Lawrence County Priest Removed
Pastor Faces 'Serious Allegations of Improprieties
By Ann Rodgers
August 30, 2005
The Rev. Mauro Cautela, a parish priest in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh since 1974, has been removed from public ministry while state police investigate what the diocese termed "serious allegations of improprieties."
While details are unavailable, the allegations appear to be both financial and sexual in nature.
Cautela, 57, had been pastor of Holy Redeemer in Ellwood City since 1992 and served as dean of all Lawrence County parishes. According to the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, allegations were first brought to the diocese Aug. 17. On Wednesday, Cautela was placed on administrative leave and resigned as pastor of Holy Redeemer, and diocesan officials gave the allegations to Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino.
"The diocese came to us and we have asked the state police to look into the matter," Mangino said yesterday.
The state police would not comment because they said the investigation was ongoing.
Sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the allegations involved financial improprieties with parish money. Although Lengwin would not comment on that, he confirmed that while Holy Redeemer had passed a routine diocesan audit in November, "we've chosen to begin another audit today."
The same sources said that there was at least one allegation of sexual misconduct but were uncertain whether that involved sexual contact with a minor.
In a meeting with parishioners after Sunday Mass, Lengwin gave out the toll-free number that the diocese established for reporting allegations of child sexual abuse by church personnel. He asked people to call if they had "particular information regarding this serious allegation of impropriety, or any other of a similar nature." But in an interview, he said that the hot line is sometimes used by people reporting problems other than sexual abuse of minors.
It is normal diocesan procedure for priests facing a variety of allegations to be placed on administrative leave until a church or civil investigation is completed. Priests on administrative leave are not allowed to celebrate the sacraments in public.
"This action does not imply guilt but is intended to find the truth while preserving the rights of everyone involved, including both the person against whom an allegation has been made and the alleged victim," said the statement that was given to parishioners.
Cautela was not forced to resign as pastor of Holy Redeemer, which is a permanent step, Lengwin said.
"He freely chose to resign because he understood that this is a process that can take some time and he felt that the parish needed pastoral leadership," he said.
Although there had been a preliminary phone call to the diocese earlier, the first real report came during a face-to-face meeting Aug. 17 with those who brought the allegations, Lengwin said. The diocese is normally represented by a social worker and priests from the clergy office.
After that, Cautela was called in and questioned, Lengwin said. On Aug. 18 the matter was brought to the clergy task force, a group of diocesan officials that can be called together swiftly for consultation regarding serious allegations against priests.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has a review board, consisting mostly of lay experts on child sexual abuse, that is required to advise Bishop Donald Wuerl on accusations involving sexual abuse of minors.
"This has not gone to the review board yet," Lengwin said. But he would not say whether it involved an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.
Sunday's parish visit by Lengwin, the Rev. Robert Young, secretary for ministerial leadership, and the Rev. Lawrence DiNardo, chief canon lawyer for the diocese, differed from the diocesan response in past cases. Usually priests facing serious allegations were quietly removed, and diocesan officials said little publicly unless a lawsuit or charges were filed.
"It has not been our practice in the past to make allegations public for the sake of the good name of those involved. But we have come to believe that silence can foster misunderstanding and misinterpretation," Lengwin said.
Cautela has a reputation as a solid, devoted and caring parish priest. As a dean he was responsible for oversight of other parishes in his region -- particularly with regard to finances -- a sign that diocesan officials trusted him.
The Rev. Tom Sparacino, pastor of St. Mary of Mercy, Downtown, grew up near New Castle when Cautela was a young priest there, and attended his Masses as a young adult.
"I knew him as a very kind, loving priest, who just cared so much about the church. Whatever actions he's accused of might not demonstrate that, but my experience with him was very positive" Sparacino said.
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