PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He gained a national reputation for rooting out sex abuse in the church, even defying the Vatican by refusing to transfer pedophile priest Anthony Cipolla back in 1993.
But now Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro accuses Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, of protecting child predators.
“Child rape is rape, whether it occurred in the 1980s, ‘90s, or 2018,” said Shapiro. “It is never acceptable, and it is never okay to cover it up as Bishop [David] Zubik did and as Cardinal Wuerl did.”
Part of Shapiro’s claim involves Richard Zula, one of the priests convicted under Cardinal Wuerl’s watch. He says Cardinal Wuerl allegedly offered Zula $180,000 after Zula threatened to name other priests.
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REPORT AND LIST OF NAMES OF PREDATOR PRIESTS
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL LIST OF NAMES RELEASED BY THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF PITTSBURGH
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL LIST OF NAMES RELEASED BY THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF GREENSBURG
It’s an allegation that the diocese denies and the district attorney at the time calls preposterous.
“Please, don’t blame Cardinal Wuerl, if anyone deserves the red badge of courage, he did,” says Robert Colville, the former Allegheny County district attorney. “He came when nobody else was there.”
Colville, who is suffering from lung cancer, called KDKA’s Andy Sheehan from the hospital to give his support for Cardinal Wuerl, whom he says opened up the diocese to the District Attorney’s Office, and put his own clergy on notice.
“That if they were involved with sex with adults that was a violation of their oath of chastity, and that was between them and God, but if they were involved with a minor, they would be involved with the district attorney,” said Colville.
Shapiro also accuses Cardinal Wuerl of withholding information on a pedophile priest who was being transferred between dioceses out of state. And though Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Zubik say they forwarded all the information they had at the time, both concede they might have done better.
Still, Cardinal Wuerl later spearheaded reforms on national level such as removing priests from ministry and contacting law enforcement at the first credible allegation.
“He changed the system. He was the first person in the United States, Pittsburgh Diocese, to take on the idea that pedophiles can’t be cured to start with,” said Colville. “And, secondly, they have to be rooted out and fired.”
Mistakes were made, but Colville and others believe that Cardinal Wuerl’s legacy as a reformer should remain intact. Someone whose positions evolved over the year, but someone who was ahead of the pack.
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As for the current leader of the Pittsburgh Diocese, Bishop Zubik also finds himself under fire since the release of the report.
“I have been getting an avalanche of emails on both sides of the fence,” said Bishop Zubik. “People who want to see me dead on the one side, and on the other side, people who want to canonize me. And there’s everybody else in between. I’ve got to try to somehow reach out to all of them.”
Shapiro also pointed an accusatory finger at Bishop Zubik during his Tuesday news conference, alleging that the Pittsburgh Diocese provided safe harbor for nearly 600 abuse priests.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “Were you complicit in a cover-up?”
Bishop Zubik: “Well, first of all, let me say that I think he’s trying to do his job the best way he can, but I also would want to say that if I were talking to him I would say clearly that I was never a part of a cover-up.”
The report notes that as bishop, Zubik offered and approved financial settlements with victims and their families and intimates that he was buying their silence by requiring confidentiality agreements.
Bishop Zubik denies this, saying the diocese has since abandoned he practice, and that the agreements were never enforced.
“The legal recommendation was… when you will do settlements that those become confidential settlements. And while the recommendation might have been, it was one thing that we never held people to,” Bishop Zubik said.
He’s also accused of being in league with then-bishop and now Cardinal Wuerl in not stopping the transfer of an abusive priest named Ernest Paone, by dioceses out of state.
Bishop Zubik says he and Cardinal Wuerl reported all they knew about Paone at the time, but concedes they could have done better.
“We do things differently today, and I want to say, if we look ahead 10 years from now, I’m going to guarantee, we’d be doing things a lot differently in 2028 than we’re doing in 2018,” he said.
Bishop Zubik says his own positions have evolved over the years, but that he’s always tried to do the right things for the victims of sexual abuse, and he is humbled by the findings of this report. He places his own fate in the hands of his parishioners and in God.