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  Accused Priest: Not at Parish at That Time

By Ann Rodgers arodgers@post-gazette.com
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh PA]
July 7, 2004

The Rev. George Wilt, the retired pastor of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon who is accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1961, says he wasn't at that parish until seven years after she claims he abused her there.

"He is saying absolutely he did not do it, and the hard evidence proves he did not do it," said William Pietragallo II, an attorney who released a statement on Wilt's behalf.

Wilt, 72, stepped down last year after 35 years as a priest and pastor at St. Bernard.

A lawsuit, filed last week, claims that Wilt fondled "Jane Doe II" in 1961 when she was a student at St. Bernard school and he was called in to counsel her in the rectory because she said her father had sexually abused her.

Wilt's statement says that was impossible:

"Father Wilt was not residing in or working at St. Bernard before 1968; and he was not providing counseling to anyone there in 1961, including Jane Doe."

At that time, Wilt had been ordained for just two years and was then at Sacred Heart parish in Shadyside.

The accuser took her complaint to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh last year.

"This matter was the subject of an investigation and hearing by the diocese. Father Wilt was fully exonerated by reason of the clear and convincing evidence that he was not, nor could he have been the person allegedly counseling the young woman," the statement says.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesman, backed Wilt's account. The accuser came to the diocese in March, nearly a year after Wilt retired, he said.

Diocesan officials questioned Wilt, his accuser and several priests who had been at St. Bernard in 1961, Lengwin said. The other priests said Wilt had not visited there in any capacity and had no credentials or experience that would have caused anyone to call him in as a counselor, Lengwin said.

Diocesan officials did not assume the woman was lying, but thought it might have been a case of mistaken identity, Lengwin said.

"We went so far as to show her pictures of other priests to see if there was someone else who was there in that period of time," he said. "We tried to help by suggesting perhaps it happened somewhere else or in a different time frame, to give them the benefit of the doubt. But she continued to insist that it was Father Wilt at St. Bernard at that time."

Diocesan officials referred the matter to its lay review board for sexual abuse allegations.

"Our final determination was that the allegation lacked credibility because Father Wilt was not there at that time," Lengwin said.

Pietragallo handed the statement to reporters yesterday at a hearing on one of 25 complaints against 14 priests and former priests that attorneys Richard Serbin and Alan Perer have filed, alleging that the diocese conspired to cover up the abuse. Of the 14, Wilt is the only priest still in good standing in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Perer said he would have to examine Wilt's statement in detail, but that his staff interviews accusers carefully and checks church directories to verify where priests were at the time of the alleged abuse.

"We have pretty detailed allegations from the client as to what happened with Father Wilt," he said. "I think it not unlikely that we will find more victims."

(Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.)

 
 

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