Priest Retires after Inconclusive Vatican Review of Abuse Claim
By Peter Smith
March 22, 2017
A Roman Catholic priest is retiring and will not participate in public ministry after a Vatican investigation found it could not determine whether a single allegation of past sexual abuse by him could be proven.
Bishop David Zubik granted the Rev. John P. Fitzgerald’s request for immediate retirement, the diocese said in a statement Wednesday.
Father Fitzgerald, 68, had most recently served as pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Conway, Beaver County. He was placed on leave in July 2014 after the diocese received an allegation he had sexually abused a minor in the 1990s.
“It is the only allegation against him ever brought to the Diocese of Pittsburgh,” the diocese said in a statement. “Father Fitzgerald has maintained his innocence throughout. At the same time, the person who brought the allegation has maintained that the abuse did occur.”
No other allegations have emerged since he was placed on leave. At that time, the diocese publicly announced his being placed on leave in a press release and church bulletins. It asked anyone else who may have been a victim of abuse to come forward. No one else came forward to accuse Father Fitzgerald, according to the diocese.
The diocese’s Independent Review Board, which evaluates such allegations against priests, recommended Bishop Zubik refer the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has final say over whether accused priests are removed from the priesthood.
Often, by the time a case reaches the Vatican, there has been ample evidence gathered, such as multiple accusers or court verdicts. In those cases, the only question is whether the priest would be removed entirely from the priesthood or, in cases of older clerics, be told to live out their days in prayer and penance, with no public ministry.
The diocese also referred the case in 2014 to prosecutors in Lawrence and Allegheny counties, where the abuse was alleged to have occurred. There is no court record of any action being taken in either county. The diocese refers allegations as a matter of procedure, even if they happened years ago and any prosecution would be barred under the statute of limitations.
Father Fitzgerald was ordained in 1974, according the diocese. He worked as a parochial vicar at St. Michael and St. Thomas in Braddock from 1974 to 1977, then held the same job at the following parishes: St. Michael in Butler from 1977 to 1982; St. Alexis in McCandless from 1982 to 1983; All Saints in Etna from 1983 to 1988; St. Anselm in Swissvale from 1988 to 1989; and at St. Teresa of Avila in Ross from 1989 to 1991.