Pittsburgh Diocese puts priest on administrative leave following sex abuse allegation

By Andrew Goldstein
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
November 24, 2018

A Butler County priest has been placed on administrative leave following an allegation of sexual abuse of a boy in the 1980s, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced Saturday.

The Rev. Joseph Feltz, 65, most recently served as pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Prospect. He was named in a lawsuit filed earlier this month with other priests who were accused of being part of the “ring of predatory priests” described by the state grand jury report released in August on sexual abuse in the church.   

Father Feltz was not named in the grand jury report and has denied the abuse allegation, according to the diocese.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 15 in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, said that Mark A. Pearce, 48, of Raleigh, N.C., was abused when he was a minor by Father Feltz and the Rev. George Zirwas, two who were part of what the grand jury report called a “ring of predatory priests” active in the 1970s and 1980s, along with the Revs. Robert Wolk, Francis Pucci and Richard Zula.

According to the court filing, Mr. Pearce was abused in the rectory by priests Zula, Pucci and Feltz.

The alleged abuse occurred when Father Zirwas served as a parochial vicar at St. Michael in Elizabeth Township. The lawsuit said at one point that the abuse began when Mr. Pearce was 9 or 10 years old, but in another place it claims he was abused when he was between 12 and 18 years old.

Mr. Pearce, a former altar boy who said he lived two doors from the rectory, claimed Father Zirwas raped and otherwise sexually and physically abused him repeatedly between 1982 and 1987, beginning a couple of months after the priest arrived at the parish. The abuse occurred two to four times a week during that period in Father Zirwas’ apartment, the church, the rectory, the priest’s vehicle and elsewhere, the suit claimed.

Father Feltz had been at St. Christopher Parish in Prospect until October, when the diocese realigned parishes, giving many priests new assignments, according to the Rev. Nicholas S. Vaskov, a diocese spokesman.

Father Feltz was not given a new assignment because he was in poor health, Father Vaskov said Saturday. 

Regardless, Father Feltz may not engage in public ministry, dress as a priest or otherwise present himself as a priest in good standing because he was placed on administrative leave.

“If a determination is made that [he] did what he is accused of, those restrictions will become permanent,” Bishop David Zubik wrote in a letter that will be shared at all parishes where Father Feltz served. “If it is determined that the allegation is unfounded, all that is possible will be done to restore [his] reputation and return him to ministry.”

Bishop Zubik’s statement said the allegation has also been referred to law enforcement.

“Hopefully anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed by Father Joseph Feltz will find the courage to come forward and contact law enforcement, no matter how long ago it happened,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a statement. “The church officials are not the proper officials to be investigating child sex crimes.”



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