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Pope Defrocks Pittsburgh Priest

Nov 16, 2002 | AP

A priest who was accused but never convicted of child molestation has been defrocked by Pope John Paul II for disobeying orders to not serve as a priest in public.

Anthony Cipolla, 59, is in Rome to meet with a canon lawyer to discuss appealing the Pope's order to "laicize" him and could not immediately be reached Saturday. The Vatican decree states that "the penalty is unappealable," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese.

"I have never encountered anything like this," Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl said. "There is sufficient evidence to indicate (Cipolla) doesn't seem to understand the seriousness of all of this."

Cipolla has repeatedly denied various molestation charges against him, which first surfaced in 1978. One of his accusers sued in 1988, and the Pittsburgh diocese settled the case in 1993.

Cipolla's brother, Vincent Cipolla of Aliquippa, defended him.

"When he was little, he would play priest. Any money he got for birthdays, he would send to orphanages. Bishop Wuerl is like a dictator. He has a grudge against my brother," Vincent Cipolla said.

Wuerl has been battling to discipline Anthony Cipolla since becoming bishop in 1988.

Cipolla was ordained in 1972 and charged in 1978 with molesting a 9-year-old boy who went to his rectory for first Communion instruction. The boy's mother later dropped the charges, saying she was pressured by church officials.

Another man, Tim Bendig, 33, sued in 1988, claiming that Cipolla began molesting him when he was 12. He said the abuse continued until he was 17.

The diocese settled that case over Cipolla's objections in 1993, five years after Wuerl had removed him from public ministry, but allowed him to remain a priest.

Cipolla has not had an official priestly assignment since, church officials said. In 1991, Cipolla appealed his removal from public ministry to the Vatican, which ordered him reinstated in 1993.

Wuerl refused to comply with the Vatican's order and returned to Rome with Cipolla's file, including the 1978 police arrest report. In 1995, the Vatican reversed itself and Cipolla was again officially barred from public ministry.

Wuerl petitioned the Vatican in May asking the Pope to laicize Cipolla, meaning he could no longer celebrate Mass or receive financial support from the diocese.

Wuerl said the final straw was a report that Cipolla was recognized while trying to celebrate Mass at a church in Rome, although diocesan officials said Cipolla repeatedly served publicly as a priest in violation of the 1995 ban.

Cipolla led a pilgrimage to Bosnia in 1995. Since 1998 he served as a chaplain on a Catholic cruise ship, led pilgrimages to Spain and Venezuela, said Mass in St. Louis, and held a retreat in Detroit, Lengwin said.


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