Several Priests Named in a Scathing Grand Jury Report Released Tuesday about Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church Served Alle-Kiski Valley Parishes, Including Two Clergy Who Allegedly Were Part of a "Ring of Predatory Priests." [Derived Headline]

By Rittmeyer, Brian C.; Venteicher, Wes | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 14, 2018 | Go to article overview

Several Priests Named in a Scathing Grand Jury Report Released Tuesday about Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church Served Alle-Kiski Valley Parishes, Including Two Clergy Who Allegedly Were Part of a "Ring of Predatory Priests." [Derived Headline]


Rittmeyer, Brian C., Venteicher, Wes, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Several priests named in a scathing grand jury report released Tuesday about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church served Alle-Kiski Valley parishes, including two clergy who allegedly were part of a "ring of predatory priests."

The report identified 120 clergy in the Pittsburgh and Greensburg dioceses as "predator priests," including six whose cases highlighted what the grand jury called institutional failure on the church's part.

All three of the priests linked to institutional failure in the Pittsburgh diocese had ties to the Alle-Kiski Valley. One in the Greensburg diocese did.

The report said George Zirwas and Richard Zula, now deceased, were part of a "ring of predatory priests ... who shared intelligence or information regarding victims as well as exchanging the victims amongst themselves (and) also manufactured child pornography on diocesan property."

"This group of priests used whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims," the report said.

Zula was ordained in 1966 and assigned to six different parishes through 1987. The assignments included Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Natrona Heights (June 1971 to December 1973) and Tarentum's St. Clement (June 1986 to September 1987), along with stints at parishes in New Castle, Munhall and Marianna.

He withdrew from the ministry in April 1996 and died in September 2017.

Zirwas was ordained in September 1979 and served as a priest in at least seven parishes through December 1994, when he was placed on a leave of absence for about eight months, according to the report.

The assignments included St. Bartholomew in Penn Hills (June 1989 to December 1991), St. Scholastica in Aspinwall (December 1991 to May 1994) and St. Joseph in Verona (May 1994 to December 1994), along with parishes in Pittsburgh's Brookline and South Side neighborhoods, New Castle, Elizabeth.

Zirwas was then assigned to St. Maurice in Forest Hills in July 1995 and served there for four months before again being placed on leave, according to the report. He remained on leave until he died in May 2001, the report said.

In one case, the report said Zirwas, Zula and two other priests took a boy identified as George to the rectory of a Munhall parish and asked him to stand on a bed and remove his clothes as they discussed the image of Christ on the cross. Then they took Polaroid pictures of the boy. The alleged victim reported that the Polaroids were added to a collection of photos of other teenage boys.

The victim said the ring of predatory priests gave gifts to boys including gold cross necklaces.

"They were a visible designation that these children were victims of sexual abuse. They were a signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization," the grand jury wrote.

'Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever'

The report said the diocese first received complaints that Zirwas sexually abused children in October 1987. No action was taken by then-Bishop Anthony Bevilaqua or the diocese, the report said. At least five other alleged victims came forward in ensuing years.

Zirwas met with current Bishop David Zubik, then the director of clergy personnel, in July 1995 while on his first leave of absence to request permission to take an assignment in Miami because of what he called "false rumors about him," the report said. The priest also threatened to take legal action against the diocese.

Former Bishop Donald Wuerl returned Zirwas to the ministry in July 1995, but he was placed back on leave later that year after the diocese received another complaint. When Wuerl presided over Zirwas' 2001 funeral, the report recounted that the former bishop said "a priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever."

Costly abuse

In September 1987, the diocese received a complaint that Zula "engaged in violent sexual activity" with a teen boy at the Sisters of St. …

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