It’s a story because of its apparent rarity. A priest was involuntarily laicized by the Pope after he allegedly molested kids and refused to abide by restrictions on his activities. It’s a strange case. Anthony Cipolla was suspended in 1988, but accusations against him date back to 1978 when he was investigated about molesting a boy. The case was dropped when the mother refused to press charges; she says she was pressured by her parish and the then-bishop.
So when Bishop Donald Wuerl became bishop in 1988, he suspended the guy, but Cipolla appealed to the Vatican—and the Vatican ordered him reinstated. Wuerl, to his credit, refused and traveled to Rome with the case file, including the 1978 arrest report. In a rare reversal, the Vatican in 1995 ordered Cipolla impeded from ministry. But the diocese kept receiving reports Cipolla was acting as a priest, including a 1994 Mass on TV on EWTN, a 1995 pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and leading other pilgrimages and celebrating Masses around the country and the world. And now Pope John Paul has involuntarily laicized him, a very rare action.
There are some bizarre incidents in this case. In September, Cipolla called the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, complained he was never contacted for comment on stories, and didn’t leave any contact information. In a voice mail, he said:
- “I have never, not once, admitted to abusing any child 9 years old, yet you continue to put this in your paper. You have never consulted me once. You always consult Bishop Wuerl or his agents. You stop, or else I will have to take some legal action against you,” he said.
Having been educated in parsing the statements of Bill Clinton, I note that Cipolla says he never admitted to abusing a 9 year old—not that he didn’t actually do it or that he didn’t abuse a child not 9 years old.
That Cipolla was apparently “conservative” (I base that on his EWTN appearance and Medjugorje pilgrimages) may be enough for some people to reject the accusations made against him. But let us not forget that the Scandal knows no ideological bounds—remember Fr. John Bertolucci, a charismatic (in both senses of the term) speaker tangentially connected to Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Fr. Ken Roberts, another priest with strong connections to the Medjugorje phenomenon.
In the end, the evidence—at least what I see in this newspaper article—lends credence to his suspension. That he was unwilling to be obedient to legitimate authority even as he protested his own innocence—contrast that with St. Padre Pio and St. John Vianney—does not help his case. A sad story, overall.