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  Banned Priest Says Mass on TV Cipolla Sparks Debate While Vatican Considers Molestation Appeal

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 18, 1994

A Pittsburgh Catholic priest who has been banned from ministry since 1989 because of accusations of child molestation said Mass on national television yesterday.

The Rev. Anthony Cipolla, 50, concelebrated a televised Mass with three other priests on the Eternal Word Television Network, headquartered at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Birmingham, Ala.

EWTN is an independent, conservative Catholic cable network which is carried locally by TCI.

The diocese has caught Cipolla engaging in ministry before and tried to stop him, but it has no power to confine him, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. Diocesan officials, who have warned every bishop in the country not to let Cipolla minister in their dioceses, will give EWTN the same message, he said.

Cipolla is forbidden even to wear a Roman collar, Lengwin said. During his appearance, however, Cipolla was fully vested for communion in a purple chasuble and alb.

A spokesman for EWTN said he did not know Cipolla was banned from ministry. Cipolla's attorney said the ban was no longer valid.

Cipolla was removed from ministry in 1988 after Timothy Bendig, then 19, filed a lawsuit saying Cipolla had molested him for years. The diocese settled out of court last fall.

But Cipolla had appealed to the Vatican, which in March ordered Bishop Donald W. Wuerl to reinstate him. Wuerl asked the Vatican to reopen the case, and says the ban remains in effect while the Vatican decides what to do.

Cipolla maintains that he is innocent.

Cipolla's attorney, John Conte of Conway, said Cipolla had a right to say Mass.

Based on the Vatican's March verdict, "he has full reinstatement. Bishop Wuerl doesn't want to abide by the ruling," Conte said.

Conte is wrong, Lengwin said.

"The Vatican informed us that, indeed, Bishop Wuerl's limitation of Father Anthony Cipolla's priestly faculties was upheld during this period of time when we have asked for a rehearing."

Cipolla wants to move to another diocese or religious order where he will be allowed to minister, and has been leading pilgrimages to Catholic shrines worldwide in the meantime, Conte said.

The nun in charge of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery hung up on a reporter who asked about Cipolla.

As soon as she heard Cipolla's name, Mother Vicar Raphael said, "I don't know anything about him. I don't have anything to say about him." Then she hung up.

William Steltemeier, president of EWTN, said he was not aware of any problem with Cipolla's ministry.

"The guy was just passing through, traveling to wherever he was going. He is not involved with EWTN or the monastery in any way. A poor priest has a right to say Mass, doesn't he?" Steltemeier said.

The Rev. Brian Egan, administrator of the Diocese of Birmingham, said he had never heard of Cipolla, but would be very concerned if a priest with such restrictions was saying Mass at EWTN. Egan called Steltemeier and later reported, "He will not be saying Mass (there) again."

Bendig said he was "repulsed" to learn that Cipolla had appeared on EWTN yesterday.

"My stomach is spinning. I am very disappointed, very disappointed, that this organization would allow a pedophile to do this. I am getting choked up. It hurts. It hurts to see this person abuse the collar such as he is doing," Bendig said.

 
 

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