Priest placed on administrative leave over abuse claim

Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh
August 12, 2014

Pittsburgh Catholic Staff Report

Bishop David Zubik has placed Father John Fitzgerald, 66, the pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Conway, Beaver County, on administrative leave pending further investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

 This action was taken the day after diocesan officials met with an individual who alleged abuse by Father Fitzgerald in the late 1990s. Diocesan officials immediately reported the allegation to the district attorneys of Allegheny County and Lawrence County because the abuse was alleged to have occurred in both jurisdictions.

 Prior to this, no other allegation of sexual abuse against Father Fitzgerald has come to the diocese's notice. Father Fitzgerald has denied committing any acts of sexual abuse. While he is on administrative leave he cannot administer the sacraments, dress in clerical attire or identify himself as a priest.

 A letter from Bishop Zubik was read at all Masses Aug. 2-3 at Our Lady of Peace, and a diocesan official answered questions afterward. A copy of the letter will be mailed to all the parishioners.

 "If a determination is made that Father Fitzgerald did what he is accused of, those restrictions will become permanent. If it is determined that the allegation is unfounded, all that is possible will be done to restore Father Fitzgerald's reputation and return him to ministry," Bishop Zubik wrote.

 Bishop Zubik asked for anyone with information that could shed light on the matter to contact either the diocese or the civil authorities. He urged anyone who has been harmed by someone who represents the church to inform the diocese "so that we can protect others and offer healing."

 The diocesan victim assistance hotline is 1-888-808-1235. The Pennsylvania abuse hotline is 1-800-932-0313.

 When an allegation of child sexual abuse has been made, church law and diocesan policy mandate specific procedures. These include notifying the appropriate civil authorities, placing the priest on administrative leave and bringing the information to the local independent review board. That review board, whose members are psychologists, lawyers, parents of victims and pastors, will advise Bishop Zubik on whether the priest is suitable for future ministry. Preparations to convene the board have begun.         

Father Fitzgerald is being provided with a temporary residence away from Our Lady of Peace.

 "Removing Father Fitzgerald from ministry does not imply guilt. It is intended to safeguard the course of justice while preserving the rights of everyone involved, including both the person against whom an allegation has been made and the person who made the allegation," Bishop Zubik wrote.

 He asked everyone's prayers for the person who brought the allegation forward, for Father Fitzgerald and for those who will help make a determination in the matter.

 "May our words, our deeds and our prayers always reflect the healing love of Jesus," he wrote.


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