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Priests Scandal Reopens Old Hurts

May 1, 2002 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

His voice was no longer spitting anger. Fourteen years after filing a lawsuit that shook the Vatican, the young man seemed at peace, and proud of what he had become.

The money he received in a molestation settlement with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is gone, and his spiritual and sexual wounds remain. But he is not angry with Catholic priests or with Bishop Donald Wuerl.

"There are a lot of good priests out there," he said. "I'm a non-Catholic now, but I want to tell Catholics to support their parish and their parish priests."

After years of therapy, he says, his motto has become: "I will not allow anyone to rent negative space in my head."

But the sex abuse scandal gripping the Catholic hierarchy has ripped open old wounds.

"I had my first nightmare in years last night," he said. "Right now I'm rehashing the whole molestation again."

He is now 33, lives alone with his dog, and works as a paramedic. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is not using his name because it does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their permission. His 1993 settlement bars him from discussing the case, but its outline has long been public.

He sued in 1988, claiming he had been molested from the ages of 12 to18 by the then-Rev. Anthony Cipolla. Cipolla was removed from ministry, although the diocese has repeatedly intervened when it has found him masquerading as a priest in good standing.

The case gained notoriety in 1993 when the Vatican's highest court ordered Wuerl to reinstate Cipolla. Wuerl refused and won an almost unheard of reversal. The case led to changes that made it easier for bishops to remove abusive priests.

Cipolla was never convicted of a crime. He maintains his innocence and has a vocal cadre of supporters who believe that Wuerl maliciously persecutes him.

The young man isn't allowed to say how much money he received from the diocese, but it was enough that relatives and acquaintances came begging for help and he responded, he said. He knew nothing about investment. Relationships vanished along with the money.

"It ruined my life. I would have been better off without it," he said of the settlement.

"But I am truly happy. My life is so much better off than it was before and during the lawsuit. I have my health and my home and my car. I'm close to my mom. I have my family and my true friends. I love my work and I focus my energy on helping others."

Over time he has come to respect Wuerl for refusing to obey the Vatican order to reinstate Cipolla, and for fighting to keep him out of ministry, he said.

"I commend him, and I truly mean that from the bottom of my heart," he said.

He does, however, believe that Wuerl should have named the "several" priests he removed from ministry in March because of what were described as credible but unsubstantiated past allegations of sexually abusing a minor.

The young man believes that if the names were known, other possible victims might come forward, those who made the past allegations would know they were taken seriously and priests who left ministry for innocent reasons wouldn't be suspected of child molestation.

"Not releasing the names isn't helping the victims. It's not giving them closure. They need to be able to say, 'Mom, Dad, I was telling the truth,' " he said.

The names weren't released because the diocese could not determine whether the priest or the accuser was telling the truth, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. Some or all of the priests may be innocent, but the diocese has chosen to err on the side of the victim, he said.

Lengwin was pleased to hear that the young man was doing well.

"The church's response is an effort to help people put their lives back together again, to become whole. ... So when we hear that someone has been able to achieve some level of healing, we are very happy to hear that," he said.

The young man believes the extensive news media attention on the current crisis is necessary so that all bishops will be forced to clean house and offer healing to victims. But he worries that people will look at every priest through the lens of the scandal.

"It's not the Catholic church that's at fault, but the people who run the institution," he said.

He is able to say that because, until shortly before he filed the lawsuit, "my heart's desire was to be a priest," he said.

His life had revolved around Mass and prayer groups. He started seminary, but dropped out.

"Every time I see a priest, I think that could have been me," he said.

He still loves the Catholic church but can't attend one because of the memories it evokes. He can't bring himself to trust a priest, although there is one he talks to. He renewed his commitment to Christ through Pentecostalism, but doesn't attend that church because he feels guilty for turning away from the Catholic church, he said.

"I still struggle with Catholicism. I miss it. I'm just lost," he said.

His sexual identity has also been lost. He doesn't know if he is homosexual or heterosexual, so he avoids intimate relationships.

"I don't want to meet anybody. I'm happy just being myself. Right now I'm not pursuing answers to those questions," he said.

He is no longer on medication for the depression that drove him nearly to suicide, he said. He was tortured by the thought that because he had been molested, he might become a molester. But that fear no longer dominates his life, he said.

Being a paramedic is therapeutic because he realizes every day that he is a force for good. It is also a constant reminder that others face pain as bad or worse than his own. He said he tries to treat his patients with the compassion and respect that he believes he could have shown them as a priest.

Immediately after his settlement he tried to start a support group for victims of religious abuse, but was too ill-prepared and immature to carry it off, he said. He feels ready now and sees a need for victims to support each other, he said.

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