transferred to Madonna of Jerusalem in Sharpsburg, Allegheny County.
“The district attorney’s office never became involved. I never met the priest. Never met any of the children or any of their parents. None of that ever came to the district attorney’s office,” said Masters. “How are you going to get an indictment with a case that didn’t even happen in your county?”
KDKA’s Jon Delano Reports:
Masters says the county’s juvenile probation office got involved with the children, and he wrote the bishop.
“I did write a letter to the bishop saying that the office felt that this priest needed help,” he said.
Those letters and the bishop’s replies were not made public.
Delano: “In this letter, you specifically wrote, ‘I have, in order to prevent unfavorable publicity, halted all investigations into similar incidents with other young boys.’”
Masters: “Because the case was taken out, taken over by the juvenile probation office.”
Nothing came to the district attorney’s office at all,” he insists.
Delano: “Why did you write to Bishop Leonard?”
Masters: “Because the office felt that this priest needed some help, so the letter was to Bishop Leonard to see if you could provide some assistance to this priest.”
As for accusations that he did this for political favors with the bishop.
“That’s not true. I don’t know what support you would get from the bishop, but that’s not true at all,” he said.
Despite Masters’ denial of any wrongdoing, the Beaver County commissioners, effective immediately, terminated Masters as solicitor for Children and Youth Services.
“Because he’s our solicitor who represents our children and youth in front of our judges here in Beaver County, it’s inconsistent whenever he came across this in the 1960s and nothing was done,” says Beaver County Commission Chair Dan Camp.
Masters says that’s within the commissioners’ rights.
“Nothing’s fair, Jon. This is a political situation,” Masters said.