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Wuerl one step forward - Vatican two steps back.

The U.S. bishops, as NCR readers in this issue attest, face some awesome tasks if they are to regain a measure of public credibility in the wake of years of mishandled priest sexual abuse cases.

The charge most frequently heard has been that bishops fiddled and fudged when they should have dealt forthrightly with suspected offenders. The pattern of reshuffling accused pedophiles instead of investigating charges has increased the ranks of victims, seemingly geometrically.

Now comes the case (NCR, April 2) of Pittsburgh Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, a profile, it turns out, in courage.

Wuerl suspended one of his priests, Father Anthony Cipolla, from his priestly duties, pending outcome of a trial. Wuerl had reasonable suspicions that the priest, charged with pedophilia, had been sexually involved with a youngster for four years. There was also a police report that this priest had asked a different 9-year-old boy to remove his clothes in a parish rectory.

However, Cipolla appealed and last month Wuerl was overruled by the Vatican Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which ordered Wuerl to reinstate Cipolla. To his credit, Wuerl has balked at the decision.

The case dates to November 1988, when Wuerl removed Cipolla as chaplain at a home for handicapped children after the young man filed suit against Cipolla and the diocese. Wuerl later revoked Cipolla's faculties -- forbidding him to dress as a priest or celebrate Mass in public.

Cipolla initially appealed to the Congregation for Clergy; in 1991, the congregation sided with Wuerl. Cipolla then appealed to the Supreme Tribunal, which last month ruled in Cipolla's favor, saying Wuerl had not complied with proper procedures and had misinterpreted a provision of church law allowing a bishop to move against a priest with a "psychic defect." To many, the ruling sounded quite distant from local realities.

Ironically, it follows a virtual absence of any statement by the Vatican on the monumental sexual abuse scandals that have rocked U.S. Catholics to their ecclesial foundations.

An editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-GAzette last month captures some of the local disbelief: "At a time when the Catholic church in America is reeling from accusations that it has covered up allegations of priestly sexual abuse, a ruling that a bishop may not remove an accused priest can only add to the church's credibility problem. ...A Vatican policy that prevents bishops from suspending priests accused of sexual misconduct does no service to the American church."

The Cipolla case goes to trial next month.
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Title Annotation:Bishop Donald W. Wuerl
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 16, 1993
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