DA Says Statute of Limitations Prevents Action against Accused Priest
By Bill Zlatos
August 18, 2014
An expired statute of limitations would have prevented the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office from investigating an allegation of sexual abuse involving a priest and a minor even if the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh had not waited 11 years to notify parishioners, a spokesman for the DA said on Monday.
“How the diocese went about communicating this information to this individual's former parishes would not have changed our inability to proceed,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
The DA's office also reiterated its support of the diocese's handling of such allegations.
The diocese said it learned of the allegation against the Rev. John P. Carroll on Dec. 9, 2003, from the Boston archdiocese. The allegation dates to when Carroll was parochial vicar at St. Michael Parish in Elizabeth in 1962-63. He served in the Pittsburgh diocese until 1972.
“Our expectation would have been that Boston would have reported it (to authorities) because they got the allegation and were investigating it,” said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese.
Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized the diocese's failure to respond quickly to the allegation.
“No matter how Catholic officials try to spin it, this is irresponsible and inexcusable,” she said.
The Boston archdiocese informed its Pittsburgh counterparts on Aug. 5 that it had begun steps to dismiss Carroll from the priesthood. A spokesman in Boston would not elaborate.
The Pittsburgh diocese's response toward sex abuse allegations has become more aggressive in the past 11 years. Officials once believed that measures such as signs posted in churches and schools warning about sex abuse were adequate, Lengwin said.
Today, he said, the diocese views sexual abuse not as a “moral defect” but a “disease” and turns over all allegations to civil authorities. In addition, in the past year it has decided to notify the parishes where the accused priest worked of any allegations.
According to diocesan records, 59 diocesan priests have been accused over the decades, including six later found to have been falsely accused. The number does not include priests or brothers from religious orders such as the nine Marianist brothers accused of abusing 22 students at the former North Catholic High School.
On Sunday, the diocese said Bishop David Zubik wrote a letter to parishioners of St. Michael and other places where Carroll served in the Pittsburgh area of the allegation against him.
During his tenure here, Carroll also worked at St. Isaac Jogues in Elrama, St. Margaret in Green Tree, St. Susanna in Penn Hills, St. Alphonsus in Springdale and St. Denis in Versailles, now St. Patrick in McKeesport.
The diocese first issued its policy of clergy sexual misconduct in 1993 and has revised or updated it four times since, most recently in 2008.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org