Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh called a news conference Wednesday to say that a man who wrote a blog accusing him of sexual abuse isn't telling the truth but was angry because the bishop wouldn't allow him to serve as a volunteer due to a criminal record.
"The fear of every priest is that someone, sometime, somewhere, somehow will level a false accusation against him. That nightmare has been realized for me," he said. "I emphatically state that no such behavior occurred, not any semblance of such behavior. The accusation is false, offensive and outrageous."
He said "it appears to be a slam or a threat against me because somebody didn't get what they wanted."
Last weekend, a 45-year-old Beaver County man posted a blog called "I was molested by Bishop David Zubik" at Yolasite.com. He claimed that he was molested at 13 by a priest who was long ago jailed and laicized and at 23 by another priest who has long been banned from ministry. He said that when he met with Bishop Zubik after reporting that abuse, he recovered a forgotten memory of having been molested by then-Father Zubik when he was vice principal of Quigley Catholic High School in Baden in the 1980s.
He also claimed that minutes after that molestation, he was molested by a Sister of St. Joseph who worked at Quigley. He also wrote that his pastor at St. Blaise in Midland violated the seal of the confessional by taking the first two accusations to the diocese last year and should be removed from ministry.
Contacted through his blog, the accuser initially declined to speak with the Post-Gazette and said Nancy Grace would tell his story on CNN. The Post-Gazette does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.
After the news conference, he responded to Bishop Zubik's claim that he made the accusation because he wasn't approved to perform liturgical ministry due to a criminal record.
"The bishop tells non true stories," he wrote. "But as far as being angry for not being allowed to serve? lol thats too funny."
Bishop Zubik didn't reveal that criminal record, saying every church worker who undergoes a record check is promised confidentiality. But, through the justice system, the Post-Gazette obtained records of a man of his name, age and location who had a record that included a guilty plea to indecent exposure in 2004 after New Sewickley police arrested him for masturbating in the parking lot of Freedom Area Middle School near midnight. He was sent for a mental health evaluation, sentenced to probation and forbidden to enter school district property.
Three other convictions from 1989 to 1994 involved DUI, theft, burglary, some charges related to public drunkenness and a felony count of unlawful use of a computer.
The accuser didn't respond to an email inquiry about those records.
Bishop Zubik said he had reported the allegation against him to the Vatican on Sept. 12 and later to the board that reviews allegations of sexual abuse in his diocese. But he notified Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh on Sept. 1.
Mr. Berosh on Wednesday came out strongly in the bishop's defense.
"In my opinion there is no basis of law or fact to substantiate the allegations," he said. He said the accuser told a "convoluted, extenuated series of stories" and that the accusation against the bishop was "offensive."
The bishop said his review board will investigate and report to the Vatican. But he said the initial accusations, evaluated by an advisory board, hadn't met the standard of credibility required to remove someone from ministry.
"Unless I hear from the Vatican that my status changes, my position remains that I am going to continue to work."
He said he was praying for his accuser, calling him a "complex individual" whom he did not know well at Quigley.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a cautious statement, calling it "odd" that the bishop had made the accusation public when there was no court case that the media could have reported on.
"False accusations against Catholic clerics are rare," the statement said. "If anyone has any information that might shed light on these allegations -- in either direction -- it's crucial that he or she speak up immediately."
Normally the media report only on criminal accusations that have been made public through the courts. But the bishop said he decided to address it because it was on the Internet.
"Since Aug. 23, there hasn't been a day ...when I haven't felt like I was in front of a train and the fear of how is this going to become public and what is going to happen," he said. "In a certain sense, there is a relief in being able to share this."
According to diocesan officials, the accuser first told his pastor of abuse by the two former priests last year in a social setting, and the pastor notified the diocese. The accuser had an initial conversation with the victim assistance coordinator on Sept. 10, 2010. He was offered an opportunity to meet with Bishop Zubik but didn't make an appointment until May. He and his wife came on June 1.
The blog post calls the bishop "condescending" in that meeting. According to Bishop Zubik, the accuser didn't want to talk about the abuse but wanted to express concern that he wouldn't be allowed to be a volunteer at Mass.
He asked if "I would be willing to overturn the judgment of the board. I said I would not do that," Bishop Zubik said.
The Diocesan Assessment Board that reviews red flags on volunteer, employee and clergy background checks met on Aug. 5 and "determined that he was ineligible for ministry," Bishop Zubik said. On Aug. 16, his pastor told the accuser.
"When he received the news, he was extremely angry and said to the pastor that 'there is one more thing I have to do. I have to bring down somebody who's pretty high up,' " Bishop Zubik said.
The pastor, the Rev. Michael Yaksick, didn't return phone calls. But Bishop Zubik said that on Aug. 21 the priest received an email from the accuser claiming that Bishop Zubik had tried to forcibly kiss him in the chapel at Quigley.
According to Bishop Zubik, the accusation about trying to kiss the accuser in the chapel is identical to the accusation he made about the priest who he said molested him in 1989.
That priest was never sued or charged with a crime, but Bishop Zubik said he was removed from ministry two decades ago following accusations of inappropriate conduct. The other accused former priest, Robert Wolk, was arrested in 1988 and imprisoned for molesting two altar boys in a case that made headlines for weeks.
The accuser also claims that immediately after Bishop Zubik abused him at Quigley, he told a sister he feared he was gay and she "proved to me that I wasn't" by molesting him.
Her superior, Sister Mary Pellegrino, congregational moderator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, said, "The members of the Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph are aware of the blog posting, and we give no credence to its content."
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416. First Published October 6, 2011 4:00 AM