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Bishop Zubik refutes man's assault allegation

Jeremy Boren
| Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011

A prosecutor said he doesn't believe an Aliquippa man who accused Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik of trying to kiss him in the 1980s when the man was a student at Quigley Catholic High School in Baden.

"I've never heard of a more convoluted series of stories in order to justify these allegations against the bishop," Beaver County District Attorney Anthony J. Berosh said on Wednesday after Zubik called a morning news conference to simultaneously announce and dispute the allegations.

Zubik, 62, called the accusation "false, offensive and outrageous" and said the man is retaliating against him because church officials rejected his application to participate in liturgical services such as offering Holy Communion and gospel readings.

"The fear of every priest is that someone, sometime, somewhere, somehow, will level a false accusation against him," Zubik said, referring to the string of lawsuits the Catholic church has found itself defending over the past decade involving charges of sexual assaults by the clergy. "That nightmare has been realized for me."

According to Zubik, the accuser alleged: "He was the most violent with me. He forced me up against a wall in the chapel and tried to tongue kiss me."

The Tribune-Review does not identify accusers in sexual assault cases.

Zubik said he decided to speak publicly about the accusation after it appeared in two online blog posts. He said unless he hears otherwise from Vatican officials reviewing the matter at Zubik's request, he doesn't plan to alter his daily duties of running the diocese of more than 700,000 Catholics.

The author of the blog entries, who identified himself as a 45-year-old married man, responded to Zubik's comments in an e-mail to the Trib.

"I stand by my blog!" he wrote. "It is really tough for me and my family right now. I have nothing more to say at this time."

The man told authorities that he suddenly remembered the incident when he smelled the bishop's aftershave during a meeting with him on June 1 to discuss other abuse accusations he made against two former priests, including Robert Wolk.

Zubik said he doesn't believe those allegations, either. He said both priests were guilty of misconduct and removed from the ministry many years ago. Wolk and Richard Zula were convicted of sexually abusing children in 1987.

Instead of discussing the allegations, the man asked Zubik to intercede in a background check so he could serve in the ministry. Zubik refused to interfere, saying the background check turned up "red flags."

One of those might have occurred in 2004 when the Aliquippa man pleaded guilty to indecent exposure. He faced other charges in the early 1990s including disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and theft. In the 2004 case, New Sewickley police said they caught him masturbating in his car parked outside Freedom Middle School.

"I believe my accuser saw me as part of the process of denying his authorization to serve," Zubik said.

Zubik worked at Quigley between 1980 and 1987. Several former students in lawsuits accused John Hoehl, the school's headmaster from 1971 to 1985, of sexually abusing them at the priest's home and in a cabin on the Youghiogheny River. Officials removed Hoehl from ministry in 1988 and permanently dismissed him in 2004.

In 2010, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victim support group, accused Zubik of destroying medical records of priests accused of sexually abusing children. The group said it happened when Zubik was bishop in Green Bay, Wis., from 2003 to 2007.

Zubik denied those charges, saying he followed diocesan policy not to destroy priest records.

In the case that came to light yesterday, Zubik said he followed diocesan policy and turned the matter over to Berosh's office, which interviewed the man last week.

Zubik said he informed the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See of the United States during a meeting last month in Washington, D.C. Information from that meeting was sent to the Vatican and has been turned over to the Diocesan Review Board.

He said making the accusation public was a relief after getting up each morning for the past six weeks with the feeling that a train was bearing down on him.

"That something like this cast a shadow over me is a sad situation, I can't do anything about that," he said. "All I can do is come before everybody and hope that people will believe what I have said to be true."

Brad Phillips of Phillips Media Relations in Washington, D.C., applauded Zubik's decision to detail the accusation for the public before the story was widely known.

"Generally speaking, people are conditioned to believe people who come out on a story first," Phillips said. "He got in front of the story, so he helped to control the narrative by making his perspective the controlling one."

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