Hospital That Evaluated Priest Attacks Vatican

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 23, 1993

Saying it was defamed in the process of a decision by the Vatican's highest court, a prominent psychiatric hospital for Catholic clergy says it wants satisfaction from the Vatican and is threatening legal action against the Italian attorney for a local priest at the center of the Vatican court case.

The Vatican Supreme Court — the Signatura — recently declared that the Rev. Anthony Cipolla, who is being sued for allegedly molesting a teenager, was fit for duty.

The court ordered Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to let Cipolla go back to work. Wuerl, who defrocked Cipolla four years ago, says he will not give Cipolla a diocesan assignment at least until after the lawsuit is heard in May, and has asked the Vatican to reopen the case.

Cipolla's advocate, Count Neri Capponi, who teaches canon law at the University of Florence, Italy, had attacked St. Luke Institute of Suitland, Md. The hospital is widely known for its evaluation and treatment of priests accused of molesting minors, and Wuerl had sent Cipolla there for an evaluation after the lawsuit was filed.

According to Vatican court documents, St. Luke reported no evidence that Cipolla was a pedophile, but recommended that he not work with children and that Wuerl send him to St. John Vianney psychiatric hospital in Downington, Chester County, for long-term treatment.

Capponi argued — and the Signatura appeared to agree — that the St. Luke report was filled with contradictions.

He charged that the hospital was unfit under canon law to give expert opinion on the mental health of priests because its philosophy of treatment was unchristian. After Cipolla refused doctors' orders to engage in sexual fantasies because they would be sinful, St. Luke labeled his refusal a psychological problem, Capponi said.

"Since its foundation in 1981, St. Luke Institute has been grounded in the Christian principles enunciated by Jesus Christ ... To say that St. Luke Institute is not Christian is like saying a flower can exist without sunlight," the Rev. Canice Connors, president of St. Luke, said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"While we must respect the confidential nature of the records of all of our patients, because Father Cipolla has chosen to make his record public, we can say that there was more than sufficient evidence, according to our lengthy and scientific evaluation procedures, to recommend to the Diocese of Pittsburgh that Father Cipolla be treated at St. John Vianney psychiatric hospital," Connors said.

"For the Signatura to declare that St. Luke did not discover any evidence that Father Cipolla was a pedophile could be entirely correct and still lead to a recommendation against working with children based on other diagnoses."

The Signatura has wronged the hospital, he said.

"At no point in the process of reaching its verdict about Father Cipolla was the Signatura in touch with any of the members of the staff of St. Luke Institute. Because of that lack of contact, I am deeply disappointed in the process leading to the Signatura's decision," Connors said.

"At the current time our canon lawyers are researching how St. Luke might redress what we consider an injustice to the Institute by the Signatura."

Furthermore, Connors said, "Our civil attorneys are preparing briefs about the defamatory nature of statements about St. Luke Institute in the Capponi brief."

The U.S. Catholic bishops are probably at least as upset about the Signatura's decision as the hospital is, says an expert on the Catholic hierarchy.

"St. Luke's is considered the best place in the country" for evaluating priests accused of molesting minors, said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"This (decision) could cause a serious problem for bishops who have relied heavily on this institute to help them deal with priests who have this problem."

The Rev. Ladislas Orsy, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said that on the face of it, St. Luke Institute did not appear to have a right to redress from the Signatura.

"My first reaction is that all they can do is scream and yell. I really do not know what they can do in canon law because they were not in any way parties to this decision," Orsy said.

Capponi could not be reached to comment.

John Conte, the Beaver County attorney representing Cipolla in the upcoming lawsuit, said St. Luke had no grounds for suing Capponi because legal briefs are protected.

"They have no case," he said.


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