Group criticizes diocese's handling of accused priest

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A victims’ advocacy group is criticizing the Diocese of Pittsburgh for not alerting the public 11 years ago when it learned that a Boston priest had been accused of committing sexual abuse here in the early 1960s.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is defending its actions, saying it had no direct information about the allegation when it learned of it in 2003.

The Rev. John P. Carroll, who is supervised by the Archdiocese of Boston, faces a church trial there that could lead to his removal from the priesthood over an allegation that he sexually abused an altar boy at St. Michael Church in Elizabeth in 1962 or 1963. Father Carroll, now 86, is currently restricted from ministry.

Bishop David Zubik sent letters over the weekend to be read at parishes where Father Carroll had served between 1962 and 1972, asking any potential victims to come forward, after the Boston archdiocese notified him this month of the trial. Father Carroll also served at St. Isaac Jogues in Elrama, St. Margaret in Green Tree, St. Susanna in Penn Hills, St. Alphonsus in Springdale and St. Denis in Versailles (now St. Patrick in McKeesport).

Father Carroll, who was ordained in 1953, had been sent to Pennsylvania in the first place “because of a true allegation of sexual misconduct with an adult woman,” according to a later internal memo from the Boston archdiocese.

He returned to Massachusetts in 1972.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests contended in a statement Monday that the Pittsburgh diocese should have alerted the public and potential victims in 2003, when it learned the Boston archdiocese was investigating Father Carroll.

“No matter how Catholic officials try to spin it, this is irresponsible and inexcusable,” the SNAP statement said. “Pittsburgh Catholic officials, by keeping silent about a potentially dangerous cleric, may have enabled him to hurt more kids.”

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, vicar for church relations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the diocese has never had contact with the alleged victim, who was dealing with the Archdiocese of Boston, and did not know the results of the archdiocese’s investigation.

All local officials knew in 2003 was that a man had confronted the priest with an allegation, and Boston church officials were contacting their Pittsburgh counterparts to confirm his work record.

“That’s all we had,” Father Lengwin said. “There was nothing to act on.”

But over the years, at the recommendation of those experienced in investigating sexual abuse, the diocese concluded it was important to seek out potential victims at any assignment where an accused priest had served.

Although it has taken steps such as training workers and volunteers to prevent sexual abuse and placing prominent notices urging victims to come forward, “we’re raising the bar because we have a better understanding of the issue,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, said he was not available for comment on Monday.

On Aug. 15, 1997, a man visited Father Carroll at his parish in Quincy, Mass., and “asked him if he remembered raping him when he was a child,” according to an internal Archdiocese of Boston memo from September 1997.

It was written by the Rev. William F. Murphy, who was then second in command to Boston Cardinal Bernard Law and is now bishop of Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Father Carroll reported the brief encounter to Cardinal Law and denied the allegation.

The memo was among thousands of internal church documents released during sexual-abuse litigation against the archdiocese more than a decade ago, when Boston was the epicenter of the global scandal of sexual abuse by priests.

The documents were collected and provided by the advocacy group BishopAccountability.org.

There is no indication of any Boston church official in 1997 contacting law enforcement or the accuser, whose name Father Carroll had provided.

Father Murphy later wrote to Father Carroll of his hope that he would not “hear anything further from this individual.”

Father Murphy added: “I hope you will be able to put this out of your mind and return to the good ministry in which you are involved.”

Cardinal Law resigned in 2002 amid growing outrage over the cover-up of sexual abuse, and a 2003 report by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office named him and Bishop Murphy, among others, as fostering an administrative culture that sustained “the systemic abuse of children.”

Boston church memos show the archdiocese took a second look at the allegation in 2003 as part of a systemic review of church files.


Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.


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