This report by Randy Engel, one of the founding warriors in the Catholic cleric sexual abuse war, is instructive, and horrifying.
Father Anthony Joseph Cipolla was born on August 29, 1943 in Rochester, PA, a borough of Beaver County. He was the youngest of five children – Ann, Vincent, Genevra, Anita, his twin sister, and Anthony – born to Ambrose and Albina (Natale) Cipolla. His first parish, where he received his First Holy Communion on June 17, 1954, was St. Titus Church in Aliquippa. It was a heavily mixed ethnic church with German-born, Italian- speaking Father Edward Zauner serving as its long-time pastor. Fr. Cipolla, a country boy, gave credit for his vocation to Fr. Zauner and to his mother, who by every account was a devout Catholic and a kind, generous soul.
That same year, 1954, due to the expanding population in the area, Pittsburgh Bishop John Dearden established a new parish, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, in nearby Aliquippa under Father Cornelius J. Finneran. A small chapel was built on the site in September 1954, but the church was not completed until 1987. It was here that the young Anthony Cipolla learned his catechism, went to confession and attended Mass. And it was here that the Mass of Christian Burial was said for the 73-year-old priest following a fatal auto accident on August 30, 2016.
A Missionary Priest and Boys, Boys, Boys
According to autobiographical data provided by Fr. Cipolla, he wanted to be a missionary priest, not a diocesan priest. At the start of 10th grade in high school, he entered St. Anthony’s minor seminary in San Antonio, TX, operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.). However, the distance was too great, plane rides home too expensive and tuition too high. He returned home.
Later, he applied to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.) and was accepted at Maryglade College Seminary, in Memphis, MI. He graduated in 1966 and was sent by the missionary order to the Pontifical College Josephinum near Worthington, OH, for his theology training. He remained at the Josephinum for only one the year. Then he left for reasons unexplained.
The next religious order he decided to try out was the Missionaries of the Holy Family (M.S.F), whose special charism is fostering family life. The American Province for the Italian-based congregation sent Cipolla to St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Farmington, MO. When his novitiate year was over, he took his simple vows. The order then sent Cipolla to St. Leonard’s Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, operated by the Franciscan Friars Minor of St. John, for his second year of theological studies. Again he left the seminary for reasons unexplained.
Fr. Cipolla now took a year off and accepted a teaching position at St. Anselm’s parochial K-8 grade school in Dearborn Heights, MI. In addition to teaching religion, geography, English and history he also taught a boys’ physical education class. Cipolla resided in Dearborn, where readers of Part I of this series will remember he took Frank Labiaux and other boys in the summer of 1977 to an auto museum and ended up assaulting the 12-year-old Frank in his motel room.
Fr. Cipolla then returned to the P.I.M.E. Fathers who accepted him back for his final two years of theological studies. He took up residence at the P.I.M.E.’s Queen of the Missions Seminary in Oakland, N.J. and commuted about 20 minutes away to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J. for his theology classes.
According to Cipolla, the P.I.M.E.’s rector, Father John Barocco asked him to teach religion at the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and instruct gym classes for 7th grade boys. The money he earned was put towards Cipolla’s tuition.
The young Cipolla also became involved with the Oakland Boys’ Club which had 225 high school and grade school members. He oversaw the club’s sports program and gave an annual retreat for boys at the P.I.M.E.’s seminary. There was also Camp Tamarac where Cipolla took boys on campouts.
Cipolla Ordained as a Diocesan Priest
At the close of his last year with the P.I.M.E. Fathers, Cipolla was contacted by Fr. Finneran, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, now his home parish, telling the young man that his father was dying and his mother was struggling to keep the family restaurant and bar open. He was needed at home immediately. Fr. Finneran also told Cipolla that he had already talked with Bishop Leonard of the Pittsburgh Diocese and that Leonard was willing to ordain him as a diocesan priest if and when Cipolla returned home.
In early summer of 1972, Cipolla left the P.I.M.E. Fathers and his dream of being a missionary behind. Before he left, the Oakland Boys’ Club held an award dinner in the priest’s honor. Anthony Cipolla was named “Man of the Year,” and the Oakland Chief of Police gave him an engraved plaque in appreciation for his service to the Oakland Boys Club. Cipolla returned home and Bishop Leonard sent him to St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon to get a taste of what it was like to be a diocesan priest. “I was starting to like the idea although I never forgot my desire to be a missionary,” Cipolla said. On Saturday, October 28, 1972, at age 29, Anthony J. Cipolla was ordained by Bishop Leonard for the Pittsburgh Diocese at Our Lady of Fatima Church. On Sunday, October 29th he said his first Mass. During a visit to see his father in a nursing home, Fr. Cipolla blessed him with a relic of hair from Padre Pio’s beard and his father lived another six years. According to Fr. Cipolla, Ambrose Cipolla, who had opposed his son entering the priesthood was now filled with gratitude to both Padre Pio and his son – the priest.
More Red Flags – Fr. Cipolla’s Parish Merry-go-round
During the approximately 16-years that Fr. Cipolla served under three bishops, Bishop Vincent Leonard, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, and Bishop Donald Wuerl, in the Pittsburgh Diocese, he was moved from parish to parish – five parishes before he assaulted Frank Labiaux and his stepbrother Tucker Thompson, and two parishes and a home for exceptional children after the diocese learned of the abuse. The priest was never assigned to be pastor of any parish.
The priest remained at his first parish, St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon from 1972 -1974; at Immaculate Conception in Washington PA from 1974–1975, that is, less than a year; at St. Philomena in Beaver Falls in 1975 for just a matter of months; at St. Agatha in Bridgeville from 1975-1976, for less than a year; at St. Francis Xavier on the Northside from 1976–1978, where he sexually abused Frank and Tucker; at St. Canice in Knoxville from 1978-1983 where he was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy for more than four years, 1982-1986; at St. Philip in Crafton in 1983 for a few months; and finally the McGuire Memorial Home for Exceptional Children from 1983-1988.
According to Rev Ronald Lengwin, the spokesman for the Pittsburgh Diocese, young priests “typically spent five years at each church, but if they were unhappy in their post, it was not unusual to be transferred much sooner.” Clearly, Fr. Cipolla was “unhappy” with most of his assignments and the pastors were “unhappy” with him.