Victims Group Seeks DA Probe

By Jason Cato
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
September 28, 2005

No evidence has turned up of former Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua hiding sexual abuses by priests in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County's top prosecutor said Tuesday, so there's no reason to launch an investigation like the one in Philadelphia that found Bevilacqua had concealed abuses in that archdiocese.

Should information surface otherwise, his office is prepared to investigate, said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Zappala met for more than an hour yesterday with members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- or SNAP -- at his Downtown office. Members urged him to conduct his own grand-jury investigation into any potential wrongdoing in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"We're convinced there are dozens and dozens of men and women who have been abused in this diocese who have not come forward," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, following his meeting with Zappala.

Bevilacqua, now a cardinal, was bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1983-88 before being named archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by then-Pope John Paul II. Bevilacqua since has retired.

Bevilacqua was accused by a Philadelphia grand jury of knowing that priests were involved in "massive amounts of child molestations and sexual assaults," but chose to cover up the cases rather than notify police. The 418-page report was released last week.

Chris Matthews, of the South Side, has a lawsuit pending against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. His lawsuit alleges that he was abused in 1989 at age 11 by the Rev. John Wellinger at Holy Spirit Parish in West Mifflin. He is convinced an investigation in Pittsburgh would find other cases of clergy abuse.

"I think the church should confess its sins," said Matthews, 27, who attended the meeting with Zappala yesterday. "I've been asked all my life to confess my sins to the church. All I want now are some answers."

Zappala said his office is open to anyone who knows of or who has suffered from abuse by clergy of any denomination. He also said he would work to help change the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions against sexual abusers, which now sets a limit of five years after a person's 18th birthday.

"The victim has to deal with this, and young victims have trouble coming forward," Zappala said. "Why not change that?"

Since allegations of widespread abuse by Roman Catholic priest nationwide broke in 2002, Zappala said, his office has investigated 25 cases against clergy of all denominations. He said a trial would begin in December involving the alleged sexual misconduct of a nondenominational church leader. A clergy member is under investigation for alleged sexual abuse, Zappala said, but he would not say which denomination that case involves

Three priests in the Pittsburgh diocese have been convicted of sexually abusing children -- Richard Dorsch in 1995, and Robert G. Wolk and Richard Zula, both in 1987.

At least 35 lawsuits have been brought against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh since January 2004 by people claiming they were abused by priests. Because the statute of limitations had expired, the priests were not named as defendants. The lawsuits, instead, attempt to hold current Bishop Donald Wuerl and Bevilacqua responsible.

The diocese has denied the accusations.


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