Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Diocese Tells Wilkinsburg Parish of 1980s Abuse Claim

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Diocese Tells Wilkinsburg Parish of 1980s Abuse Claim

Article excerpt

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has written to parishioners at St. James Parish in Wilkinsburg, informing them of a sex abuse allegation from the 1980s against a former priest, John Wellinger, who was removed from ministry in 1995.

Wellinger of Clairton was 66 when he died in 2011. The letter, sent Friday, said the diocese had an allegation that Wellinger "abused a member of the parish" when he was there from June 1981 to July 1985. The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, said the allegation was sexual abuse of a minor.

The bishop urged parishioners to call either the diocesan or Pennsylvania victim assistance hotline "if you or a loved one were harmed in any way by Father Wellinger."

Diocesan officials first heard the allegation Nov. 9 from the sister of the victim, Father Lengwin said. She lived out of state but called to say that, before his death in August, her brother told her that Wellinger had molested him.

She declined an invitation to meet with diocese officials and a request for her to arrange a meeting with her parents went unfulfilled, Father Lengwin said. Because of the family's hesitancy, he said, diocesan officials didn't know if they were ready to go public and decided not to write to parishioners at that time.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., confirmed that the diocese reported the allegation to the district attorney's office in early November.

In 1995, Wellinger was on a leave of absence due to alcoholism when he was accused of having molested an 11-year-old boy six years earlier in West Mifflin, according to Father Lengwin, and he never returned to ministry.

In 2004 that allegation was at the center of a lawsuit accusing the diocese of conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse of minors. In 2007, acting Bishop Paul Bradley settled the suit, which included accusations from 32 people against 17 priests, for $1. …

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