Former Bessemer priest under investigation
By Eric Poole
Ellwood City Ledger
August 5, 2014
|In this file photo, the Rev. Jack Fitzgerald, left, administers ashes at Our Lady of Peace Church on March 5 in Conway. Fitzgerald has been put on leave after recent accusations of sexual abuse during the late '90s. |
CONWAY -- Federal authorities are investigating allegations of sexual abuse against a Catholic priest who worked during the 1990s at a parish in Lawrence County.
The Rev. John Fitzgerald, 66, has been placed on administrative leave from his post as pastor of Our Lady of Peace Church in Conway, Beaver County. Bishop David Zubik of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese informed parishioners of Fitzgerald's leave in a letter distributed during Masses on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
During the leave, Fitzgerald, who has denied the accusations, will not be permitted to perform church sacraments or identify himself as a priest. He has been removed from parish housing and is not permitted to wear clerical clothing, said diocesan spokesman the Rev. Ron Lengwin. The diocese has placed Fitzgerald in temporary housing for the duration of the investigation.
Fitzgerald served as administrator from 1991 to 1995 of St. Anthony Catholic Parish in Bessemer, Lengwin said. St. Anthony merged more than 10 years ago with St. Lawrence Parish in Mahoning Township to form Christ the King Parish.
Zubik said authorities in Allegheny and Lawrence counties were informed of the allegations because abuse was alleged to have taken place in both counties during the 1990s. In addition to his service at St. Anthony, Fitzgerald was chaplain for the 171st Air National Guard Refueling Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport and for the airport itself.
Fitzgerald became priest of Our Lady of Peace Church in 2009.
Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa confirmed that the Pittsburgh diocese had contacted his office with the allegations but said federal authorities, not his office, would proceed with the investigation.
Lengwin said there is always a great deal of sadness and concern for parishioners in a situation such as this and that it affects each parish individually.
“It’s a wide range of emotions that are felt, and we hope that everyone will be moved to prayer (for all who are involved),” he said.
Fitzgerald, who was scheduled to go on vacation, arranged for another priest to cover Mass for the next two weeks, Lengwin said. Beyond that, the diocese will arrange for a priest to cover Mass throughout the investigation. If the allegations are found to be false, Fitzgerald will be reinstated.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is encouraging any potential victims of abuse to come forward.
“It takes a ton of courage to come forward and take action about being sexually abused,” the organization said.