Three priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have been placed on administrative leave in the wake of allegations that they sexually abused minors, the diocese announced Friday afternoon.
The priests are: the Rev. John Bauer, 71, who has been serving in team ministry in Greene County; the Rev. Bernard Costello, 81, who was last active in Charleroi in 2011; and the Rev. Hugh Lang, 87, who in 2006 retired as pastor in Munhall’s St. Therese of Lisieux.
In its press release, the diocese said the men denied the allegations, but that the reports were turned over to law enforcement. In the meantime, the men may not dress as priests, perform sacraments, or engage in public ministry. The diocese said parishes where the priests had served were being notified of the suspension.
Putting a priest on administrative leave “does not imply guilt. It is intended to safeguard the course of justice while preserving the rights of everyone involve,” Bishop David Zubik said in the statement.
The allegations were made in the wake of a scathing state grand jury report about child sexual abuse in Pittsburgh and other dioceses across Pennsylvania. The report documented allegations against 300 “predator priests,” and has prompted calls for widespread reform.
Rev. Nicholas Vaskov, a spokesman for the diocese, said that the process used in these three cases was the same the church has used since 2002, when abuse in the Boston church caused an international scandal. “If someone says the abuse took place in a year when the priest was assigned there, we say it’s credible” and hand it over to law enforcement, he said.
A priest may be restored if the charges are deemed unfounded.
The diocese says it received the allegation against Costello on August 22, while the allegation against Bauer came in just one day ago. In all three cases, Vaskov said, the church has a complainant detail the allegations in writing so that “the written allegation is there to share with law enforcement.”
He said there was no attempt to hold off on the release until Friday afternoon, which falls just before the extended Labor Day weekend. Doing so is an old public-relations ploy to minimize damage, but Vaskov said the diocese wasn’t trying to sweep anything under the rug. “It just takes time for those [written statements] to get in,” he said. “It was a matter of getting all the information in together.”
None of that impressed Judy Jones, the midwest regional leader for abuse-survivor group SNAP and a frequent critic of the church.
"On the 22nd it was reported? What took so long? They should have made it public right away," she said.
"They are having to do these things because they are in the spotlight. They have been exposed ... and now they are trying to do damage control and act like they are doing the right thing. I just hope they are, but I wouldn't count on it."
Vaskov said that since the grand-jury report was issued, the church had received nearly 60 additional complaints of abuse, made via phone or email. Most of those allegations, he said, involved priests who have since died or were already named in the report.
“We prioritize those that involve those who are in active ministry,” he said. He said there were no additional pending complaints “that I know of right now. But calls keep coming in, and we will continue to follow up.”
In its statement, the diocese urged anyone harmed by someone representing the church to call its Diocesan Assistance Coordinator at 1-888-808-1235, or to contact Pennsylvania state abuse hotline at 1-800-932-0313.