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  Diocese Temporarily Restores Priest's Status
Spokesman Misunderstood Vatican Ruling

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 22, 1993

Saying that he was mistaken last week, the spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh now says that the Rev. Anthony Cipolla may wear a clerical collar at least temporarily, but he still will not be assigned a post in the diocese.

That's not good enough, said Cipolla's attorney, who says Bishop Donald Wuerl is in violation of a Vatican court order.

Furthermore, Cipolla, whom the Vatican recently declared fit for duty despite a pending civil lawsuit over accusations he molested a teen-ager, may join Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, said Cipolla's attorney John Conte of Conway, Beaver County.

Conte said Mother Teresa had personally approved Cipolla, but her U.S. headquarters would not answer questions yesterday from the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette.

Wuerl of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh removed Cipolla from his diocesan assignment in November 1988 after a young man filed suit claiming that Cipolla had molested him as a teen-ager between 1982 and 1986. At the time, Cipolla was a chaplain at a Beaver County home for handicapped children.

Later Wuerl withdrew Cipolla's faculties -- meaning he could not wear a Roman collar, preach or say Mass in public.

Cipolla, 49, appealed to the Vatican, saying there was no evidence against him. On March 9 the Vatican's highest court, the Signatura, ruled that Wuerl had violated canon law when he removed Cipolla and ordered the priest reinstated.

Last week Wuerl's spokesman, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Wuerl believed the Signatura's decision was based partly on some misinformation. He said that Wuerl planned to reopen the case and that Cipolla was not to present himself as a priest in good standing until the civil lawsuit is over. That trial is currently slated for May in the Allegheny Common Pleas Court.

But yesterday Lengwin said he had misunderstood what canon law had to say about Cipolla's status while Wuerl petitions the Signatura to reconsider its seven-page Latin decision.

"It was my understanding (last week) that Father Cipolla's faculties would be removed as soon as we petitioned the Signatura to rehear this case. That is not true. His faculties will be revoked only if the Signatura agrees to rehear it, and only until a final decision is made," Lengwin said.

"A clear understanding of this decision as it relates to canon law reveals that Father Cipolla's faculties should be restored. However, he will not be given a diocesan assignment until the issues surrounding the civil litigation are resolved. This action is in accord with our established policies and procedures."

Cipolla has always been best known in the diocese for his independent work with a prayer group devoted to the late Italian mystic, Padre Pio. Asked if Cipolla is now allowed to say Mass for that group in the Pittsburgh Diocese, Lengwin said diocesan officials were still working out the details of Cipolla's status.

"I don't have the answer to that question yet," Lengwin said.

Furthermore, Cipolla's restoration may only be temporary, Lengwin said.

"I am not a canon lawyer, but I believe that Father Cipolla's faculties may be withdrawn again if and while the Signatura agrees to hear his case."

Lengwin stressed that Wuerl had not "rejected" the Signatura's decision, but was rightfully pressing the Vatican's Supreme Court to reopen the case.

"We are petitioning the court to rehear this case based on what we believe were factual errors, Lengwin said.

"I cannot indicate what we believe those inaccuracies were because I would be violating the Signatura's rules to comment publicly on any particular aspect of its definitive judgment."

Wuerl has not spoken to Cipolla, who now lives in Ohio, since the Vatican gave its verdict, Lengwin said.

Conte, Cipolla's attorney, called Lengwin's latest statement "great news," but said Wuerl still fell short of what the Signatura's decision required, namely a position at a parish or some other diocesan facility.

"All the privileges that Father Cipolla had initially should be restored. The (Signatura) makes it plain," Conte said. "We intend to press this until there is fully faithful compliance by the bishop."

As it stands, Cipolla may go to work with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in India, Conte said. Cipolla, who is fluent in Spanish, would probably receive training through the order's mission in Mexico before going to India, he said.

"If (Wuerl) is going to continue an arbitrary position unfounded either in fact or canon law, then we may have to accept other invitations for father to fulfill his profession, including one from Mother Teresa," Conte said.

Asked whether Mother Teresa, who is based in Calcutta, India, was aware of Cipolla and the dispute surrounding him, Conte replied, "Yes, she is aware.

"The sentiments expressed by the Signatura are the sentiments that Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity feel about him. They recognize his calling and the fact that it has been a burden for him to live under the bishop's injudicious edict."

A call to the Missionaries of Charity U.S. headquarters in New York City was answered by a sister who would not give her name or refer the call.

"I don't know anything about it," she said of Cipolla's case. "We don't give out information to newspapers as a rule and we certainly don't give it out about other people."

The diocese says it knows nothing of Cipolla's plans, and that the religious order would have to contact Wuerl before Cipolla could transfer his allegiance.

"We have no knowledge of such an invitation and, as we previously indicated, we feel that we are obligated to make sure that they are aware of the present allegations that have been made against Father Cipolla," Lengwin said.

 
 

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